Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Spurgeon, Stanley Herbert King (1902–1982)

by David Stevens

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Stanley Herbert King Spurgeon (1902-1982), naval officer, was born on 15 May 1902 at Alverstoke (Gosport), Hampshire, England, second son of Charles Herbert Spurgeon, naval writer, and his wife Harriet Rosina, née King. In 1912 Charles Spurgeon accepted an appointment with the Commonwealth Naval Forces and settled with his family in Victoria. On 31 December 1915 Stanley (‘Spuddie’) entered the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory, as a cadet midshipman. He won prizes for engineering, physics and chemistry, and was awarded his colours for cricket, rugby and rowing. Graduating as a midshipman on 1 January 1920, he first joined the cruiser HMAS Brisbane before transferring in August to the battle cruiser HMS Renown during its world cruise.

After gaining experience in a variety of Royal Navy vessels, Spurgeon returned in 1924 to Australia and was promoted to lieutenant. Two years later he became only the third RAN candidate to undertake the long anti-submarine course at HMS Osprey, Portland, England. Having graduated with top marks, he remained in Britain on instructional duties until 1928. Back in Australia, on 3 December 1929 he married Patti Angela Wilson at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Geelong, Victoria. Promoted to lieutenant commander on 1 February 1932, he served as the Australian Squadron’s anti-submarine officer aboard HMAS Stuart (1934-35) and HMAS Canberra (1937-38). He commanded the destroyers, HMAS Voyager (1935-36) and Waterhen (1936-37), and was promoted to commander in 1937.

Spurgeon was one of the few anti-submarine specialists in the RAN, and in mid-1938 he undertook the boom defence course in Britain. At the outbreak of World War II he was in command of the destroyer, HMS Echo, which on 19 November 1939 came to the aid of the British steamship Pensilva that had been torpedoed by a German submarine off the Bay of Biscay. Echo attacked the U-boat and then returned to pick up all of Pensilva’s survivors. Spurgeon was awarded the DSO, becoming the first Australian to be decorated in World War II.

In April 1940 Spurgeon was escort commander for the first British troop convoy to Norway and he then conducted patrols and troop transportation missions for the remainder of the Norwegian campaign. On 17 May Echo rescued one thousand embarked troops and six hundred crew members of HMS Effingham, which had struck a submerged rock in a fjord. The operation was accomplished without casualties. The following month Echo became the last destroyer to evacuate British troops from Narvik, Norway. Later in 1940 Spurgeon was present during the abortive attack on the Vichy French fleet at Dakar, Senegal, and while based in Gibraltar he took part in Western Mediterranean operations.

Spurgeon was aboard the SS Britannia on passage to Cape Town, South Africa, when it was sunk by a German merchant raider in March 1941. He and sixty-seven other survivors boarded an open leaking lifeboat. With negligible food and water they drifted for six days before being picked up by a Spanish steamer and taken to the Canary Islands where Spurgeon was interned for four months. He later received the King’s commendation for brave conduct.

In October Spurgeon returned to Australia and in January 1942 took command of HMAS Stuart, which was employed on escort duty off eastern Australia and in New Guinea waters. He participated in operations against the Japanese on Normanby and Goodenough islands in September-October 1942. In May 1943 he was appointed director of the anti-submarine division based in Melbourne. As the highest authority for anti-submarine matters in the South-West Pacific Area, he was responsible for the practical and technical planning of anti-submarine measures and for controlling the dissemination of information.

As Australian naval attaché (1944-48) in Washington, Spurgeon attended the San Francisco conference to establish the United Nations Organization in April 1945 and represented Australia at the atomic bomb experiments at Bikini Atoll (Operation Crossroads) in the following year. In 1949 he took command of the anti-submarine training establishment, HMAS Rushcutter, Sydney. Having transferred to the Emergency List in 1952, he was re-appointed for temporary service. Granted the rank of acting captain, in 1952 he became Australia’s defence representative in New Zealand. In 1954 he was appointed OBE and served (1954-56) as naval officer-in-charge, North West Area (HMAS Melville), Darwin. He retired on 27 October 1956 with the honorary rank of captain.

Settling in Darwin, Spurgeon became general manager for the Northern Territory of Dowsett Engineering (Australia) Pty Ltd. He was appointed honorary consul to the Netherlands in 1959. Retiring in 1972, he moved to Milton, New South Wales. Survived by his wife and their son, he died on 19 August 1982 at Camden and was buried in Sandridge cemetery, Mollymook.

Select Bibliography

  • F. B. Eldridge, A History of the Royal Australian Naval College (1949)
  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942 (1957) and Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (1968)
  • D. Stevens, A Critical Vulnerability (2005)
  • A6769, item SPURGEON S H K (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

David Stevens, 'Spurgeon, Stanley Herbert King (1902–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/spurgeon-stanley-herbert-king-15731/text26919, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 November 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019