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Showers, Henry Arthur (Harry) (1899–1991)

by John Moremon

This article was published online in 2016

Henry Arthur Showers (1899-1991), naval officer, was born on 24 May 1899 at Carlton, Melbourne, youngest of four surviving children of Victorian-born Charles Showers, hotelier, and his English-born wife Alice Mary, née Villar. In 1913 Harry entered the Royal Australian Naval College (RANC), Geelong, Victoria, with the first intake of cadet midshipmen. The college moved to Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory, in 1915. Awarded colours for rowing, rugby, and cricket, in 1916 he graduated with prizes for theoretical, practical, and workshop engineering.

Midshipman Showers served in the British battle cruiser HMS Glorious in 1917, seeing action at the second battle of Heligoland Bight. Next year he joined the submarine HMS K22 but it was damaged in a collision and he returned to Glorious. He completed professional courses and in 1919 sailed to Australia as a sub-lieutenant in the submarine HMAS J3. In 1920 he undertook further training in Britain and, while there, was promoted to lieutenant and selected for the All-England rugby union team; injury prevented him from playing. Back with the Australian submarine flotilla in 1921, he served in surface warships after it was disbanded in 1922.

Following navigation training (1923) and minesweeper service with the Royal Navy (1923-25), Showers joined HMAS Moresby as assistant surveyor on the ship’s hydrographic survey of the Great Barrier Reef. On 19 November 1927 at the Presbyterian church of St Stephen’s, Phillip Street, Sydney, he married Jean Alison Cunningham, sister of an RANC classmate, Ernest Cunningham, who had been killed in a submarine accident in 1918. The couple sailed to England where he studied tactics and served in HMS Douglas as a lieutenant commander. Back home, in the early 1930s he refereed for the New South Wales Rugby Union between sea postings. In 1933 he was promoted to commander. After further courses in Britain in 1934, he served in the Mediterranean as navigator and staff officer operations in the light cruiser HMS Arethusa. Two years later he was appointed the Australian Squadron’s navigation officer, embarked in HMAS Canberra. He was an honorary aide-de-camp (1937-45) to the governor-general, Baron Gowrie.

Having commanded the sloop HMAS Swan from January 1939, Showers took over the light cruiser HMAS Adelaide in September. He was promoted to captain on 31 December. Adelaide supported a Free French coup in New Caledonia in September 1940; Showers 'rendered excellent service in a situation requiring considerable discretion and sound judgment’ (NAA A2676), mediating between de Gaullists and Pétainists. From June 1942 he commanded the light cruiser HMAS Hobart in operations in the Pacific, including the Allied offensive in the Solomon Islands, until the ship was torpedoed and seriously damaged in July 1943. His next command, from May to September 1944, was of the heavy cruiser HMAS Shropshire, which supported amphibious landings in New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies. As a commodore, 2nd class, he became second naval member of the Naval Board (1944–46). He was appointed CBE in 1945.

One of Australia’s most experienced and respected cruiser captains in World War II, Showers took Shropshire to London in 1946 for the victory celebrations. His subsequent appointments were as commodore superintendent of training at HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria (1946), second naval member of the Naval Board (1948-50); and, having been granted the acting rank of rear admiral, flag officer-in-charge, New South Wales (1950). Admiral Sir Guy Royal had recommended him for promotion but Vice Admiral Sir John Collins judged him too diffident and lacking in intellectual capacity for flag rank; he remained a substantive captain. Showers was described as ‘A thick-set man with an even voice but a manner of briskness combined with warmth’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1954, 30). The sailors considered him a gentleman and served happily under his command. On 8 February 1955 he ceased full-time service.

President of the United Service Institution of New South Wales (1951-54), Showers was later federal president of the Navy League (1957-68) and secretary of the Nuclear Research Foundation, University of Sydney (1955-68). He had a love of gardening and was a member of the Royal Sydney Golf Club. Predeceased by his wife, and survived by his daughter, he died on 31 July 1991 in Sydney and was cremated. He had been the last surviving member of the first class of RANC cadets.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Eldridge, Frank Burgess. A History of the Royal Australian Naval College. Melbourne: Georgian House, 1949
  • Gill, G. Hermon. Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957
  • National Archives of Australia. A6769, Showers Henry Arthur
  • National Archives of Australia. A2676, 574 Attachment 1
  • Royal Australian Navy. ‘Rear Admiral Henry Arthur Showers.’ Accessed 29 April 2015. http://www.navy.gov.au/biography/rear-admiral-henry-arthur-showers. Copy held on ADB file
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Man in the Public Eye. A Naval Occasion.’ 17 October 1954, 30

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Citation details

John Moremon, 'Showers, Henry Arthur (Harry) (1899–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/showers-henry-arthur-harry-18413/text30068, published online 2016, accessed online 20 August 2019.

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