Errol Martin Kavanagh was born in Millicent, South Australia on 2 July 1944. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy from Mount Gambier, on 29 October 1962 as a midshipman, undertaking initial officer training at HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria.
Between 18 March and 25 Oct 1963, Midshipman Kavanagh undertook basic aircrew training at RAAF Base Point Cook, Victoria, learning to fly in CAC Winjeel trainer aircraft. Advanced flying training followed in November 1963 at RAAF Base Peace, Western Australia, where the young 19 year old converted to De Havilland Vampires. It was there that he was given the nickname ‘Clump’ and awarded his naval pilot’s ‘wings’ on 4 May 1964.
On 18 May 1964, the then Acting Sub-Lieutenant Kavanagh was appointed to 724 Squadron for operational flying training at NAS Nowra where he learnt to fly the Fairey Gannet Anti –Submarine aircraft before joining 816 Squadron in November 1964.
Between November 1964 and October 1966 Errol embarked variously in the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II) as a member of 816 Squadron, flying Gannets. It was during that time that his natural ability as a pilot began to flourish and he was promoted, lieutenant, on 2 June 1966.
This posting was to place Errol in good stead for his next appointment in November 1968 at the Operational Flying School (OFS), NAS Nowra. There he was among the first of the RAN’s pilots to convert to the newly acquired Douglas A4G Skyhawk fighter-bombers, an aircraft type he quickly mastered and one he would enjoy a close relationship with throughout its entire service life in the RAN.
In August 1971 Errol was selected to serve in the US at NAS Kingsville, Texas, as an exchange jet instructor with VT-22 Squadron. His role there was instructing student naval aviators in the final areas of training before transitioning to fleet assignments. On 31 January 1972 he completed the USN Air Training Command, Instructor Training Course, qualifying him to fly the TA-4J Skyhawk variant. Later that year he also completed courses of instruction qualifying him to fly A-7E Corsairs and to perform the duties of a Landing Signals Officer in aircraft carriers.
Although not yet 28 years of age, Errol Kavanagh was proving himself an experienced and highly capable officer and, with that in mind, he was selected to attend the Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey, California where he remained until 31 August 1973 before returning with his family to Australia in October and taking up an appointment with 724 Squadron. The following year he served at sea to hone his mariner skills and qualify as a bridge watch keeper.In June 1975 Lieutenant Commander Kavanagh was appointed to Navy Office as the staff officer responsible for aircrew postings, remaining in that role until 13 December 1976. On 31 December 1976 he was appointed the commanding officer of the Ton Class minesweeper HMAS Ibis and Commander of the Australian Mine Countermeasures Squadron.
‘…that an in flight fire, fuelled by an unknown source of combustible material, melted and burned the rudder and elevator control tubes located in the fuselage aft of frame 21. As a result of the damage to these items, control of the aircraft was lost making recovery impossible.’
Commander Errol ‘Clump’ Kavanagh’s funeral was conducted at the Duntroon Military College Chapel attended by family and his many friends. There he was remembered fondly as a loving husband and father, a man of absolute integrity and a professional and accomplished aviator who helped train a generation of RAN frontline jet pilots.
The obituary above is a synopsis of that work, with John’s kind permission.