Commander James Hume

James Hume was born on 29 April 1924 in Harrogate, Yorkshire, and grew up in Scotland. At the age of 13 he joined the school ship HMS Conway in the Mersey estuary, training to become a merchant seaman. Over the course of 115 years, Conway trained more than 11,000 boys for a life at sea. By the time Hume had graduated the world was at war.

His first ship was SS Clan Chattan, a cargo steamer of 7,262 tons which served as a troopship during the war. On just his third voyage, at the age of 16, after the ship arrived at Durban, Hume was told by the captain that his parents had been killed in the Blitz. On 14 February 1942, the Mediterranean convoy to which Clan Chattan was attached came under air attack. Clan Chattan was severely damaged and caught fire. Hume was one of many who fought the fires and was one of the last to leave the ship before she sank. All 358 people on board were rescued.

James Hume as a young cadet in the merchant navy. (Photo courtesy Prof David Hume)

Hume then joined SS Dafila as Third Officer. Dafila was a steamer of 1,940 tons, at that time operating as a munitions supply ship operating between Alexandria and Tobruk. On the morning of 18 March 1943, U-593 attacked a convoy near Derna, Libya, and sank two ships; Dafila and SS Kaying. The master, nine crew members and five gunners from Dafila, including an injured Hume, were picked up by the South African armed whaler HMSAS Southern Maid and landed at Derna. 19 crew members and three gunners were lost.

After a period of convalescence in an Alexandrian hospital, Hume joined SS Star of Alexandria bound for Australia. Star of Alexandria arrived in Melbourne on 1 October 1943 where Hume took his leave of the ship. On arrival, alone and without family, he visited a Seamen's Mission, where he developed a close friendship with the Lawrence family, the patriarch of which was former RAAF Group Captain Dr Arthur Poole Lawrence.

Midshipman James Hume.

Hume joined the RANR(S) as a probationary temporary midshipman on 21 October 1943. He reported for duty at HMAS Lonsdale on 17 November and was transported to Brisbane to join the landing ship infantry (LSI), HMAS Kanimbla (I) on 3 December. Hume served for the remainder of the war aboard Kanimbla and later said of his first sea posting;

We were well prepared for the Lingayen Gulf landings, largely due in my view to our first LSI Captain, Commander N.H. Shaw, RAN, who quickly knocked us into shape during our work-up in Moreton Bay, where for the majority of the ship’s company, it was their first ship and the average age overall was 19.2 years. After the shakedown it quickly became a close-knit ship’s company with virtually no shore leave and no drafting in 16 months.  In addition from time to time I, together with my boats crews, was left in remote localities living in the landing craft, whilst the ship was used to ferry other landing craft and troops to other locations.  Those very primitive conditions resulted in a very close relationship and taught me a lot, including how to drive a truck.

Kanimbla was heavily involved in the Pacific campaign in 1944 and 1945, conducting amphibious landings at; Hollandia in April 1944 where the ship came under sniper fire and landings were conducted in heavy surf; and Morotai in September 1944. Japanese kamikaze and torpedo bomber attacks were more intense at Leyte Gulf in October 1944 as Hume described; “as my sea action station was as OOW [Officer of the Watch] with the Captain and Navigator on our open bridge, it was an ideal position to view proceedings, I had a grandstand view of their attempts to penetrate the screen, although station-keeping, manoeuvres, and chatter on the TBS [Talk Between Ships] required most of my attention.” He added; “The American carrier pilots were magnificent.”

At Lingayen Gulf in January 1945 Kanimbla and the rest of the Lingayen Attack Force came under heavy Japanese air attack. Hume described events on 8 January, the day before the landing; “At 1850 on the 8th we were west of Lingayen Gulf covered by the escort carriers Kitkun Bay and Shamrock Bay. Kitkun Bay was seriously damaged by a kamikaze. Four kamikaze also attacked our amphibious task group and three were intercepted by carrier-based aircraft, all being shot down at low altitude in a spectacular dogfight.  The fourth attempted to crash on Westralia.  The barrage from the ships blew the aircraft to pieces, but part of the wreckage sprayed the after part of the ship and disabled their steering gear, which was quickly repaired.”

