Eric's escape from a freak wave

Joan Donaldson of Tura Beach wearing the medals of her husband Eric Donaldson and mother Gladys Bennett.
Joan Donaldson of Tura Beach wearing the medals of her husband Eric Donaldson and mother Gladys Bennett.

Joan Donaldson's husband Eric had an incredibly lucky escape while serving on the N-Class destroyer Nizam after a freak wave hit the ship just south of Cape Leeuwin

Mr Donaldson had wanted to join the army but his father was against it and in the end he joined the navy as a 17-year-old.

He was assigned to the Nizam which spent the early part of her service in the Atlantic, then was reassigned to the Mediterranean, where she was involved in the Crete and Syria-Lebanon Campaigns, the Tobruk Ferry Service, and the Malta Convoys. During 1942, the destroyer was involved in Operation Vigorous and the Madagascar Campaign. The next year saw the ship involved in patrols of the Indian and South Atlantic oceans, searching for German ships and submarines, and rescuing the survivors of U-boat attacks.

The ship returned to Fremantle for a refit in late 1944 and was heading out again in early 1945 when a freak wave hit just 11 miles south of Cape Leeuwin.

"They said the ship did a 85 degree roll but water came down the funnel however the ship righted itself," Mrs Donaldson said.

"Sadly 10 boys were lost when the wave hit but Eric was alright because he was working below," she said.

Nizam was present in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender, and served as duty destroyer on September 2, the day the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed.

Her mother Gladys Bennett was a nurse in WWI serving in India and the Macedonian Front, also known as the Salonica Front.

"She served throughout WWI and was president of the ex-nurses association until the day she died," Mrs Donaldson said.

"She enjoyed her service and was a Red Cross superintendent during WWII; I was one of the little Red Cross aides," she said with a laugh.

Mrs Donaldson said she was very proud to be wearing the medals of both her husband and her mother.

This story Eric's escape from a freak wave first appeared on Merimbula News Weekly.

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