Charles, Richard Thomas (Second Officer, Merchant Navy, b.1910 - d.?)

Accession Number AWM2018.360.1
Collection type Private Record
Record type Collection
Measurement 1 wallet: 2 cm
Object type Diary
Maker Charles, Richard Thomas
Date made Unknown
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Collection relating to the Second World War experience of Merchant Navy Second Officer Richard Thomas Charles, Burns Philip and Company, 1939-1944. Collection consists of one handwritten diary retrospectively recounting the torpedoing and subsequent sinking of the MV 'Tulagi', time spent lost at sea, the arrival of survivors in the Seychelles and the ensuing journey home. The diary includes details of the movements of the 'Tulagi', the survivors of the sinking, their methods of survival and activities at sea and the relationships between the survivors. Included in the diary are hand drawn diagrams and maps, newspaper clippings, letters and telegrams.

History / Summary

This collection directly illustrates the ordeal of the survivors of the sinking of the MV 'Tulagi', as told by survivor and Second Officer Richard Thomas Charles.

The 'Tulagi' had, prior to 1944, been involved in transporting cargo for the British armed forces on a number of occasions. The vessel had once been attacked by the Japanese en route to Indonesia in 1942, sustaining no damage, and had also survived the bombing of Darwin Harbour in the same year.

In March 1944 The 'Tulagi' was ordered to transport cargo from Sydney to Colombo in Sri Lanka. There were 54 Crew on board made up of 18 Europeans, 26 Indians and 7 Malayans, captained by L.W. Millar. On 28 March, while crossing the Indian Ocean, the ship was hit by two torpedos and sunk in a matter of seconds. Surviving crew assumed the submarine that attacked the ship was Japanese, but later records prove it was actually a German vessel, U-532. 39 crew were lost in the initial sinking, including the captain.

15 survivors spent 51 days drifting in three, then two, life rafts from the 'Tulagi' lashed together. Meagre food rations of biscuits, chocolate and milk tablets lasted for 27 days, and were then replaced by a small number of fish and birds caught at sea. Water was collected in containers during rain. On the 52nd day the ropes holding the rafts together snapped and the two were separated. A week later, after 59 days at sea, the raft containing Charles and six other survivors made landfall on Bijoutier Island in the Seychelles. The crew in the second raft were not seen again.

After 19 days being cared for by locals on Alphonse Island, the survivors were taken to Mahe on Victoria Island. There the three European crew were lunch guests of the Governor. After arranging passage with a willing shipping company, Charles and the other six men were shipped via India and arrived home in Australia on 31 July 1944.

Charles was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) for distinguished service in the face of adversity.