David Webster H1935
David Aburn Webster
29 September 1921 - 11 March 1980
Three siblings, L to R: John, Betty, David
Photo courtesy of Mike Webster &
Thomas C Webster
David Aburn Webster was born in St Marys, Tasmania, Australia on the 29 September 1921. He was one of the three children born to Dr Robert Webster MC and 'EV' (Ethel Violet) Webster. His maternal grandmother's maiden name was Aburn and many of his cousins also had a second name of Aburn.
He was educated at Scotch College (now Scotch Oakburn) in Launceston and then gained a Diploma of Agriculture at Dookie Agricultural College in Victoria's Golburn Valley. In 1942, at the age of 20 he joined the Royal Australian Navy and did his basic training at HMAS Cerberus.
Mike Webster provided this account of his father's war time experiences:
David Aburn was on HMAS Armidale when she was torpedoed from the air [on 1 December 1942]. He was off watch resting in his hammock in his underpants. The force of the explosion blew him out of his hammock and half way across the sleeping accomodation. He told me his only concern was top side as quickly as he could so he missed collecting any clothes or his life jacket. Passed Teddy Sheean on his way across a slanting deck and could see Teddy was badly wounded.
Frank Walker (2005) noted: But just as his [Ordinary Seaman Russel Martin Caro's] last breath was giving out Ordinary Seaman David Webster, from Launceston risked his own life by scrambling into the tangled rigging, slashing the ropes away and dragging Caro free.
Mike Webster's account continued:
Ended up in the water on the wrong side and was sucked down by the ship but, because he was a strong swimmer he got to the surface and swam around until he found a dead body who wasn't going to need his life jacket so he took it. The next morning they were organised enough to decide that the strongest of them would try and row to Darwin leaving the balance of the survivors with a damaged whaler and a bit of a raft. He was lucky enough to be one of the strongest and fittest so he got to go in the whaler headed for Darwin. No water and no food ..... sighted and supplies dropped on the evening of the 5th day ..... picked up on the afternoon of the 6th day and transferred to the Darwin Hospital with the admittance note on his papers "B.N.D." (bloody near dead).
Spent about a month in hospital where they scrubbed the sea lice out of his back and buttocks and then put him on a train to Perth on 28 days compassionate ... caught the H.M.A.S. Taroona which sailed from Perth to Hobart ( 4 days ) with a train ticket from Hobart to Launceston ( 1 day ) ..... was arrested on the Hobart railway station platform as a deserter and thrown in jail for 48 hours until E.V. [his] mother could convince the police he was who he said he was. So .... he was able to spend the balance of his compassionate leave (20 days) with my Mum and Ethel [E.V., his mother] and Betty [David's sister] and I suppose John [Webster]. Then caught a plane to Melbourne and a train to Sydney where he was posted to the H.M.A.S. Deloraine. ............ NO COUNSELLING and no more soft treatment ...... back to war.
I can't remember the year or month but there was an article in a Western Australian paper called the Argus about the whole episode. There was also a book written by another survivor who resided in W.A. Betty sent me a copy that I gave to my eldest Son ......... the book is called The Ship That Had To Die ......... I read it and found it great ..... he had passed away by then so I couldn't get his opinion of it.
He died at 58 still with occasional skin eruptions on his buttocks and back. Could be difficult and short tempered but was extemely honest and very fair with everyone and he treated everyone exactly the same no matter who or what you represented ..... if he didn't agree with you or didn't like you he'd only put up with it for so long and then he'd tell you so.
In October 1943 in St John's Church in Launceston he married Agnes Marie (Cissie) Ralph. They had three children, two sons and a daughter. The last to be born was Robert George on 9 April 1952. Robert was born with a hole in his heart and only survived six years as he died on 11 April 1958.
After the war David was granted an uncleared Soldier Settlement block of 255 hectares (630 acres) with about 800 metres (a half mile) frontage to the Macquarie River and turned it into productive farmland. His property in Cressy Tasmania was named "Chanak" after the champion race horse (winner of at least 13 races including the Cox Plate in 1947). David was not normally a betting man but he won some money on "Chanak".
In about 1979 David and Cissie retired to Nerang in Queensland where David died in 1980. Cissie died on 22 May 1991.
David Aburn Webster's name is commomerated on the HMAS Armidale Memorial in Central Park, Armidale, NSW.
Selection of names on the HMAS Armidale memorial including Ordinary Seaman David Webster
HMAS Armidale, a Bathurst class Corvette, in Port Moresby harbour, September 1942
Image from the Australian War Memorial website Photograph 026612
References and further reading:
'Of Interest to Women' The Examiner 23 October 1943 p8 Trove (with wedding photograph). Accessed June 2015.
Madigan, Col & Watson Don (1999) A Survivor's Account: Armidale '42: Memory and Imagination Sydney NSW, Pan Macmillan
National Archives of Australia: A6770, WEBSTER D A
Walker, Frank (1990) HMAS Armidale: The Ship That Had to Die Budgewoi, NSW, Kingfisher Press
Walker, Frank (2005) HMAS Armidale Lives On Budgewoi, NSW, Kingfisher Press
One page in the series The Websters of Ashleigh