Rear Admiral William David Hamilton Graham

William ‘Bill’ David Hamilton Graham was born on 3 September 1916 in the small farming and mining town of Esk, Queensland. He was educated at the Church of England Boys School, in Toowoomba, and joined the Royal Australian Navy on 1 May 1934 as a 17-year old Paymaster Cadet (on probation). William was kitted up at HMAS Penguin at Garden Island before joining his first ship, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, on 12 May 1934 to begin his training as a Paymaster officer. On completion of his six months initial training he was granted a 1st Class Certificate and put to work in the Captain’s and ship’s offices performing both supply and secretariat duties. During that time he was noted as ‘keen to learn’ and as being a fair rugby player. William Graham was to maintain a high level of physical fitness throughout his career.

During his time in Australia she operated in Australian waters and took part in the Royal Cruise of 1934-35 when she escorted HMS Sussex carrying HRH the Duke of Gloucester. In early 1935 Australia sailed for England, via the Panama Canal, to take part in King George V’s Silver Jubilee Naval Review at Plymouth in May. While in England Graham was promoted Paymaster Midshipman on 1 May 1935. Following the jubilee celebrations Australia proceeded to the Mediterranean on exchange service with the Royal Navy and did not return to Australia until August 1936.

On 15 October 1936, Midshipman Graham transferred to the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra, joining the secretariat staff of the Rear Admiral Commanding the Australian Squadron, firstly Rear Admiral Richard Lane-Poole, RN (1936-38) and then Rear Admiral Wilfred Custance, RN (1938-39). He was to serve in Canberra for the next four years during which time he was promoted Paymaster Sub Lieutenant on 1 January 1937 and Paymaster Lieutenant two years later. Canberra operated extensively on the Australia station during this period but also conducted port visits to New Zealand, the Netherlands East Indies and New Guinea.

While serving in Canberra Graham’s superiors noted that he was tactful when dealing with his superiors but less so with his subordinates. He was also noted for his hard work and keenness to ‘get the job done’.   

When war broke out in September 1939, Canberra was in Sydney but was soon employed conducting coastal patrols in the Indian Ocean with her sister ship Australia. Australian born Rear Admiral Gregory Crace, RN, was by then in command of the RAN Squadron. In early 1940 Canberra, Australia and Sydney accompanied the first Australian troop convoy to Fremantle before handing over the escort to other warships. The three RAN ships then conducted a  series of coastal patrols before Canberra was directed to proceed to Cape Town in June 1940. Paymaster Lieutenant Graham consequently transferred to the light cruiser HMAS Perth on 7 June 1940, when Rear Admiral Crace transferred his flag from Canberra to Perth. For the remainder of the year Perth operated on the Australia station, escorting convoys and carrying out patrol duties in the Indian Ocean.

In late November 1940 Graham was posted to HMAS Melville, the RAN shore depot in Darwin, as the secretary to the Naval Officer in Command of the Darwin area; Commodore 2nd Class Cuthbert Pope, RAN. He was later the secretary to Pope’s successor Commodore 2nd Class Arthur Halfhide, RN from December 1942. Graham was in Darwin during the first air raids by the Japanese on 19 February 1942 and endured many more over the next 12 months. Graham was, at that time, described by his superiors as being ‘able to work hard and long under trying conditions and never losing his ability to whistle cheerfully, but tunelessly, in times of stress’. Service in Darwin at that time was stressful with the harsh climate, lack of resources and frequent enemy air raids all taking its toll on those who served in this forward operating area.

In February 1943 Graham was posted to England, arriving there in April to work at the RAN’s London depot as part of the Naval Liaison Officers staff. He was promoted Acting Paymaster Lieutenant Commander on 1 November 1944 and was in London during the V1 and V2 rocket attacks throughout 1944-45. During that time he was responsible for providing administrative support to hundreds of RAN personnel, mainly RANVR officers, who were on loan to the Royal Navy. This included all manner of work including managing pay and allowances, arranging training, organising medical support, supplying uniforms and equipment, staffing honours and awards, and finding accommodation for personnel in a country ‘literally bursting at the seams’ with Allied personnel.

Lieutenant Commander Graham returned to Australia in October 1945 following the cessation of hostilities and was posted to the shore depot HMAS Huon in Tasmania for leave before taking up his next appointment on 2 February 1946 as the Secretary to the Rear Admiral Commanding the Australian Squadron. Graham was confirmed in the rank of Lieutenant Commander on 1 November 1947 and served as both Commodore John Collin’s and Rear Admiral Harold Farncomb’s secretary over the next few years. This involved ‘ship hopping’ routinely throughout 1946-47 from the cruisers Hobart, Shropshire and Australia as the senior officer's flag was moved from one unit to another. This settled down somewhat in December 1947, when Australia became the permanent flagship of the Australian Squadron.  

Graham was considered by many to be too junior to be appointed as the secretary to the squadron commander but what he lacked in knowledge he made up for in zeal. Collins described him as ‘Not quite the font of knowledge usually expected of a Commodore's Secretary but he has worked hard to make a success of the job and has been quick to adjust himself to requirements. Being most loyal, having a quiet manner and readily admitting mistakes, he has the makings of a first rate secretary'. Farncomb was less verbose but still described Graham as ‘an excellent secretary’, which from this senior officer were glowing words of praise indeed.

