Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bernard Dennis McCarthy (1900–1977)

by Mike Fogarty

This article was published:

Bernard Dennis McCarthy (1900-1977), sailor, was born on 3 July 1900 at Woodstock, near Cape Town, South Africa, son of Harry McCarthy, building contractor, and his wife Grace Raymond. Educated at the Salesian Institute, Cape Town, Bernard became an accomplished organist. In 1918 he sailed to Britain and on his eighteenth birthday enlisted in the Royal Navy as a boy, 2nd class; he was then 5 ft 4½ ins (164 cm) tall, with cherubic features, fair hair and blue-grey eyes. In March 1919 he was posted to H.M.S. Malaya. He came to Australia in 1920 as a member of the crew of H.M.S. Stalwart, one of six destroyers given to the Royal Australian Navy.

On 9 May 1921 McCarthy transferred to the R.A.N. He served five of the next eight years at sea, with breaks in 1922, 1925 and 1926-28 at Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria, and was promoted (1926) petty officer. Discharged on 21 August 1929, he found work with the Catholic Church Property Insurance Co. of Australasia Ltd and rose to district manager. By 1938 he was an insurance inspector. On 11 June that year at Geelong he married 20-year-old Ellen Splatt (d.1968) in a civil ceremony. Having enrolled (1935) in the Royal Australian Fleet Reserve, he was mobilized in H.M.A.S. Australia when World War II broke out.

Sent to Britain, in November 1940 McCarthy was among the commissioning crew of the destroyer, H.M.A.S. Napier. The ship sailed to the Mediterranean in May 1941. During the battle of Crete, which began that month, she evacuated troops to Alexandria, Egypt, and fought off repeated air-attacks en route. As chief quartermaster, McCarthy 'took charge of the wheel-house on each occasion of the ship being bombed'; he displayed 'great coolness' and skill in responding to numerous wheel-orders and steering 'the ship clear of destruction'; his actions won him the Distinguished Service Medal. In September he was again posted to Flinders Naval Depot. Joining (March 1942) H.M.A.S. Arunta, whose first lieutenant (Rear Admiral) G. J. B. Crabb found him 'most reliable and trustworthy', McCarthy was promoted (July) acting chief petty officer. For meritorious service during the Leyte Gulf operations in the Philippines in October 1944, he was awarded a Bar to his D.S.M.

McCarthy was promoted temporary commissioned boatswain in May 1945 and was posted successively to the Australia, Shropshire, Kanimbla and Sydney. In 1950-51 he was attached to H.M.A.S. Commonwealth, the R.A.N.'s base in Japan, where he operated small craft and transported supplies to Korea. After returning to Australia, he served mostly at sea. A dapper figure and quite 'English' in his attitudes and bearing, he took a close interest in the younger sailors who served with him. On 30 June 1956 he left the navy; in the following year he was promoted sub lieutenant on the Retired List. He worked as a senior messenger with the Bank of Adelaide and sold his medals to a private collector. Survived by his son and daughter, he died on 27 February 1977 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Daw Park, and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery with Catholic rites.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Fogarty, 'Bernard Dennis McCarthy, DSM and Bar, RAN', Sabretache, 27, no 3, July-Sept 1986, p 33
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 July 1951
  • PR 87/122 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Mike Fogarty, 'McCarthy, Bernard Dennis (1900–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 July, 1900
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa


27 February, 1977 (aged 76)
Daw Park, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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