Rear Admiral Charles Farquhar-Smith

Charles Farquhar-Smith was born on Dumaresq Island, a small farming community on the Manning River, near Taree, NSW on 29 January 1888. He was one of 11 children born to Albert George Smith and Mary Anne Smith (nee Wallace). His name at birth was Charles Farquhar Smith but he changed his surname, by deed poll, to Farquhar-Smith in 1916. In the early 1890s the family moved to Camden Haven near Laurieton where Charles attended the local public school.

Charles was a gifted student and was awarded a bursary thus enabling him to complete his education at Fort Street Public School, in Sydney, and later at Sydney Boys School. He matriculated at age 17 and could have gone on to university; instead he chose to go to sea as an ordinary seaman in the Merchant Navy. He joined his first ship in 1905; the four-masted steel hulled barque Crompton, trading between Australia and England carrying cargoes of wheat. By 1913 he had gained his masters certificate (in steam vessels) and was serving as a junior officer in the White Star Line vessel SS Arabic

Merchant Navy officers also held commissions in the Royal Navy Reserve (RNR) and on 1 October 1913 Charles was appointed as a Sub Lieutenant (probationary) in the RNR. He was confirmed in the rank of Sub Lieutenant in January 1914. In early December 1913, Charles commenced one year of full time training with the Royal Navy that included gunnery training at HMS Vivid (Devonport training depot) and torpedo instruction in the cruiser HMS Defence. In May 1914 he was promoted to acting Lieutenant and joined the battleship HMS Dominion for further training. As he was an Australian, the Royal Navy considered transferring Charles to the RAN at the end of his training but the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914 prevented this.

On 3 August 1914 Charles was appointed to the cruiser HMS Aboukir and was soon taking part in operations in the North Sea. Aboukir played a minor role in the Battle of Heligoland Bight on 28 August, during which three German light cruisers were sunk; she was part of a blocking force to the south but saw no action. Less than a month later Aboukir and her two sister ships Hogue and Cressy were operating in the North Sea in an area known as the ‘broad fourteens’ when they were attacked and sunk by the German submarine U-9.

Aboukir was torpedoed shortly after 06:00 on 22 September 1914. When Hogue and Cressy came alongside to rescue survivors they too were torpedoed and all three cruisers sank. Lieutenant Smith, clad only in his pyjamas, abandoned ship as Aboukir capsized spending several hours in the water clinging to a raft before being rescued by the Dutch vessel Flora. Several of the ships survivors were taken to the Dutch port of Ijmuiden and were repatriated to Britain, however 527 of Aboukir’s ship's company perished in the sinking. Charles was later commended for his leadership and continuous endeavour in encouraging the survivors while in the water.

He was sent to HMS Vernon (Portsmouth) in late October 1914 for a minesweeping course, and in December was given command of the 300 ton armed trawler Urana. Additionally he became the leader of the armed trawler patrol division, that was part of Royal Navy Patrol Service, operating from the River Humber, near the town of Immingham. From here the trawlers conducted anti-submarine patrols and minesweeping duties off the east coast of England. The trawlers also operated in the vicinity of the Dogger Bank; where he was noted as a zealous officer who took frequent and aggressive action against German forces. Charles also found time to marry Cicely Butcher at Bournemouth on 3 June 1915; they later had three children and their two sons also followed maritime careers in the RAN and Merchant Navy.

Charles was confirmed in the rank of Lieutenant in October 1915, but a planned transfer to the battlecruiser HMAS Australia did not eventuate and he remained with the armed trawler division. In April 1916 Lieutenant Smith briefly took command of the elderly Torpedo Boat 025, transferring a few weeks later to Torpedo Boat 042 in command. These vessels operated in the English Channel and North Sea; with family history stating he was in action with German U-Boats on a number of occasions and was responsible for sinking one - although this cannot be confirmed. In mid-1916 Charles changed his surname from Smith to Farquhar-Smith and, in early October, he was appointed in command of the destroyer HMS Racehorse; but a week later his transfer to the RAN was finally approved.

On 11 October 1916 Lieutenant Charles Farquhar-Smith was formally transferred to the RAN and ten days later he joined the light cruiser HMAS Sydney then operating in the North Sea. He served in her for the remainder of the war and was onboard when she was attacked by the German Zeppelin L43, in the North Sea, on 4 May 1917. Whilst the ship was not hit by any bombs this was the first air attack on an RAN ship. The remainder of Farquhar-Smith’s war was tedious with frequent North Sea patrols and little sight of the enemy. Following the Armistice, Sydney was part of the escorting force for the German High Sea Fleet that surrendered on 21 November 1918 and was interned at Scapa Flow, Scotland. Two of Charles’ younger brothers served in the 1st AIF during the war and 21 year old Private Donald Arthur Smith, of the 3rd Battalion, was killed in action in France on 9 August 1918.

