News and Updates

 

July 2020 Updates

 

Vale Kenneth (Ken) Brown

 

It is with significant sadness that the last surviving sailor to have served on HMAS Lolita – Kenneth (Ken) Brown passed away at the end of May, 2020.

As described in Lolita and the Hollywood Fleet, I had the privilege of meeting Ken in late 2018. We had a wonderful time discussing his service including on HMAS Lolita, and our separate visits to Heard Island.

Ken first joined the Navy at the age of 16 as an ordinary seaman in 1938 and served on HMAS Sydney II, Perth, Nestor, Lolita, and Shropshire before retiring from the service in 1981 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

Thank you for your service.

Lest we forget.

 

Plaque for HMAS Lolita included on the Bradleys Head Memorial

 

On Saturday 13 June 2020, 75 years to the day after HMAS Lolita was destroyed, a plaque for HMAS Lolita was unveiled at the Royal Australian Navy Memorial at Bradleys Head.

At the dedication ceremony, which marked the inclusion of HMAS Lolita on the Memorial, I was given the honour of providing the Eulogy and asked to unveil the plaque with my brothers.

 

EULOGY by William Blunt

 

I would like to begin by asking us to remember a friend – Mr Ken Brown – the last surviving sailor to have served on HMAS Lolita. Ken, passed away only a few weeks ago.  He was interested to see this day, and I am sure he would have loved to have been here with us.

This is a marvellous day for HMAS Lolita and all who served on her for peace and freedom. And it is also a marvellous day for the Navy – the RAN, which, on this 75th anniversary of the loss of HMAS Lolita, the Navy recognises the service of Lolita, her commanders and crew, and the naval mechanics, William Bertalli, and Alfred Smith, who lost their lives as a result of injuries sustained when Lolita was destroyed.

It is also an important occasion for the Navy, as through the work to include HMAS Lolita at this memorial, the Navy has also taken the steps to recognise the service of Lolita’s sister ships of the Hollywood Fleet, and the many, many other former pleasure cruisers, which were requisitioned, commissioned and served during the Pacific War.

Lolita II as she was named at her launch on 31 November 1936 was Sydney’s most modern and luxurious pleasure cruiser, that was said to represent a step forward in marine design and craftsmanship. Constructed as a pleasure cruiser, she was never meant for war.

But with war in our home waters, looming ever more significant, Lolita like many other such vessels, was requisitioned for service. She was commissioned HMAS Lolita on 22 November 1941.

For her naval service, Lolita was transformed – gone were the luxuries, portholes and glass windows. She was painted navy grey and fitted with depth charges and machine guns. Her first commander was Warrant Officer Herbert Spencer Anderson, and with his crew, Lolita was tasked for patrol duties to protect Sydney Harbour.

On the evening of 31 May, 1942, Lolita was patrolling the eastern end of the anti-submarine boom net that was under construction across the harbour. Shortly after 10pm, Lolita was called to investigate an object that appeared to be caught at the western end of the net. On approaching, Anderson and his crew recognised the object to be an enemy submarine. Anderson realised the consequences if the submarine escaped into the harbour. He signalled the Port War Signal Station – ‘have sighted enemy submarine and proceeding to attack’.

Two depth charges were dropped but failed to explode. On their third attempt to destroy the submarine, there was a massive explosion as the submarine self-destructed – clearly the enemy knew they were done for, and blew themselves and the submarine up whilst attempting to destroy Lolita.

With the submarine destroyed and Sydney Harbour well and truly on alert, that it was under attack, Anderson with Lolita conducted further patrols in search of other submarines.

By the following morning when the Battle of Sydney Harbour ended, two enemy submarines had been destroyed, but tragically, a torpedo from a third submarine, destroyed HMAS Kuttabul with the loss of 21 seamen.

After the Battle, HMAS Lolita, continued patrol work in Sydney and Newcastle, and in August 1944, together with a sister ship, HMAS Leilani, she was order to New Guinea.

Following an extended voyage, Lolita reached Madang where she was engaged in patrol work.  There she received orders to proceed further north to Wewak, however, having suffered engine troubles, she put into the naval repair base at Alexishafen.  Following completion of the work, when the engine was started, there was an explosion in the engine bay and fire ball that engulfed Lolita.

Despite attempts to extinguish the fire, Lolita could not be saved, and was sunk on a nearby reef. The date was 13 June 1945, 75 years ago to this very day. Tragically, both naval mechanics, Bertalli and Smith were badly burnt and died on 17 June 1945. They were buried at the Lae War Cemetery.

