The 50th anniversary of the re-establishment of the rank of warrant officer in the Navy was marked with a ceremony held by the Keith Payne VC Veterans’ Benefit Group on December 17 in Nowra, NSW.
CAPTION: Warrant Officer – Navy Deb Butterworth with two men who were promoted to warrant officer 50 years ago when the rank was reintroduced, Alfred ‘Rusty’ Marquis, left, and Robert Brown, at the anniversary event. Story and photo by Leading Seaman Kylie Jagiello.
Along with members of the veterans’ group, Warrant Officer – Navy Deb Butterworth and 14 current serving warrant officers attended, in company with two of the original warrant officers.
On December 17, 1971, 87 chief petty officers across the Navy were promoted to the rank, bringing the Navy in line with the Army and Air Force.
Former warrant officer and president of the veterans’ group, Fred Campbell, officiated the event and said it was a special milestone in the Navy’s long and illustrious history.
“The rank of warrant officer has come a long way since being reinstated in 1971,” Mr Campbell said.
The rank was used in the Australian Commonwealth Naval Forces from 1901, but was abolished in 1949.
Chief petty officers who achieved high levels of proficiency in their chosen specialisation were then re-titled commissioned or senior commissioned officers.
Of the 87 promoted to warrant officer in 1971, six were from HMAS Albatross.
The two still alive – Robert ‘Bob’ Brown and Alfred ‘Rusty’ Marquis – attended the anniversary event.
Mr Brown, who last month celebrated the 70th anniversary of him joining the Navy, recalled being notified of his promotion.
“It certainly doesn’t seem that long ago we were being called into the captain’s office and told we were being promoted,” Mr Brown said.
“They made us up but didn’t know what to do with us.”
Introduction of the rank was announced by signal in August 1971 and, excluding allowance, the salary was in the range of $6829 to $7179.
The principle function of the rank was managerial: to plan, allocate and control work within their particular specialisation.
Originally from Western Australia, Mr Marquis enlisted during WWII and had already served 28 years by the time he was made a warrant officer.
He said the big change to his job was ceasing working on aircraft.
“I went to sea a few weeks later on HMAS Melbourne and my main role was looking after the electrical workshop,” he said.
“I was also made the beer bosun – issuing the beer – and permanent loans’ officer at one stage.”
Agnes ‘Lennie’ Maiden became the first female promoted to warrant officer in 1972 and, 47 years later, Warrant Officer Butterworth became the first female Warrant Officer – Navy.
“The rank of warrant officer represents the head mark for a sailor career,” Warrant Officer – Navy Butterworth said.
“Those chosen share a responsibility to employ expertise and authority to better the service and those who serve.
“What hasn’t changed in the past 50 years is all warrant officers help shape the Navy to meet demands of naval service, now and in the future.”
The names of all personnel promoted to warrant officer since 1977 are noted in the WO Book held by Navy People Career Management Agency at Brindabella Park.
In the past 50 years, more than 2000 warrant officer promotions have been issued, with Warrant Officer Aviation Technician Avionics Royce De Strang the last.
“I hadn’t realised I was the last one promoted before this anniversary, but feel privileged for the honour,” he said.
“The work and dedication in the space of the past 50 years is what has brought us to where we are today.”