The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (PM2929) Able Seaman Ernest John Atkins, HMAS Perth, Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Second World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2017.1.59
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 28 February 2017
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 Gerard Pratt, the story for this day was on (PM2929) Able Seaman Ernest John Atkins, HMAS Perth, Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Second World War.

Speech transcript

PM2929 Able Seaman Ernest John Atkins, HMAS Perth, Royal Australian Naval Reserve
KIA 1 March 1942
No photograph in collection

Story delivered 28 February 2017

Today we pay tribute to Able Seaman Ernest John Atkins, who was killed on active service with the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War.

Born in Melbourne on 19 December 1916, Ernest Atkins was the son of Ernest and Vera Atkins. Educated at Melbourne Grammar, he was a promising sportsman. As an amateur footballer, he won the A Grade best and fairest with Old Melburnians, and represented the Victorian Amateurs. He joined the Melbourne Football Club in the Victorian Football League for the 1940 season, and played four games for Melbourne before enlisting in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve on 26 August 1940.

Atkins commenced training at HMAS Cerberus and, continuing his sporting pursuits, became the navy quarter-mile champion. In 1941 he served with HMAS Hobart in the Mediterranean, but was recalled to Australia for officer training. However, with Japan’s entry in the war in early December 1941, Atkins was instead posted to HMAS Perth, which sailed for the Netherlands East Indies in February 1942.

On 27 and 28 February the Perth was among a force of Australian, British, Dutch, and American ships that fought in the major naval battle of the Java Sea. Five of the 14 Allied ships that took part in the action against a formidable Japanese force were lost. HMAS Perth and USS Houston were lucky to survive. They were able to break off from the engagement and make for Tandjung Priok to refuel.

The following night, Perth and Houston made for the southern coast of Java through the Sunda Strait. En route they encountered a large Japanese invasion force heading for Java. In the ensuing battle of Sunda Strait the heavily outnumbered Allied ships were sunk.

More than 350 members of Perth’s crew – including Able Seaman Ernest Atkins – were killed as a result of the action. Almost a third of the survivors died as prisoners of the Japanese, and at war’s end in 1945 only 218 returned home to Australia.

Ernest Atkins is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Britain, dedicated to the thousands of British and Commonwealth sailors who lost their lives at sea or who have no known grave.

His name is also listed here on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died while serving in 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 Ernest John Atkins, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Dr Lachlan Grant
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (PM2929) Able Seaman Ernest John Atkins, HMAS Perth, Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Second World War. (video)