Remembrance Day: A man of peace who went to war

HERBERT Fawell was a man of peace who went to war.

The Ballarat-trained Anglican priest, who provided comfort and solace to thousands of enlisted men and women during and since World War II, would later become the Royal Australian Navy’s most senior chaplain.

Reverend Fawell’s son David, a retired Ballarat solicitor, is proud of his father’s achievements, particularly on such solemn occasions as tomorrow’s Remembrance Day, or April 25 – Anzac Day.

“(Dad’s) whole family is very proud of him and his achievements,” David said.

So popular was the Ballarat father among the RAN that, even after his retirement after 21 years in the Navy, he was asked to officiate at weddings and christenings.

He was also awarded an MBE on the eve of his death in 1982 for his services to the RAN and to the church.

Born in England, Reverend Fawell left school at the age of 14.

Five years later, he moved to Australia with a friend and worked on a sheep station for a year.

He then moved to Ballarat and was trained at the former St Aidan’s Theological College between 1929 and 1931, later serving as a priest at various parishes in the Ballarat diocese.

It was during this time, as honorary chaplain of the Cape Otway Lighthouse Station, that Reverend Fawell showed his true community spirit by becoming involved in the rescue of the crew of US merchant ship, City of Rayville, which was mined off Cape Otway.

For his part in the rescue, Reverend Fawell was recognised by the Rayville captain and presented with an inscribed lifebelt.

In 1942, he joined the RAN and was immediately posted to the HMAS Hobart, the cruiser which was torpedoed in July 1943 by a Japanese submarine.

Fourteen personnel, including a visiting US officer, were killed.

Reverend Fawell was responsible for the mass burial of dozens of shipmates, including fellow officers and friends.

Following the Hobart tragedy, Reverend Fawell suffered claustrophobia and was repatriated to shore duties.

He was then transferred to the Flinders Naval Base (HMAS Cerberus) and a role as chaplain of the Royal Australian Naval College, positions he held for more than a decade.

In those years, Reverend Fawell was credited with influencing the lives of many RAN recruits and cadets, many who later became senior serving officers.

While at Flinders Naval Depot, he established the Toc H movement, Sea Scouts group and cricket, tennis, soccer and billiards teams.

Apart from his chaplaincy work, Reverend Fawell was also renowned for his sporting prowess, which included representing the RAN in cricket at the MCG against the Melbourne Cricket Club team, and playing snooker against Walter Lindrum.

Ironically, despite his sporting prowess in other areas – and the fact that he was a navy chaplain – Reverend Fawell could not swim and he was also unable to master the bicycle supplied to the chaplain at the Flinders Naval Base.

Two years after the end of World War II, he was appointed chaplain of cruiser HMAS Australia and served in post-war forces to China and Japan.

During that time he established a close relationship with Japanese Catholic Bishop Yamaguchi of Nagasaki, helping to heal the wounds after the allied bombing of that city.

He later was involved in the commissioning of, and became chaplain on, HMAS Sydney, Australia’s first aircraft carrier.

After leaving the Sydney he returned to the naval depot and became senior chaplain in the RAN in 1953.

In his 21 years with the RAN, he also met and celebrated private eucharist – by personal invitation – for the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip on the royal yacht, Britannia, during the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956.

During his distinguished career, Reverend Fawell was appointed the first Archdecon to the Royal Australian Navy in 1960.

As senior chaplain of the RAN, he was also responsible for chaplains of the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force during their introduction of moral leadership courses on Victorian bases.

But it was the planning of and fundraising for the Memorial Chapel at Flinders Naval Depot, where he was the chaplain for people of all denominations, that Reverend Fawell was most proud of.

While fundraising for the chapel, he personally contacted representatives from cities, towns and businesses seeking assistance in the construction phase.

His son David fondly remembers he and his brother Michael helping their father with letter-drops to businesses seeking donations for the construction of the chapel.

“My brother and I also scraped paint off the windows before the opening ceremony of the chapel,” Mr Fawell said.

After retiring from the Navy in 1962, Reverend Fawell undertook relieving priest duties at parishes in Oxford, Birmingham and London before returning to Australia in 1964 and serving at Christ Church in Geelong until his retirement in 1977, at the age of 70.

The love and respect for Reverend Fawell never wavered among those in the RAN.

He was so popular with other ranks, that he was asked to conduct baptisms and weddings even after his retirement.

Reverend Fawell died on June 11, 1982, at the age of 74, on the eve of being awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year.

It was also just after celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination.

Herbert Fawell brought peace to many men and women during wartime.

Herbert Fawell brought peace to many men and women during wartime.