Our father John Blunt was burnt along with Lolita’s commander, Lieutenant John Trim. Both were taken to hospital. Both recovered but continued to suffer the consequences of the explosion. Our father died in 1986 at the age of 66 – far too young. As for John Trim, our father held him in high regards, but unfortunately, nothing is known of his later life.

In concluding, I thank Captain Damian Allen who realised Lolita should have been included at this memorial, and advised the Minister accordingly. It is as a result of his action, and the work of others, including The Hon Darren Chester, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, other members of the Navy, and especially Mr Bob Austen of the Bradleys Head Memorial Committee, that Lolita is now remembered here at this memorial.

On behalf of all those who served, we say thank you.

 

Delivering the Eulogy

 

Unveiling the plaque with my brothers

 

Dedication party at the plaque to HMAS Lolita

 

Dedication party gathered at the Royal Australian Navy Memorial

Submission calls for Awards Inquiry

 

A Submission has now been lodged with the Hon. Darren Chester, Minister for Defence Personnel, calling on him to make a direction, under Section 110W of the Defence Act, requiring the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal (Tribunal), to hold an inquiry regarding the provision of Awards for actions during the Battle of Sydney Harbour.

 

The Submission, identifies the failure of the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board (ACNB) to consider Muirhead-Gould’s recommendation for Awards for service personnel, constituted maladministration amounting to injustice’ or ‘manifest injustice’, warranting inquiry by the Tribunal.  

 

Such ‘manifest injustice’ had been found in the Tribunal’s  2013 ‘Inquiry into Unresolved Recognition for Past Acts of Naval and Military Gallantry and Valour’, warranting Inquiry. In that Inquiry, the Tribunal found, with regard to matters relating to HMAS Yarra, ‘that inaction by the ACNB in not considering whether members of the ships company should have been recognized for their gallant action amounted to maladministration’.

 

It is the recently discovered failure of the ACNB with regard to Muirhead-Gould’s recommendations as explained in Lolita and the Hollywood Fleet, and the resulting injustice’ or ‘manifest injustice’, that now requires, the Minister’s action to direct an Inquiry.

 

The absence of appropriate Awards to service personnel for their actions during the Battle of Sydney Harbour, remains to be corrected on behalf of all who served.

 

The Battle of Sydney Harbour is unique in Australia’s military history, in that no medals were awarded to any of the participants. Author Peter Grose in his book, A Very Rude Awakening, refers to the failure to make any awards to naval personnel, as a ‘monstrous injustice’. An injustice, that Grose says, is not too late for the Navy and the Government to correct.

 

I agree, that such a failure to make Awards for actions during the Battle of Sydney Harbour, is an injustice, and requires the Minister’s action on behalf of those who served during the Battle. Those service men took decisive action, risking their own lives for the successful defence of Sydney Harbour and safety of others.

 

The Submission asks the Minister, for the Inquiry be conducted expeditiously, so that any recommendation for awards, can be implemented by 31 May 2022, being the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Sydney Harbour




Bradleys Head Memorial

 

Following my earlier representations to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, The Hon Darren Chester MP, I have continued to liaise with members of the RAN and the Minister to ensure HMAS Lolita is included in the Bradleys Head Memorial.  That follows the Minister’s acknowledgment that HMAS Lolita had been ‘inadvertently excluded’ from the Memorial.

 

It is now 17 months since the Minister’s acknowledgement, and only a few weeks to the 75th anniversary of the loss of HMAS Lolita.

 

In recent correspondence, including by a further letter on 30 April 2020, I advised the Minister, ‘It would be a significant disappointment if Lolita was not included by the anniversary!

 

It certainly would!

 

RAN Ship Histories

 

Good news.

 

Following further representations to Minister Darren Chester regarding the lack of recognition for the Hollywood Fleet vessels in the RAN’s Ship Histories, I was invited to assist the RAN via the submission of a copy of my research for the Hollywood Fleet vessels.

 

In early March 2020, a copy was provided and since then, HMAS Esmeralda has been included in the RAN Ship Histories.

 

This is in addition to the inclusion of HMAS Lolita earlier this year.  Since the posting, I have suggested a few refinements.

 

Once the 13 vessels of the Hollywood Fleet are included, there are the remaining Channel Patrol Boats (approx. 17) and commissioned former Naval Auxiliary Patrol vessels (approx. 80), to be added.

 

I have asked the Minister for a commitment, that adequate resources be provided to complete this significant piece of research.  

 

Seventy-five years will have passed this year, since the end of WWII, and it is now time for the lack of recognition for all commissioned vessels to be corrected.

 

Battle Honours for the Battle of Sydney Harbour

 

As a result of advice that a Review would be conducted this year, I lodged a submission with the staff of RAN Sea Power by the end of the January 2020 deadline.  In addition, I also requested the opportunity to make a presentation to the members of the Review Panel, if it is likely, the recommendation is not to support the award of a ‘Sydney 1942’ Battle Honour.

