Rear Admiral Kenneth McKenzie Urquhart

Kenneth McKenzie Urquhart was born in Launceston, Tasmania on 28 February 1905. He joined the RAN College in 1919 as a Cadet Midshipman gaining his colours for swimming. On passing out, in 1922, he was awarded ‘maximum time’ (three months early promotion to Lieutenant) and prizes for navigation, English, mathematics, physics and chemistry.

His first ship was the light cruiser HMAS Adelaide in which he spent a few months under training in early 1923. Urquhart was promoted Midshipman on 15 May 1923 and soon after proceeded to England to undertake four years of engineering officer training at the Royal Navy Engineering College at Keyham, Plymouth. There he spent their four years living and studying at the college as well as undergoing practical training in the college workshops and the nearby dockyard. While at Keyham, Kenneth Urquhart competed in Navy and Inter-Service swimming competitions and was the winner of the Inter-Services 100 yards freestyle swimming championship in 1926. He also demonstrated excellent rugby skills playing for three years with the Keyham first XV rugby team. Urquhart was promoted to Acting Sub Lieutenant in September 1925 and confirmed in that rank in March the following year. 

On completing his engineering courses Urquhart was promoted Lieutenant and returned to Australia where he was appointed to the light cruiser HMAS Sydney, in November 1927, as a junior engineer officer. In early 1928 Kenneth married Ms Alison Entrican in Woollahra, NSW. In May 1928 Lieutenant Urquhart proceeded to England as part of the commissioning crew for the new heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra. The cruiser commissioned at Clydebank on 9 July 1928 but Kenneth Urquhart’s time in her was limited as in late September 1928 he commenced advanced engineering courses in England.

These engineering courses concluded in August 1930 after which Kenneth Urquhart completed a gun mounting course and advanced torpedo training before returning to Australia in May 1931. He then rejoined Canberra, serving in her until October 1933. During that time the cruiser operated mainly in Australian waters, but also conducted ports visits to Noumea (New Caledonia) and the New Hebrides (modern day Vanuatu) in September 1931, various ports in the Netherlands East Indies in late 1932 and Auckland and Wellington (New Zealand) during August 1933. During each visit the cruiser conducted exercises with the various nations warships.

In late 1933 Urquhart was selected for further gunnery and torpedo training as well as gaining experience working at the Government Explosives Factory at Maribyrnong, Victoria to gain a better understanding of munitions. In mid-1934, he was appointed second assistant to the engineering manager at Garden Island Dockyard. Urquhart was promoted Lieutenant Commander in August 1935 earning a reputation as a highly skilled ordnance engineer. In May 1936 he was dispatched to the Mediterranean to join the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, then operating on exchange service with the Royal Navy. While on board he undertook extensive work assessing the ships 8-inch gun mounts. Australia returned to Sydney in early August and Urquhart was appointed to her sister ship Canberra in January 1937 for similar engineering duties.

During his service in Canberra the cruiser operated in New Zealand waters, in April, with the Royal Navy’s New Zealand Division and also visited Singapore and Netherlands East Indies ports  in August-September 1937. In late 1937 Lieutenant Commander Urquhart proceeded to England for extensive ordnance training courses. On conclusion he served briefly in the light cruiser HMAS Hobart, during September-December 1938, before being appointed as the Armament Assistant to the Engineer Manager at Garden Island Dockyard. He spent the next four years in Sydney in charge of the Gun-mounting Depot and Torpedo Depot. On 30 June 1941 Kenneth Urquhart was promoted Engineer Commander.

In early July 1943 Urquhart was appointed to the light cruiser HMAS Hobart, as the engineer officer but on 20 July, before he could join the ship, she was torpedoed and badly damaged by a Japanese submarine off Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. After arriving onboard Hobart, on 26 July 1943, Commander Urquhart helped oversee the substantial repair work required to enable the damaged ship to return to Australia for repairs. Hobart arrived in Sydney on 26 August 1943 and commenced 18 months of repairs and upgrades. Consequently Commander Urquhart was appointed to the destroyer HMAS Arunta in early October 1943.

