David Padgett was born in Sydney NSW on 22 April 1933. Details of his early life and education are not available. However, at some stage he moved to Brisbane, Qld. Prior to joining the navy, he was employed as a clerk and most likely living with his grandmother, Lillian Smith of Sefton Road, Clayfield, Brisbane, as she is listed on his Record of Service as his Next of Kin.
No doubt Padgett would have seen newspaper advertisements, placed by the Royal Australian Navy, inviting young men to join the Naval Aviation Branch. Because, on 9 May 1952, at Brisbane after passed the entry test, he enlisted in the RAN for six years as a Recruit Naval Airman (Aircrew). He was then posted to HMAS Cerberus FND, the recruit training school in Victoria.
At recruit school he progressed through the training programs for a life in the navy. After completing the initial phase of ‘flight training’ – showing promised in air navigation – on 9 September 1952 he was promoted to Probationary Naval Airman (Aircrew). His next move was to RAAF Archerfield’s No1 Flying Training School, as a Probational Naval Airman (Observer). Here he engaged in the intricacies of air navigation, meteorology, and R/T until 14 December 1952.
Having completed his initial training satisfactorily, the next stage for Padgett was to be sent ‘on loan’ to the RN FAA for additional specialist training. Sailing to England on the P&O liner RMS Stratheden, on 27 January 1953, he arrived at HMS Daedalus (RNAS Lee-on-Solent); a major airfield and administrative centre for the RN FAA. A week later he moved to HMS Curlew (RNAS St Merryn) in Cornwall, the training base for FAA Observers and Naval Air Warfare. Here, having completed the course satisfactorily, on 6 November 1953, Padgett was awarded his ‘wings.’
The date 6 November 1953 is significant; as it is the day David Padgett was promoted to Acting Sub-Lieutenant (O) RAN, on a Short Service Commission of seven years. On 11 November 1953 he was drafted to HMS Gannet (RNAS Prestwick), located at Glasgow, Scotland, where he completed a detailed anti-submarine course. The next move on 11 January 1954 was to HMS Siskin (RNAS Gosport), Hampshire, for additional anti-submarine training. Finally, on 18 January, he was posted to HMS Victory Portsmouth Naval Base, for a Divisional Course; ending his training and ‘loan period’ with the RN, on 31 January 1954.
In London, on Boxing Day 1954, David Padgett met his future bride, Miss Lilian J. McKenzie, and six week later they were engaged. On 11 February 1954 Padgett boarded RMS Strathmore for the return trip to Australia, disembarking at Sydney on 19 March 1954. He was then attached to HMAS Moreton at Brisbane, most likely taking accumulated leave.
Padgett’s next posting was to HMAS Cerberus FND on 5 April 1954 where was enrolled in a Short Service Officers Course, which took him through to 3 June 1954. He then joined 816 Squadron at HMAS Albatross (RANAS Nowra) for flying duties. 816 Squadron then embarked on HMAS Sydney on 28 July 1954 as an Observer, flying in Fairey Fireflies, with the ship exercising off the eastern seaboard, until 11 November 1954, when 816 Squadron disembarked to RANAS Nowra. Earlier, Padgett was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant on 6 November 1954.
On Saturday 18 December 1954, page seven of ‘The Courier Mail’ (Brisbane), had an article about ‘Christmas Brides,’ saying that Miss McKenzie left England for Australia on 5 November on the Strathnaver and had arrived in Brisbane last week for her marriage to Sub-Lieutenant David Padgett RAN, with the wedding to be held at Wooloowin Methodist Church. The bridegroom and his best man, Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Whitton RAN, flew to Brisbane from Sydney.
816 Squadron re-embarked on Sydney on 10 February 1955 for further exercises, then disembarked to RANAS Nowra, on 23 March 1955, pending Sydney’s change of role to a training ship. During April, Padgett completed a course at the Joint Anti Submarine School (AJASS) at RANAS Nowra. On 12 June 1955 he was posted to HMAS Vengeance, an aircraft carrier on loan from the RN, which was being returned to England. Vengeance sailed from Sydney Harbour for the UK on 16 June, arriving at Devonport on 13 August 1955.
Sub-Lieutenant Padgett was on HMAS Vengeance as his next posting was to HMS Seahawk (RNAS Culdrose), a major RN FAA training base, on the Lizard Peninsula of Cornwall. On 15 August 1955 he joined 817 Squadron and began training on the new Fairey Gannet AS1 aircraft the RAN had purchased. The Fairey Gannet was a turbo-prop anti-submarine aircraft with a crew of three in separate cockpits; Pilot, Observer, and Telegraphist. 817 Squadron was recommissioned on 23 August 1955 prior to joining HMAS Melbourne, the RAN’s new aircraft carrier, due sail for Australia early in the new year. On 6 October 1955 Padgett was promoted to Lieutenant (O).
As an Observer, in a Fairey Gannet flying long distances over the ocean, Lieutenant Padgett’s role required careful navigation and, in cooperation with the pilot and telegraphist, to identify surface targets, and submerged submarines with the use of sonobuoys (hydrophones), a job that required great attention to detail and a clear idea of the aircrafts position to ensure a safe return to the base or aircraft carrier it came from. The training regime was strict with crew members working as a team, flying in all kinds of weather day or night time.
It was during one of these exercises, flying along the English Channel, around 11 am on 10 November 1955 that Fairey Gannet WN459 was seen to crash into the sea off St Catherine’s Point near the Isle of Wight, claiming the lives of all on board; including Lieutenant David Padgett (O) RAN, Sub-Lieutenant James P. van Gelder (P) RAN, and ACMN Norman J. Self (T) RAN. The tragedy of this inexplicable accident was compounded by the fact that David Padgett’s wife Lilian had just given birth. Mrs Padgett and the infant returned to Australian on RMS Stratheden disembarking on 20 March 1956.
An excerpt from HMAS Melbourne’s Report of Proceedings for Nov/Dec 1955 (right) throws a little light on the possible cause of the accident, but not the reason.
Material provided by Kim Dunstan using the following references:
National Archives of Australia [some records are illegible]
‘Submarine Hunter’ by Ben Patynowski
HMAS Melbourne ROP