Graham was promoted Acting Commander on 1 January 1948 and in July 1949, was appointed to HMAS Kuttabul as the secretary to Rear Admiral George Moore who was then Flag Officer in Command Sydney (FOIC-Sydney). In mid-1950 Moore retired and Rear Admiral Harry Showers took over as FOIC-Sydney and Graham remained on as the secretary. William Graham returned to sea in Australia in April 1951, as both the ship’s Supply Officer and as the Fleet Supply Officer.

Having spent many years in the secretariat sphere of the navy he initially struggled with his return to supply officer duties but overcame these through his usual attitude of working hard to master the details of his new role. Graham was subsequently confirmed in the rank of Commander (Supply) in December 1951. 

Commander Graham spent the next two years in the cruiser operating chiefly in Australian waters conducting training exercises. The ship also visited New Guinea ports and the Solomon Islands in June-July 1951 and conducted a memorial service off Savo Island where HMAS Canberra had been sunk in August 1942. A similar program occurred in May-June 1952 with visits to Manus Island and the Solomons.

Graham was briefly appointed the Supply Officer at HMAS Albatross in mid-1953 but in December of that year he rejoined Australia as the secretary to the then Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Roy Dowling, RAN. He moved, with the Fleet Commander, to the aircraft carrier HMAS Vengeance in March 1954 and then to the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney in August 1954. In March 1955 Graham rejoined Vengeance to oversee the return of the carrier to the Royal Navy in October of that year. Vengeance arrived in England in August 1955 and Graham departed the ship, in September, to undertake the Royal Navy Staff Course during September 1955-March 1956 at the Royal Naval College - Greenwich.   

On completion of the staff course he remained in England undertaking attachment to the Planning Department in the Admiralty, during March-November 1956, to gain logistics planning skills. Following this he undertook the Joint Service Staff Course from November 1956-May 1957. His report from the college stated he was:

An officer of sterling worth with a strong (perhaps rather intense) personality and he has made a distinct impact on the course and which he had done very well and been an excellent representative of his service.

Graham was then attached to the Admiralty from June-December 1957 to undertake legal training. He was promoted Supply Captain on 31 December 1957 and on his return to Australia in early 1958 he joined Navy Office (Melbourne) as Deputy Director-General Supply and Secretariat. During April 1958-January 1959 he was also an honorary Aide-de-camp to the Governor-General; Field Marshal Sir William Slim.

In July 1958 Captain Graham was appointed the secretary to the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Sir Roy Dowling, KBE, CB, DSO, RAN. During late 1958 Navy Office relocated from Melbourne to Russell Offices in Canberra and Dowling was succeeded by Vice Admiral Sir Henry Burrell, KBE, CB, RAN, who Graham continued to serve as secretary.

In 1962 Graham undertook studies at the Imperial Defence College in London and upon returning to Australia was appointed in command of HMAS Kuttabul and Captain of the Port of Sydney during 1963-65. Captain Graham returned to Navy Office in January 1966 as the Fourth Naval Member and also as Chief of Supply. He was promoted Acting Rear Admiral on 1 February 1966 and confirmed in that rank on 7 January 1967. On 10 June 1967 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for ‘Conspicuous Service to the Royal Australian Navy’.

Graham enjoyed a six year tenure as the Fourth Naval Member providing a prolonged period of stability during a time of significant materiel change for the RAN. This included the introduction into service of several ships including the third Charles F Adams-class guided missile destroyer HMAS Brisbane, four Oberon-class submarines and 20 Attack-class patrol boats. He was also involved in a proposed light destroyer project that was later cancelled. This period also saw the introduction of the A4 Skyhawk jet fighter-bombers and Grumman S2E Tracker anti-submarine aircraft into the Fleet Air Arm, the fitting of the Ikara anti-submarine missile to destroyers and destroyer escorts and the introduction of computerised data processing systems to support supply functions.

Additionally older World War II era vessels were also being disposed of and all of these activities required an agile and well performing logistics system to ensure projects were completed on time and the necessary equipment and stores were available to support the new ships, aircraft and systems. Yet another of Graham’s major activities was the preliminary work in creating a West Australian Naval Support Facility (later HMAS Stirling). Rear Admiral Graham was one of the visionary senior officers of that time who realised the need for a two ocean basing policy for the RAN and who helped to manage the process to make the base a reality.

Rear Admiral Graham’s final posting in the RAN was as the Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Australia (FOCEA) from January 1972 until September 1973; after which he retired from the Navy and he and his wife Marjorie settled in the Canberra suburb of Pearce. In retirement he followed a number of pursuits including gardening and he served on the management committee of the Salvation Army Mancare sheltered workshop. He was also a member of the local Neighbourhood Watch organisation, advisor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography and a council member of the United Services Institute (ACT Chapter). Many who worked with Graham considered him a consummate professional, a gentleman and an outstanding secretary to senior officers due to his knowledge, political skills and tact. Equally, he was recognised for his strong and forceful personality and as one who was not afraid to voice his displeasure when mistakes were made.

Rear Admiral Graham passed away in Canberra on 30 August 1993.