Sandy sends.....

The discovery of Donald Albert Crowley.

Returning via Adelaide from the Melbourne 2008 reunion and whilst visiting several of the city used bookshops, a book cover with a couple of Telegraphist right arm rates caught my eye, and so "Royal Australian Navy Radio Mechanic - A History of the Torrens Era" by George Stevens was purchased along with some others. A brilliant in depth background read of how the WWII Radio Mechanics branch came into being as a forerunner to the EM's of the 1960' and 1970's onwards, as we may recall.

Early on this year whilst visiting the website I read a linked then current RAN Mechanics Association newsletter No.70 dated December 2009, and so I contacted the President Mr John Saywell OAM from S.A. and told him of my purchase of the book.

Background being, in recalling the Donald Albert Crowley recruit Telegraphist also from S.A. in the mystery photo, who was a trained Radio technical person in Adelaide before joining in 1942, and completed the 14 weeks Telegraphist course and subsequently went on to a Radio Mechanics course. I asked John if he perhaps had ever had an RM Donald Albert Crowley from S.A. on his books.

The rest is history.... read on.... and this is from an 81 year old youngster. John himself was in Telegraphist Course W10 at the FND Signal School. A walking encyclopedia and as the current National President has just organised and concluded a very successful National Radio Mechanics reunion in QLD. I just hope I still have his memory, energy and will to keep reading and writing it down as he does. Cheers


-------- Original Message -------- Subject: Donald Albert Crowley PA/V49 & O/No. 26896
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2010 19:57:24 +0930
From: John Saywell <>
To: Graham McNab <>

I'll get a quick question in - how much did you need to pay for
George Stevens' book about the Torrens Era Radio Mechanics? I am most
curious. I provided a reasonable input of material to the book there
were only about 150 copies produced from memory & most were sold at
our first reunion held in Adelaide in 1992. I was the local organiser
of that reunion. George Stevens is currently not a well man & you may
not get any response from the Email you sent to him. There are as in
most books a number of errors in it.
I have known Donald Albert Crowley since 1946, he is now 87 years old
& lives on Bribie Island, Qld. Don said, when I spoke with him today
that he thinks he is approaching his "Use By Date"!
He is happy for you to make contact with him & I will give you his
postal address & telephone number; he has recently changed his Email
address & as yet I do not have that. Up until Don had a stroke some
time back I could be assured of receiving one or more Emails a day
from Don & he was also a very active Ham Radio Operator, but in both
those regards he has gone very quite - so I suspect there is a
problem there. It may have had other effects on Don but as I haven't
had a face to face with him for some time I'm not sure of the full status.
The photograph of the February, 1942 intake of Telegraphists were all
RANVR Telegraphists & were capable of at least 20 Words Per Minute
when they entered; Donald Crowley was already qualified as a Radio
Serviceman; they did a special course at the FND Signal School of
approximately 14 weeks duration as a consequence of their
capabilities. Don Crowley was transferred to do a Wireless Mechanics
course at the then Melbourne Technical College, having been drafted
to HMAS Lonsdale. Don was in the first Melbourne Tech RAN Class,
however, there were other AD Hoc courses done before that class at
HMAS Rushcutter & there were various Direct Entry Wireless Mechanics
who were POs within 3 days - others who had exactly the same
qualifications ended up working their way through the system, taking
much longer to become a PO. Max Arnold was one in the latter
category. Although Max only had an Official Number one different to
Don Crowley he was in the Telegraphist Course following Don. Max had
been mobilised into the Army where he was a Corporal & then entered
the RANVR as a Telegraphist - he had been working in Radio Station
5AD, Adelaide & was also a trained telegraphist.
In those days the Wireless Mechanics were essentially trained to
maintain RDF which was Radar, that name was not then in use in the
Services; they were also competent to maintain wireless equipment,
but, the immediate urgency was to maintain the RDF equipment. In 1943
the Wireless Mechanic Branch became the Radio Mechanic Branch &
continued until 31.12.1947 & was absorbed into the New Electrical
Branch as from 01.01.1948 & Radio Mechanics became Radio Electricians
Mates & Petty Officer Radio Mechanics became Radio Electricians & the
name change game has continue through change after change since.
During WW2 the Wireless Mechanics & Radio Mechanics were known as
Hostilities Only WMs & RMs & were transferred to the Permanent RAN &
given Permanent RAN Numbers on the day they qualified as Wireless
Mechanics or Radio Mechanics - had something to do with the Official
Secrets Act I understand.
I joined in May 1946 with O/No 31203 & although a fully qualified &
competent Radio Mechanic was too young to be one in the Navy as I
would not be allowed to be a Leading Rate under 18 years of age so
filled in time training as a Telegraphist until I was old enough to
move to a Radio Mechanics course at the Adelaide School of Mines &
Industries, now part of the University of South Australia.
I was in Telegraphist Course W10 at the FND Signal School. Later, I
got accelerated advancement to Petty Officer Rate. It is not
generally known that WW2 Service was credited up until February, 1949
- I have Eligible WW2 Service & didn't join until May 1946.
I have to go at this stage - - I will send you another Email later
if there is more to be said - ships' callsigns is one matter.

