The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (17496) Petty Officer Richard Curtis, HMAS Sydney, Second World War

Accession Number PAFU/845.01
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 11 June 2013
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial every day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Robyn Siers the story for this day was on (17496) Petty Officer Richard Curtis, HMAS Sydney, Second World War.

Speech transcript

17496 Petty Officer Richard Curtis, HMAS Sydney (II)
KIA 20 November 1941
Photograph: P06408.001

Story delivered 11 June 2013

Today, we remember Petty Officer Richard Curtis and the ship's company of HMAS Sydney (II), lost after engaging the German surface raider Kormoran in 1941.

A modified Leander-class light cruiser, Sydney was armed with eight 6-inch guns and was the pride of the Royal Australian Navy. Built in England, Sydney was commissioned into the RAN in 1935. There was a mixture of ages and experiences on board. Born in England in 1908, Londoner Richard Curtis went to sea when he was 14. He served in the Royal Navy before migrating to Australia and joining the RAN in 1926.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Sydney was one of several Australian warships sent to the Mediterranean. Here Sydney demonstrated its fighting prowess, sinking the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in the battle of Cape Spada in July 1940. For his role in the action, Curtis was mentioned in Despatches. When Sydney returned home to Australia in February 1941, it received a hero's welcome.

On 19 November 1941, Sydney was steaming back to Fremantle, Western Australia, having escorted a troopship part of the way to Singapore. At about 4 pm the cruiser spotted a suspicious merchant vessel set off to investigate. By 5.30 pm, Sydney had nearly pulled alongside the vessel when it suddenly revealed its true identity as a German raider.

Hoisting its German naval ensign, Kormoran opened fire with its guns and fired torpedoes. Kormoran's first salvo slammed into Sydney's bridge. Sydney returned fire, but Kormoran's second and third salvos again hit Sydney's bridge and amidships. Sydney's three main turrets, "A", "B" and "Y", were soon out of action, but "X" turret kept up fast and accurate fire that hit Kormoran's funnel and engine room. Sydney, in turn, was hit by a torpedo between "A" and "B" turrets. Mortally damaged and ablaze, Sydney turned away from the raider but continued to fight, using its secondary armament and torpedoes.

The crippled Kormoran was also burning. At 6.25 pm its captain gave the order to abandon ship. As the German sailors evacuated their stricken vessel, they watched Sydney, now only a distant glow on the dark horizon, disappear into the night. By midnight Sydney was gone, lost with all hands - 645 men in all, including Curtis. He was 33 years old when he died, and left behind a wife and two young sons.

Sydney's loss was one of the enduring Australian mysteries of the war. Countless rumours, speculations, and conspiracy theories have swirled around the ship's fate.

It was not until 2008, after more than six decades and many searches, that the wrecks of Sydney and Kormoran were finally located.

Petty Officer Richard Curtis's name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with around more than 40,000 others from the Second World War, and his photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

His is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Petty Officer Richard Curtis, and all of those Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (17496) Petty Officer Richard Curtis, HMAS Sydney, Second World War (video)