Chief Petty Officer Erle Alwin Greglach Boyd

CPO Erle Alwin Greglach Boyd

Erle Alwin Greglach Boyd was born in Bendigo, Victoria on 24 April 1892, the ninth child of Scottish born Hugh Boyd (Medical Practitioner) and Bendigo-born Julia Elizabeth Boyd (née Maddox). After growing up in a strict Presbyterian family and working as an apprentice fitter and turner he joined the Australasian Naval Forces (ANF) on 4 March 1911 aged 18. The ANF was a section of the Royal Navy which recruited young Australians and New Zealanders to man the ships of the RN Squadron based in Sydney.

After serving in the cruisers HM Ships Psyche (4 March 1911-21 June 1912) and Challenger (22 June-31 October 1912) he was posted to HMS Victory (Portsmouth) for transfer to the newly created RAN. On 1 January 1913 Ordinary Seaman Boyd joined the RAN and a few weeks later he was part of the commissioning crew of the new cruiser HMAS Melbourne which had been built in England. He was promoted to Able Seaman in April 1913.

When World War I broke out in August 1914 he was serving in the destroyer HMAS Warrego and took part in the capture of German New Guinea in September of that year. Several men from Warrego and the destroyer Yarra were landed on 11 September 1914 to help with the capture of the German wireless station at Bita Paka, and Boyd was later to claim that he was one of the men landed, with cutlass in hand, to fight the Germans.

A few days later Warrego captured the small German vessel Nusa and in December steamed up the Sepik River, in company with Parramatta, searching for other German shipping and also to advise Germans living in the area of the capture of the colony. Warrego remained in New Guinea waters until she returned to Australia in February 1915. Based in Sydney the destroyer then operated off the east coast of Australia, in company with her sister ships Parramatta and Yarra for the next eight months.

Erle Boyd married Dorothy May Meeks with Presbyterian rites, at a private residence in Bourke Street, Sydney on 11 September 1915 and they later had three children (two sons named Walter and Hugh, and a daughter Dorothy, although it would appear that Walter was born in April 1913 before Erle and Dorothy were married). In October 1915 he was posted to the RAN College (located at Captains Point, Jervis Bay) as a member of the crew of the College training vessel HMAS Franklin. It was while serving at Jervis Bay that an incident occurred in which Boyd distinguished himself.

On Sunday 19 March 1916 a group of five sailors from the College, including Boyd, took a cutter on a sailing expedition to the small township of Huskisson about eight miles north of Captains Point. They spent the day with friends at Huskisson and towards dusk commenced the run back to the College. The weather began to change and the cutter's crew were required to tack frequently as the wind changed. About five miles from Captains Point a sudden gust of wind capsized the boat and flung all five men into the water.

Four of the sailors managed to get onto the hull of the upturned cutter but the fifth was missing. Boyd, who was a very strong swimmer, repeatedly dived under the water until he located the man and dragged him to the side of the boat. The weather continued to deteriorate and night had fallen. The light of the lighthouse at Point Perpendicular and that of the Naval College provided the only illumination.

The men realised that with the poor weather and the increasing cold, any attempt to hang onto the boat over night and await rescue in the morning was untenable. Boyd, as the strongest swimmer, made the decision to swim to the shore, which was about three miles away, and raise the alarm. He stripped off his clothing and commenced to swim for shore but was forced back to the upturned boat by severe cramps caused by the cold water. By this time one of the men left behind had succumbed to hypothermia and had drifted away from the boat. The others were too weak to rescue him and Boyd realised the situation was now desperate.

He then made his second attempt to swim ashore and after battling breaking waves, fatigue and the cold stumbled ashore and then ran along the shoreline to the College to raise the alarm. Boyd arrived at the Naval College on the verge of collapse but within minutes of his arrival a rescue vessel had been dispatched to the upturned boat. Boyd insisted on going with the rescue party and helped guide them to the boat where only two men were still alive. A second man had succumbed to the cold only ten minutes or so before the rescue boat arrived.

As a result of his bravery and attempt to save the lives of his ship mates, Erle Boyd was awarded the Royal Humane Society of NSW Silver Medal and Certificate of Merit. The two men who had died were Acting Leading Stoker Dominick Healy and Officers Cook 2nd Class John Hennigan. Their bodies were never found.

