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Ship collision deaths commemorated

Shepparton RSL service marks 50th anniversary of HMAS Voyager disaster.

ALEXANDRA BOLKAS February 11, 2014 4:55am

Les Shard, Grace Shard, Stephen Walker, Sue Walker and Brian McInneny yesterday commemorated the lives of those killed on HMAS Voyager in 1964.


Relatives of dead seamen and people commemorating the 50th anniversary of the HMAS Voyager collision gathered at Shepparton RSL yesterday.

It has been described as Australia’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.

On February 10, 1964, the destroyer HMAS Voyager and aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne collided off Jervis Bay.

Voyager was cut in half and of the 314 people on board, 82 died.

Of those, three came from Shepparton.

Gerry Cobban’s widow Grace Shard, 70, said her first husband migrated to Australia from England aged 12.

‘‘He lived in the Dhurringile boys’ home,’’ Mrs Shard said.

The couple met through their debutante ball in 1960.

A few months later, Mr Cobban joined the navy and spent two years training at HMAS Cerberus.

‘‘He would come home every two weeks,’’ she said.

‘‘He would write me a letter, I would write one back and then he would be home.’’

Mr Cobban joined the HMAS Voyager as a radio operator in January 1963 and the couple married that year. Mrs Shard was 20 and Mr Cobban was 23.

Months later Mr Cobban, working as a radio operator on the ship, was killed aged 23.

At the time, Mrs Shard was pregnant with her only biological daughter Vivian, 49.

Mrs Shard remarried in 1970 and has two grandchildren and step-daughters.

Stephen Walker was just seven when his 20-year-old cousin Graham Walker was killed in the naval collision.

‘‘He lived with us,’’ Mr Walker said.

‘‘I remember him building model planes with a six-foot wingspan with wax paper and balsa wood.’’

He said it was believed Graham was working in the direct line of impact.

Goulburn Valley’s Ernest Owens was also reported missing from the vessel.

The incident led to two royal commissions seeking to determine the cause of the collision.

The final commission found the ship’s captain Duncan Stevens was deemed unfit to command due to medical reasons.

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