Vice AdmiralSir Alan Wedel Ramsay McNicoll, KBE, CB, GM (3 April 1908 – 11 October 1987) was a senior officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and a diplomat. Born in Melbourne, he entered the Royal Australian Naval College at the age of thirteen and graduated in 1926. Following training and staff appointments in Australia and the United Kingdom, he was attached to the Royal Navy at the outbreak of the Second World War. As torpedo officer of the 1st Submarine Flotilla in the Mediterranean theatre, McNicoll was decorated with the George Medal in 1941 for disarming enemy ordnance. He served aboard HMS King George V from 1942, sailing in support of several Arctic convoys and taking part in the Allied invasion of Sicily. McNicoll was posted for staff duties with the Admiralty from September 1943 and was involved in the planning of the Normandy landings. He returned to Australia in October 1944.
McNicoll was made executive officer of HMAS Hobart in September 1945. Advanced to captain in 1949, he successively commanded HMAS Shoalhaven and HMAS Warramunga before being transferred to the Navy Office in July 1950. In 1952, McNicoll chaired the planning committee for the British nuclear tests on the Montebello Islands, and was appointed commanding officer of HMAS Australia. He commanded the ship for two years before it was sold off for scrap, at which point he returned to London to attend the Imperial Defence College in 1955. He occupied staff positions in London and Canberra before being posted to the Naval Board as Chief of Personnel in 1960. This was followed by a term as Flag Officer Commanding HM Australian Fleet.
McNicoll’s career culminated with his promotion to vice admiral and appointment as First Naval Member and Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) in February 1965. As CNS, McNicoll had to cope with significant morale and recruitment issues occasioned by the February 1964 collision between HMAS Melbourne and Voyager and, furthermore, oversaw an extensive modernisation of the Australian fleet. In 1966, he presided over the RAN contribution to the Vietnam War, and it was during his tenure that the Australian White Ensign was created. McNicoll retired from the RAN in 1968 and was appointed as the inaugural Australian Ambassador to Turkey. He served in the diplomatic post for five years, then retired to Canberra. McNicoll died in 1987 at the age of 79.
Alan McNicoll was born in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn, Victoria, on 3 April 1908. He was the second of five sons of Walter McNicoll, a school teacher and Militia officer, and Hildur (née Wedel Jarlsberg). The young McNicoll was of noble Norwegian descent through his mother. He was initially educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, before the family moved to Goulburn, from where he was sent to attend The Scots College in Sydney. On 1 January 1922, at the age of thirteen, McNicoll entered the Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay. Described as “urbane and studious”, he performed well both academically and in sport, ultimately placing first in seamanship, history and English. On graduation in 1926, McNicoll was posted to Britain for service and further training with the Royal Navy.
Advanced to acting sub-lieutenant in September 1928, McNicoll’s appointment to the United Kingdom concluded the following year, at which point he returned to Australia and was initially posted to the land base HMAS Cerberus. He was attached to HMAS Penguin soon after, before being assigned for duties with HMAS Australia. In his Lieutenants’ Examinations in 1929, McNicoll achieved 1st Class Certificates in all of his subjects and was awarded a prize of £10 as a result. He was promoted to lieutenant in July 1930, with seniority from 1 April that year. Completing a twelve-month posting aboard HMAS Canberra between 1932 and 1933, McNicoll decided to specialise as a torpedo officer and returned to the United Kingdom in order to undertake the long course at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. While in the UK, McNicoll wrote and published Sea Voices, a book of poems centred on naval life.
McNicoll’s detachment to the Royal Navy was terminated in 1935 on his graduation from Dartmouth, and he returned to Australia. Over the next three years, he saw service in HMAS Canberra, HMAS Sydney and Cerberus, advancing to lieutenant commander on 1 April 1938. On 18 May 1937, McNicoll wed Ruth Timmins at St Stephen’s Church of England at Brighton. From March 1939, McNicoll was once again seconded to the Royal Navy, receiving a posting to the torpedo school HMS Vernon; he was serving in Vernon on the outbreak of the Second World War. While residing at Portsmouth, McNicoll and his wife had their first child, a son named Ian, in June that year. Ian died when one week old. The couple later had two more sons, Guy and Anthony, and a daughter, Deborah.