Australian Navy nominates ‘First Lady of the Fleet’

The Royal Australian Navy honored HMAS Darwin as its most senior commissioned ship with a newly created perpetual trophy dubbed the ‘First Lady of the Fleet’.

The idea for the trophy was developed by Fleet Command Warrant Officer Stephen Downey.

He said with new ships coming online, the award recognizes the importance of senior ships and the experience they bring.

“As we build our new navy, we must not forget where we have come from and the experience of platforms that have gone before,” Warrant Officer Downey said.

“This trophy recognises Darwin as the longest serving ship in the Fleet. You are our senior ship and when you decommission at the end of this year, this should be handed on to our next most senior ship, HMAS Success.”

Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, presented the trophy to Darwin in January, with the most senior female sailor in the Fleet, Warrant Officer Jo Jordan, and engineer of the award Warrant Officer Andrew Jocumsen, and creator of the title, Flag Officer Lieutenant Alexandra Rayner, watching on.

The trophy is assembled from parts of navy history.

The voice pipe and silky oak base were acquired from HMAS Sydney IV after she decommissioned. The teak border is from Fremantle class patrol boat HMAS Gladstone, and the corners are from HMAS Duchess.

The first female to enlist in the Royal Australian Navy, six-year-old Nancy Bentley, is pictured on the trophy.

In 1920, a snake bit Nancy while she was on the shores of Port Arthur, Tasmania.

With no medical help nearby, Nancy’s father rowed her out to HMAS Sydney I, which was anchored in Carnarvon Bay.

Women were not allowed on naval vessels in those days so the Captain enlisted Nancy to comply with regulations.

The Navy looked after Nancy for eight days before discharging her because she was ‘required by her parents’.

Accepting the trophy on behalf of Darwin was the oldest and youngest sailor.

Seaman Combat Systems Operator Ashley Martin, is one of the youngest sailors serving in the fleet at 17 years old. She said she felt privileged to be involved in the presentation of the award.

“I feel lucky to be on Darwin during her final year. I have just come off basic combat systems operator course at HMAS Watson, so Darwin is my first ship,” Seaman Martin said.

“The team onboard is great and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Australia during our decommissioning farewell.”