Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Wrench (1904–1987)

by Gregory P. Gilbert

This article was published:

Alfred Wrench, n.d.

Alfred Wrench, n.d.

photo from Royal Australian Navy

Alfred Wrench (1904-1987), seaman, was born on 4 May 1904 at Airly, in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, third surviving child of New South Wales-born parents George Wrench, miner, and his wife Anna, née Knight. Educated at Sofala Public School, Alfred joined the Royal Australian Navy as a stoker, 2nd class, on 2 July 1926. He trained at HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria, and on board HMAS Platypus. While serving in a succession of ships, he gained his auxiliary (1929) and stokehold (1936) watch-keeping certificates and oil-fuel and internal-combustion-engine qualifications (1938). His excellent personal qualities and superior technical ability brought him promotion to leading stoker in 1933 and stoker petty officer in 1936. On 2 July 1932 at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, Hobart, he had married Madge Marion Harris.

At the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Wrench was posted to the destroyer, HMAS Waterhen, which deployed to the Mediterranean. In October 1940 he was promoted to temporary (substantive, 1945) chief stoker and transferred to another destroyer, HMAS Vampire. The ship participated in the Greek and Cretan operations, the Malta convoys, and the ‘Tobruk ferry’, which supplied the Australian garrison at the fortress. Wrench was mentioned in despatches for his ‘outstanding zeal, patience, and cheerfulness and for setting an example of whole-hearted devotion to duty’.

Vampire sailed for Singapore in May 1941 and, after Japan entered the war, again saw frequent action. On 9 April 1942 she was escorting the carrier, HMS Hermes, off the coast of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) when a ferocious Japanese air attack sank both ships. Wrench had been the senior hand of the starboard pompom, which had a stokers’ gun crew. He ‘showed coolness and courage throughout the action and kept his gun firing until the crew was finally washed from the platform’; he was mentioned in despatches for a second time.

Rescued and repatriated, Wrench served in the corvette, HMAS Armidale, then the frigate, HMAS Gascoyne, which in 1944-45 operated as an escort and survey vessel supporting the Allied offensive in the Pacific. On Christmas night 1944 a Japanese air-launched torpedo hit the Dutch transport Sommelsdijk, anchored near Gascoyne, off Guiuan, Philippines. Gascoyne's crew rescued some 1300 American troops from the burning ship and volunteers from the frigate boarded the transport to control the damage. Wrench spent the entire night of 25-26 December fighting the fires. He ‘supervised the work of all equipment and men and assisted in the inspection of the still smouldering holds when the fires were coming under control’. For his courage, leadership and devotion to duty, he was awarded the British Empire Medal. In 1946 he was proud to be a representative of the RAN in London at the Victory March, held on 8 June.

Wrench was discharged from the RAN on 1 July 1948 in Sydney. He worked until age 65 as a plant operator with Bitumen Oil Refineries (Australia) Ltd, Matraville, commuting by bicycle from his house at Kingsford. The archetypical quiet achiever, he centred his life on home and family and had few outside interests. He died on 30 November 1987 at Randwick and was cremated. His wife and their son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (1968)
  • A6770, item WRENCH A (National Archives of Australia)
  • ADM 1/30209 (National Archives, UK)
  • File: ‘Naval Personnel – Wrench, Alfred’ (Royal Australian Navy History Section, Canberra)
  • private information.

Citation details

Gregory P. Gilbert, 'Wrench, Alfred (1904–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Alfred Wrench, n.d.

Alfred Wrench, n.d.

photo from Royal Australian Navy