Hume described the events of 9 January 1945 from his perspective as a ‘wave leader’;

At 0500 on D Day, we went to breakfast prior to dawn action stations. At 0642 Kamikazes made a determined attack on the Amphibious Task Group but were shot down in an awesome barrage, not penetrating our screen.

Bombardment of the beaches commenced at 0700 with the US destroyer Hodges and the cruiser Columbia being hit by Kamikazes. At 0700 we went to operational action stations and manned our landing craft. At 0728 Kanimbla anchored in Area Charlie and at 0800 all boats were lowered and commenced embarking troops. The sight of the damaged Australia bombarding Dagupan immediately behind our landing area kept our minds focussed.

Shortly after 0800 having embarked troops who had to descend some 20 feet down landing nets fully equipped with rifle and pack (not an easy task) we then went into holding pattern circling while awaiting my go signal for the line of departure.

My six LCVP’s [Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel], with me embarked in K15, (with Leading Seaman Winkle as my coxswain) all carried 1st line combat troops, and although the sea was relatively smooth a number of the troops were seasick. It was necessary to keep ordering them to keep their heads down and use a bucket.

Meantime bombardment of the beachhead continued unabated. At 0910 LCS [Landing Craft Support] gun-boats saturated the beach with rocket fire shrouding the beach area in a dense smoke, blotting out most of the designated lead marks and the bombardment ships shifted gunfire to both flanks of the beachhead.

There was an air of tension both among the embarked troops and my boat’s crew. We knew from the determined Kamikaze attacks that we could expect fierce resistance from the Japanese, but my main concern was to ensure that we reached the line of departure at the correct time and make a good run in.

We were preceded to the beach by Alligators (Amphibious tracked vehicles) from the Landing Ship Dock Ozark and as soon as the bombardment lifted we moved from V formation into our final wave formation in line abreast, and proceeded from the marked line of departure to the beach, flat out, touching beach on time at 0933, there was a slight surf running and the troops had to wade about 100 yards to dry land. Our LCVP’s each flying White Ensigns preceding the American flag to the beach.

To our relief there was no beach opposition, due to the devastation caused by the bombardment and rocket barrage, a scene that was almost indescribable. Huge craters pitted the ground and most of the palm trees were either shorn off or riddled with shrapnel. The residual concern was that there might be counter attack or air attack. That kept us on our toes.

At 1030 with the beachhead secured Kanimbla moved inshore to within 4,000 yards of the beach and subsequent trips to the beach with troops and cargo were of a much shorter duration.

As the day progressed we ran a shuttle between the beach-head and the ship ferrying vehicles, guns and troops without any breaks. Surf conditions on the beach-head became worse throughout the day, and unloading vehicles particularly difficult, although none of our [Kanimbla’s] landing craft broached in the surf, many did and the beach recovery unit had a busy time, attempting to keep the landing area clear. There was some sporadic shelling of the beach by the Japanese in the afternoon and an LST got hit. Our covering force quickly responded.  Bombardment is never very comfortable whatever direction, when it is whistling overhead.

At this time we had a few uncomfortable moments when unloading a jeep towing a gun, the driver stalled with the jeep in the water and the gun on the ramp and we were unable to retract. An ATV [All Terrain Vehicle] came to the rescue and towed it clear. We upped ramp and retracted speedily.

With nearly a third greater load of troops and cargo the other two LSI’s unloading was not completed and the last boat hoisted until 1825.

The heat, the sun reflecting off the water and the roar of the grey marine diesel, anti flash gear, steel helmets and our jungle green action dress added to general discomfort, yet I heard not a single whinge and the crews all worked their guts out. We quickly shed tin hats and anti-flash gear after the first run. I think the major disappointment amongst my crews was that they did not have the opportunity to fire the two 30 calibre machine guns fitted in each LCVP.

Kamikaze attacks in the Gulf continued throughout the day, but no attempt appeared to be made to attack the LSI’s or APA’s [Attack Transport’s] where the damage would have been much greater than with conventional warships. Our watertight integrity was minimal.

