His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh KG, KT, OM, GBE, AC, QSO, PC
Currently there is a lot of hand wringing over the backwards direction our tourism industry is going in, and various clueless people are coming up with crazy ideas like cable cars running from the river up Mt Eliza into King's Park and across it, thereby spoiling the very things people come to see - the Swan River and King's Park.
Mature societies build on their history, not destroy it, and one idea for Fremantle is to tell the stories of famous people who either lived or visited here. Cities are made of stories and storeys.
There are some reasonably famous people living in Fremantle right now, though most want to keep their heads down and live a private life. But over the years this port city has seem many famous people come here, even if only in transit.
An 88 year old veteran of Fremantle who worked in Cliff Street during the war was adamant that Prince Philip, now the Duke of Edinburgh, was stationed in Fremantle during WW2 after the fall of Singapore for some months. Apparently he would come ashore each day to collect the mail which was distributed from the old Union Bank on the south east corner of the Cliff Street and High Street intersection. But why was there no knowledge of this royal presence by any historian or journalist alive today?
Philip had a stellar naval career. His contemporary Terence Lewin, who later became First Sea Lord said, “Prince Philip was a highly talented seaman. No doubt about it. If he hadn’t become what he did, he would have been First Sea Lord and not me.”
When Italy invaded Greece, Philip was awarded the Greek Cross of Valour for his actions aboard HMS Valiant when he helped the sinking of two Italian battleships, in what was Italy's greatest ever naval defeat. Later, aboard HMS Wallace, his ship was under attack from a German bomber during the night and he ingeniously constructed a decoy wooden raft of smoke floats that distracted the bomber and saved the ship from almost certain sinking.
The Fremantle Society wrote to Prince Philip to ask about his time in Fremantle. Buckingham Palace responded last week with a letter stating:
"Thank you for your letter dated 14th October, regarding Fremantle, which The Duke of Edinburgh has seen.
I am able to confirm that His Royal Highess served in HMS Ramillies from January -May 1940. During that time, the Ship arrived in Fremantle on 8th March and remained there just 24 hours before departing for Sydney. Ramillies returned to Fremantle on 20th April and carried out exercises locally for a few days.
You asked if there were any memories of that time, but I am afraid too much time has now elapsed to allow accurate recollection; I am sorry to send a disappointing reply, but wish you every success with your research.
Nonetheless, this letter comes with Prince Philip's best wishes."
But wait, there is more. The photograph above was taken in Fremantle in 1945, five years after his supposed last visit as a naval officer.
The photograph shows a teenager Babs Sharpe chatting to Philip abroad HMS Whelp after it had been in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender. Babs was a reporter for the Mirror newspaper, described in Ron Davidson's book High Jinks at the Hot Pool as Perth's 'clean dirty paper.' Babs wrote:
"Contrary to popular belief he is not bald... he's a real heart throb, a man who would stand out for looks and personality... the ideal man for every woman's dream."
So the Fremantle Society will again write to Buckingham Palace to see what else can be gleaned of this extraordinary 97 year old royal patriarch's time in Fremantle.
Tourism needs stories. We need stories. There are plenty yet to be told.
Are you famous enough?
Nominations for Fremantle Society executive positions close Wednesday 21 November (today).
Please contact John Dowson, President, The Fremantle Society, on 9335 2113