Today marks the 70th anniversary of the loss of HMAS Canberra. On 9th August 1942, the cruiser came to a catastrophic end in the Pacific during the Battle of Savo Island. Captain Frank Edmund Getting was in command at the time. He had a long association with the Navy. His story, and that of HMAS Canberra, was uncovered whilst scanning the Reports of Proceedings for HMAS Canberra.  

Portrait of Captain Frank Edmund Getting RAN, Commander of HMAS Canberra.

Portrait of Captain Frank Edmund Getting RAN, Commander of HMAS Canberra

In December, 1912, Getting entered the Royal Australian Naval College. According to routine six-monthly confidential reports submitted by Commanding Officers, Getting was rated highly amongst his superiors.  In December 1940, during his service aboard the armed merchant cruiser ship, Kanimbla, he was promoted to captain. In his report of March 1940, Admiral Percy Noble, writes,

Although this officer has only served with me for a short time, he has so favourably impressed me with his ability, keenness and power of command … He has a fine physique and a good manner and appearance. His whole heart seems to be in the Service and I am sure he will do very well.

Captain Getting took command of HMAS Canberra on Wednesday 17 June 1942. Less than two months later, both he and the Canberra found themselves supporting the American landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Pacific. The objective: to capture the almost complete Japanese airfield at Lunga Point, safe-guarding American/Australian supply lines.

 The landing was successful. The airfield was captured and re-named “Henderson Field”.  Despite the loss, the Japanese launched air attacks, and within two hours sent a cruiser force for the Allies.

American ships USS Chicago, Bagley and Patterson alongside HMAS Australia and Canberra patrolled the area to the south of Savo Island. Rear Admirals Crutchley (in command of the combined forces of Australian and American cruisers and destroyers at Guadalcanal) and Turner, concluded that the force was proceeding onto Rekata Bay, where they may launch an attack. In the early hours of 9 August 1942, the Japanese force approached undetected. At 1.50pm a flare was seen dropping south-west of Savo Island. At 1.55pm Canberra was identified as one of the ships on fire.

Struck by two torpedoes on her starboard side and over twenty salvoes of 8-inch shellfire, Canberra lost power and the ship was listing. Many died or were seriously wounded during the attack. Survivors were later transferred to US Ships Patterson and Blue.

Canberra Sinking in the battle of Savo Island

Canberra Sinking in the battle of Savo Island

In his account of Canberra’s loss, Stoker John Oliver Rosynski describes the Japanese ships approaching the Canberra and the chaos that ensued. He goes on further, recounting how Captain Getting stood on the bridge, slowly and calmly giving orders.

About ten minutes into the action, Surgeon Commander Downward arrived on the bridge. Captain Getting was seriously wounded and in need of medical attention. Downward states,

The Commander [J.A. Walsh] was standing on the port side of the bridge. The Gunnery Officer’s body was on the port side. I spoke to the Captain but he refused any attention at all. He told me to look after the others.

Captain Getting died on board the USS Barnett on passage to Noumea and was buried at sea on 9 August. Of the 819 of those serving on board, 193 were casualties. In the final paragraph of his account, Rosynski writes,

They say that memory dims, but I’m sure in after years come what may, I’ll always have a thought for that ship, even though she lies buried for all time deep in the mud and drifting sands of the Pacific. She will, in my mind at least, sail the gallant “Canberra”.

More information:

Gill, G Herman, Royal Australian Navy, 1939-1942, Australia in the war of 1939-1945, Series 2 (Navy), vol. 1, Canberra, 1957. Retrieved from: /collection/records/awmohww2/navy/vol2/awmohww2-navy-vol2-ch5.pdf

HMAS Canberra Reports of Proceedings June 1940 – June 1942, Australian War Memorial, AWM78 82/2. Retrieved from: /collection/records/awm78/82/

Papers of Rosynski, John Oliver (Stoker), Australian War Memorial, PR01715

GETTING F E [Officers (RAN) personal record - Frank Edmund Getting], National Archives of Australia, A3978 GETTING F E. Retrieved from:

My name is Sam Warner and I am a work experience student from St Joseph’s College Echuca. As part of my week at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra I researched the story behind the Distinguished Conduct Medal of Sergeant William Dobson Scorer in the First World War. Here is his story.

Sergeant William Dobson Scorer died from wounds he received at Broodseinde Ridge.

William Dobson Scorer was born in Essendon Victoria in November 1893, one of five children to Henry and Mary Scorer.  In his early life he attended Essendon State School where his name is now located on the Honour Board. He was working as a clerk when he joined the AIF on 30 July 1915. He enlisted with the 6th Reinforcements of the 24th Battalion and embarked on HMAT Ulysses on 27 October, bound for training in Egypt.

