Rear Admiral Geoffrey John Humphry Woolrych

Deputy Chief of Navy (1982- 1983)

Commander Australian Fleet (1983 - 1985)

Geoffrey John Humphry Woolrych was born at Townsville, Queensland on 6 May 1930. He entered the RAN College (then at Flinders Naval Depot) in February 1944 and gained his sporting colours for rugby before graduating in late 1947.

Woolrych then proceeded to England to undertake further training with the Royal Navy during 1947-1951, which included sea service in the RN training cruiser HMS Devonshire (January-August 1948). He was then appointed to the battleship HMS Vanguard (August 1948-September 1949) at that time operating in the Mediterranean, before briefly serving in the aircraft carrier HMS Vengeance (September 1949-January 1950). He was promoted Midshipman in September 1948 and Sub Lieutenant in January 1950.

In 1950-51 Woolrych undertook his Sub Lieutenant's course at the Royal Naval College (Greenwich) before continuing specialist training courses at HMS Dolphin and HMS Excellent. He also undertook training in RN submarines and some aircraft observer training which included deck landings, prompting him to consider a career in the Fleet Air Arm.

Sub Lieutenant Woolrych returned to Australia in December 1951 and was appointed to the destroyer HMAS Anzac. In early 1952 he married, which was at that time considered a bold move for a junior officer intent on a naval career.

Woolrych was awarded his Watchkeeping Certificate in June 1952, and he saw operational service in Anzac during the Korean War between September 1952-June 1953. During that time she operated on both the east and west coast of the Korean peninsula, carrying out blockade patrols, aircraft carrier escort duties and bombardment of communist targets ashore. Woolrych was promoted to Lieutenant in December 1952 and joined the cruiser HMAS Australia in July 1953, as an Officer of the Watch.

Geoffrey Woolrych chose to specialise as an Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, he subsequently returned to England in November 1954 to undertake the Long Torpedo and Anti-Submarine (TAS) course at HMS Vernon. On completion of the course he served as the TAS Officer in the cruiser HMS Kenya on the West Indies Station, from March 1957 until the ship decommissioned in September 1958. Woolrych returned to Australia in late 1958, and served at the TAS School at HMAS Watson until joining the newly commissioned destroyer HMAS Vampire in June 1959 as the TAS Officer. During his time in Vampire the ship operated in Australian waters, conducting the necessary work ups and trials for a new vessel.

In June 1960 Woolrych was selected for a two year exchange posting with the United States Navy, serving at the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare School at San Diego. He also completed the Tactical Command Course before being promoted Lieutenant Commander in December 1960. He returned to Australia in July 1962, and was posted to Navy Office in Canberra as a staff officer in the Directorate of Tactics, Trials and Staff Requirements before joining the destroyer HMAS Vendetta as the Executive Officer in March 1964.

Although his time in Vendetta proved short, it was noted that he was well liked by the ship's company but by no means a popularity seeker. In mid-1964 Vendetta served in South East Asian waters and actively patrolled the east coast of Malaysia during the period of the Indonesian Confrontation. Woolrych left Vendetta in September 1964 and joined the staff of the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet as the Fleet Operations Officer. He was promoted to Commander in December 1964.

As the Fleet Operations Officer his duties alternated between service ashore at Fleet Headquarters (HMAS Kuttabul) and in the flagship HMAS Melbourne. In October 1966 Commander Woolrych was appointed in-command of the frigate HMAS Derwent, in which he served until January 1968. During that time Derwent operated in Australian waters and her crew assisted in combating bushfires in Hobart in 1967. Derwent then deployed to South East Asia, visiting the Philippines, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong before returning to Australia for a refit at Williamstown Naval Dockyard.

Commander Woolrych relinquished command of Derwent in January 1968 and was subsequently posted to Navy Office as the Deputy Director Manpower Planning. While effective in this posting he sought more interesting work, and in June 1968 he was transferred to the Department of Defence as the Staff Officer to the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (General Sir John Gordon Noel Wilton KBE, CB, DSO). The Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee was the forerunner of the current Chief of the Defence Force. In that role Woolrych was involved in the day to day tasks focusing on the employment of  Australia's forces in Vietnam, working towards an integrated defence organisation (including a tri-service academy), a joint intelligence group and the amalgamation of the separate government departments for the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Woolrych was promoted Captain in June 1970 and posted back to Navy Office as an ‘officer for special duties’, which saw him involved in a number of short term studies and projects. In July 1971 he was posted to HMAS Lonsdale to oversee the last few months of a major refit of the destroyer HMAS Vampire. On completion of the refit he assumed command when she recommissioned on 17 November 1971. Vampire operated in Australian waters and was also part of the Australian, New Zealand and United Kingdom (ANZUK) forces based in Singapore in 1972-73. In November 1972 Vampire escorted the fast troop transport HMAS Sydney on her last voyage to Vung Tau, Vietnam to offload a cargo of humanitarian aid for onward delivery to Cambodia. The two ships departed Vung Tau Harbour on 24 November 1972, thus signifying the end of the RAN's involvement in the Vietnam War.  

In April 1973 Vampire sailed to Fiji and Samoa to act as the host ship for Prime Minister Whitlam during the South Pacific Forum, before taking part in Exercise LONGEX 73 in September. Captain Woolrych handed over command of Vampire in February 1974, and then proceeded to Navy Office to take up his next posting as the Director of Plans. Woolrych then undertook study at the Royal College of Defence Studies in 1976, and in January 1977 became the Naval Advisor to the Head of the Australian Defence Staff at the High Commission in the United Kingdom. He was promoted Commodore on 30 June 1977 before returning to Australia in late 1978. In January 1979 Woolrych was appointed as the Chief of Staff to the Fleet Commander. On several occasions, when the Fleet Commander was embarked in the flagship (HMAS Melbourne), Woolrych acted as the Deputy Fleet Commander ashore.

Geoffrey Woolrych was promoted Rear Admiral on 20 February 1981 and appointed as Chief of Naval Operational Requirements & Plans. In July 1982 he became the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. In June 1983 Woolrych was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) 'for service to the RAN, particularly as Chief of Naval Operational Requirements and Plans and as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff'. Throughout his career Woolrych was frequently described by his superiors as a forceful and quick-witted officer, but also as excellent entertainer who, with the support of his family, excelled in the social aspects of naval life.

His last appointment was as the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet (and as the inaugural Maritime Commander) during the period October 1983-May 1985, after which he retired from the RAN. His final years in the RAN had been challenging ones as the Navy coped with the loss of the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (decommissioned in 1982), the loss of the fixed wing capability of the Fleet Air Arm and constrained finances. They were also exciting years, with the introduction of new platforms such as the Adelaide Class guided missile frigates and Fremantle Class patrol boats. At retirement Woolrych was one of the last members of the RAN with World War II service.

In retirement Woolrych was able to devote more time to his hobbies of golf, fishing and tennis. He also kept in touch with naval affairs through his brother Robert Woolrych who joined the RAN College in 1959, and who specialised as a submariner before reaching the rank of Commander. His eldest son, Simon Woolrych, joined the Navy in 1972 and trained as a Principal Warfare Officer, attaining the rank of Captain. A nephew, Samuel Woolrych, son of Robert, also joined the Navy, qualifying as a navigator, rounding off a firm family commitment to naval service.

Rear Admiral Woolrych passed away on 6 February 2006 at Exeter, NSW.