Navy Victoria Network
Proudly supported by the Melbourne Naval Committee

LCDR Henry Albert Longdon HALL, MBE OAM MiD RAN

Henry "Nobby" Hall was one of the most decorated naval combat veterans of WWII, and after, in a long permanent navy career.  His service spanned 1938 until 1981.  He joined the Royal Australian Navy as an ordinary seaman second class and retired as an officer after 43 years of loyal and distinguished service.  He was a member of the "vanishing present", one of the great generations, who dedicated his life to the naval profession.  That same good citizenship continued with his active involvement as he contributed to the wider local community.

"Nobby" is the sobriquet given to all Halls who joined the services.  Short of stature, intelligent and wise, he was feisty, as the occasion demanded, but no less effective or efficient.  His speech was clear and direct, and his bark and bite were moderate in their application, often deservedly so.  He was widely respected as a personality who was the very embodiment of the navy.

Henry was born in Sydney on April 4, 1922, joining the pre-war RAN at 16.  After four years service, as an able seaman, he found his baptism of fire in one of the crucial battles of WWII.  It was during his draft to HMAS Canberra that he was a witness and participant at Savo Island in 1942.  He was a range taker in the foremast of Canberra when it was crippled and sunk on August 9.  For his heroic actions, he was mentioned in despatches (MiD).

for his skill, resolution and coolness during operations in the Solomon Islands.

In his own words, Hall peppered his recollections with salty epithets.  One can only imagine the fear and visceral terror he faced during a naval night engagement, when the Japanese warships took the best of luck and fortune available to them. 

"Everything is awfully wrong. I'm in the midst of madness, sounds never heard before.  Screams of horror and pain, flying glass, shrapnel whistling through the air … tearing into flesh and bone."

This young sailor temporarily transferred to USS Barnett, where he again performed exemplary duties in the sick bay as an untrained medical assistant.  He assisted with amputations and took care that the wounded were not over-dosed with morphine, daubing their foreheads M, in their blood, signifying that they had already been "shot up".  It was a veritable cauldron of sea and fire.  The war had still to be fought and won so Hall reslung his kit bag and hammock to serve in a succession of ships to war's end.  Nobby was honoured as a gallant survivor when HMAS Canberra III was recently commissioned.

Canberra I, had been deep-sixed so he later served in HMA ships Hobart and Shropshire, among other ships.  The war took him to Balikpapan, Brunei, Tarakan and the Philippines.  For the latter campaign he, with other participants, was awarded the Philippine Liberation Medal.  He was serving in HMAS Shropshire at the Japanese surrender in 1945 when many Allied ships sailed into a silenced Tokyo Bay.  Hall had a good war, if any war can be good, as he survived.  It was a defining experience in his formative years, shaping his character.  For his generation, he also judged that wars are not marked by what they achieve, but what they prevent, the threat to national sovereignty.

In 1948, the RAN grew wings, as its new aviation branch was established.  Nobby transferred to the Fleet Air Arm and advanced through the ranks to Chief Petty Officer in the early 1950s, specialising in meteorological duties.  He had lost a first good conduct badge soon after the war but it was later restored along with his character rating.  It proved no handicap to his ongoing superior service, and he was awarded a long service and good conduct medal in 1955, before being commissioned.

Lieutenant Commander Henry Hall at an Anzac commemoration in 2012.  Credit: Karleen Minney

Hall was a proverbial medal magnet, a source of awe to many young sailors, and not a few of their seniors as they were similarly impressed.  His life and service carried the sense of naval pageantry.  Loyally he served, providing an inspiration to the naval and local community in equal measure.  In 1953, he was part of the official contingent to attend the coronation of the Queen.  Among other Australians, he received a Coronation Medal, a rare distinction at the time.  He was proud of that link with the past, for he had taken an oath on entry, never relinquishing it but for his death.

