Honouring our heroes: Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Rogers

Share

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
e-mail icon

In 1964 two Royal Australian Navy (RAN) vessels collided during a training exercise off the New South Wales coast. Eighty-two men lost their lives; one of them was Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Rogers.

Jonathan Rogers (pictured below) had served on a variety of British and RAN ships before joining the destroyer HMAS Voyager (II) in 1963. Rogers was not a commissioned officer, but as Chief Petty Officer held responsibility for the organisation and discipline of the crew. On the night of 10 February 1964 he was on Voyager as it took part in exercises off Jervis Bay with the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II). It was a moonless night; Melbourne was conducting night flying exercises while Voyager took the role of plane guard, responsible for rescuing airmen from the sea should the need arise.

For Rogers — nicknamed Buck — it was just another night at sea. He was in the cafeteria at the front of the ship with about sixty men who were playing a game of tombola. At 8.56pm he and the others felt a sudden A black and white photograph of a man with a beard in navy uniformimpact, which sent plates, tables, chairs and men flying around the café area. Within minutes, water began rushing into the compartment. Rogers immediately took control, attempting to stem the flooding and to open an escape hatch. When this failed, Rogers directed surviving men to an adjoining compartment with a hatch that opened. According to Radar Plotter Low:

He was telling everyone not to panic and we would all get out if we came through one at a time. He seemed very calm. I think he was more intent on getting the young chaps out first before going out himself.

Jonathan Rogers was a large man and it is unlikely that he could have escaped through the hatch. He must have been aware of this, as at one stage he said to Leading Seaman Rich, 'I can't get out. You get all the young fellows out of the hatch'. As the compartment he was in continued to fill with water, Rogers apparently accepted his fate, noting, 'Well, the waters beat us'. He led the remaining men to their deaths with a prayer and a hymn.

Three hundred and fourteen crew were on Voyager when Melbourne hit her side just behind the bridge, slicing Voyager in two. After impact, the ship's forward section sank within minutes. The after section stayed afloat for several hours, enabling many crew to be rescued by vessels and helicopters launched from the shore. The eighty-two men who lost their lives in the collision were all from Voyager.

A ship half sunken on a dark night in the middle of the ocean

This image shows Voyager after the collision. The forward section, where Rogers was located, sank in minutes. The after section, shown here, sank within three hours (AWM NAVY15894).

Two Royal Commissions were held to inquire into the sinking of Voyager, and there was much public interest in the cause of the disaster. At the first commission, several witnesses spoke about the action taken by Rogers after the collision. One survivor, Able Seaman Matthews, commented, ‘I think that he helped to save many of the young fellows who were in the café. In March 1965, Rogers was posthumously awarded the George Cross. The citation for the award included the following:

… for maintaining the morale of junior ratings in great adversity, for organising the escape of as many as possible, and for supporting the spirits of those who could not escape and for encouraging them to meet death alongside himself with dignity and honour.

Jonathan Rogers did not hold officer rank, yet in his final minutes he displayed all the characteristics of good leadership. For his wife, this was not surprising. She said after his death, "It was typical of him — he never thought of himself".

The damaged bow of a ship in Sydney Harbour with two men standing at the front and three men sitting on the side

The damaged bow of the HMAS Melbourne photographed by the Australian Women's Weekly in Sydney Harbour 33 hours after its collision with the HMAS Voyager (The National Library of Australia/Australian Women's Weekly).


In the final year of Anzac Centenary (2014–2018) we are sharing stories of men and women from all wars, peacekeeping operations and conflicts through the Honouring our Heroes series.