Pair of life jacket lights, AHS Centaur : Gunner's Mate T N Johnson, USS Mugford

Accession Number REL43531
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Personal Equipment
Physical description Celluloid, Glass, Metal, Plastic
Place made United Kingdom: England, Greater London, London
Date made pre 1943
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Two life jacket emergency lights. Each light has its original light bulb and a clear red celluloid cover. The covers have shrunken and do not screw into the lights properly. Each light is attached to a black metal clip, which attaches the light to the life jacket. Each light is attached by a replacement brown plastic coated wire to a metal battery holder with screw top lid. The battery cases are painted green and on the base in raised lettering is the text 'EASCO / I.R. MODEL / PAT. NO. 540862 / LIFE JACKET LIGHT'.

History / Summary

Talmadge Nelson Johnson was born on 24 December 1919. He enlisted in the American Navy in 1940 and was posted to USS Mugford, a Bagley class destroyer. Johnson was serving aboard the Mugford as a Gunner's Mate when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor the morning of 7 December 1941. Three Japanese aircraft were downed by the Mugford, with the last, a Japanese dive bomber being shot down by Johnson himself. After America's entry into the war, USS Mugford served in the South Pacific, taking part in convoy escorts, patrols and assaults. On 15 May 1943 the ship rescued survivors of the sinking of the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur.

The Centaur had sailed unescorted from Sydney at 0945 hours on 12 May 1943 carrying her crew and normal staff, as well as the stores and equipment of the 2/12th Field Ambulance, but no patients. Despite being clearly marked with the large red crosses that denoted a hospital ship the Centaur was attacked and sunk without warning off Moreton Island, Queensland, on 14 May, by a torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine. Of the 332 people on board only 64 survived.

On 15 May 1943, the Mugford left Brisbane, and was escorting the British steamer Sussex, when they came across, and rescued, the survivors of the Centaur. During the rescue, Johnson was at the #3 gun on top of the after deckhouse. He observed the rescue of the survivors by his crew mates, while he kept an eye out for any sign of the enemy. The rescue was conducted swiftly due to the threat of enemy submarines. The survivors' life vests were initially left strewn about the Mugford's deck. Johnson collected one of them as a souvenir which had these two lights attached. The survivors received medical treatment and were clothed, fed and put to bed. The Mugford crew also donated clothing, cigarettes, soap and other essentials, as well as raising about £239 for the survivors' immediate needs.

After serving in the Pacific, Johnson was transferred to the Naval Gunnery School in Washington DC in 1944. He was promoted to Chief Gunner's Mate and retained by the gunnery school as an instructor for the rest of the war. He was discharged in March 1946. Talmadge Johnson died on 26 June 2002. His ashes were scattered at Pearl Harbor and his name is commemorated on a memorial plaque at the Punchbowl, Honolulu.