On Saturday 9 December HMAS Success officially became Royal Australian Navy’s ‘First Lady of the Fleet’, a title bestowed upon the senior (oldest) major fleet unit in the RAN.
As the grand lady HMAS Darwin was farewelled on Saturday following 33 years of distinguished service, the responsibility of being the oldest ship in the fleet was officially passed to HMAS Success.
HMAS Darwin was actually the first holder of a newly created First Lady of the Fleet Trophy or honour board, which was passed on from HMAS Darwin to HMAS Success, establishing a new tradition whereby the youngest female sailor from the retiring ship passes the trophy to the youngest female of the new First Lady of the Fleet.
The original First Lady of the Fleet was a young lady by the name of Nancy Bentley, who, in 1920, at aged six was bitten by a snake near her home in Port Arthur, Tasmania, and taken by her desperate father to HMAS Sydney I, anchored in Carnarvon Bay, for medical assistance.
However, since King’s regulations of the day dictated that females were not authorised to board Royal Australian Navy warships, Captain Henry Cayley formally enlisted Nancy into the RAN on 15 November 1920, as ‘mascot’, in order to avoid legal complications.
HMAS Sydney transported Nancy to Hobart where she received medical treatment before, having fully recovered, taking her hone to Port Arthur, where she was discharged from Naval service on 23 November.
Nancy Jones, nee Bentley, passed away in 1999.
The First Lady of the Fleet Honour Board is assembled from parts of Navy history – a voice pipe and silky oak base board from HMAS Sydney IV – teak border from Fremantle-class patrol boat HMAS Gladstone – with the corners from HMAS Duchess.
The ship’s company of HMAS Success now salute Nancy Bentley and look forward to carrying her name with pride until they pass her honour on when HMAS Success is decommissioned in 2019.