Rear Admiral Henry Arthur Showers

Henry ‘Harry’ Arthur Showers was born in Carlton, Melbourne on 24 May 1899, the youngest child of Charles Showers (hotel keeper) and Alice Showers (née Villar). He grew up in Preston, Victoria and entered the RAN College as a Cadet Midshipman in 1913. He gained his colours for rugby, cricket and rowing, and on graduation from the college in 1916 was awarded the prize for engineering (workshop) and the Otto Albert prizes for theoretical and practical engineering. He was promoted to Midshipman in January 1917 and proceeded to England for further training.

His elder brother Robert had joined the 1st AIF in 1914 and served at Gallipoli in the 14th Battalion and then served on the Western Front with the 4th Machine Gun Battalion. He was badly wounded in the face and right thigh in April 1917 and was returned Australia in February 1918 for medical discharge.

Harry Showers’ first ship was the battlecruiser HMS Glorious in which he served from April-December 1917 on operations in the North Sea. Glorious took part in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight on 17 November 1917, when a British force encountered a German force of light cruisers, destroyers and minesweepers. The battle was indecisive, although Glorious suffered serious damage to one of its turrets when a shell prematurely exploded in the barrel.

At the end of 1917 he was one of five Australian Midshipmen loaned to the 13th submarine flotilla, based at Rosyth in Scotland, and Showers joined HMS K22. On 31 January 1918, K22 was badly damaged when she was struck first by her sister K14 and then by the battlecruiser HMS Inflexible in what became known as the Battle of May Island, when several submarines were accidentally sunk or damaged while departing the Firth of Forth at night. Showers was in the fore-ends of K22 when she was struck by Inflexible and he saved the life of an injured Royal Navy rating as the submarine began to fill with water.

After his brief period in K22 Showers returned to Glorious. He was promoted to Acting Sub Lieutenant in September 1918, granted his Watchkeeping certificate in November and confirmed as a Sub Lieutenant in December. Showers completed training courses at HMS Excellent in late 1918 and at Greenwich Naval College in early 1919. He also served briefly in the S Class destroyer HMS Strenuous and was then posted to the submarine depot ship HMAS Platypus for service in the submarine HMAS J3, from March to September 1919. In mid-1919, Platypus and her attached J Class submarines returned to Australian waters. One of Showers’ classmates died during this period when Sub Lieutenant Frank Larkins was washed overboard from the submarine HMAS J2 in the Carimata Strait near Borneo, in June 1919.

On arrival in Australia, Showers served briefly in HMAS Cerberus before returning to England in early 1920 to undertake training courses in gunnery, navigation and torpedoes prior to promotion. He was promoted to Lieutenant in April 1920 and returned to Australia where he served again in Platypus from February 1921-August 1922 as a submariner. Lieutenant Showers then served in the boys training ship HMAS Tingira (August-December 1922), the cruiser HMAS Sydney (December 1922-February 1923) and the destroyer HMAS Tasmania (March-May 1923).

He then proceeded to England again to undertake a specialist course in navigation and upon successful completion was posted to the minesweeper HMS Badminton as Navigator (under observation) in December 1923. Showers was a keen sportsman as a young officer and regularly played cricket, hockey, soccer and he was also a very good middle weight boxer. His favorite sport, however, was rugby where he played as a full back and he was twice selected (1920 and 1925) for the All England Rugby Team, but injury kept him from taking to the field. In the 1930s he was a referee for NSW Rugby Union matches.

He served in Badminton in English waters until March 1925, when he transferred to the sloop HMS Silvio. In late June 1925 Silvio was commissioned into the RAN as the survey vessel HMAS Moresby, and Lieutenant Showers continued to serve in her as an Assistant Surveyor 4th Class until January 1927. Harry Showers then joined the light cruiser HMAS Melbourne and served in her until October 1927 when he then transferred to her sister ship HMAS Sydney.

Henry Showers married Jean Alison Cunningham, with Presbyterian rites, at St Stephens Church, Sydney on 19 November 1927 and they later had a daughter. Jean was the sister of his former 1913 entry classmate, Ernest Cunningham, who had been killed on 31 January 1918 when the submarine HMS K17 was sunk in the Battle of May Island. He and Jean then proceeded to the UK on an exchange posting. Showers undertook a brief course in tactics at HMS Dryad during early 1928 and then in March of that year joined the destroyer HMS Douglas as the navigator where he served until May 1930. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in April 1928.

Upon return to Australia Lieutenant Commander Showers was appointed to HMAS Penguin, the depot ship in Sydney, where he served as the Master Attendant for the Garden Island naval base from June 1930 until December 1931. He then served as the navigator in the heavy cruisers HMAS Australia (January-June 1932), Canberra (June-August 1932) and Australia again (August 1932-July 1933). Showers was promoted to Commander in June 1933 and became the Commander (Officer in Command) of the RAN College located at HMAS Cerberus. He held this position until July 1934 when he was again dispatched to England for exchange service with the Royal Navy.

