The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (PM2194) Able Seaman Arthur Charles Webb, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War

Place Oceans: Indian Ocean
Accession Number PAFU2015/162.01
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 22 April 2015
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
Description

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each 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 Craig Blanche, the story for this day was on (PM2194) Able Seaman Arthur Charles Webb, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War.

Speech transcript

PM2194 Able Seaman Arthur Charles Webb, HMAS Sydney (II)
KIA 20 November 1941
No photograph in collection – provided by family.

Story delivered 22 April 2015

Today we remember Able Seaman Arthur Charles Webb and the ship’s company of HMAS Sydney (II), lost after engaging the German surface raider Kormoran in November 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, the cruiser was commissioned into the RAN in 1935, its company comprising a mixture of ages and experiences.

Arthur Webb was born on 9 June 1920 in Geelong, Melbourne, to Stephen and Pearl Webb. A farmer from Terang, Stephen Webb had volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force in mid-1918 but the First World War came to an end before he was sent overseas. In 1920 he married Ann Pearl Routley, and the couple had several children.

Webb went to sea as an ordinary seaman in the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (II). For much of the first half of 1940, the cruiser was employed on convoy duties between Fremantle in Western Australia and Cape Town in South Africa, and then to Freetown, on the west coast of African. In May 1940 Webb was promoted to able seaman.

In July, HMAS Australia was patrolling off French west-Africa as part of the British naval force shadowing Vichy French cruisers. It was involved in the failed effort to install free French forces in Dakar. After participating in escort duties between Gibraltar and the UK, the heavy cruiser spent the end of the year undergoing a refit in England.

Australia returned home in March 1941. Four months later Webb was posted briefly to Cerberus before joining Sydney’s company in August.

On 19 November Sydney was steaming back to Fremantle, having escorted a troopship part of the way to Singapore. At about 4 pm the cruiser spotted a suspicious merchant ship and decided to investigate.

By 5:30 pm Sydney had almost drawn alongside the vessel when it suddenly revealed its true identity as the German raider Kormoran.

Hoisting the German naval ensign, Kormoran fired its guns and torpedoes. Its first salvo slammed into Sydney’s bridge. The Australian cruiser returned fire, but Kormoran’s second and third salvos again hit Sydney’s bridge and amidships. The cruiser’s three main turrets were soon out of action, but a fourth kept up fast and accurate fire that hit the raider’s funnel and engine room. Sydney, in turn, was hit by a torpedo between turrets. Mortally damaged and ablaze, Sydney continued to fight, using its secondary armament and torpedoes as it turned away from the raider.

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 the Australian cruiser, now only a distant glow on the dark horizon, disappear into the night.

By midnight, Sydney was lost with all 645 hands, including Webb. He was 21 years old.

For years afterwards his family and friends placed “in memorandum” notices in the local newspaper around the anniversary of his death. One notice read, in part:

In sad, but loving memories of our
Beloved son and brother Arthur Charles Webb …
Some day we will understand,
Forever we will remember.

Arthur Webb is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Britain. His name is also listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with around 40,000 others from the Second World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Able Seaman Arthur Charles Webb and all of those Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.

Dr Karl James
Historian, Military History Section

Sources:
National Archives of Australia, Arthur Charles Webb service record.

National Archives of Australia, Stephen Arthur Webb service record.

G. Hermon Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1939–1942, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1957.

Karl James, “Gallant fighter”, Wartime 43, 2008, pp. 36–40.

“Family notices”, Sunshine advocate, 19 November 1948.

“HMAS Australia (II)”, http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-australia-ii, accessed 16 May 2014.

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