Tony Guest a man with the sea

By Rhiann Elizabeth McNally Edited By Jake Watson

It is 1952, during the Korean War. Leading electrician Tony Guest is head of the damage control party for the HMAS Warramunga which was given the task of bombarding the Korean shoreline.

He and his team are down two decks and are repairing the ammunition hoist as the guns are going off. Tensions are high when they hear an odd sound. “It’s like someone throwing pebbles, or ball bearings landing in a bucket of water,” he says.

Tony Guest holding a photo of the HMAS Warramunga

Tony Guest holding a photo of the HMAS Warramunga

It wasn’t until later that he learned that the ship was being ‘straddled’, those sounds were the result of shells exploding all around and above the ship, and the shrapnel from the shells hitting the ship making such a weird and ominous noise.

This was the toughest period of his time in the Navy. “It was pretty rugged. Got fired at a few times, got hit a couple of times. We did 78 days at sea at one stage, “ he says.

Hayden 'Beau' Guest, Tony's father

Hayden ‘Beau’ Guest, Tony’s father

Tony Guest was born in Sydney in 1930, but grew up in Frankston. He was the youngest of three boys. His father, Hayden Guest had joined the Navy in 1923, and would rise to rank of Commander during his 35 year career.

“Beau Guest, that’s the fella,” he says pointing to a photo, “he was known by that name, Beau Geste, the Gary Cooper film.” he explains. “We all got that name”.

Hayden Guest was working as a teacher when he saw an advertisement from the Navy, looking for instructors. He had always wanted to join.

Tony says “He was too young for the First World War and three times he went away, and twice he was on the ship, and he was going and his dad came and dragged him off!.”

It was partly loyalty and partly adventure that drove him to join up. “King and country all that sort of stuff. He was serious about it, which I wasn’t,” Tony laughs.

Tony explains that while growing up, the Navy was a part of his life.His brothers also joined up.

“It was just something I wanted to do, and in those days it was the only way to afford to go overseas. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of young blokes joined the Navy; because you got around, you could see things, and that was the main reason I went.”

Tony and the crew onboard the HMAS Quickmatch

Tony and the crew onboard the HMAS Quickmatch

Tony was 17 and a half when he joined. He remembers on his first day at HMAS Cerberus. After completing the medical, he went to take the oath, on his way all the sailors were yelling, “You’ll be sorry!” and “Wait til they get a hold of you!” But it didn’t deter him, he was still very excited.

The first three years were hard, “the discipline, in those days… it was strict” He remembers going to the drill hall every Sunday for the compulsory church service.

If you avoided going and hid, they would call it skulking, and if you were caught you got 14 days of punishment, which consisted of extra drills and extra work. “I got caught once,” laughs Tony.

In winter time, the Commodore and all the officers would be there with their wives, all dressed up. Everyone would be getting over having the flu, and sitting in this hall, coughs echoing across the room.

beau-geste-film-posterThe Commodore would get up to give his sermon, and the first thing you would hear was his voice booming “Stop that coughing!”, and everyone would go red in the face struggling not to cough. Tony laughs, “You weren’t even allowed to cough in the Navy!.”

Tony went to HMAS Australia, where his father was Commander and his brother a Lieutenant. He was an Electrical Mechanic 2nd class, and when a steward asked his father if EM2 Guest was related to him, his father replied, “Yes, unfortunately, and the only reason he’s an EM2 is because there’s no EM3!”

As an electrician, Tony had to do switchboard watch keeping and maintenance on the machinery, as well as floor scrubbing and cleaning.

The work could be boring but he went to many places. He had the most fun in Japan, and travelled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, New Zealand, Hawaii and the US.

“As I got more seniority it was much better, plus big ships were very strict. When you get on ones like the Warramunga, it was heaven.”

He says it’s definitely a worthwhile thing for young people to get into. “You get to travel – and you get a trade in the Navy, and you get good jobs once you come out.”

He’s most proud of his career in service, “More than anything, at least you went up and had a go.”