By dusk our forces had pressed inland and seized the 5000 feet Lingayen airfield and secured the town of Lingayen.

Underwater swimmers and suicide boats had been detected and one destroyer lost its stern.

With the removal of the combat air patrol, and in preparation for a dusk attack by the Kamikaze aircraft, all ships commenced making smoke at 1824. Several determined attacks eventuated, but no ships were hit. A “friendly” 5-inch shell in the ensuing barrage hit the battleship Colorado. We used our chemical smoke machine for the first time. 

At 2000 the amphibious task group and covering force ships that were damaged by the Kamikaze, then prepared to leave the Gulf for Leyte under cover of smoke. Overhead the noise of aircraft could be heard but not seen. It was an eerie feeling and a bit hairy. There were 36 ships attempting to form a convoy for Leyte using radar and much chatter of the TBS. Not a single ship was out of station when we cleared the smoke. During this period we remained at action stations until shortly after 2030, when I had the first watch. Copious mugs of Kai and sandwiches kept me alert for the remainder of the watch. It was a long but successful day.

It was at Lingayen Gulf that Hume was struck by shrapnel and suffered a leg wound which later became infected and left him with a permanent limp. He would eventually require a knee replacement . He remained with his ship, however, and was on board when Kanimbla participated in the landings at Brunei in June and Balikpapan in July 1945. He left Kanimbla on 17 September 1945 and returned to Lonsdale as the RAN began making plans for post-war demobilisation.

Hume, however, had no intention of leaving naval service. He transferred to the RAN for temporary service after the cessation of hostilities and was approved for permanent naval service on 11 February 1947. By that stage he had been promoted to lieutenant and, post-war, had served in HMA Ships Hawkesbury (I), Murchison and Australia (II).

Sub-lieutenant James Hume. (Photo courtesy Prof David Hume)

He had successfully passed his navigation exam in November 1944 while aboard Kanimbla. Post-war he undertook various training courses including communications and fleetwork before taking passage to the United Kingdom (UK) in 1949 for further training, gaining experience in boom defence and combined operations. He returned to Australia at the end of 1949 and served in the boom defence vessels, HMA Ships Kangaroo and Koala, described by Hume’s commanding officer in Koala, Lieutenant Duncan Stevens, as the “maid[s] of all work”, undertaking various harbour duties and boom defence training primarily in New Guinea waters.

Hume married Group Captain Dr Lawrence’s daughter, Suzette, in 1951. The couple had four children.

Lieutenant James Hume and his wife Suzette christen their son, David, aboard HMAS Australia. (Photo courtesy Prof David Hume)

He re-joined Australia on 2 April 1952 aboard which he visited New Guinea, Japan and New Zealand, before joining the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney (III) on 10 August 1953. The ship conducted a post-armistice deployment to Korean waters from October 1953 to June 1954, during which time Hume was promoted lieutenant-commander on 28 December 1953.

Lieutenant Commander James Hume in South Korean waters abord HMAS Sydney. (Photo courtesy Prof David Hume)

On 15 November 1954 Hume was appointed in command of the Bathurst class corvette, HMAS Wagga, which recommissioned in 1951 as a training ship for National Servicemen, RAN Reservists and Minesweeping classes from the Torpedo and Anti-Submarine School. Hume later said of his command; “When Cootamundra and Wagga were modernised the draft forward was reduced and the draft aft increased, and this, coupled with the increased topweight, led to the comment that they would ‘roll on wet grass’. It also made their handling more unpredictable, but despite this, their sea-keeping qualities were excellent.”

Hume again found himself in New Guinea waters from December 1954 to February 1955 conducting a fishery patrol which also saw the ship providing a guard of honour for the unveiling of the Coastwatchers Memorial at Keita as well as conducting recruiting cruises for the PNG Division of the RAN. She visited Rockhampton in August 1955 for the city’s centenary celebrations where Hume led the ship’s company in a march through the city streets to a civic reception at the City Hall.

