Captain Robert Peter Newey

Robert Peter Newey (known as Ben Newey) was born in the southern Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick on 2 March 1922. He was a 17-year old accountant student when he joined the RAN on 31 January 1940 and commenced his training as a Cadet Midshipman (Supply) at the RAN College at HMAS Cerberus, then located at Westernport in southern Victoria.

Prior to joining the Navy he had served in a local Militia (Army Reserve) unit, The Melbourne University Rifles (MUR), as a Private from 3 July 1939 until 20 January 1940.  When he joined the Militia he claimed that he had been born on 2 March 1921 in order to push his age up to 18; when he was in fact he was well under-age and only 17 at the time of his enlistment.

At the Naval College he and three other Paymaster Cadets were given an abridged six month training course and graduated from the College in the middle of June 1940.  Ben and his three companions were then sent straight to sea for on the job training in the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra. Ben Newey served in Canberra until November 1941 during which time he was promoted to Paymaster Midshipman.  

During his time in Canberra the ship operated mainly in Australian waters, the Indian Ocean and with the occasional brief sojourn in the southern Atlantic as a convoy escort and on the hunt for German raiders and their supply ships. Despite the arduous, but highly necessary, task of being a convoy escort the cruiser did have her moment of glory on 4 March 1941 when she sank the raider supply ships Coburg and Kitty Brovig in the Indian Ocean. After some brief shore service at HMS Lanka in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Ben was then posted to the British battleship HMS Revenge, in April 1942, which also operated in the Indian Ocean. He was promoted to Paymaster Sub Lieutenant in November 1942.

In February 1943 he left the Revenge and returned to Australia in the destroyer HMAS Quiberon. After arriving in Australia in April of that year he was posted briefly to the shore depot HMAS Lonsdale, in Melbourne, before joining the cruiser HMAS Hobart in May 1943. Hobart was soon sent to the South West Pacific theatre of war and on 20 July 1943 while steaming towards the island of Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides (Vanuatu) the cruiser was hit by a single torpedo fired by a Japanese submarine. Hobart suffered considerable damage to her stern and at one point it was feared that her badly damaged stern would break off. Additionally she had 13 personnel killed and seven wounded. Amongst the dead was Ben’s boss - Paymaster Commander Hugh Johnson.

The badly damaged cruiser eventually got underway again and after temporary repairs were made at Espiritu Santo she was escorted back to Australia for long term repair. The cruiser arrived in Sydney in late August 1943 and commenced long term maintenance at Cockatoo Island Dockyard; this was finally completed in December 1944. Ben Newey remained posted to Hobart throughout much of this period undertaking the necessary administrative, stores, catering and pay roles fulfilled by Paymaster officers for a ship in refit. He was promoted to Paymaster Lieutenant in July 1944 and in mid-October 1944 joined the cruiser HMAS Shropshire. 

Ben then served as a junior Supply Officer in Shropshire until October 1946 during which time the cruiser took part in some of the most dramatic battles of the Pacific campaign. He was onboard when the cruiser took part in the liberation of the Philippines; including the battle of Lingayen Gulf in January 1945 where Shropshire provided naval gunfire support for the troops ashore and protection to the troop transports from Japanese air attack. Apart from his normal supply duties Ben’s action station was as the Fire Direction Officer on the cruisers No 6 Bofors gun and he witnessed the terrifying Japanese Kamikaze attacks on the Allied fleet. While Shropshire was lucky and received no hits her sister ship HMAS Australia was hit several times and had several men killed.

Shropshire was then involved in the capture of the island fortress of Corregidor, at the entrance to Manila Bay, in February 1945 before returning to Sydney for a refit in March. In June 1945 the cruiser returned to active service and took part in the Allied landings in Borneo where she supported the Australian infantry landings at Labuan Island and Balikpapan in June and July. After the Japanese surrender, Shropshire was one of the few RAN warships present in Tokyo Bay to witness the official surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945. 

In April 1946 the cruiser steamed to England, via Cape Town, to represent Australia at the London Victory celebrations on 8 June 1946. Shropshire then returned to Australia via the Mediterranean and Ceylon arriving back in Sydney in August. On 21 September 1946 Ben married Ms Jean Nesbitt at Wagga Wagga, NSW and the two remained married until Ben’s death.   

Ben Newey left Shropshire in November 1946 and after a brief period working at HMAS Rushcutter (a shore depot in Sydney) he returned to the cruiser Hobart in July 1947.  The cruiser saw service in Japanese waters, as part of the Australian Occupation Force, and then returned to Australia and entered a major refit for modernisation. A year later in June 1948 Ben Newey was sent to the Navy’s base in Darwin, HMAS Melville, to be part of the base support staff. He was made an Acting Lieutenant Commander for this period but relinquished the rank when he returned to Sydney in May 1950.   

Lieutenant Newey then joined the staff of the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet (FOCAF) and spent the next six years either at Fleet Headquarters (nominally posted to HMAS Penguin) or afloat with the Admirals staff in HMA Ships Australia (Cruiser), Sydney (Aircraft Carrier) or Melbourne (Aircraft Carrier).  Ben was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in July 1952 (and at times he was appointed as an Acting Commander during the next few years). Ben was part of the Naval Contingent to sail, in HMAS Sydney, to England in order to attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. He was subsequently awarded the 1953 Coronation Medal.

In June 1956 Ben was posted to HMAS Kuttabul as the Assistant Secretary to the Flag Officer Commanding the Eastern Australian Area (FOCEA) and in December 1957 was promoted to Commander. In July 1958, Commander Newey was posted to HMAS Lonsdale (Navy Office) where he worked in the Materiel Planning branch. Then in July 1960 the Newey’s were lucky enough to be posted overseas to London where Ben worked on the staff of RANLO London (later renamed Australian Naval Representative - UK).

The Newey’s returned to Australia in August 1962 and for the next three years Commander Newey was the Deputy Director General - Supply at Navy Office (HMAS Harman) in Canberra. In January 1965 he returned to sea duty as the Supply Officer of the fast troop transport HMAS Sydney (previously the Aircraft Carrier) which carried out troop and logistic resupply runs to Vietnam and other ports in South East Asia. On 30 June 1966, Ben was promoted to the rank of Captain and became the Fleet Supply Officer; a position he filled until December of that year.

Ben Newey's final posting in the RAN occurred in December 1966 when he was posted to HMAS Cerberus as the training depots Supply Officer. The wheel had turned full circle as this was where his naval career had commenced some 26 years before. Finally on 16 May 1968, at age 46, Captain Ben Newey resigned from the RAN and he and Jean made their home in Armidale, NSW where Ben followed a second career as a highly successful grazier, after purchasing the property ‘Olmo’. Ben contributed to the local Armidale community through various roles, notably as a councilor on the Dumaresq Shire Council and as President of the local Legacy branch. 

Ben was also a staunch supporter of the Navy and for many years was the patron of the local Australian Naval Cadet unit TS Armidale. Ben Newey died in Armidale, NSW, on 3 April 2012, aged 90. He was survived by his wife Jean, daughter Janet, four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. His son, Richard, had pre-deceased him.

Mrs. Jean Newey with the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral H.M. Burrell, Mrs. Burrell and Acting Commander Ben Newey at HMAS Sydney Ship’s Ball, at the Trocadero 28th September 1955.
Mrs Jean Newey with the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral HM Burrell, Mrs Burrell and Acting Commander Ben Newey at HMAS Sydney Ship’s Ball at the Trocadero, 28 September 1955.