We have received the sad advice from the widow of CMDR Donald Debus GLEX(O) that her husband recently passed away.

Don was born in Sydney on 8th August 1938, and his family was living in Hornsby at the time of his engagement into RAN as a Recruit Naval Aircrew on 9th January 1956. On completion of recruit training, he was appointed midshipman on 30th April 1956 for further training as a Navy Observer and was posted to HMAS Albatross the following month.

Whilst on a training flight on 27th November 1956, Don’s Firefly was involved in a mid-air collision with a second Firefly over Jervis Bay. Sub Lieutenant David Eagles RN, the pilot of Don’s aircraft struggled to maintain control and they made a successful ditching to the north-east of Callala Bay. The other Firefly broke up on impact and the crew did not survive.

Don subsequently served in 851, 817 and 725 Squadrons through until May 1957 when he was promoted Acting Sub-Lieutenant, having completed No. 3 Observer’s Course. From late 1957 until mid-1958 Don embarked in HMAS Melbourne with 816 Squadron in Gannets, and he later saw service again in Melbourne with the Far East Strategic Reserve. Don’s postings through to June 1963 alternated between Albatross and Melbourne, still with 816 Squadron. He was promoted Lieutenant on 8th June 1960.

With the offer to accept a permanent commission, Don underwent seagoing service in the frigate HMAS Quiberon, gaining his bridge watchkeeping certificate in 1964. From July 1964 until August 1965 Don served in HMAS Cerberus as the course office for Supplementary List midshipmen, amongst whose numbers included such FAA luminaries as Ray Godfrey, Jeff Dalgliesh and Victor Battese. While serving in HMAS Cerberus, Don met his then future wife, Third Officer Mary Harris; they were married on 2 October 1965.

He then served for a year in HMAS Hawk, a ‘Ton’ Class minesweeper as the Executive Officer until August 1966. It was during that time that Hawk deployed to Malaysia to protect the nation during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation. On 13 March 1966 Hawk came under fire from an Indonesian shore battery on Pulau Satumu, the southernmost island off the main island of Singapore.

With his sea service behind him, Don returned to the Fleet Air Arm and completed No.10 Anti-Submarine Helicopter OFS in 725 Squadron. Peter, their son, was borne on 8 July 1966 while Don was serving in HMAS Hawk; Peter was five weeks old when Don returned to Australia. Catherine was born on 15 March,1968 while Don was attached to 725 Squadron at HMAS Albatross.

In the second quarter of 1967 Don was back at sea in the fast troop transport HMAS Sydney with a detached flight of Wessex helicopters, providing anti-submarine protection to the ship whilst in South Vietnamese waters off the port of Vung Tau.

Promoted to Lieutenant Commander in June 1968, Don had already completed No.22 Advanced Navigation Course followed by the Wessex Mark 31B OFS with 725 Squadron. While holding the rank of Lieutenant Commander, Don became Staff Office (Air) within the Navy Office Directorate of Training, he commanded 817 Squadron for two years and then returned to Navy Office to a position in the Directorate of Administrative Plans.

In December 1974 Don was promoted commander and was appointed Staff Officer (Air) within the Australian Navy Representative UK’s office in London. Thereafter he served in HMAS Stalwart as Executive Officer and HMAS Albatross as Commander Air, returning to Navy Office in June 1979 as the Deputy Director of Naval Aviation Policy for a period of two years.

Don’s final position in the RAN was on the Navy Staff of the Department of Defence, Canberra and he retired from the RAN on 1 September 1983 and was transferred to RANEM. On 19 July 1987 he advised that due to being appointed Assistant Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Building, he was no longer available for RANEM Service. He was eventually promoted to Executive Director of the Institute and remained in that position until he retired, due to ill health.

Don Debus died in Dubbo NSW on 16 October 2023 at the age of 85.  He was farewelled at a small and private funeral on 25 October 2023.