The destroyer had just completed a refit and was soon on her way north to Milne Bay, New Guinea as a convoy escort. In December Arunta took part in bombarding Japanese forces at Gasmata, on the Island of New Britain, and supporting Allied troops being landed at Arawe, Saidor and Cape Gloucester. In February 1944 Urquhart transferred to HMAS Warramunga (sister ship of Arunta) and served in actions at the Admiralty Islands, Tanahmerah Bay, Wakde, Biak, and Noemfoor Island.

Urquhart joined the destroyer HMAS Napier in late August 1944 and he took part in bombardment operations along the Burmese coast during December 1944-January 1945. Napier then transferred to the British Pacific Fleet for operations up to the cessation of hostilities. Commander Urquhart received a Mention in Despatches in June 1946 for distinguished service during the war in the Far East while serving in HMAS Napier as the Flotilla Engineer. Urquhart then served briefly in the destroyer HMAS Quality, during October-November 1945, before returning to the staff of the Engineer Manager at Garden Island. He completed the Royal Navy Staff Course in late 1946 and, after returning to Australia in early 1947, he took up his next appointment as the first assistant to the engineering manager at Garden Island. The following year he became the principal navy overseer at Cockatoo Island Dockyard and deputy engineering manager at Garden Island Dockyard.

In early 1949 he served briefly in the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia as the ships engineer before being appointed, in April 1949, to Navy Office in Melbourne, on the staff of the 3rd Naval Member (then Rear Admiral John Wishart). He was promoted engineer captain in June 1950 taking up the duties as the General Manager of Williamstown Naval Dockyard. During his period as the General Manager he oversaw the construction of the destroyer HMAS Anzac (commissioned 1951) and HMAS Vendetta (launched 1954) as well as overseeing the numerous refits of other vessels. Williamstown Dockyard was well known for its robust unionism and the position of general manager required strong and determined leadership which Urquhart provided. He was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal in 1953 partly for his work at Williamstown.

In July 1953 Engineer Captain Urquhart was appointed the engineering manager Garden Island and staff officer engineering staff to the Flag Officer in Command Eastern Australia (FOICEA). In 1954 he became the General Manager of Garden Island Dockyard where the bulk of the RAN’s maintenance work was conducted. Again Urquhart was heavily involved in ensuring Navy got the best value for money, in the face of frequent industrial action by the many unions present at the dockyard, as well as seeking to improve the safety record in an era where accidents were considered just part and parcel of everyday work.

In early 1956 Urquhart travelled to England and Canada to attend the senior officers atomic defence course. He then joined the staff of the Naval Liaison Officer, as the naval engineer officer, at the Australian High Commission in London. Captain Urquhart also continued his studies into nuclear propulsion and its potential for use in the RAN. Upon returning to Australia in December 1958 he was appointed as the Deputy Chief of Construction and Director of Technical Planning.

Promoted Engineer Rear Admiral on 22 August 1959 he was appointed the 3rd Naval Member and Chief of Construction based at Navy Office in Melbourne (but soon after relocated to Canberra). The RAN was then entering a period of significant warship acquisition. Urquhart is widely credited with persuading Vice Admiral Sir Henry Burrell (Chief of Naval Staff 1959-62) that the US built Charles F Adams Class guided missile destroyers should be selected for the RAN instead of the British County Class; that was suffering from serious engineering issues. The acquisition of these US destroyers proved to be a highly successful enterprise for the RAN and paved the way for more equipment acquisitions from the US Navy. Urquhart was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List (23 June 1960) ‘for service to engineering in the RAN’.

Rear Admiral Kenneth Urquhart retired from the RAN on 28 February 1963 and soon after migrated to England. Urquhart died in the small village of Rolvenden, Kent on 24 February 1974 after a lengthy illness. He was survived by his second wife, Yolande, and their son.