Fitting farewell to ex-Navy chief “Woody” Woodburne


It was a packed Naval Chapel that bade final farewell to Vice-Admiral Lambert Jackson “Woody” Woodburne DVR, SD, SM, South African Navy (Retired).

Woodburne, who served as Chief of the South African Navy (SAN) from 1 July 1990 to 31 August 1992, passed away in Cape Town on 5 July 2013 after a long illness. The funeral service was held in the Dockyard Chapel, Simon’s Town on Thursday.

Born on 13 July 1939 in Kimberley, Woodburne is only one of two people to have received the Van Riebeeck Decoration, then the second highest medal of valour.

Demonstrating the high esteem and respect Woodburne generated during his career, the chapel was overflowing with family, friends, current and retired SAN personnel. This included current Chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu and members of the Special Forces.

In a tribute read on behalf of Vice Admiral Robert Simpson-Anderson, who took over from Woodburne as Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Johan Retief (who in turn took over command of the SAN from Simpson-Anderson), noted that Woodburne served at sea, on shore and in office, when he was the military attaché in Argentina in the difficult years after the Falklands War.

Having joined the navy in 1958, Woodburne completed the Specialist Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Course in the United Kingdom where he came top of the class. Woodburne went on to be the Officer in Charge of the Naval Diving School. Thereafter he commanded the minesweepers SAS Mosselbaai and SAS Johannesburg.

When the SAN purchased new submarines from France, Woodburne volunteered for and trained as a submariner in France during 1970, becoming the first commanding officer of SAS Emily Hobhouse (S98) in 1971; a position held until 1974.

The SAS Emily Hobhouse landed Special Forces troops, led by Commandant Jan Breytenbach, off Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1972. This mission earned Woodburne the Van Riebeeck Decoration, together with Breytenbach. He later went on to serve with the Special Forces between1978 and 1983.

Following his stint as SA military attaché to Argentina from 1983 to 1985, Woodburne served in various capacities until he was promoted to Vice-Admiral and appointed as Chief of the South African Navy.

This was a particularly difficult time for the Navy. The Border War had ended and large cuts were being made to the defence budget, even more so for the Navy. Having endured years of tight budgets, even during the Border War, the Navy was in dire need of replacing its obsolete ships. Plans were put into place to procure four new locally-built frigates, which required the Navy to cut 22% of its personnel in order to safeguard the capital projects.

When the project was eventually cancelled, morale in the Navy was extremely low. It was through Woodbourne’s leadership, Simpson-Anderson said, that brought the Navy back from the brink.

In his address, Mudimu noted that the name of Woodburne will be written in the history of the Navy. “We speak here of a giant of that times. His actions will continue to stand in our hearts and his past actions still resound around South Africa,” Mudimu said.
“He gained the respect of all those in the submarine and Special Force communities,” Mudimu continued.
“He was always respected and admired. He was a great leader admired by many generations. He made a significant contribution to the development of the Navy. I salute this veteran.”

Woodburne was a keen outdoors person and was always willing to listen to his fellow sailors, whether an officer or a seaman. He is survived by his ex-wife Vivienne and daughters Jennifer and Lee.