Did you know – First Lady of the Fleet

On Saturday 09 December HMAS Success became ‘First Lady of the Fleet’, the title bestowed upon the senior Major Fleet Unit in the RAN. As the Grand Lady HMAS Darwin was farewelled on Saturday following 33 years of distinguished service, the responsibility of being the oldest Ship in the Fleet was passed to HMAS Success. As tradition has it, the First Lady of the Fleet honour board was formally passed between the youngest female sailor from each unit.

A little history lesson: The original First Lady of the Fleet was a young Lady by the name of Nancy Bentley. In 1920, a six year old Nancy Bentley was playing in bush land near her home in Port Arthur when she was bitten by a snake. With the closest doctor many miles away, her desperate father rowed Nancy to HMAS Sydney I, anchored in Carnarvon Bay, and pleaded for medical assistance. King’s regulations of the day dictated that females were not authorised to board Royal Australian Navy warships. In order to avoid legal complications the ship’s Commanding Officer, Captain Henry Cayley, devised a plan and on 15 November 1920, Nancy Bentley was formally enlisted into the RAN.

Her service number was 000001, her official rating was listed as ‘mascot’ and her period of service was noted as; ‘until fed up’. HMAS Sydney transported Nancy to Hobart where she received medical treatment before being returned to Port Arthur. Having fully recovered, Nancy Bentley was discharged from Naval Service on 23 November 1920 following eight days of ‘service’. Her reason for discharge was annotated as; ‘being required by her parents’.

Nancy Jones (Bentley) passed away in 1999 and is survived by one daughter and two sons. We salute Nancy Bentley and look forward to wearing her name with pride until we pass this honour on in 2019.

Caption: Nancy Jones in her later years.