 

There has been no response to date, but I recently met with Peter Grose, author of A Very Rude Awakening.  We had an interesting discussion in which he highlighted the ‘injustice’ caused by the lack of recognition of the Battle of Sydney Harbour, extends to the whole of the RAN community and not merely to the commanders and sailors who took part in the action.

 

He explained, that the ‘injustice’ of not awarding a ‘Sydney 1942’ Battle Honour perpetuates the myth, that our forces were incompetent and did nothing, whilst the Japanese were brave and courageous.

 

I whole heartedly agree, and as a result of the discussion, I lodged a further submission to the Review including;

 

The publications listed in my submission, including A Very Rude Awakening clearly

confirm, that officers and sailors serving in Royal Australian Navy ships, did their duty.  They undertook actions that repelled the Japanese attack.

 

It is those actions, that now need to be recognised by the Navy through the institution of a ‘Sydney 1942’ Battle Honour – for all those, who have served and continue to serve in the Royal Australian Navy.

 

Through the institution of a ‘Sydney 1942’ Battle Honour, other Australians will understand, appreciate and respect the service given by the Royal Australian Navy on that night, where that service defended the assembled allied forces and the wider Australian community.

 

The Navy has not as yet advised when the Review is expected to be completed.

 

The 75th Anniversary of the end of the Pacfic War in September 2020, provides an excellent opportunity for the Navy to announce the award of a ‘Sydney 1942’ Battle Honour for the nominated eighteen ships involved in the Battle.

 

See the 2007 Review document, released by FOI, included on the Links page.

 

RAN Heritage Review

 

During 2019, RAN completed a review of the Navy’s Heritage.  The extent of the review is unknown but it was expected to cover the ‘future’ of the various repositories for the Navy’s collection, together with the future of the various repositories that hold those collections.

 

Of particular interest are the repositories and the sites at the Naval Heritage Museum on the northern end of Garden Island, and Spectacle Island in Sydney Habour adjacent to the Cockatoo Island.

 

The loss of these repositories for other purposes, whether naval or other commercial opportunities would, in my view, put the Navy’s heritage at risk.

 

I have asked for the report of the Review to be released for public review and comment.

 

The most recent letter in April 2020 from the Minister advised the review;

 

‘… is in fact an internal business-as-usual activity … aimed at ensuring and equipping all naval Heritage facilities with updated policies, procedures and suitably qualified staff to meet future challenges’.

 

That sounds satisfactory, but if that’s all it is, then that’s not good enough.

 

One would have expected the Review to thoroughly canvas and confirm, the adequacy of funding and resources to maintain, expand, ensure certainty of tenue, and public access to the collections and repositories.

 

It would be a significant loss to the Australian community if necessary funds and resources dwindle and are used elsewhere.

 

Battle of Sydney Harbour Commemorations

 

The Minister has confirmed the Navy’s intention to continue the annual commemoration ceremony, but with the 80th anniversary in 2022, I have drawn the Minister’s attention to the opportunity that will arise at that time, to put the correct story of the Battle, and the actions of the Hollywood Fleet and other vessels, before the wider public.

 

I note Senator Reynolds, Minister for Defence said last year during her Second Reading Speech for the ‘Australian Veterans' Recognition (Putting Veterans and Their Families First) Bill 2019, that the realisation of an Australian Defence Veterans' Covenant enables everyone to;

 

acknowledge, support and pay respect to all who have served in the Australian Army, Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force’.  

 

She also said that as Australia has a proud military history, the Covenant;

 

‘will enable Australians from all walks of life to pay homage

 

to this history.

 

But how can Australians ‘from all walks of life’ pay such homage to those who defended Sydney on 31 May and 1 June 1942, if they have little or no knowledge of the Battle of Sydney Harbour, and the ships and men who took part in the Battle?

 

In a recent letter to Minister Darren Chester, I advised it is essential, that his department, together with the RAN and AWM, use the opportunity of the 80th anniversary of the Battle to tell the story of what had occurred during the Battle, including the role played by all the vessels that defended Sydney.

 

That of course should include the installation of appropriate information panels at strategic locations on the foreshores of the harbor.

 

I have suggested an across government (which would include the NSW government) and department task force should be established to develop and coordinate the appropriate commemoration on 31 May 2022.

 

Australian War Memorial (AWM)

 

Good news.  It appears the AWM is interested in the actions of the Hollywood Fleet with regard to the display of the midget submarines, once the new  replacement ANZAC Hall is completed.  I understand this is scheduled for 2024.