In February 1919 Farquhar-Smith undertook training courses at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and in October 1919 he commenced the long (advanced) torpedo officer training course  at HMS Vernon. He was the only RAN officer, in a course of 21 officers, and was ultimately dux of the course. Normally he would have been awarded the Ogilvy Medal, however, as this was a prize only open to Royal Navy officers he had to forgo this award and was awarded a cash prize instead by the Australian Naval Board. Upon completing his training, in April 1921, he returned to Australia, after an absence of many years, and was appointed to the destroyer HMAS Anzac, in June, as the destroyer flotilla torpedo officer. His time in Anzac was brief as in October 1921 he was appointed to the depot ship HMAS Penguin, as part of the commissioning crew of the light cruiser Adelaide.

Construction of Adelaide had begun at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in November 1915, but had proceeded at a snail’s pace for many years due to a shortage of materiel and poor dockyard work processes. As a result the ship was derisively christened HMAS ‘Long Delayed’ and her commissioning finally took place on 5 August 1922. Farquhar-Smith was promoted to Lieutenant Commander on 14 August 1922 and became the cruiser's torpedo officer. During his short time onboard, Adelaide undertook sea going trials and training activities off the east coast of Australia.

Lieutenant Commander Farquhar-Smith was transferred to the cruiser HMAS Melbourne in October 1922 as the fleet torpedo officer. During his time in Melbourne the cruiser conducted visits to various Australian ports including the normal cruise to Tasmania in January 1923 and the northern Winter cruise to Queensland waters mid-year. In August 1923 the cruiser visited the Netherlands East Indies ports of Ambonia (Ambon), Makassar (Celebes) and Kupang (Dutch Timor) and in October visited ports in Western Australia as part of the Spring cruise.

In early 1924 Melbourne proceeded to Tasmania again and then, in March, conducted a short visit to New Zealand waters. In April the ship's company of Melbourne witnessed the scuttling of the battlecruiser Australia off Sydney Heads, and in September the ship proceeded into dry dock at Cockatoo Island for a major refit. Farquhar-Smith was noted by his superiors as a highly skilled and very hard working torpedo officer; as well as being very physically fit and regularly taking part in ship sporting activities.

In October 1924 Farquhar-Smith was loaned to the Royal Navy serving in the light cruiser HMS Dragon operating in the Mediterranean. He was initially the ships torpedo officer but later became the first Lieutenant and was commended for his inspirational leadership and good influence on the ship's company. Farquhar-Smith was promoted Commander in December 1925 and the following month was appointed to the Admiralty for service in the Directorate of Torpedo and Mining. During the period September 1926-July 1927 he completed the RN Staff Course at Greenwich prior to returning to Australia for duties at Navy Office in Melbourne.

At Navy Office he served as the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (ACNS) to the 1st Naval Member (Rear Admiral Sir William Napier, CB, CMG, DSO, RN) who served in this position during 1926-29. Commander Farquhar-Smith was also dual hatted as the Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI), but with his duties as ACNS absorbing most of his time and effort he was DNI in name only. He exercised little direct control over the intelligence centres in Sydney and Brisbane and it was only in May 1929 that he was able to visit them. During his time in Navy Office the RAN undertook a major re-armament program which saw the commissioning of two new heavy cruisers Australia and Canberra, the seaplane carrier Albatross and two new submarines Otway and Oxley. These new warships were in addition to four light cruisers, six destroyers and two survey vessels already in commission. 

Overall the RAN was a busy organisation with ships on regular exchange duty overseas with the Royal Navy and extensive training exercises in home waters. Of note during this period was the deployment of the cruiser Adelaide to the Solomon Islands in October-November 1927 to assist the local authorities with a suspected native uprising. During his two years in Navy Office, Farquhar-Smith was noted as a very reliable staff officer with sound judgement who expressed himself clearly and tactfully. He was also described as having a charming personality and as one who was able to work very effectively with his army and air force counterparts.

