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60th Anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Canberra, at the Battle of Savo Island on the 9th. of August 1942.


As the clock ticked past midnight, and the 8th. of August became the 9th. of August in 1942, I took over my duties as Officer of the Watch on the bridge of HMAS Canberra .

HMAS Canberra at Tulagi during the Solomons landings August 8 1942
HMAS Canberra at Tulagi during the Solomons landings August 8 1942

I was twenty years of age, and had already spent almost three years of the war at sea or overseas, I had no idea that this point in time was virtually the mid point of WW2, and that I would  still have three more years of service at sea to come.

At that stage, who could forecast that President Truman would decide to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, and that country would sue for peace, and sign the surrender in Tokyo Bay on the 2nd. of September 1945?

Picture of Savo Island
Picture of Savo Island

I could also not know, nor think, that my ship, HMAS Shropshire, which had been gifted to the Royal Australian Navy by Britain to replace Canberra would be present as part of the victorious Allied Fleet when Japan and her Imperial Navy were finally defeated.

But above all, when I was standing watch on Canberra’s bridge, I had no idea what fate had in store for me that night, or for my Captain, and 83 other officers and crew who would die that night, plus another 110 who would be wounded, or that my ship would also die.

Canberra on fire August 9 1942. US destroyers Patterson and Blue stand by.
Canberra on fire August 9 1942. US destroyers Patterson and Blue stand by

Now, I have lived to enjoy my 80th. birthday on February the 9th.last, so that 75% of my life has been lived post the Battle of Savo Island, but, I still vividly remember that night, relatively so long ago.

Canberra damaged and sinking
Canberra damaged and sinking

It was etched, no! it was seared into my conscious memory at 0143 (1.43 AM) on August 9,1942 when the Japanese surface force swept within 3000 yards of us and opened fire with such devastating effect. Those dreadful few minutes and their frightful aftermath are triggered so quickly, and so easily, even at this distance of time in 2002.

So, today, I particularly remember my shipmates who died on that fateful night in 1942, and the surviving members of Canberra’s company get less and less each year, but our dwindling numbers do not, and will not, forget your sacrifice.

 

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