Sailor who ordered the first angry shot

This obituary, for one of our Commonwealth friends who answered the call at the start of WW II, appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of 13 March 2009 (link):

Ray Worledge, 1917-2009

AN ITEM in the Australian War Memorial, numbered REL34301, is a 10-centimetre Mk IV naval cartridge case. Made in 1918, at the end of World War I, it was finally fired 22 years later, not long after the start of World War II. It is in the collection as the remains of the first shot fired in anger by an Australian sailor in World War II.

George Raymond Worledge, a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy, was serving on the Royal Navy's anti-submarine armed trawler HMS St Kenan at dawn on April 27, 1940, when the St Kenan was guarding the entrance to Namsen Fiord, just north of Trondheim, during the Norwegian campaign. The St Kenan received a report that a Norwegian ship, under German control, was making for Trondheim, which was in German hands.

The St Kenan intercepted and challenged the ship, but it ignored the signal to stop and put on speed to escape. Normally the captain would be on the bridge during such an operation, but the St Kenan's captain was seriously ill in his cabin.

It fell to Worledge to give the order to fire a warning shot across the merchantman's bows. The shell landed much closer to the Germans than intended and had the desired effect. They hove to.

Worledge kept the shell case and visitors to his Turramurra home later parked their umbrellas and walking sticks in it.

Ray Worledge, who has died at 91, was born at Nasauri, Fiji, the only child of George Norrie Worledge and Mary Hilda Towle. His father was an accountant at the Nasauri sugar mill, near Suva. After his father was relocated to CSR's operations in New Zealand, Ray was educated from 1927 at King's College, Auckland.

In 1933 his father brought the family to Sydney and built the family home in Turramurra. While Ray was completing his schooling at Knox, he met Margot Ruelberg, beginning a love affair that lasted until her death from cancer in 2005.

He worked in his father's firm before joining the first class of reserve officers to graduate from the anti-submarine school at HMAS Rushcutter. When war broke out, he was sent to Britain to serve in the Royal Navy. He was sunk later in the Norwegian campaign, his first sinking of the war.

After Norway, he commanded Fairmiles - fast, light, wooden craft known as MLs (motor launches) - operating in the English Channel, laying mines off the French coast, landing secret agents and carrying out clandestine raids.

In September 1942, he was part of an abortive attempt to destroy German supplies at Tobruk. Worledge was ordered to wait outside Tobruk harbour while ML349 went in to investigate. When ML349 failed to return, Worledge took his ML352 in and came face to face with an Italian destroyer. He promptly headed out to sea again, hotly pursued by shells from the destroyer and shore guns.

He said later: "Their line was good but their range was awful. The shells whistled over us and raised large spouts in front of us. I followed the classic tactic of heading for the fall of shot and it worked."

His good fortune was short-lived. Enemy planes pounced, crippling his craft and starting fires and explosions. With the situation hopeless, Worledge ordered the ship to be abandoned. Two hours later, the Italian destroyer from Tobruk picked up the survivors.

Worledge was held in POW camps at Bari and Sulmona. He escaped three times, was recaptured, and later repatriated via Turkey and South Africa.

On his return to Australia in 1944 he married Margot, more than a decade after meeting her. He was posted back to HMAS Rushcutter to help train anti-submarine personnel.

After demobilisation in 1946, Worledge returned to CSR, becoming second-in-command of the company's shipping arm, a pioneer in the bulk transport and handling of sugar, and finally their bulk commodity buyer.

He devoted much of his spare time to naval matters and was one of the founders of the Anti-Submarine Officers Association. His tendency towards perfectionism was reflected in his hobbies, photography, woodwork, metalwork and boating.

He is survived by his daughter Lydia, son Philip, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
"RIP thou good and faithful servant."
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