Best wishes,
John Saywell

-------- Original Message -------- Subject: Don Crowley/Telegraphist's Photo
Date: Thu, 22 Apr 2010 01:07:26 +0930
From: John Saywell <>
To: Graham McNab <>

Sandy, I omitted to record that Don Crowley had said that he was the
Telegraphist on the right hand side of the back row in the photograph
- Don has a copy of the same photo hanging on his wall, however the
signatures are in a different order. Obviously each member in the
Class had their own copy of the photo & handed it around to get
everyone to sign at the side. The cameras of the day took very good
quality photos! They had excellent quality lens! Don remembers the
Instructor, but was struggling to remember the others in the group
not having anything to do with them again after he was Drafted to do
the Wireless Mechanic Course at the Melbourne Technical College.The
early RAN Wireless Mechanic Courses were generally comprised of six
RAN personnel only, mixed in with about 24 RAAF personnel. The RAAF
had been conducting Wireless Mechanic Courses at Melbourne Tech for
quite some time prior to the RAN getting involved. The first all RAN
Course was RAN Class 20 at Melbourne Tech; in all there were 26 RAN
Classes at Melbourne Tech. After Melbourne Tech the trainees went to
the RAN Radio School at South Head - initially administered by HMAS
Rushcutter, later by HMAS Penguin before becoming HMAS Watson in
1945. At the RAN Radio School, trainees were taught about RDF/Radar &
later Loran & Radar Countermeasures as well as RAN Service radio
equipment maintenance. Starting at Melbourne Tech RAN 20 Class the
trainees were split into becoming either primarily Radar maintainers
with small ships W/T equipment competence whilst the others become
(S) & trained in major Shore Wireless Station maintenance & were
given extra training at Belconnen & Harman. The idea was that it was
needed to get the maintainers out into the work force as fast as
possible & as soon as possible all were to be cross trained to be
"Complete" Radio Mechanics in all RAN RADAR & Radio aspects. In the
3rd Quarter of 1944, "Complete" courses commenced at the RAN Radio
School, South Head, Sydney & I have identified that at least 5 such
courses were conducted, with the last starting just as Hostilities
ceased. Things became desperate as the authorities realised that
almost all of the Hostilities only Radio Mechanics were going to
accept demobilisation & there wasn't going to be many radio mechanics
available. So, in 1945 there commenced a recruitment campaign for
Permanent Force RAN Radio Mechanics & those people were trained at
the Adelaide School of Mines & Industries where the RAAF were just
closing their Training School. When I went through there, Donald
Crowley, who had just been demobilised from the RAN was one of the Instructors.
The Torrens Era first three classes all became Radar Mechanics,
initially, & got off to sea as quick as could be; then classes were
alternatively made (W/T) or (R) with he intention of full cross
training ASAP - commenced in 1950 at HMAS Watson. After being cross
trained, the (W/T) or (R) was dropped as they were then "Complete"
Radio Mechanics.
The Fleet Air Arm commenced in 1948 & three Classes of RAN Radio
Mechanics were sent to the UK to be trained at HMS Ariel - the RN
Fleet Air Arm Electrical Training Establishment. Here those General
Service Radio Mechanics were trained in all aspects of Airborne Radio
& Radar equipment including rocket firing radar, tail warning, beacon
equipment, radio altimeters & IFF equipment, Airfield radio & radar,
IFF & beacons plus the relevant aircraft carrier equipment. I was in
RAN 1 Class on those courses & that effectively gave us our cross
training except that we ended up being (AIR). My time was completed
on 01.04.1959, having been made Chief Radio Electrician (AIR) in July
1954. I thought when I transferred to the Fleet Air Arm that I was
moving into a vacuum & was going to rocket through to being a Chief.
Wrong! When we got back to Australia the authorities had filled the
slots with ex RN personnel & I was close to 2years later getting
there then had I remained in General Service! By the way I am only a
junior at 81 years of age - will march with the Fleet Air Arm Group on Sunday.
Win some, lose some! Mind you I had some excellent experiences that I
wouldn't have been able to afford & there were some experiences I
could have done without. Overall - no regrets!
Reference Ship Callsigns - I told you today that Jim McDonnell had
done some work on this aspect. Jim has put a number of years into the
Ballina Maritime Museum - he turned 99 last Monday & is our oldest
Radio Mechanic - a thorough gentleman! I have a list of some 64 of
Jim's listed RAN Ship callsigns + a few RN British Pacific Fleet
callsigns. Additionally Jim had listed a heap of ship side numbers as
well as other information he had gathered. I understand that Jim has
left a copy of all his information with the Ballina Maritime Museum.
I have a copy. Jim gave up his volunteer work with the museum about 3
months ago due to health problems which he now has appeared to have
got some control over, I'm pleased to hear. At 99, Jim says he felt a
bit like a cricketer in the nervous 90s & trying like hell to get a
Century - Don Crowley at age 87 says he thinks he might be in the
"Disappointed List" when it comes to getting a letter from the Queen!
I trust that what I have told you is of some interest to you.

Best wishes,
John Saywell