The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (999) Leading Seaman Alexander Kemp, HMAS Goorangai, Second World War.

Place Oceania: Australia, Victoria, Port Phillip Bay
Accession Number AWM2017.1.107
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 17 April 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

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 (999) Leading Seaman Alexander Kemp, HMAS Goorangai, Second World War.

Speech transcript

999 Leading Seaman Alexander Kemp, HMAS Goorangai
Killed in accident, 20 November 1940

Story delivered 17 April 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Leading Seaman Alexander Kemp of the Royal Australian Navy.

Alexander Kemp was born in Dundee, Scotland, to William and Elizabeth Kemp on 21 February 1912. His parents brought Alexander and his three brothers to Australia in 1921. They settled in New South Wales, and Alexander grew up to work with shoes. In 1936 he married Muriel Godfrey. He was also a member of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve.

Kemp reported for active duty in September 1939, following the outbreak of war, and was posted to HMAS Goorangai. This vessel had been a fishing trawler in peacetime, but when the war started was taken over by the Navy Board and fitted out for minesweeping. Kemp was one of a number of Scottish migrants on board, including Captain David McGregor, who had been born in Banffshire, and had captained Goorangai in peacetime. McGregor remained captain of the Goorangai after her refit, and was given the rank of warrant officer.

In early November 1940 a British ship and an American freighter were lost in quick succession to German minelaying operations in Bass Strait. HMAS Goorangai was one of a number of minesweepers sent to locate and destroy the mine fields. After two weeks on that operation the minesweeper started to return to Queenscliff, but a rising storm sent the ship to Portsea, which was a safer harbour.

As the Goorangai passed through the dangerous rip at the mouth of Port Philip Bay in the darkness, she was hit by an outbound merchant ship and torn almost in half. A crewman on the ship that hit the Goorangai reported:

In the short time it took me to run along the promenade deck to the rail by the bridge the Goorangai had disappeared. There was not a sound but the crash of water.

Some eyewitnesses heard men calling for help, but could do little for them. Flotation devices were thrown out into the darkness, and lifeboats were deployed immediately, but, despite a long search, no survivors or bodies were found. The minesweeper had sunk almost immediately with all hands still on board.

HMAS Goorangai was the first vessel of the Royal Australian Navy to be lost in the Second World War, and the first RAN surface vessel to be lost in wartime.

Over the following weeks diving operations recovered the bodies of five of the crew. The remaining 19 bodies, including that of Alexander Kemp, were never recovered, and the wreck of the minesweeper was blown up to clear the channel.

In a notice in the newspaper a year after his death, Kemp’s widow Muriel wrote: “When last I saw your smiling face you looked so happy and well. I little knew that day it was our last farewell … no one knows the bitter pain of that farewell.”

The names of Alexander Kemp and the crew of HMAS Goorangai are listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with more than 40,000 others from the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Leading Seaman Alexander Kemp, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

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