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Bracegirdle, Warwick Seymour (1911–1993)

by Greg Swinden

This article was published online in 2019

Warwick Bracegirdle, n.d.

Warwick Bracegirdle, n.d.

Royal Australian Navy

Warwick Seymour Bracegirdle (1911–1993), naval officer, was born on 22 December 1911 at Newcastle, New South Wales, elder son of New South Wales-born (Sir) Leighton Seymour Bracegirdle, naval officer, and his South Australian-born wife Lilian Anne, née Saunders. His father’s career entailed frequent moves, which resulted in Warwick attending Grimwade House, Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (1918–19, 1923–24); the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide (1919–21); and the Cranbrook School, Sydney (1921–22). In 1925 he entered the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory. He was awarded colours for rugby and hockey, and won the college’s welterweight boxing championship in 1928. Although an average scholar, at passing out that year he received the King’s Medal for exemplary conduct, performance of duty, and good influence among his peers.

Appointed midshipman in 1929 on board HMAS Australia, Bracegirdle commenced training with the Royal Navy (RN) on board HMS Ramillies in 1930. The following year he was promoted acting sub-lieutenant and attended the RN College, Greenwich, Britain, completing the course, after initial failure, in 1933. Joining the destroyer HMAS Stuart, he was promoted lieutenant in 1934 and gained his watch-keeping certificate. He served in the cruiser HMAS Canberra, completed the RN long gunnery course (1937–38), and joined the cruiser HMS Amphion in 1939. On 10 June that year, at the RN College Chapel, Greenwich, he married Margaret Eve Slingsby Bethell, an amateur foil champion. Amphion was recommissioned as HMAS Perth with ‘Braces’ as gunnery officer in July 1939.

After the outbreak of World War II, Perth served in the North Atlantic and Caribbean before returning to Australia in 1940. Deployed to the Mediterranean, the ship took part in the battle of Matapan and the evacuation of troops from Greece and Crete in April–May 1941. Bracegirdle was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) on 1 January 1942 for ‘outstanding zeal, patience and cheerfulness and for setting an example of wholehearted devotion to duty’ (NAA A3978). He then served at HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria, as a gunnery instructor before promotion to lieutenant commander and transfer to the cruiser HMAS Shropshire as gunnery officer.

During 1943 and 1944 Shropshire served in the New Guinea and Philippines campaigns. On 25 October 1944, at the battle of Surigao Strait, Shropshire’s gunfire assisted in the destruction of the Japanese battleship Yamashiro. Bracegirdle, who earned a bar to his DSC and was twice mentioned in despatches, was highly regarded by the ship’s company. His exceptional social skills, ‘natural charm’ (NAA A3978), love of the navy, bravery, and genuine concern for the welfare of the men under his command were constant features in his confidential reports: ‘few officers … possess to such a high degree, the loyalty of their juniors’ (NAA A3978). Nevertheless, some reporting officers considered that he lacked the intellectual capacity required for very high rank.

Returning to Cerberus in 1945, Bracegirdle was promoted to commander in 1947. After completing the courses (1948–49) in England at the RN and Joint Services Staff colleges, he was seconded to the British Combined Operations Headquarters and the Operations Division in the Admiralty. In 1951 he took command of the destroyer HMAS Bataan, serving in the Korean War the following year and conducting frequent naval bombardments of North Korean positions. The war correspondent Ronald McKie described him as ‘a big, ruddy, cheerful looking man with smooth black hair and one of those deceptive innocent English schoolboy faces’ (quoted in Cooper 2010, 225). For his Korean War service, Bracegirdle was awarded a second bar to his DSC (1952) and appointed to the United States’ Legion of Merit (1955).

Bracegirdle served as director of training and staff requirements at Navy Office, Melbourne, in 1954. During 1955 and 1956 he was the Royal Australian Navy liaison officer with the United Kingdom joint services staff. With no prospect of further promotion, he resigned from the navy on 14 February 1957 and was employed by the manufacturing firm Morgan Crucible Co. Ltd, London, before joining the National Iranian Oil Co. based at Abadan, Iran. Divorced in 1969, at the Register Office, Gosport, Hampshire, Britain, on 20 September that year, he married German-born artist and divorcee Pauline Annelies Maria Caspar. He worked for the shipbuilding firm Vosper-Thornycroft before retiring to Gislingham, Suffolk, in 1974. Survived by his wife, and the two sons and one daughter from his first marriage, he died there on 14 March 1993 and was buried at St Mary the Virgin Church. His son Nicolas joined the RN and was a lieutenant commander in the Falklands War.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Cooper, Anthony. HMAS Bataan, 1952: An Australian Warship in the Korean War. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2010
  • Eldridge, Frank. A History of the Royal Australian Naval College. Melbourne: Georgian House, 1949
  • National Archives of Australia. A3978, BRACEGIRDLE W. S.
  • National Archives of Australia. A6769, BRACEGIRDLE W. S
  • Nicholls, Stan. HMAS Shropshire. Sydney: The Naval Historical Society of Australia, 1989
  • Pfennigwerth, Ian. Bravo Zulu: Honours and Awards to Australian Naval People. West Geelong, Vic.: Echo Books, 2016

Additional Resources

Citation details

Greg Swinden, 'Bracegirdle, Warwick Seymour (1911–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bracegirdle-warwick-seymour-28425/text36045, published online 2019, accessed online 10 May 2021.

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