The navy is no stranger to laying on a bit of pomp and ceremony for a military funeral. But the service for Vice-Admiral David Leach, a former Chief of Naval Staff, took things to another level. And for good reason, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
As some 250 mourners at the historic Naval Chapel on Garden Island heard on Friday, it was Admiral Leach who shaped the modern navy.
His legacy was very much in evidence as the ceremonial guard of 24 able and leading seamen lined up in summer ceremonial dress. Nine members of the guard with rifles ready to fire were women. It was Admiral Leach who oversaw the introduction of women into sea-going roles.
A car with “Fleet1” numberplates carried Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead. “Navy1” delivered the Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Michael Noonan. NSW Governor Margaret Beazley arrived wearing the uniform of an honorary commodore (white). No letters on her number plate, just a crown.
Further evidence of Admiral Leach’s legacy was the arrival of Warrant Officer Deb Butterworth, who has the accolade of being the first female naval warrant officer.
With the arrival of Admiral Leach’s wife, Pamela, son Michael and daughter Nikki, the coffin, draped in the Australian White Ensign with his admiral’s cap and sword laid on it, was carried into the chapel.
Admiral Noonan said David Leach showed great command and leadership presence as Chief of Naval Staff from 1982-1985.
“David’s legacy expands across many of the Royal Australian Navy’s capabilities and can be seen as the catalyst that shaped our modern navy,” he said.
“Today we have females serving in all roles, both at sea and ashore, in senior leadership positions as well as in command of warships. David’s vision of full equality was inspired and our navy is richer for it.”
His achievements to redress gender imbalance was just one part of a 43-year career that started at the age of 13. He joined the Royal Australian Naval College during World War II in January 1942. By that point Pearl Harbour had been attacked and HMAS Sydney sunk.
A significant milestone for Admiral Leach was the command of HMAS Perth (II) during her second deployment to the Vietnam War. After firing on enemy positions she came under counter-battery fire from the North Vietnamese. Counter manoeuvres meant the ship wasn’t hit and he later received the CBE for distinguished service.
In a brief eulogy Nikki Leach said her father was her hero in shining gold braid. “I take great comfort that we are all here together reflecting on my dad’s extraordinary life, a sailor’s admiral we can all relate to,” she said.
His son Michael said: “Dad said an important milestone in his life was when he was lucky enough to be the youngest officer in the navy to be a captain when he took command of HMAS Vendetta in 1964 at the age of 36. He had responsibility for the lives of 300 young men on board whose average age was just 19.
“For me Dad was like a lighthouse standing guard on a treacherous coast – and I am comforted to think that some part of him lives on in Nicola and I and his granddaughter Mali.”
Granddaughter Mali, aged nine, said: “I think of the stormy seas and the ships sailing across the water and then I think of grandpa. How brave, how courageous and how sweet he was.”
The navy band played I am Sailing, 30 volleys were fired from a three-pound saluting gun and the coffin was placed on a gun carriage pulled by a gun carriage party of 136 men and women.
The band led the way. The white ensign on HMAS Brisbane fluttered at half mast. Mali walked behind, her grandfather’s many medals placed on a black velvet cushion.