In October 1929, Farquhar-Smith was appointed as the Executive Officer of the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia. During his service onboard, the cruiser operated in Australian waters however, with the effects of the Great Depression now being felt, time at sea for training was much reduced. He was promoted to Captain in December 1930, thus becoming the first Australian-born officer serving in the RAN to reach this rank. He continued to serve in Australia until appointed as the commanding officer of HMAS Canberra in May 1931. In addition to his duties as Commanding Officer he was also the chief staff officer to the Commander of the Australian Squadron (firstly Commodore 1st Class Leonard Holbrook, MVO, RN and later Rear Admiral Robin Dalglish, CB, RN). Of note is that Dalglish was also Australian by birth; he was born at Dubbo, NSW in 1880 and joined the Royal Navy in 1895.

During his command of Canberra the cruiser operated mostly in Australian coastal waters but did conduct a showing the flag cruise to New Caledonia and the New Hebrides in September 1931 and a circumnavigation of Australia during August-November 1932. His time in the two cruisers indicated that Farquhar-Smith may have reached the level of his capability. His superiors described him as lacking foresight and being slow to respond to unforeseen difficulties; yet at the same time having excellent influence over his men, well read and up to date on service matters, being loyal and tactful, an excellent sportsman and as ‘tough as nails’. His junior officers nick-named him ‘Sampan Charlie’ and considered him an ineffective captain.

In April 1933 Farquhar-Smith was appointed as 2nd Naval Member; a senior advisor to the 1st Naval Member (Admiral Sir George Francis Hyde, KCB, CVO, CBE, RAN) and also responsible for issues involving personnel, recruiting, training, discipline, pay, medical care and welfare. During his tenure the navy began re-building its fleet and personnel numbers following the low point of the Great Depression when personnel numbers and morale across the navy fell dramatically. His time in Navy Office was not a happy one as Hyde found frequent fault with him. He stated Farquhar-Smith could not express himself clearly in either written or oral communication, was a slow thinker, lacked firmness and failed to take responsibility for his actions. With faint praise Hyde did describe him as a thin wiry type who was zealous and energetic in his staff duties. 

In April 1935 Captain Farquhar-Smith took command of the elderly cruiser HMAS Brisbane. The cruiser had been built at Cockatoo Island, commissioned in 1916 and seen active service in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean during 1917-18 before being ‘paid off’ into the Reserve Fleet in 1929. The reason for her recommissioning was to sail the cruiser to England to be sold for scrap, but use her crew as the commissioning ship's company for the new light cruiser HMAS Sydney (ex-HMS Phaeton).

Brisbane steamed to England via the Suez Canal, providing assistance en-route to the sloop HMS Hastings that had run aground in the Red Sea. The cruiser arrived in England in July 1935 and was decommissioned on 27 September. While her crew joined Sydney, Farquhar-Smith was loaned to the Royal Navy and completed the Senior Officers' War Course (October 1935-February 1936) and the Senior Officers' Technical Course (February-May 1936). Farquhar-Smith was also awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935 for his services to the RAN. 

Captain Farquhar-Smith was then appointed, in late May 1936, as the Commanding Officer of the former battleship HMS Iron Duke, which was now a gunnery training ship. This was a short term posting as on 10 October 1936 he assumed command of the cruiser HMS Delhi based in the Mediterranean. In addition he was the chief staff office to the Rear Admiral Commanding the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. This posting was no sinecure as the Mediterranean Fleet was involved in a number of major crises.

The first was the Spanish Civil War (17 July 1936-1 April 1939), the second was the Arab Revolt in Palestine (April 1936-August 1939) and finally there was continued threat of Italian military adventurism following the invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in 1935-36. Delhi was based at Malta and conducted patrols off the eastern coastline of Spain during the early part of the civil war between the Nationalists led by General Franco and the Republican left wing government. Royal Navy ships patrolled the coastline to prevent both sides importing arms and ammunition, and to assist with the evacuation of civilians when required. On three occasions Delhi was called upon to evacuate refugees fleeing from the fighting (from the ports of Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona and Valencia) and take them to Marseilles. During one of the evacuation tasks Delhi was straddled by bombs dropped by Nationalist aircraft. On another occasion she was in the line of fire when the Nationalist cruiser Canarias opened fire on shore targets. In both cases Delhi escaped without damage or casualties.

Delhi was also involved in patrols off the coast of Palestine (then a British Mandate) during the Arab Revolt against British rule during 1936-38. The main task was preventing the importation of weapons and ammunition into Palestine; but additionally the ship was also required to stop vessels and search them for Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Europe and seeking to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. As a result Farquhar-Smith was one of the few RAN personnel to be awarded the Naval General Service Medal with the clasp ‘Palestine 1936-38’.

