Commodore Robert Henry Percy

Commodore Robert Henry Percy CBE, RAN, was born on 27 November 1929 in Brisbane and entered the Royal Australian Naval College at Flinders Naval Depot in 1943. Upon his graduation in 1946 Percy was posted to the heavy cruiser HMAS Shropshire, before being loaned to the RN for service and training in July 1947.

Following his return to Australia in 1950, Percy served in a number of HMA ships including the destroyers Warramunga (I), and Arunta (I) and the corvette HMAS Wagga. While serving in Wagga in August 1956, the ship was sent to search for survivors from the SS Birchgrove Park which had foundered of Broken Bay, NSW. Late on the morning of 2 August a survivor was sighted but he was too exhausted to grasp the lifeline thrown from the ship to him. Petty Officer Trevor Bourdet dived into the water swimming 50 metres with a lifeline to rescue him. As the two men were being hauled back to the ship, the survivor began to struggle so violently that both men lost hold of the lifeline. A second Wagga rating, Engineer Mechanic Alastair McPherson, then went over the side to assist Bourdet but he too was carried away by the swell. At that juncture the then Lieuntenant Robert Percy dived into the water with another lifeline swimming 20 metres to the surviovor who was hauled aboard Wagga in an unconscious state. Percy then took another line to the second Wagga sailor and finally a third line to Bourdet with a lifebuoy. Both were then safely recovered onboard.

Percy and Petty Officer Bourdet were both awarded Bronze Medals by the Royal Humane Society, the ribbon of which is worn on the right breast of naval uniforms.

Percy returned to the UK in 1956, where he completed a long torpedo and anti-submarine course. This was followed by two years exchange service with the Royal Navy.

Promoted Lieutenant Commander in 1959, Percy was appointed Executive Officer of HMAS Vendetta (II) in 1961, serving in the position for two years before undertaking the Australian Army Staff Course. Promoted commander in 1963, Percy graduated the staff course in November 1964 and was appointed in command of the River Class Destroyer Escort HMAS Parramatta (III).

Percy served as the director of the Australian Joint Anti-Submarine School Nowra between 1966 and 1968, before being promoted captain and serving on the Joint Operations Staff in Canberra. In December 1971 Percy was appointed in command of the guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth (II) between 1971 and 1973. Percy relinquished his command in May 1973 to become the Australian Naval Attache in Washington, where he remained until December 1975.

On his return to Australia, Percy returned to Canberra where he served as the Director General of Joint Plans and Operations. His final RAN posting, saw him appointed the commanding officer of HMAS Stirling and the Naval Officer Commanding Western Australia in February 1979.

Percy was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 1981, the citation reading: “Commodore Percy has directed the development of his command during a period of expansion with drive and enthusiasm”.

Commodore Percy retired from the RAN on May 14 1982, he was farewelled by 30 RAN officers, who took hold of two lines attached to Percy’s Ford Fairlane towing him to the front gate of HMAS Stirling. Upon his retirement from the RAN Percy settled in the Peppermint Grove neighbourhood in Perth.

In his retirement, Percy developed an affinity for the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. He eventually bought a house on West Island and would split his time between Perth and his island home.

Commodore Robert Henry Percy, OBE, RAN, passed away on West Island on 31 December 2006 at the age of 77. His funeral was conducted by a Naval Minister and he was buried on his beloved West Island.

Commander Percy and Wing Commander PR Martin RAAF pore over a chart. Percy enjoyed a number of joint operations postings during his career.
Commander Percy and Wing Commander PR Martin RAAF pore over a chart. Percy enjoyed a number of joint operations postings during his career.