The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (24302) Able Seaman Philip William Steed, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.93
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 3 April 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 Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

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 Chris Widenbar, the story for this day was on (24302) Able Seaman Philip William Steed, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

24302 Able Seaman Philip William Steed, HMAS Sydney (II)
KIA 20 November 1941
Story delivered 3 April 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Able Seaman Philip William Steed.

Philip Steed was born on 21 September 1922 in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt, one of several children of Lilian and Sidney Steed.

Philip’s father had served in the infantry on the Western Front during the Great War, and after the outbreak of the Second World War, the 17-year-old enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy in May 1940.

His first posting was to HMAS Cerberus, the navy’s training establishment some 70 kilometres south of Melbourne, on Western Port Bay. He remained at Cerberus for just over seven months before being posted to Sydney, now with the rating of ordinary seaman, on 12 February 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 Navy in 1935; its crew had a mixture of ages and levels of experience.

Following the outbreak of the war, Sydney was one of several Australian warships sent to the Mediterranean, where it had demonstrated its fighting prowess, sinking the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in the battle of Cape Spada on 19 July 1940. In February 1941 Sydney returned home to Australia, where it received a hero’s welcome.

For much of the year the cruiser was engaged in escort duties that took the cruiser to the Netherlands East Indies, Singapore, Noumea, Auckland and Suva before returning to Western Australian waters.

In early July Steed was promoted to able seaman. 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 its German naval ensign, Kormoran fired its guns and torpedoes. Its first salvo slammed into Sydney’s bridge. The Australian cruiser returned fire, but the raider’s second and third salvos again hit Sydney’s bridge and amidships. Its three main turrets were soon out of action, but a fourth kept up fast and accurate fire that hit Kormoran’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, continuing 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 645 hands, including Steed. He was 19 years old.

Philip Steed 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 Able Seaman Philip William Steed, 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 (24302) Able Seaman Philip William Steed, HMAS Sydney (II), Second World War. (video)