The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (PA1946) Sick Berth Attendant Roderick Richard Wilson, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.10
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 January 2018
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 Sharon Bown, the story for this day was on (PA1946) Sick Berth Attendant Roderick Richard Wilson, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War.

Speech transcript

PA1946 Sick Berth Attendant Roderick Richard Wilson, HMAS Sydney (II)
KIA 20 November 1941

Story delivered 10 January 2018

Today we remember Sick Berth Attendant Roderick Richard Wilson and the ship’s company of HMAS Sydney (II).

Roderick Wilson was born in Burra, South Australia, on 14 June 1919, the second son of Hugh and Pauline Wilson. He grew up and was educated in Burra, where his father was the overseer of works of the Burra Town Council. Wilson later went to work in Penola, where his father’s family came from, and joined the Penola ambulance service.

Following the outbreak of war, Wilson was called up for the Militia and became a despatch rider. On 16 December 1940, at the age of 21, Wilson enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy Reserve.

He was briefly posted to the newly commissioned naval depot HMAS Torrens in Port Adelaide, before being sent to HMAS Cerberus in late December. Cerberus was the navy’s training establishment some 70 kilometres south of Melbourne, on Western Port Bay. Wilson remained at Cerberus for several months before being posted to HMAS Sydney in August 1941.

For much of that year Sydney was engaged in escort duties, which took the cruiser to the Netherlands East Indies, Singapore, Noumea,
Auckland, and Suva before returning to Western Australian waters. A modified Leander class light cruiser, Sydney was armed with eight 6-inch guns and was the pride of the Royal Australian Navy. It had been built in England, and was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1935. There was a mixture of ages and experience among Sydney’s company.

On 19 November 1941, 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 a German raider.

Hoisting the German naval ensign, the Kormoran opened fire with 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, “A”, “B” and “Y”, were soon out of action, but “X” turret kept up fast and accurate fire that hit the raider’s funnel and engine room. Sydney 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.

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 gone, lost with all hands – 645 men in all – including Roderick Wilson. He was 22 years old.

Wilson was thought to be the first man from the Burra district to be killed in the war. A former employer wrote a condolence letter to his parents, describing Wilson as “a lad of many excellent qualities” with a “cheery smile and courteous behaviour”.

Roderick Wilson is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Britain. His name is also listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 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 Sick Berth Attendant Roderick Richard Wilson who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Karl James
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (PA1946) Sick Berth Attendant Roderick Richard Wilson, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War. (video)