Saturday, 26 August 2017

AHQ salutes HMAS Darwin.... in laundry bags......... over 250 of them!!!

We have been unusually busy here at AHQ as we have had three special Aussie-Heroes-In-Confidence projects running concurrently!    None of these projects could be conducted on the blog as the need to ensure the "surprise factor" made that impossible.  If you missed out on taking part and would have liked to, my apologies, I tried to include as many people as possible.

The laundry bags everyone made for ADV Cape Inscription were one project.

Another one I can't tell you about for a little while longer....

The third project came to fruition today.   But let's go back to the beginning.

Back in June I headed into HMAS Kuttabul to the office of the Fleet Commander to present his Warrant Officer with a surprise quilt.  Just as I parked the car and was about to walk into the conference room I received a phone call from a  Chief Petty Officer.  I had to wait until I was on my way home from HMAS Kuttabul before I could call him back.

When we did finally get to chat it turned out that he is a member of the Ramsgate RSL and wanted to notify me that they were going to make a donation to Aussie Hero Quilts!   Needless to say I was delighted and we ended up talking for a few minutes. Turns out he was on HMAS Darwin and he mentioned that they would be decommissioning later this year.

Suffice to say that when I learned that HMAS Darwin was being decommissioned I wanted to do something to acknowledge the occasion. 

Twice we have supported the crew of HMAS Darwin whilst they have deployed as part of Operation Manitou.   The first time we did so I was there on the wharf when HMAS Darwin came home and was presented with a wonderful framed and signed photograph of Darwin and her crew festooned in the quilts they had received.   After the first deployment the then Captain, Commander Terry Morrison, invited my Sydney-based quilters to come for a tour of the ship which they greatly enjoyed and then he attended our annual dinner.  He also invited me to attend the HMAS Darwin ball which was a great pleasure. 

During the second deployment the current CO, Commander Phillip Henry,  sent thank you letters and a fridge magnet to every Aussie Hero contributor to the crew and that was much appreciated.  What touched me most though, was the reaction, by the crew, to the loss of my home to a devastating house fire.  A photo of me, standing out the front of my charred home and holding the damaged photo of HMAS Darwin, was used in the news coverage and when CMDR Henry saw it he emailed me and promised that he would present me with a new photo on their return.  True to his word I received a wonderful framed photo on the wharf.  That photo now hangs in pride of place in my temporary home. There is not enough room for all the wall-hangings and photos I have to hang on the walls in this house, and many of them must wait til we move into our new home… but the HMAS Darwin photo has pride of place and will do so in the new house as well.

For those of you who are not aware, I had spent $10000 of hard saved donated money to buy a special quilting machine just weeks before the fire tore through my home. In a flash it was lost, along with everything else.  It still seems surreal now, over 12 months later. 

Less than 24 hours after the fire, as I was shopping for clothes, I received a phone call from the ship's Chaplain telling me that the crew was thinking of me.  He explained that the crew of HMAS Darwin had been raising funds for Aussie Heroes as a thank you for the quilts and laundry bags but he said, after the news of the fire spread, in his words, they “upped the ante” and more would be raised. In the end, the wonderful crew raised more than $40000 for various charities over the course of their deployment.  

That just blew me away and the fact that $8700 of the amount raised was given to Aussie Heroes was so very much appreciated. That money enabled me to accept a fabulous offer from Blessington Pty Ltd  who sold the quilting machine and our new one was installed just a couple of months later.   I cannot tell you how much difference that machine makes to us.   We are able to complete quilts and get them on their way much more quickly.   

In honour of HMAS Darwin I have named the quilting machine Phoenix and one of these days I will have a plaque made declaring her named in honour of HMAS Darwin.

So, HMAS Darwin has made a place in my heart and the hearts of many of those who sew for us.  

As soon as I could I sent a message to Cindy who creates the digital program for all the badges and crest we are able to embroider and asked if she could please create one for the HMAS Darwin Crest.   Five days later she emailed it to me!   That was Monday the 26th of June. 

I could not put a call for laundry bags out on the blog or the crew would find out about it, so I had to do it all via email.   An email was sent out and that day I spent 12 hours organising volunteers to make the laundry bags.   I knew we needed around 200 bags and so set about getting volunteers to make that many.  A few days later I learned that the number needed to go up to 230. No problem!  Our amazing volunteers rose to the challenge and before too long the 230 were promised. 

The next challenge was to arrange for those with embroidery machines to make some of the HMAS Darwin Crests.  Each crest had to have the Years of Operation included... 1984-2017.  Soon enough crests started rolling into my letter box and as fast as they came in, I turned them around and posted them out to the people making the laundry bags.   We were unlikely to get enough crests for all the bags so some people managed to applique the name of the ship, the side number and the years of Operation.   Some even printed the crest and some appliqued the phoenix, the logo for Darwin.