He later transferred to the 8th Infantry Battalion before moving to France in May 1916. Within two months of arriving Scorer had accomplished the rank of Sergeant. He was diagnosed with the mumps on 13 May 1917 but returned to duty 6 days later and regrouped with his Battalion on 26 May.

'No man's land' at Broodseinde Ridge on the day that Scorer was mortally wounded.

Sgt Scorer and the 8th Battalion were involved in the Third Battle of Ypres at Broodseinde Ridge east of Ypres on 4 October where he was heavily wounded and admitted to hospital 5 days later. Here he had his leg amputated but unfortunately did not recover from his wounds and died on the 24th. Scorer was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his noticeable gallantry and dedication to duty during the attack.

From the recommendation that was given it said that, “He assisted the intelligence officer in guiding the Battalion on to the tapes and maintained an efficient manner when held up by gun fire, where he then crept forward alone to bayonet 2 enemy soldiers and put the gun out of action, although he was wounded in this fight he persisted in his task until the objective was reached where again he was very badly wounded”.  Sergeant William Dobson Scorer is buried at the Etaples Military Cemetery in France.

“Hello, Western Australia, here we are on the deck of a cruiser somewhere in the Middle East, I may not tell you exactly where …”

In 1941 an ABC Field Recording Unit went aboard the cruiser HMAS Perth to record messages to be broadcast on the Voices from Overseas program, and this is how the broadcast began. Official Photographer George Silk captured many images of Perth's crew over several months in 1941, and photographed the recording session.

Recording onboard HMAS PerthRecording on the deck of HMAS Perth

Next the cheerful voice of Patrick Kelly, a stoker in Perth, can be heard sending greetings and reassurances to loved ones back home: “We’re doing all right over here and our chins are up, so don’t worry.” Kelly enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy in 1935, aged 20. By 1940 he was in the Mediterranean, where Perth would see heavy action around Greece, Crete, and Syria.

Speaking on behalf of several Western Australians, Kelly signs off: “We’re all hale and hearty and in the pink, so everything’s right. So au revoir ’til we see you. Goodbye.”

Patrick Kelly was one of 357 Australians who died when Perth was sunk by the Japanese on 1 March 1942, during the battle of Sunda Strait.

In 1942 the ABC lent the original Voices from Overseas discs for copying and subsequent sale to aid the Red Cross in their fundraising efforts. Relatives and friends were invited to the Myer Emporium, where they could order their copy of a loved one’s recording. For many families this short recorded message would become their most tangible reminder of someone they lost, a way of ensuring his voice lived on.

This fragile metal-core disc was recently donated to the Sound Collection by Patrick Kelly's niece making certain that his voice would be preserved for future generations to hear. Listening to this young man's voice 70 years after he died is a reminder of the sacrifice made by him and by so many other Australians.


Listen to the digitised audio of this recording:

S05248 Patrick Kelly


Pair of spectacles which deflected shrapnel : Sergeant W R Fisher, 1 Battalion AIF

Survival in war is more often a matter of luck than skill, and luck is fickle. These spectacles were being worn by Sergeant William Fisher as he and three others played cards in a dug-out in France in August 1918. His mate, Lance Corporal John Drum, was last to join the game, and moved a dud shell out of the way to sit down. It exploded.

Both men had already survived battles and wounds. Fisher had been shot in the foot at Passchendaele in 1917, and Drum was wounded in 1916; both had recovered and returned to their unit. Now, in late August 1918, the Germans were fighting a drawn-out retreat and the end was in sight.

The explosion ended John Drum’s war – his right hand and right leg were shattered and both were amputated later, while his left leg received a compound fracture. He was fitted with artificial limbs in 1920 and lived with this legacy for the rest of his life.

Bill Fisher was more than lucky. A metal splinter from the explosion hit one lens of his spectacles and smashed it, but he walked away with nothing more than a ringing in his ears and a new respect for luck.

The spectacles form part of the Australian War Memorial’s extensive collection of artefacts from the battlefields of France.

For a longer account of Sergeant Fisher’s wartime experiences, see REL/00877 in our Collection.

Commemorative service held on the site of the battle of Long Tan, 1969, photographed by Christopher John Bellis

On 18 August 1969, soldiers of 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC) erected a cross in the Long Tan rubber plantation in Phuoc Tuy province (now Ba Ria–Vung Tau province), South Vietnam. 