In December 1955, Hume provided a summary of the ship’s activities during the year; “the ship visited 33 places, steamed 13,402 miles. Was visited by 18,000 visitors, including 300 children from orphanages and Legacy, and 4,000 New Guinea and Papuan natives. 26 Reserve Officers, 11 Reserve Petty Officers, 7 Reserve Leading Rates and 46 Reserve Junior Rates underwent training, in addition to training of Permanent Navy Forces in underwater weapons (UW) classes. Also, 1 petty officer and 26 Papuan New Guinea Division ratings and 30 Sea Cadets received training. Sweeps were streamed for 60 hours, 16 hydrographic notes and 900 miles of soundings were forwarded to the Hydrographic Branch. One memorial was unveiled and 3 marches were made. Publicity: the ship was featured on the front-page news in capital cities on 4 occasions, and received 23 other mentions of more than one paragraph. I was called upon to make 3 broadcasts on ABC radio networks during the year; and I made 17 speeches at various functions.” This was a year in which the ship was alongside for three months undergoing a refit.

Wagga steamed the length of the Australian east coast during Hume’s time in command from the islands of the Torres Strait to Hobart for the 1956 Royal Hobart Regatta where the ship won the officers’ whaler race with Hume manning the stroke oar. The Flag Officer-in-Charge East Australia Area, Rear Admiral Herbert Buchanan, CBE, DSO, RAN, said of Hume’s time in command of Wagga; “His ship performed a variety of tasks in a highly commendable manner during his period of command.” Hume himself later said; “It was a ship’s company one was proud to serve with.”  His command came to an end on 1 March 1956.

Following command of Wagga, Hume was appointed  Boom Defence Officer and, later, Base Operations and Intelligence Officer at HMAS Leeuwin. In subsequent postings to Navy Office he was appointed Director of the Operations Division.

On 14 November 1960 Hume was promoted acting commander, confirmed on 30 June 1963, and posted as executive officer to the RAN Apprentice Training Establishment, HMAS Nirimba, at Quakers Hill in Sydney. It was there that Hume’s dedication to discipline and uncompromising fairness shone through. He developed an excellent rapport with the apprentices, all aged between 16 and 18, knew them all by name, and is still held in the highest regard by those who passed through Nirimba’s gates. Hume himself considered his time at Nirimba as the highlight of his career and would often talk about his tenure there in later years.

Hume’s appointment at Nirimba ended in July 1963 and he returned to Harman as the Director of Naval Recruiting in Navy Office.

Director of Naval Recruiting, Commander James Hume November 1964.

In March 1966 he attended the RAAF School of Languages in preparation for an exchange posting with the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) as commanding officer of the RMN’s training facility, KD Malaya, in Singapore. He spent two years in Malaysia between 1966 and 1968 before returning to Navy Office in Harman where he served primarily as the Deputy Director of the Administrative Plans Branch.

Director of Naval Recruiting, Commander James Hume November 1965. (Photo courtesy Prof David Hume)

In January 1971 he was again posted overseas as the Defence Attaché to South Korea. He was a representative on the United Nations Military Armistice Committee at Panmunjom. When he left this post, General Richard Stillwell, the Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command in Korea said: “My colleagues and I have been constantly impressed by your competence, your diplomatic talents, your resourcefulness, and your unfailing co-operation. You have performed in the best traditions of the Royal Australian Navy and have represented your government in superb fashion.”

Hume retired from active service upon his return to Australia in 1974 though remained on the RAN Emergency List.

He spent the next 13 years as a research officer, initially for Senator Austin Lewis covering the portfolios of; territories; veterans’ affairs; industry, technology and commerce; communications; and transition to government, and as senior research officer for the Liberal Party in the Senate. He also worked, often as an office bearer, with Rotary, the RSL and the PC Users Group. He also supported veterans as an advocate, hospital visitor and friend.

Hume was awarded the Memorial George Medal in 1994 in recognition of his actions in the Mediterranean during World War II. He was also recognised as a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary, and received an international award for his work in the PC Users Group.

James Hume passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer on 30 November 2011 in Canberra, aged 87. He was survived by his wife of sixty years, Suzette, a son, two daughters, and five grandchildren.


Left: Commander Hume leading the Kanimbla Association during the Anzac Day march, 2007. Right: Commander James Hume and Stoker Nevin Phillips Anzac Day, 2007.