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April 28, 2011
A cloud overhead
Former Chief of Naval Staff VADM Sir Richard Peek lived out his life believing
he should have been killed, not his captain. Simon Gladman reports.
ASENSE of guilt haunted
former Chief of Naval
Staff VADM Sir Richard
Peek from the moment a
Japanese kamikaze struck HMAS
Australia during World War II.
When split seconds and spontane-
ous actions are the difference between
life and death, Sir Richard, then a
30-year-old gunnery officer, was
saved when CAPT Emile Dechaineux
pushed him out of the way to see the
CAPT Dechaineux was among 30
killed after he was hit by shrapnel in
the chest. Sixty-four, including then-
LCDR Peek, were wounded.
In one of the acts that resulted in
him being made Officer of the Order
of the British Empire for his skill,
determination and courage in battle,
LEUT Peek carried a wounded CAPT
Dechaineux and put him in the cap-
The attack, which occurred on
October 21, 1944, during the Battle of
Leyte Gulf, is believed to be the first
kamikaze on the RAN.
At a memorial service following
Sir Richard's death in August last year,
daughter Jane Peek told of the sense of
guilt her father had carried with him.
"He always felt guilty to be a sur-
vivor because CAPT Dechaineux had
pushed him out of the way and said
'Let me see'... thereby copping the bit
of shrapnel that hit him in the chest,"
Ms Peek said.
"He said, 'It should have been me
Ms Peek, a curator at the Australian
War Memorial in Canberra, told the
memorial service of the attack as
described by her father, who suffered a
burst ear drum and burns.
"The bridge was enveloped in a
flash fire. Dad never realised this until
the 1980s when someone pointed out
to him that the whole bridge had been
engulfed in flames.
"There were a large number of
dead and most of the personnel on the
bridge itself were killed.
"Dad said later he couldn't remem-
ber how long it was before help came
... he said it could have been 20 sec-
onds or two hours.
"He eventually moved to the side
of the bridge and was amazed to find
everyone lying flat on their back on the
deck. He didn't realise that the blast
had actually blown people over.
"I said to him, 'What did you do
next?' He replied that he picked up the
captain and carried him to the cap-
Despite his injuries, LCDR Peek
mixed with the crew and tried to boost
Ms Peek heard an eye-witness
account of her father's actions when
she met LS Signaller Cliff Hopping by
chance at the memorial. As one of the
first on to the bridge, he saw LCDR
Peek carry CAPT Dechaineux to the
"Cliff asked me if I knew whether
we had the captain's chair from
Australia because he wanted to pat it.
But we don't have it here and I have
often wondered if it isn't somewhere
at Spectacle Island," Ms Peek said.
Ms Peek said her father felt he per-
sonally could not face another attack,
and had worried that this would
affect his prospects for pro-
motion. He later became
a VADM, Chief of
Naval Staff from
1970-73 and was
knighted in 1972.
Richard Peek as
Chief of Naval Staff.
Australian War Memorial
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