News
29.09.17

Vale Captain Mike Downes

It is with sadness that we inform you of the death of former member Captain Mike Downes who served in the Adelaide Company. His funeral will be held at 1400 Tuesday 3rd October 2017 at 4 Colooli Road Narrabeen.

Please advise any of your colleagues who knew Captain Downes of his passing.

Please see the obituary below prepared by the Naval Warfare Officers Association.

Captain Arthur Michael Downes (LCDR RNR/RANR) has passed away on the 24th September 2017 at Narrabeen, Sydney.

Mike is survived by his five children Peter, Bruce, John, Kim and Alan. He was born in 1921, England and died aged 96.

In 1937 he started his Nautical career training as a officer cadet at the Thames Nautical Training College normally referred to as HMS Worcester. During his time at HMS Worcester, Mike was one of the cadets selected to man the Cutty Sark when it was sailed from Falmouth to the College. Officially Mike was the 'last Man Standing" of those cadets who sailed Cutty Sark in 1938.

In August 1939 he was called up for war service with the Royal Navy as a midshipman RNR first on HMS Botlea (alias RFA Lambridge) a Q-ship operating in the first in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans then the middle East and the Red Sea. In 1941 he was posted to HMS Walpole an old V&W class Destroyer operating around the English Channel, here Mike was involved in the chase of German battleships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and the Prince Eugen during their daring dash up the English Channel to return to Germany.

From 1942 to 1945 Mike was posted to HMS Tay a River Class Frigate assigned to the B7 " Escort Group" under Capt Peter Gretton. Here Mike Downes (LT RNR) was the HMS Tay's Navigator and also the ships anti-submarine officer. The most famous convoy he was involved in was ONS5 in April/May 1943. ONS5 was a slow convoy from Liverpool to Halifax with 44 ships. During the proceeding battle over eight days, the convoy was attacked by 4 German wolf packs with  a strength of over 50 U-Boats. The convoy escorts including the B7 Escort Group sunk 7 U-boats for the loss of 13 merchant ships. During the course of this battle HMS Tay assumed the duties Escort Commander when Capt Peter Gretton's ship HMS Duncan ran low on fuel and had to leave the convoy. This convoy has been regarded as the turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic.

In 1945 Mike Downes was posted to HMS Patroller (an American built Ruler class Escort Carrier) as the Navigating Officer. Mike remained on board her until he was discharged in March 1946.

During WWII Mike gained not only RN qualifications such as a graduate of the RN's Long Navigation Course and other Warfare related courses, but his civilian tickets as 2nd mate, 1st Mate and Masters Certificate in the Merchant Navy.

Post World War II (1946 to 1951) Mike returned to the Merchant Navy serving on various Shaw Savill ships sailing mainly on the UK to Australia run, and then on the Adelaide Steamship Company ships on the Melbourne to Cairns run.

In late 1951 he returned to the UK for reserve officer training, returning to Australia by September 1952 to join the Royal Australian Navy (1952 to 1960) as a LCDR RANR. Here Mike served in a number of positions, including as Assistant & Master Attendant of Garden Island, Deputy Captain of the Port of Sydney & Senior Pilot. He also became Commanding officer of HMAS Kookaburra, HMAS Sprightly, HMAS Woomera, and HMAS Emu.

On a personal note, Mike Downes married Joan Gaffney in 1953 in Melbourne and had five children, Peter, the twins Bruce and John, his only daughter Kim and Alan. Joan his wife died only a few years ago after a long illness. Of his children Peter is a Senior Geologist with NSW Geological Survey and is married to Fay, Bruce is an Electrical Equipment Specialist in Victoria, John is an Equestrian Coach and Judge in Queensland and is married to Cheryl, Kim is a Dental Technician and is married to Michael, Alan is a Bookkeeper in Sydney and is partnered to Jackie. Mike has three grandchildren.

In 1960 Mike Downes left full time service with the RAN to set up a business as a Marine Surveyor and Compass Adjuster doing insurance work, compasses, and boat & ship surveys (Capt A M Downes and Associates) a business he ran of nearly 40 years. Mike Downes was a familiar sight through the NSW waterfront during that time. One of his jobs included having to inspect the roof tiles for the Sydney Opera House. Mike was in constant demand for compass work all over Australia and even as far away as Fiji, Mike for many years swung the compasses for the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race yachts and one year nearly ended heading to Hobart, because he was still on board the yacht minutes before the start gun.

Mike Downes continue to serve the RAN in a reserve capacity until the late 1970's. During his time with the reserve be did training on ships such as HMAS Queenborugh, HMAS Sydney (III), HMAS Supply, HMAS Stalwart as well at various shore bases such as HMAS Waterhen and Kuttabul. Often during his Reserve training he was swing the compasses of the ships he was seconded to.

In 1998 he retired from business, through to continued to do compass work for old friends well into his 80's.

Mike Downes was involved in a great many associations some of them were the Company of Master Mariners, League of Ancient Mariners, Naval Historical Society of Australia, RAN Sailing Association, Naval Officers Club, Imperial Services Club, Australian Anti-Submarine Officers Association (now the Naval Warfare Officers Association), Mosman RSL and the 20 x 8 Club to name a few.

Mike Downes was a keen swimmer and long standing member of the North Sydney ANZAC Club swimming section, the Balmoral Beach Club, Balmoral Beach Swimming Club and until only a couple of years ago was still winning handicap races for distances up to one kilometre. He was also keen sailor and a Life member of the Royal Australian Navy Sailing Association, where he crewed for many of the Yacht races, he especially enjoyed skippering the Naval Whalers for regatta events.

Mike Downes was a sailor who loved being at sea and took delight with any opportunity of a day at sea no matter what type of vessel, weather it was a cruise ship, cargo ship, a small fishing vessel or a Naval warship.

He was also a loving father of five children.

Fair winds and following seas, Captain Downes.

 

Regards

Mark Davis | Executive Officer