Boyd left HMAS Franklin in November 1916 and joined the newly commissioned cruiser HMAS Brisbane which operated in the Indian Ocean searching for the elusive German raider Wolf - which had sunk or captured several merchant ships in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In June 1918 he joined the cruiser HMAS Sydney, then operating with the Royal Navy in the North Sea. He was still serving in her when the Armistice was declared in November 1918.

Sydney returned to Australia in late July 1919 and then operated in Australian waters for the remainder of the year including acting as a picket ship in the Timor Sea during December to assist the aviators Keith and Ross Smith who were then flying a Vickers Vimy bomber to Australia on the first England to Australia flight. Sydney acted as navigational beacon (with her bows pointing towards Darwin) and also stood by as a rescue ship if the aircraft was forced to ditch in the Timor Sea. During 1920 Sydney underwent a refit and was then involved in peacetime exercises in Tasmanian and Queensland waters.

Erle Boyd continued to serve in the post war RAN and was promoted to Leading Seaman in 1919 and Petty Officer in 1920. He served as an instructor in the Boys Training Ship HMAS Tingira (moored in Rose Bay, Sydney) during the period 1920-24 where he trained 14 and 15 year old boys to be seaman in the RAN. He also had extensive sea service in HMA Ships Brisbane (1924-25), Melbourne (1925-27), and Albatross (1929-31). He served in the Sydney based Depot Ship HMAS Penguin during 1927-28 and 1931-33, although in April 1928 he served briefly in the destroyer HMAS Swordsman.

While he was serving in Brisbane (1924-25) the ship operated on exchange with the Royal Navy on the China Station and became the first RAN ship to visit Japan (Yokohama) in May 1925. Brisbane was also involved in restoring law and order in Hong Kong in July/August following a general strike of workers in the colony. The cruiser returned to Australia in September 1925 and was placed in Reserve with most of her crew transferring to Melbourne.

Melbourne then sailed in November 1925 for exchange service with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and a brief visit to England before returning to Australia in August 1926. Boyd was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1926 and promoted to Chief Petty Officer in October 1928. He finally left the RAN after 20 years service in March 1933.

He immediately joined the Royal Australian Fleet Reserve (RAFR) where he was required to provide one week’s service every quarter. Boyd worked as a rigger in Sydney but at the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 he rejoined the RAN and in January 1940 was posted to the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMAS Manoora. He served in Manoora until November 1942 during which time the ship was involved in convoy escort duties and anti raider patrols throughout South East Asia, the South West Pacific and Australian waters. Later in January 1944 Erle Boyd was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for "Distinguished services during the war in HMAS Manoora."

In November 1942 he joined the newly converted Landing Ship Infantry HMAS Westralia as the Buffer (Chief Boatswains Mate) which is the senior most Seaman rating in the ship. Boyd was to serve in her until the end of hostilities in 1945 during which time Westralia was involved in numerous amphibious landings throughout New Guinea and Borneo. A history of the ship stated that when she sailed north on her first deployment in July 1943 that "No one was more pleased then Chief Boatswains Mate, CPO Boyd, who had contributed a great deal to the fact that the ship was heading north ready for any emergency. The experience born of his long career in the Royal Australia Navy in two wars was to prove invaluable to Westralia’s executive officers during the anxious months ahead."

As Chief Boatswains Mate, Erle Boyd was responsible for the safe conduct of all seamanship evolutions including the lowering and raising of Westralia’s landing craft as well as ensuring all seamanship equipment was serviceable. Westralia took part in seven amphibious landings during 1943-45 which included Arawe (December 1943), Hollandia (April 1944), Leyte Gulf (October 1944), Lingayen Gulf (January 1945), Tarakan (May 1945), Brunei Bay (June 1945) and Balikpapan (July 1945).

In November 1945 he was hospitalised, and a few months later on 8 March 1946 aged nearly 55, he was discharged from the RAN as Permanently Unfit for Naval Service (PUNS) suffering from diabetes and chronic retinitis. After leaving the Navy he again worked as a rigger before retiring. He lived with his wife and family in the Sydney suburb of Hillsdale.

Erle Boyd died of myocardial infarction, complicated by diabetes and bronchitis on 6 August 1970 and was cremated four days later at the Eastern Suburbs Crematorium. He was survived by his three children, his wife having pre-deceased him.

His medals included the British Empire Medal, 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, 1939-45 Star, Burma Star with Pacific Star clasp, 1939-45 War Medal, Australian Service Medal (1939-45), RAN Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and the Royal Humane Society of NSW Silver Medal.