First Lady of the Fleet Trophy

Introduction

The First Lady of the Fleet trophy is an award bestowed upon the longest serving commissioned vessel in the Royal Australian Navy fleet. It was inaugurated and first presented to HMAS Darwin in 2017, which at that time had served continuously for 33 years.

The Trophy

The trophy itself is an amalgamation of several pieces from decommissioned HMA Ships. The voice pipe and wooden base were acquired from HMAS Sydney (IV); the border from HMAS Gladstone; and the corners from HMAS Duchess. The image affixed to the trophy is that of Nancy Bentley, the first female to be ‘enlisted’ in the Royal Australian Navy, albeit under most unusual circumstances.

Seaman Combat Systems Operator Ashley Martin holds the First Lady of the Fleet Trophy, which was first awarded to HMAS Darwin in 2017.
Seaman Combat Systems Operator Ashley Martin holds the First Lady of the Fleet Trophy, which was first awarded to HMAS Darwin in 2017.

Nancy Bentley

In 1920 the then six-year-old Nancy suffered a snake bite on the shores of Port Arthur, Tasmania. The nearest medical help was many miles away and in desperation, Nancy’s father rowed her to HMAS Sydney (I) which was anchored in Carnarvon Bay. The regulations at the time did not allow for civilians to be administered medical treatment on board one of His Majesty’s warships. Due to the seriousness of the situation and to avoid legal complications, the quick-thinking ship’s Commanding Officer, Captain Henry Cayley ordered that Nancy Bentley be formally enlisted into the Royal Australian Navy. This was duly done and her official rating was noted as ‘mascot’ and her period of service was annotated as 'until fed up'. First aid was quickly administered before Sydney transported Nancy to Hobart where she received further medical treatment. The warship later returned to Port Arthur where Nancy was officially ‘discharged’ from the Navy following eight days service. The reason for discharge is recorded as 'being required by her parents'.

Nancy Bentley onboard HMAS Sydney (I).
Nancy Bentley onboard HMAS Sydney (I).

Recipients

HMAS Darwin handed over the mantle of oldest commissioned ship in the RAN and the First Lady of The Fleet trophy to HMAS Success (II) during her decommissioning ceremony on 9 December 2017, establishing the practice of handing the trophy over to the youngest person onboard the receiving ship. The trophy was then awarded to HMAS Paluma (IV) upon HMAS Success’ decommissioning on 29 June 2019. The Survey Motor Launch HMAS Shepparton (II) assumed the mantle of 'First Lady of the Fleet' upon the decommissioning of her sister ship HMAS Paluma (IV) on 18 September 2021.

HMAS Darwin passes on ‘The First Lady’ to HMAS Success (II), as they become the longest serving ship in the fleet after the decommissioning ceremony for HMAS Darwin at Fleet Base East, Sydney, December 2017.
HMAS Darwin passes on ‘The First Lady’ to HMAS Success (II), as they become the longest serving ship in the fleet after the decommissioning ceremony for HMAS Darwin at Fleet Base East, Sydney, December 2017.

Ship Commissioned Decommissioned
HMAS Darwin 21 July 1984 09 December 2017
HMAS Success (II) 23 April 1986 29 June 2019
HMAS Paluma (IV) 27 February 1989 18 September 2021
HMAS Shepparton (II) 24 January 1990 15 June 2023
HMAS Benalla (II) 20 March 1990 15 June 2023
HMAS Anzac (III) 18 May 1996 18 May 2024

Upon assuming the mantle of First Lady of the Fleet in 2019, HMAS Paluma (IV) transmitted this poem to the RAN fleet:

We take this honour, with our heads held high, as we salute Success on her final goodbye

Your watch is over, so beautifully done, the hearts of our sailors, you’ve certainly won

First Lady of the Fleet, and though we’re a minor, you can search far and wide for no vessel finer

The day we commissioned was in Feb eighty-nine, thirty years going strong, still steering the line

Surveying the coast, to ensure safe navigation, although not conventional, it’s how we serve the nation

Regional engagement, another task at hand, we maintain foreign friendships, whilst visiting their land

Although a small crew, there is no task too tough, as we hustle all day, with no oceans too rough

Four hundred thousand miles, in the time that has passed, with many more years, until we are called to avast

We will survey the waters, even in danger, if you see us up north, don’t be a stranger

We will hold this trophy, firmly by our side, everywhere we go, alpha one will display it with pride

First Lady of the Fleet sends.