The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (PA1848) Able Seaman Peter Morton Laffer, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War.

Place Approximate locations: At sea, Vessel, At sea (HMAS Sydney)
Accession Number AWM2016.2.192
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 10 July 2016
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 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 Berelle, the story for this day was on (PA1848) Able Seaman Peter Morton Laffer, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War.

Speech transcript

PA1848 Able Seaman Peter Morton Laffer, HMAS Sydney (II)
KIA 20 November 1941
No photograph in collection

Story delivered 10 July 2016

Today we remember Able Seaman Peter Morton Laffer 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, the cruiser was commissioned into the RAN in 1935 with a mixture of ages and experiences on board.

Peter Laffer was born on 31 December 1918 in Prospect, Adelaide, to Norman and Amelia Latter. He attended the Queen’s and Prince Alfred Colleges. He was a member of the Adelaide Riding Club and was well known in equestrian circles, winning many trophies.

At the outbreak of war Laffer was living in the east Adelaide suburb of Burnside, working as a warehouseman for tobacco company W.D. & H.O. Wills. The 21 year old enlisted in the RAN on 16 September 1940, and was first posted to the commissioned naval depot HMAS Torrens in Port Adelaide as an ordinary seaman. Two months later he was posted to HMAS Cerberus, the navy’s training establishment some 70 kilometres south of Melbourne on Western Port Bay. He remained there until April 1941, when he was posted to HMAS Sydney following the cruiser’s celebrated tour in the Mediterranean. In August Laffer was promoted to able seaman.

During much of 1941 the Sydney was engaged in escort duties off the Australian coast, travelling to the Netherlands East Indies and Singapore as well as Noumea, Auckland, and Suva before returning to Western Australian waters.

On 19 November Sydney was steaming back to Fremantle, having escorted a troopship part of the way to Singapore. At about 4 pm a suspicious merchant ship was spotted and Sydney was taken to investigate. By 5:30 pm it had drawn almost alongside the vessel when it suddenly revealed its true identity as a German raider.

Hoisting the German naval ensign, Kormoran fired its guns and torpedoes 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 turned away from the raider but continued to fight, using its secondary armament and torpedoes.

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 Laffer. He was 22 years old.

Peter Laffer is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Britain. His name is also listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 others from the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Able Seaman Peter Morton Laffer, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Dr Karl James
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (PA1848) Able Seaman Peter Morton Laffer, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War. (video)