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Creer, Herbert Victor (1881–1969)

by Jean P. Fielding

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

This is a shared entry with Reginald Charles Ferrers Creer

Reginald Charles (Ferrers) Creer (1881-1958), and Herbert Victor Creer (1881-1969), naval officers, were born on 21 September 1881 at Watsons Bay, Sydney, twin sons of Joseph Creer, a Manx mariner, and his second wife Sarah Needham, née Ferrers, a South Australian. They were educated at Sydney Boys' High School and in 1898 became cadets in the New South Wales Naval Brigade.

In August 1900 as a sub-lieutenant Reginald sailed with the New South Wales naval contingent to the China Field Force. In January 1902 he went to the South African War as a captain with the 3rd Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse, but saw no action. His transfer to the Commonwealth Naval Forces was back-dated to 1 January 1901.

In 1899 Herbert had sailed as ship's boy in the Balmore. He claimed to have served in the South African War in 1900-02. Between May 1902 and August 1905 he made three voyages in the square-rigged Mount Stewart. On 30 December 1907 at Christ Church, North Sydney, he married 36-year-old Veronique Lilian Violet Greville (d.1956), daughter of the second Baron Greville.

Between 1907 and 1911 the Creers obtained their mates' and masters' certificates for foreign-going steamships. Late in 1911 as sub-lieutenants they were among the first to join the Royal Australian Navy and a year later were made lieutenants.

In January 1914 Reginald joined the light cruiser H.M.A.S. Pioneer. After patrolling the north-west coast of Australia, he sailed for East Africa via the Cocos Islands, where he acquired the beached Emden's crest and her captain's bridge table. He led a landing party in the capture of Bombamyo on 15 August 1916. From October that year to June 1917 he served in the Brisbane in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. On 15 June at Carlton, Melbourne, he married Eulalie Henty, granddaughter of Stephen George Henty. In July he transferred to the Una, and patrolled German colonial waters north of Australia. From December 1918 he was stationed at Penguin, the Sydney depot.

Herbert served in the Melbourne from August 1914 until April 1918 on patrol and convoy duty in the Indian and Atlantic oceans, and from 1916 with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea. In mid-1918 he joined the Brisbane. He was appointed to the first of his six commands, in the Success, on 19 July 1920. Both brothers were promoted lieutenant-commander late in 1920. Reginald's first command was the destroyer Swordsman, from 21 July 1921. He held five commands including the Parramatta (coinciding with Herbert's command of the Yarra for nearly four months) and the boys' training ship Tingira from December 1922 until November 1925. Herbert commanded the Anzac from December 1922 until January 1925. The twins retired as commanders in 1926 and contemplated operating a sea-transport business in the islands.

In 1927 Reginald was divorced, and his wife later changed her name to Henty-Creer and took her children to England. On 27 August that year at Darling Point, Sydney, he married Kathleen Marianne Silver. He was master of merchant ships off the China coast. In February 1938 he was commanding the Asian when she was captured by the Japanese and held for eleven days.

Meanwhile Herbert commanded a private yacht in Britain for some years. In 1938-39 he was master of the Gemlock, chartered to a Japanese company, and passed intelligence to the Royal Navy until he beached his ship in a blizzard; the officers reached the Manchurian coast in an open boat and were found by police; the British ambassador secured their release. In 1940 the twins joined the Royal Navy. Reginald in 1940-41 was senior officer in command of the gunboat flotilla, China Station, Hong Kong, sunk in the Japanese attack in December 1941. He was a prisoner of war from 21 January 1942 in Hong Kong Camp 'N' at Sham Shui Po until 19 September 1945, when he returned to Sydney. Herbert was senior naval officer at Shanghai and commanded a gunboat flotilla. He became naval officer-in-charge at Singapore, and supervised the embarkation of the Australian nurses in the ill-fated Vyner Brooke. Until his discharge on 31 March 1946 Herbert held several posts: naval officer-in-charge Addu Atoll in 1942, and in Ceylon as commandant, Duty Naval Camp, Diyatalawa, in 1942-44, resident naval officer at Jaffna in 1944-45 and officer-in-charge Ketti Camp in 1945-46. He returned to Sydney in H.M.S. Indefatigable in June and lived at the Imperial Service Club.

Reginald died on 29 June 1958 at the War Veterans' Home, Narrabeen, and was buried with Anglican rites in Northern Suburbs cemetery. He was survived by his second wife and two daughters of his first marriage. His son, Lieutenant Henty Henty-Creer, died commanding his midget submarine X5 after the attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in Altafjord, Norway, in 1943.

In October 1951 Herbert became master of the Vila Star. On 12 June 1957 at St Stephen's Church, Sydney, he married a divorcee Lynda Mary Martin, née Williamson. She died two months later. On 14 July 1960 he married a widow Bonita Allen, née Mackellaig. He died on 5 August 1969 at the War Veterans' Home, Narrabeen, and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by a son of his first marriage.

As junior officers with identical looks and mannerisms, the Creer twins often stood in for each other at social functions, where their charm and gentlemanly manners made them very popular with the ladies. They were excellent seamen, good 'ship handlers' and highly regarded by their senior officers.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • A. W. Jose, The Royal Australian Navy 1914-1918 (Syd, 1928)
  • H. J. Feakes, White Ensign—Southern Cross (Syd, 1951)
  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (Canb, 1953)
  • S. W. Kirby et al, The War Against Japan, vol 1 (Lond, 1957)
  • S. W. Roskill, The War at Sea, 1939-1945, vols 1, 3 (Lond, 1954, 1961)
  • J. J. Atkinson, Australian Contingents to the China Field Force 1900-1901 (Syd, 1976)
  • London Gazette, 10 Feb 1948, supplement
  • Naval Historical Review, Dec 1972, 35, Mar 1976, 23
  • Despatch, Aug 1976
  • Times (London), 21 Feb 1938, p 13, 4 Mar 1939, p 4, 6 Mar 1939, p 25
  • Sun (Sydney), 9 June 1946
  • Log, HMAS Pioneer (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jean P. Fielding, 'Creer, Herbert Victor (1881–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/creer-herbert-victor-6330/text9871, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 10 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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