Henry 'Nobby' Hall | Credit: | South Coast Register | Nowra, NSW

As an officer, heavily immersed in the air world, Nobby's sea service also meant a return to the deep draught ships, namely the aircraft carriers HMA ships Sydney and Melbourne.  Promoted to Lieutenant, in 1957, he made Lieutenant Commander in 1970.  Henry served in Melbourne during the Malaysian Confrontation and in the Vietnam War in 1966.  Malaysia awarded him a medal for serving in its conflict with Indonesia.

Hall also served in the stone-frigate navy, our establishments ashore, where he applied his expertise and background to good effect.  On his retirement, he was created a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

For service of a very high order to the RAN, particularly as Beecroft Range Officer. Responsible for the safety and security of all on the Range, liaison with local residents - who often took exception to Navy's use of it - and clearing off sightseers, vagrants and fishermen on scheduled firing or bombing days. Henry's conscientiousness ensured there were no instrusions to disrupt exercises and that the fragile peace with local residents was preserved.

Another honour followed when in June 2010 he was awarded a medal in the Order of Australia (OAM). 

For his tireless work for the naval and civil community, especially for veterans in the Nowra-Greenwell Point area where he was fondly regarded as a local hero and distinctive identity who brought people together and shone as a role model and exemplar.  He was active with Legacy, Rotary, the RSL and the Naval Association of Australia within the Shoalhaven.

He led the Currarong Anzac Day march every year since 1968, in later years in the "motorised corps", on a mobility scooter, riding but no less proud.  He developed a close relationship with Shoalhaven High School, participating in their Anzac Day service every year, becoming an honorary school captain.  Age had not yet condemned him.  He was a spry "Energiser Bunny", who always hopped to it, showing the initiative expected in any leaders.

For years Nobby was a most welcomed guest at Navy activities and events across the Illawarra and South Coast regions and wider when the occasion called.  It often did.

He cherished his involvement with the commissioning of HMAS Canberra III, all those years after that fateful period with her namesake at the Battle of Savo Island.  He was very proud to be referred to as ‘Father of the Met’ (meteorology) Branch.

Nobby had many, many friends – serving and ex serving – in uniform and out.  Sailors, Officers, Admirals, Chiefs and young Seaman, Commanding Officers and their crew, ship’s drivers, stokers, bosuns and more.  He knew all the Commanding Officers at Creswell and Albatross everyone knew Nobby.

Along with his generosity and vast knowledge, he particularly valued accepting invitations to attend Official Receptions and Graduation parades at the Royal Australian Naval College.

Indeed, his professional affinity with junior officers under training at the College was something to behold.  He was always encouraging our new trainees to strive for their best.  He was well known for his palm cards that he would hand out to anyone within earshot.  These cards held words of wisdom for a junior officer, they always had a leadership message, they were snippets of gold.

While avidly sharing his knowledge and encouraging juniors, Nobby was equally passionate about Navy’s future and what should be done, particularly with the ongoing development of Navy people.

Nobby was a Flag Man – a vexillologist and a very knowledgeable one at that.

He always had a flag or pennant flying at the main mast at ‘Spin Drift’, the family home at Currarong.  Mind you, not any flag – predominantly naval flags and pennants that any ‘Bunting Tosser’ (signals yeoman) worth their salt would be proud – the Royal Standard was a favourite.

Nobby had a wonderful way with language – language from a bygone era.

Not only ‘JackSpeak’ which readily rolled off his tongue, but with the Queen’s English.  He was well read and was sharp as a tack.  He was also prolific with the pen and had beautiful, beautiful writing.  Moreover, each piece of correspondence was often accompanied by a meaningful message.

Henry was aged 95 when he died at Currarong, NSW on 25th June 2017.  A private funeral service was held at HMAS Albatross, Nowra and a public celebration of his life was held at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre. 

