Commodore Alfred Victor Knight

By Greg Swinden

Alfred Victor Knight (1895-1983), naval and merchant navy officer, was born at Dover, England on 20 February 1897, the youngest son of a Merchant Navy officer and the latest in a long family line of seafarers. Educated at St Mary's School in Dover, he was active in the local scout troop as well as the church choir. Knight joined the Roberts Steamship Company as a Cadet in 1912 and served his apprenticeship in the tramp steamer Batiscan.

Following the outbreak of the World War I, he received his father's permission to 'join up' and was appointed a Midshipman in the Royal Naval Reserve in early 1915. Service in the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Victorian on blockade duty in the North Sea was followed by destroyer time on escort duty to France in HMS Owl and on the Dover Patrol in HMS Crusader. In early 1918 Knight volunteered for special service and, on the night of 22-23 April, found himself on the blockship HMS Sirius engaged in a head-on assault on Ostend Harbour in Belgium. The attack was designed to destroy the port to prevent its use by the Germans as a U-boat base and, although failing in its objective, the raid was a substantial propaganda success. Knight, by then a Sub Lieutenant, was awarded the DSC for his conspicuous bravery under heavy enemy fire. After the Armistice, Knight was promoted Lieutenant and appointed to HMS Northolt. Here he received a mention in dispatches after service on mine sweeping duties.

Leaving the Navy in 1920, Knight returned to the merchant service, obtaining his Masters Certificate and sailing on voyages to the Americas and Far East. For a time he worked with Malayan Customs in their campaign against illicit rubber smuggling, but in 1925 he joined the Union Steam Ship Company on the Canada-New Zealand-Australia run and later settled permanently in Australia. Maintaining his naval connections, Knight had been appointed a Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (Seagoing) on 1 January 1923. Promotion to Lieutenant Commander followed in 1931 and Commander in 1937. In 1936 he was awarded the Reserve Decoration.

When World War II broke out there was initially no position for an officer of his seniority, but after being mobilised in March 1940, he joined the Naval Staff in Melbourne as member of the Trade Division. From June 1941 until February 1943, he served as the commander of HMAS Lithgow, a Bathurst Class corvette. During this time Lithgow swept for mines sown by German commerce raiders in Bass Strait, assisted in the destruction of the Japanese submarine I-124 off Darwin, escorted the first contingent of Allied troops from Townsville to Milne Bay, and took part in the campaign to recapture Buna in northern New Guinea. For his services in Lithgow, Knight was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Knight was next appointed to the requisitioned liner HMAS Westralia, recently converted into Australia's first infantry landing ship. He remained as her Commanding Officer until October 1944, training more than 21,000 men in amphibious warfare, transporting more than 19,000 men and 30,000 tonnes of military equipment to the forward areas and taking part in the Allied landings at Arawe, Humbolt Bay, and Panoan in the Philippines. Westralia was several times the flagship of the transport task units concerned and for his exceptional service in command Knight was awarded the US Legion of Merit. The citation described him as a "forceful leader", and by his "splendid cooperation in the conduct of a vital training programme, aggressive determination and untiring energies" he had "contributed materially to combined large-scale operations and the successful prosecution of the war" in the South-West Pacific area.

Knight thereafter returned to an administrative role, acting as the Sea Transport Officer in Sydney until July 1947. During this time, he was promoted Captain and served as Honorary ADC to two Governors-General. Having left the permanent naval forces, Knight joined the Australian National Line and commanded many of its ships. Upon retirement in 1962 he was made an Honorary Commodore, the Line's first. Knight transferred to the Australian Shipping Board and later became Chairman of the Glebe Island Committee and an active member of many naval and merchant navy associations.

In 1930 Knight married Irene Payne and they had one daughter. Irene died in 1967, and the following year he married Hilda Marian. Knight died at his Double Bay home on 22 January 1983 and was privately cremated. He was survived by his daughter and three grandchildren.