A picture worth a thousand words
Though her great-uncle was gone well before she was born, Lieutenant Commander Ashleigh Payne was always aware of his presence, through a photo in her grandparents’ house.
CAPTION: Lieutenant Commander Ashleigh Payne holds a picture of her great-uncle Leading Aircraftman James Geoffrey Payne in front of the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial. Story and photo by Corporal Michael Rogers.
This year, as part of her staff course at the Australian War College, Lieutenant Commander Payne will travel to the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Lae, Papua New Guinea, and visit the grave of Leading Aircraftman James Geoffrey Payne for the first time.
Leading Aircraftman Payne was born April 21, 1915, and grew up around Tempe, working for his family’s fruit business as a barrowman.
He joined the Air Force in November 1943 as a general hand, and deployed to Papua New Guinea as part of number 5 Airfield Construction Squadron.
The squadron deployed to Aitape and Numfoor Island before moving to Biak Island in January 1945.
Leading Aircraftman Payne had been in Biak for about two months when he died of injuries sustained in a vehicle accident near the western area of Mokmer Aerodrome on March 22, 1945. The accident killed another airman and wounded three others.
Lieutenant Commander Payne said a family history of service combined with influence from her ex-Navy athletics coach encouraged her to join the Navy in 2004, straight out of high school.
Her great-grandfather served in World War 1 as an infantryman and her grandfather served in the Army occupation force in Japan after the Japanese surrender.
“There was always a thread of service running through the family that I was aware of growing up,” she said.
“I always wanted to serve. I think it’s hard to put the reason down in words. There was always a desire for adventure and I wanted to get out and about, travel and study. Navy gave me that opportunity.”
Lieutenant Commander Payne joined as maritime warfare officer and after her initial sea time in HMAS Ipswich, she studied a Bachelor of Science (chemistry and geography) at ADFA.
While at ADFA she represented Navy and the ADF in rugby union and AFL.
After graduation, she specialised as a navigator and has spent most of her career at sea, on board HMA Ships Armidale, Bathurst, Darwin, Bundaberg and Childers.
During exchange postings to New Zealand and the United Kingdom she had the opportunity to travel much of Asia and the Pacific, the Persian Gulf, and the Southern Ocean including a visit to the Falkland Islands.
After 10 years in the Navy, Lieutenant Commander Payne took a year off to study for a masters at Trinity College in Ireland. She continued to play football, and was selected for the Irish National AFL team for the European Championships.
She returned to Navy in 2016 and continued her development as a warfare officer and navigator, serving in HMA Ships Melbourne and Sirius.
In December 2019 she assumed command of Bathurst.
Lieutenant Commander Payne said on Anzac Day, it’s important reflect on those who have gone before. With a family connection, it feels more poignant.
“There’s a few people I always think about. James is one of those. Even though I never met him, I was always aware of his presence,” she said.
“My athletics coach has now died, so I think of him, as well as ADFA classmates who were unfortunately killed during the Afghanistan War. They are always at the front of my mind on Anzac Day.”