The late Nobby Hall looks over his daughters Gwyneth and Jenny as they present his eulogy at the public celebration of his life at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre.  Credit:  South Coast Register

The RAN gave him a ceremonial send-off with gun salutes and a fly past.  He left two daughters, Gwyneth and Jenny, and many relatives and close friends.  His wife predeceased him by 12 years and he later made an abiding friendship with a young female companion (aged 90).  Joyce survives him.  It is said that no one person is irreplaceable.  Yet by his naval and civic leadership, he left his small world a better place.

A Royal Australian Navy bearer party from HMAS Albatross carry the casket of the late Lieutenant Commander Henry 'Nobby' Hall, MBE, OAM, MID, RAN (Rtd) from the HMAS Albatross Chapel on completion of the funeral service.

A firing party from HMAS Albatross escort the hearse carrying the casket of the Late Lieutenant Commander Henry 'Nobby' Hall, MBE, OAM, MID, RAN (Rtd) from the HMAS Albatross Chapel on completion of the funeral service.

Aircraft from 723 Squadron conduct a fly past in the missing man formation during the funeral service
for the late Lieutenant Commander Henry 'Nobby' Hall, MBE, OAM, MID, RAN (Rtd) at HMAS Albatross.

The 9th August marks the anniversary of the battle for Guadalcanal and the sinking of HMAS Canberra, along with other warships of the USN and Japan.  As it is proudly commemorated, for many relatives of those who have died, their sorrow will grow wings.  The death of Henry Hall allows us to reflect on him and his young comrades who were caught up in those tumultuous events.  Their patriotic wartime service and sacrifice ensured that Australians now live in peace.

Blackboard image of the late Henry "Nobby" Hall at the Hyper Hyper Coffee Shop, Nowra, NSW

HMAS Canberra has committed the ashes of Lieutenant Commander Henry Hall,
one of the last survivors of HMAS Canberra (I), to the sea in Jervis Bay


O1519 Lieutenant Commander
DOB: 04 April 1922
Entry to RAN: 13 December 1938 (Ordinary Seaman Second Class - R22689)

After completing initial training at HMAS Cerberus he served in HMA Ships Vampire, Australia, Adelaide, Mildura, Canberra, Hobart, Shropshire, Penguin, Kuttabul, Kanimbla, Sydney.

He was involved in the Battle of the Savo Island and saw further active service at Balikpapan, Brunei Bay, Tarakan and Philippines.  He was serving in HMAS Shropshire at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.

He is one of the final survivors from Canberra which was heavily damaged and sunk during the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942.  In 1943 he was ‘mentioned in dispatches’ for his skill, resolution and coolness during operations in the Solomon Islands.

He earned the title of ‘The Unsinkable Henry’ after one of his ships (Hobart) was torpedoed and two others (Adelaide and Mildura) were involved in collisions.

In 1948 he transferred to the new the Fleet Air Arm, and he was the Leading Seaman in charge of the draft comprising Courses 1, 2 and 3 of Naval Airmen sailing to the UK for initial technical training.  He was promoted Petty Officer Airman Meteorological in 1949 and then Chief Petty Officer in 1951.

He commissioned in early 1957 and served in Albatross, Penguin, Harman, Melbourne, Kuttabul, Creswell (Beecroft Range) and Navy Headquarters.

He was a former Flight Deck Officer and Aircraft Control Room Officer in HMAS Melbourne.

He was awarded the MBE in 1979 for his exemplary service as Beecroft Range Commander and he transferred to the retired list in 1981.

In 2010 he was awarded the OAM for his service to veterans and their families through the Nowra-Greenwell Point RSL sub-branch.

He crossed the bar at Currarong, NSW, on 25th June 2017, aged 95


It's Different Today
This is a Royal Australian Navy recruitment film produced in 1979
featuring Lieutenant Commander Henry 'Nobby' Hall.

Sydney Morning Herald - Michael Fogarty
Australian Naval Institute - Eulogy - CDRE R.G. Robinson CSC RANR
Fleet Air Arm Assocation
RAN Facebook
Bravo Zulu - Volumes 1 and 2 by Ian Pfennigwerth