Very quickly LBs started to roll into my PO Box.  Bridget and I are the ones who collect the mail and many days over the last couple of months we collected a massive bag of mail so heavy it was difficult to carry it all in one lot.   Remember, we not only had the HMAS Darwin Bags but also the thirty for ADV Cape Inscription and the one other secret project that we have been working on.

I did not always have time to open the mail and so had to wait til I had some extra helpers, usually on a sewing day, but there was one night when I had dinner guests and they had to help me photograph the mail!  :-)  

At last the day came and I took a group of quilters to visit HMAS Darwin.  With us were five heavy blue Ikea bags each with around 50 something laundry bags in them.  

I learned that the max capacity of a Mazda CX5 is 400 laundry bags, four quilts, five adult women and associated handbags, brollies and jackets... perhaps I should have bought a bigger car!

The Ships Warrant Officer met us at the Pass Office for Garden Island and whilst he accompanied my car load of ladies and laundry bags on board all the other quilters were personally escorted by a sailor. What a marvelous opportunity to chat as they walked to the ship's gangway.  It was certainly a great way to break the ice. 

Once on board we were invited to enjoy a cuppa and some delicious afternoon tea... compliments to the chefs!   Everyone has commented on those yummy pastries. 

The Captain and Executive Officer (XO) came to welcome us and then people spent time enjoying the afternoon tea, chatting to the sailors who were our hosts and hostesses and most of them went off for a tour of the ship. 

The bulk of the laundry bags were stowed out of sight but one bag was brought up so that I could present them to the thirty of so sailors who had been our hosts and hostesses.

We started with Ron, the Chief Petty Officer whose conversation with me had started the whole ball rolling. 

His bag was made by Clarissa but as she was not able to join us I presented it on her behalf.  I had done a little digging and found that Ron was a Broncos fan so we were able to include a patch signed by Jharal Yow Yeh.   Ron is a quiet fellow and was totally caught by surprise but he called me later that night to thank me and let me know how chuffed he is with his bag. 

Next it was the turn of the Commanding Officer, Commander Phill Henry.  As a kiwi he is a proud All Blacks fan so his laundry bag, made and presented by Bev U, incorporated some silver fern fabric. 

Then it was on to presenting the bags to the rest of the assembled hosts and hostesses.  Every presentation included a handshake but a number asked if they could give me a hug as well... seriously it is a tough job, but someone has to do it.. 

Logistically it would have been too hard to present all of the LBs to all of the crew on Thursday but the rest of them will be presented when they set off on their deployment in the near future and I have been promised photos of that day. 

I will publish another post with photos of a representative bunch of laundry bags. Looking at photos of over 250 laundry bags would be a bit boring, so I have picked one from everyone who has sent one in.   Shelley is going to upload them for me and then I will publish the complete post. 

I have also asked those who visited HMAS Darwin on Thursday to write their impressions down for me and I will share all of those as well as soon as I receive them. 

In the mean time.... here are some photos of the presentations from Thursday. Maybe you can pick out your bag and its new owner!

Ron receiving his laundry bag

And the Captain's turn

Next it was time for the rest of the ship's company. As so often happens, noone wants to be the first so some obliging fellow gave this unwitting volunteer a good shove in the back and "volunt-told" him to go first...

I just laughed and told him it was good to see the Navy hasn't changed!

Here I am pointing out Keryn who had made the Laundry bag that I was just about to hand out... Keryn's were distinctive so easy for me to recognise...

Thelma one of yours I believe

and finally the Ship's Warrant Officer received his...

After the presentations we remaind seated as the remainder of the crew joined up for a Clear Lower Decks... this is when all hands who can be spared to leave their posts gather on the flight deck for a short parade.  This time medals and promotions were awarded before the crew were dismissed.   Guests are not usually invited to Clear Lower Decks so it was special for us to be included. 

It was a fabulous visit and I know from the feedback that all the Aussie Heroes volunteers had a great time and felt so proud to be there. 

More posts to come... photos of laundry bags and comments from the volunteers who attended. 

Huge thanks to all involved in making it possible for us to attend and for hosting us on the day, Specifically, the CO, XO, SWO and our hosts and hostesses.  

Big thanks to all who made one of the 250+ laundry bags that I was so proud to hand over... you all did a fabulous job and the bags look wonderful!  They will mean a great deal to the crew!

Till next time... keep spreading the word and happy stitching 

Jan-Maree xx 

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