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Kenneth Robert (Ken) Hudspeth (1918–2000)

by Lachlan Grant

This article was published online in 2024

Lieutenant K R Hudspeth, RANVR, of Tasmania, 10 October 1943

Lieutenant K R Hudspeth, RANVR, of Tasmania, 10 October 1943

Imperial War Museum, IWM (A 19626)

Kenneth Robert Hudspeth (1918–2000), naval officer, submariner, and teacher, was born on 31 March 1918 at Echuca, Victoria, eldest of three sons of Robert Hudspeth, technical teacher, and his wife Ada Beatrice, née Sim, both Victorian-born. In 1919 the family moved to Hobart, where Robert had been appointed headmaster of Hobart Junior Technical School. Ken attended Princes Street Primary, Hobart Junior Technical, and Hobart State High schools. He was a keen bushwalker, passionate about sailing and yacht racing, and a member of the 1st Derwent Sea Scouts. In 1936 he was admitted to the Tasmanian Department of Education’s Teachers’ College. Primarily a teacher of English, his first appointments were to State high schools at Geeveston in 1938, and Hythe in 1939.

In World War II, having applied to join the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, Hudspeth was appointed on 15 July 1940 as a sub-lieutenant. Following training at the shore establishments HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria, and HMAS Rushcutter, Sydney, where he showed above average ability as an anti-submarine officer, in January 1941 he embarked for Britain and a secondment to the Royal Navy. His first sea posting, from March 1941 to September 1942, was as anti-submarine officer in the corvette HMS Anemone escorting Atlantic convoys.

Having volunteered for special duties, in September 1942 Hudspeth was posted to the shore establishment HMS Dolphin, and the following month to another shore establishment, HMS Varbel. At Varbel he trained in secret midget submarines known as X-Craft, and prepared for Operation Source, a raid on the German warships Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and Lützow which were threatening Allied shipping from bases in the Norwegian fjords. Promoted to lieutenant in January 1943, he was selected to command X10, one of six X-Craft deployed for the operation in September 1943 to attempt to deposit explosive charges with delayed activation fuses beneath the enemy vessels. Although X10 suffered multiple mechanical failures that eventually forced Hudspeth to abandon the attack, he managed to regain the open sea where he and his crew rendezvoused with their mother submarine. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in January 1944. The previous year he was also awarded a £10 prize from the Herbert Lott Naval Trust Fund for inventing a type of safety clip for depth charges.

In January 1944 Hudspeth commanded X20 during Operation Postage Able, surveying beaches and collecting geological samples needed to assess potential landing sites in Normandy for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Over four days he reconnoitred by periscope and at night landed a shore party, contributing to the selection of a section of the beach codenamed Omaha as one of the five landing sites. A crewmember on this mission described Hudspeth as 'quiet, and a thinker’ who ‘handled the craft with a cool dexterity’ (Strutton and Pearson 1958, 195). Hudspeth was awarded a Bar to his DSC in April 1944. For the Overlord landings he returned to the Normandy coast in command of X20, one of two X-Craft deployed for Operation Gambit to support the initial landings by acting as markers to assist navigational vessels leading the first columns of landing craft. He was charged with anchoring his submarine off Juno Beach, and guiding the assault force using an echo sounder, radar, and a shaded light. The postponement of the invasion by twenty-four hours due to unsuitable weather on the evening of 4 June 1944 meant that X20 and its crew had to lie submerged until the early hours of 6 June. For this mission, in November 1944 Hudspeth became the first Australian naval officer to be awarded a second Bar to his DSC.

Hudspeth joined the destroyer HMS Orwell in November 1944 as anti-submarine officer escorting Arctic convoys to Russia, and in May the following year was appointed as first lieutenant. He returned to Australia in October 1945. Demobilised in February 1946, he resumed teaching, but continued as a reservist until 1964, having been promoted to lieutenant commander in December 1951. In 1947 he had graduated BA from the University of Tasmania. He held teaching positions at high schools across Tasmania, including at Devonport, Burnie, and Hobart.

Hudspeth was elected president of the Tasmanian Ex-Service Teachers’ Association in 1953, and also joined the executive of the Tasmanian State School Teachers’ Federation. He was later elected president of the Tasmanian Teachers’ Federation, and served a term as president of the Australian Teachers’ Federation (1955–56), during which he publicly agreed with critics from overseas that Australian teachers’ unions seemed too focused on salaries and status as against education itself. In 1956 he was the Australian delegate at the World Confederation of Organisations of the Teaching Profession in Manila.

On 5 January 1959, Hudspeth married English-born Audrey Nicholson, a social worker who became a self-confessed ‘very belated war bride’ following a proposal by letter from this ‘shocking procrastinator’ (Hudspeth 2011) who had stayed with her family during the war. She was impressed by his ‘serious-minded’ fondness for ‘literature and poetry and music and things like that’ (Hudspeth 2011). He became the inaugural headmaster of Rose Bay High School in 1961, and was principal of Hobart Teachers’ College. His final professional appointment was as superintendent of school buildings, before retiring in 1979. He remained active in the education community, and, as an advocate for environmental and heritage conservation, devoted much of his time to the Maritime Museum of Tasmania.

Although his highly decorated war service was well known, Hudspeth was humble about his naval career, and in peacetime his ‘integrity, consideration for others, sense of humour, patience and perseverance’ made him an ‘outstanding administrator and leader’ (Mercury 2000, 14). He was slim, of medium height, and had a stern countenance that many considered handsome. Survived by his wife and three sons, Andrew, David, and Donald, he died in Hobart on 3 December 2000.

Research edited by Stephen Wilks

Select Bibliography

  • Grant, Lachlan. ‘The Royal Australian Navy at Normandy.’ Wartime: Official Magazine of the Australian War Memorial, no. 87 (Winter 2019): 20–27
  • Hudspeth, Audrey. Interview by Rob Willis, 28 February 2011. Transcript. Submariners Oral History Project. National Library of Australia
  • Hudspeth, Kenneth. ‘Teachers’ Unions and Leadership in Education.’ In Report of the Annual Council Meeting and Annual Conference, 3–4. [Australia]: Australian Teachers’ Federation, 1956
  • Hudspeth, Kenneth. ‘X–Craft: X20 in the English Channel.’ Naval Historical Review, September 1994: 8–10
  • Mercury (Hobart). ‘From English Teacher to War Hero and Back.’ 18 December 2000, 14
  • National Archives of Australia. A6769, Hudspeth, Kenneth Robert
  • Royal Australian Navy. ‘Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Robert Hudspeth.’ Accessed 22 February 2024. Copy held on ADB file
  • Strutton, Bill, and Michael Pearson. The Secret Invaders. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1958
  • Worledge, Ray. ‘Australians in Midget Submarines.’ In The Royal Australian Navy in World War II, edited by David Stevens, 85–96. 2nd ed. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2005

Additional Resources

Citation details

Lachlan Grant, 'Hudspeth, Kenneth Robert (Ken) (1918–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2024, accessed online 29 May 2024.

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