The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (19038) Leading Seaman Robert Malcolm Borwick, HMAS Perth, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2021.1.1.59
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 2021
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 Troy Clayton, the story for this day was on (19038) Leading Seaman Robert Malcolm Borwick, HMAS Perth, Second World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

19038 Leading Seaman Robert Malcolm Borwick, HMAS Perth
KIA 1 March 1942

Today we remember and pay tribute to Leading Seaman Robert Malcolm Borwick.

Robert Borwick was born on 21 December 1910, in Fremantle, Western Australia, the son of Hugh and Margaret Falconer Borwick. Robert’s father passed away in 1919, when Robert was still a boy, and he was raised by his mother and elder siblings.

On 2 June 1928, at the age of 17, Borwick enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy. He began a long career of service began service at the naval base HMAS Cerberus near Melbourne, and soon took a rating as an ordinary seaman in the newly commissioned Australian seaplane tender HMAS Albatross. In 1931, while serving with Albatross, Borwick married his first wife, Edna Mabel Roots, in Granville, Sydney. They remained married until 1937.

From 1928 until the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, Borwick was promoted, eventually reaching the rank of leading seaman. His service history included periods in the heavy cruisers HMAS Australia (II), and HMAS Canberra (I), the destroyer HMAS Waterhen (I), and the cruiser HMAS Adelaide (I).

In 1938, Borwick married Jessie Maude Giddins in Sydney.
In May 1939, Borwick joined the modified Leander-class light cruiser HMAS Perth. He was with Perth when the Second World War broke out, and spent the first few months of the conflict conducting escort and patrol duties in the West Indies and Western Atlantic Ocean. While he was serving in the Atlantic Ocean, his wife Jessie gave birth to his daughter Kay, born on 11 December 1939. He would not see his daughter until Perth docked in Sydney for a refit in March 1940.

Just over a month later, Borwick and Perth began escort and patrol duties off the Australian coast, and escorted Allied troop convoys to the war in the Middle East and North Africa. In 1941 Perth served in the Mediterranean, where it assisted in the battle of Matapan, the evacuation of Allied forces from Crete, and the Allied campaign against Vichy French forces in Syria.

In mid-July 1941 Borwick and Perth returned to Australia, and after a refit, soon began to serve in the Pacific theatre of the Second World War.

On 26 February 1942, Perth sailed from Surabaja in modern-day Indonesia, as part of the ABDA, a naval force comprised of American, British, Dutch and Australian vessels tasked with preventing the spread of Japanese forces in the region. On 27 February, it took part in the disastrous battle of the Java Sea in which five of the Allied ABDA ships were sunk. The survivors, Perth and the US ship Houston were lucky to escape the Japanese attack, and sailed to Java’s north coast to refuel.

The following day, they attempted to sail through the Sunda Strait on Java’s west coast, but came across the main Japanese troop convoy in the region and again came under heavy shell and torpedo attack.

At midnight on the night of 28 February, as Perth returned fire, it was struck by a shell that pierced its hull near the waterline. Not long after, Perth received several more shell hits, and was struck by two torpedoes. The crew were ordered to abandon ship, and Perth sunk below the waves. In all, 357 of the 680-strong crew were killed in the fighting and subsequent sinking. Those that survived were taken as prisoner of war by the Japanese; about one third of those men did not survive their captivity. USS Houston suffered a similar fate.

Borwick was killed in action during the battle at sea. His body was not recovered from the wreckage.
He was 35 years old, survived by his grieving wife and young daughter.

Today, he is commemorated on the Plymouth Memorial in the United Kingdom, which lists the names of over 16,000 Commonwealth naval personnel of the Second World War who have no known grave.

His name is 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 Leading Seaman Robert Malcolm Borwick, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

David Sutton
Historian, Military History Section

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