SHF – John Oxley

John Serjeant

RAN Stoker on board John Oxley, 1943

From a telephone interview with Andy Munns, 18 May 2004.

During WWII, PV John Oxley served as an inspection vessel of Port Brisbane. Navy ERAs (Engine Room Artificers) and stokers manned her machinery spaces, while her deck crew consisted of Naval ratings and officers.

John served on John Oxley for only three months and was aged 22 years at the time.

His previous ships had been the minesweeper Collanga and the ex AUSN sugar boat Baralaba running stores to Port Moresby and nearby towns from Townsville. John reports that both vessels, being natural draft coal burners, were very hot and uncomfortable.

The Baralaba was so hot down below, her stokers worked 4 hours on and 12 hours off instead of the more usual, 4 hours on and 8 hours off. He also mentioned that no formal training on coal firing was given, however the stint in Baralaba had them firing alongside experienced merchant navy firemen who taught them the skills of coal firing marine boilers.

John reports that John Oxley was also hot. Her forced draft system meant her stokehold had less ventilation than the natural draft steamers, as the air for her furnaces came from the engine room and not the stokehold.

He also mentions that the port side forecastle accommodation for stokers was very hot and congested as up to 8 stokers and ERAs were carried.

John reports the stokehold was manned by 2 stokers each watch on the 4 hours on, 8 hours off system. Petty Officer ERAs ran the engine room and another stoker worked as greaser.

John Oxley bunkered from the coal wharf at South Brisbane. Coal consumption would be between 8 to 10 tons per day. Ash was disposed of by use of a See’s ash ejector. This consisted of a hopper into which the ash would be shovelled. A water valve was opened and a high pressure jet of sea water would force the ashes up and out of an opening on the ships starboard side. This would be done at sea.

John mentions a 22 mm Oerlikon gun was fitted to the stern for John Oxley‘s wartime role as an inspection vessel. However, he never saw the gun fired.

John reports that life was quiet for John Oxley and adds his time on her was largely incident-free.

He does report one accident where the small refrigeration set located midships on the starboard side suffered a broken fitting that allowed the entire ammonia charge to be released. John reports the smell drove the crew near to the point of abandoning ship.

Loss of refrigeration led to all the contents of the cool room spoiling. John remembers jettisoning the contents overboard, including large sides of beef and other meat.

John finished his service on John Oxley and was transferred to HMAS Maryborough in Alexandria with convey escort work between Colombo and Indian ports.