While on loan to the Royal Navy he conducted a number of tactical training courses in 1934-35 and was then posted to HMS Arethusa as the 3rd Cruiser Squadron Navigation Officer and Staff Officer Operations during the period May 1935-August 1936. During his service at sea with the Royal Navy he spent much of his time in the Mediterranean and was part of the British force on stand-by during the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Additionally the 3rd Cruiser Squadron patrolled off Palestine, in 1936, to prevent illegal immigration by Jewish refugees, and Showers was one of the few Australians to receive the Naval General Service Medal with clasp Palestine 1936-39. He was also awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935.

Upon return to Australia in late 1936 he was again appointed to the heavy cruiser Canberra as the Australian Squadron's Navigation Officer. In 1937 he was appointed as an honorary Aide-de-camp to the Governor-General and retained this appointment until 1945. He served in Canberra until January 1939 during which time he was awarded the King George VI Coronation Medal in 1937. Showers then commanded the sloop HMAS Swan from January-August 1939 and then, on promotion to Acting Captain on 1 September 1939, took command of the cruiser HMAS Adelaide. He was confirmed in the rank of Captain in December of that year.

During his time in command Adelaide operated on the Australia Station conducting patrol and convoy escort work. Adelaide also supported the Free French takeover of New Caledonia in September 1940 and Showers was commended for noteworthy diplomacy in ensuring a pro-de Gaulle government was installed. The cruiser then conducted convoy escort duties to Rabaul, Port Moresby and Ambon in 1941. His time in Adelaide was slightly marred by a collision with the merchant vessel SS Coptic in the early hours of 3 September 1940, while Adelaide was proceeding to Noumea. Both ships suffered light damage.

Captain Showers relinquished command of Adelaide in early June 1942 and immediately took command of the light cruiser HMAS Hobart and commanded her on operations in the South West Pacific, including the landings at Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, in August 1942, and convoy escort duties in the Coral Sea in 1942-43. Hobart was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-11, off Espiritu Santo (New Hebrides) on 20 July 1943, and limped back to Australia for repairs. The badly damaged cruiser arrived in Sydney in late August 1943 and the repairs were not completed until late 1944. Captain Showers was posted to HMAS Kuttabul on 18 October 1943, and undertook duties as the Chief Staff Officer to the Naval Officer in Command - Sydney.

On 2 May 1944 he took command of the heavy cruiser HMAS Shropshire from Captain John Collins (a 1913 RAN College classmate), and commanded her until 30 September 1944 when he handed over to Captain CAG Nicholls, RN. During his short time in command, Shropshire was heavily employed on naval gunfire support duties for amphibious landings on the north coast of New Guinea, and also at Wakde Island and Morotai in the Netherlands East Indies.

On 15 October 1944 Showers was promoted to Commodore 2nd Class, and in November became the Second Naval Member of the Commonwealth Naval Board based in Melbourne. Here he was responsible for all personnel matters (both permanent and reserves members), discipline, naval stores, victualling and medical services. On 14 June 1945 Showers was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for “meritorious service, outstanding leadership and devotion to duty”.

On 15 April 1946 he once again took command of Shropshire and took the cruiser to England, via South Africa, for the Victory Celebrations held in London. Upon return to Australia he handed over command on 1 November 1946 and was posted to HMAS Cerberus as the Commodore Superintendent of Training, responsible for all training at Flinders Naval Depot. Additionally during this period he was the Commanding Officer of the RAN College. On 1 March 1948 he once again became the Second Naval Member, a position he held until 18 June 1950.

Showers was promoted to Acting Rear Admiral on 10 May 1950, and in June of that year was posted as Flag Officer in Command - Sydney (FOIC - Sydney) and Sea Transport Officer. In 1953 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal. On 24 May 1954, at age 55, he was placed on the Emergency List but continued to serve as FOIC - Sydney until he finally retired on 8 February 1955. Although he was never confirmed in the rank of Rear Admiral he retained the rank after he retired from the RAN.

In retirement he resided in the eastern harbour side suburbs of Sydney. Rear Admiral Showers was president of the United Services Institute of NSW during 1951-54 and was the federal president of the Navy League from 1957-68. After this he was secretary of the Nuclear Research Foundation at Sydney University which allowed him to pursue his interests in science and engineering.

During his naval career Showers served extensively at sea and commanded three RAN cruisers (Adelaide, Hobart and Shropshire) and was the first RAN College graduate to be a Member of the Commonwealth Naval Board. His sailors often recalled him as a “real gentleman” and that his ships were happy ones. His peers considered him one of the best cruiser captains of World War II.

Rear Admiral Henry ‘Harry’ Showers passed away in Sydney on 31 July 1991.