Regrettably his British superiors thought little of Farquhar-Smith’s exchange service with the Royal Navy. They advised the Australian Naval Board that he was quite unsuitable for flag rank, had a weak personality, lacked initiative, was afraid of responsibility, lacked tact and judgement and was frequently crude at social activities. This was quite out of character for a man who for many years had been considered exceptionally tactful and with a charming personality.

Upon return to Australia in 1938, Captain Farquhar-Smith transferred to RAN Auxiliary Service upon reaching 50 years of age. His next posting, during 1938-39, was to Navy Office as the Director of Naval Reserves and Mobilisation. He also became an honorary Aide-de-camp to the Governor-General in October 1938 and retained this position until January 1945. Again he struggled as a senior staff officer and his slowness to react to emerging difficulties earned him the ire of his superiors. It was intended not to appoint him for further duties in the future, however in September 1939 war with Germany was declared. As a result thousands of naval reservists were called up for service and this required substantial organisation and management by Farquhar-Smith and his staff.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin, KBE, CB, RN considered Farquhar-Smith was not up to the task and quickly had him removed from this position. In late 1939 Farquhar-Smith was appointed as the District Naval Officer Western Australia and held this post until April 1942. This was, however, a significant responsibility as the port of Fremantle soon became a major hub for Australian warships escorting troop convoys to the Middle East and Singapore. The major activity during his time in Western Australia, however, was the HMAS Sydney/HSK Kormoran action fought on the evening of 19 November 1941. Both ships were sunk - Sydney with the loss of her entire ship's company.

The aftermath of the action and the search for Sydney survivors, coupled with the rescue and interrogation of Kormoran survivors, again called into question Farquhar-Smith’s ability to undertake his duties as the District Naval Officer. There was already a long standing feud between Farquhar-Smith and Captain Frank Getting (Deputy Chief of Naval Staff) who claimed Farquhar-Smith was ‘not doing very well’ in the role. Getting effectively had Farquhar-Smith side-lined for the interrogations of senior German survivors; which was mainly undertaken by Rear Admiral John Crace, RN (Commanding the Australian Fleet).

Additionally, many decades after the war, some commentators claimed Farquhar-Smith failed to react quickly enough to Sydney being overdue and that if he had ordered a search for the ship earlier then survivors might have been found. This allegedly caused his removal from his position as District Naval Officer Western Australia, however, in reality much of the search for Sydney was organised and controlled by Navy Office in Melbourne.

A more likely scenario is that following the entry of Japan into the war, and the subsequent fall of Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies, the Australian Naval Board considered Western Australia very much on the front line of Australian defence. The elderly Farquhar -Smith, who some claimed was a master of inactivity and preferred to let problems sort themselves out, was replaced by the younger and more dynamic Commodore 2nd Class John Collins. Commodore Collins, who had commanded Sydney in the Mediterranean theatre in 1940, also had recent operational experience serving with the American, British, Dutch, Australian (ABDA) Command in Java; as a result he was appointed as Naval Officer in Command - Fremantle in March 1942 where many United States and Dutch naval units were now congregating.

In April 1942 Farquhar-Smith moved to Tasmania as the District Naval Officer (DNO); based at HMAS Huon in Hobart. The position only required an officer of Commander rank and this was very much a demotion. In January 1943 the DNO position was retitled Naval Officer in Charge (NOIC) Hobart. Captain Farquhar-Smith turned 55 in January 1943 and was automatically placed on the Emergency List but was retained as NOIC - Hobart until demobilised on 4 July 1944 and placed on the Retired List.

Charles and Cicely Farquhar-Smith retired to the harbour-side suburb of Vaucluse in Sydney. On 29 January 1948, on attaining 60 years of age, he was automatically promoted to Rear Admiral on the Retired List. Charles Farquhar-Smith remained active in retirement and, stating that he was bored, returned to sea-going service as the mate of the coastal freighter SS Kindur operating from Newcastle. In 1953 he was appointed to the board of directors of the Newcastle and Hunter River Steamship Co Ltd.

Rear Admiral Charles Farquhar-Smith died in Sydney on 17 June 1968. Despite his average performance in senior staff positions later in his career Farquhar-Smith provided highly credible service to the RAN in its formative years. In addition, he was always described as a hard working officer who had the interests of his subordinates as his first priority.

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