Honouring ‘Rusty’, the last Navy beach commando

Private Nicholas Marquis reflects on the colourful life of his grandfather and one of the first Warrant Officers of the Navy, Alfred ‘Rusty’ Marquis, who died on July 12, at 97.

CAPTIONStudio portrait of ex-Warrant Officer Alfred James Marquis who served during World War 2. Photo courtesy of Australian War Memorial, Accession Number AWM2017.520.1.5994. Story by Private Nicholas Marquis.

The death of ex-Warrant Officer Alfred James Marquis, believed to be the last living Royal Australian Navy beach commando, is the end of an era.

Known by everyone as ‘Rusty’, his friends knew him as a sailor, warrant officer, father and overall a true gentleman.

But to me, he was Grandpa.

Born in Katanning, in 1925, he enlisted into the RAN reserves at 17 and three months old.

In 1945 he first saw action with the assault on Tarakan, Borneo.

Able Seaman Marquis, then of B Commando, was in a landing craft speeding toward the enemy shore.

Seeing a young sailor cowering in the corner of the craft, Grandpa told him to “get a grip” as they were about to hit the land.

On exiting the craft, the unit’s job was to place flags where ammunition, stores and men would head as they stepped ashore while also providing covering fire.

Then, keep the beach clear of enemy as the rest of the landing ships arrived.

At the time, Naval commandos were seen as the elite – trained in advanced first aid, escape and evasion, unarmed combat and vehicle skills ranging from Jeeps to amphibious DUKWs.

A piece of this history now sits in the Australian War Memorial’s War in the Pacific section.

A RAN ensign hangs on the wall, my grandfather’s name inscribed in the top right: “To Cappy. From RAN Commando ‘B’” inked into the flag’s lower left canton.

Grandpa would recall when this flag was handed to the Salvation Army from his unit in appreciation of the support and service that Captain Clifford ‘Cappy’ Radford gave at Tarakan.

He deployed to Japan in late 1945 and would tell stories of what the country looked like after the atomic bombings.

Deciding to stay in the regular Navy, Grandpa volunteered for the Fleet Air Arm and deployed to Korea between 1953 and 1954 fixing aircraft on HMAS Sydney.

Grandpa was qualified on propeller, jet and rotary aircraft across a service career covering six ships, several shore bases and four air squadrons.

With family service stemming back to World War 1, it was only fitting that the baton was handed down to son, Craig and then to me, his grandson.

On December 17, 2021, the 50th anniversary of the re-establishment of the warrant officer rank was held in Nowra.

Grandpa was among the first sailors to be promoted to warrant officer in 1971 and attended the event with fellow ex-WO Robert ‘Bob’ Brown.

Held by the Keith Payne VC Veterans Group, this anniversary brought a new spark of life to my then 96-year-old grandfather.

Each Monday morning for the past year-and-a-half, Grandpa waited for his mate Bob to go for the group’s weekly walk, ending at a local café.

The stories I have are endless; most will be kept in my heart.

One that he loved telling was about attending the world’s longest burial – one that might still be going today.

Two old sailors were cremated and their wish was to be spread at sea.

After the on-board ceremony, as the ashes were being tipped overboard, a wind picked up and blew them back on deck.

Grandpa said each time the deck was scrubbed bits of dust and bone would every now and then appear for weeks.

Most people grow up hearing stories of their grandparents and live vicariously through their memories.

I was lucky to have almost 30 years with someone who was well respected, in not only the South Coast community he lived in for more than 60 years, but by everyone he met.

I’ll miss the birthday cards with a simple ‘have a beaut day’ written on the inside.

Feeding kookaburras from his back door with my grandma while the grandchildren raided his fridge for his box of chocolates, and later in life, his beer.

Victoria Cross recipients Keith Payne and Willie Apiata, along with George Cross recipient Michael Pratt, attended the funeral at Worrigee on July, 21.

With the recent death of my grandfather comes a lot of memories and the revelation of so much more family history.

A picture can tell a thousand words, but a thousand photos wouldn’t show the life this man had lived.

CAPTIONChief Petty Officer Alfred James Marquis on the deck of HMAS Melbourne in 1970.


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