The cross marked the site where three years earlier, on 18 August 1966, 108 soldiers of D Company, 6RAR, had fought a fierce battle against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces. 

Following the communist victory in 1975 and the reunification of Vietnam, the Dong Nai Museum in Bien Hoa City acquired the Long Tan cross. In 1989 the Long Dat District People’s Committee erected a replica cross on the original site. 

The original cross, on loan from the Dong Nai Museum and the Ministry of Culture, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, will be on display at the Australian War Memorial from 17 August 2012 until April 2013. 

The public is invited to come to the Memorial to be part of a special closing ceremony at 4.45pm on Friday 17 August to commemorate the men who fought in the battle of Long Tan and to remember those who died. 

All Australians who served during the Vietnam War will be recognised at a commemorative closing ceremony on Saturday 18 August.

On occasion a totally unexpected document walks in the front door and into Official Records.  Recently a report made at Gallipoli was generously donated by Cindy Osborne to the Memorial.  The document in question is a handover report from the Commanding Officer 26th Infantry Battalion to the Commanding Officer of the 28th.  The Russell Top handover report is a most welcome addition to the Official Records held at the Memorial, for although we hold the War Diaries of the units involved, supporting reports such as this one are rarely present in the Gallipoli records.

The front page of the report from Russels Top. AWM255 [51]

The report was written when the Battalion commanders would have been unaware that they were only weeks away from being evacuated.  It is a detailed set of instruction on how the position (Russells Top) should be maintained and held against the enemy.  Of particular interest is the page regarding “Works proposed and in course of construction”, this mentions deepening trenches and providing overhead shelter for the fire trenches.  Activities that would be unlikely to be undertaken if it were known the positions would be abandoned almost two weeks from the date of the report.

Two unidentified soldiers at a sandbagged position near Russells Top in 1915. Behind them is the prominent landmark that was dubbed The Sphinx.

The report was authored by Lieutenant Colonel George Andrew Ferguson DSO VD, who had been a long serving militia officer prior to joing in the AIF, hence the VD post-nominal for the Volunteer Officers' Decoration, and was to later become the recipient of the Distinguished Service Order.  He commanded the 26th Battalion for the duration of the Gallipoli campaign and also in France until wounded in September 1916.  Due to the severity of his wounds he was discharged from the Army and returned to Australia in February 1917.  For his efforts he was awarded the DSO and was mentioned in despatches.  He lived for another 16 years after returning to Australia and passed away at the age of 60 on 20 April 1933.

Looking towards Russell's Top 1915.

The report has been digitised and can be viewed via the link below:

My name is Isobel White and I am a work experience student from Alfred Deakin High. As part of my week at the War Memorial I have been asked to research an item, an old Kodak camera used in World War 1 by Wilfrid Selwyn Kent Hughes.

Wilfred Kent-Hughes

The camera is a Kodak Vest Pocket.  It was originally made around 1912 and it was used by the soldiers in WW1 because unlike previous models, it could fit in their pocket and did not need a tripod or other equipment. This meant that in addition to diaries and letters, they could also send home photos to their loved ones.  It was not allowed for soldiers to have cameras at the front, as in addition to the security risks, the government thought that others may see the realtities of war through the photographs which could cause them to not want to sign up. Although they were forbidden, many soldiers, like Kent Hughes, carried their pocket cameras into the front line at Gallipoli and Palestine. However, on the Western Front, the rules were more strictly enforced and it was harder for soldiers to take cameras into the trenches.

One of the photographs taken by Kent-Hughes

Lieutenant Wilfrid ‘Billy’ Kent Hughes, owner of this camera, landed at Gallipoli with the Light Horse in May 1915. Although receiving a bullet wound while at Gallipoli, he stayed in the AIF until 1919, when he was discharged. The next year, he participated in the 400m hurdles event, representing Australia at the Belgium Olympics.

Photograph of Light Horsemen sniping at Rhododendron Ridge, taken by Kent-Hughes

 In 1927, Kent Hughes entered politics and became a member of the Nationalist Party of Australia. In 1928, he was appointed secretary to Sir William McPherson’s cabinet, but by June the next year he had resigned his position.  He later served in the Second World War and became a prisoner of the Japanese.  He came back to Australia by 1948 and was chairman of the Australian Olympic Committee from 1951 planning the Olympic Games in Melbourne for 1956. After a long and distinguished career in politics he died in 1970.

Acclaimed British author and Second World War historian Antony Beevor will deliver the keynote address at the Australian War Memorial’s annual history conference to be held in Canberra in September.

Beevor, the author of international bestsellers Stalingrad, Berlin and D-Day, is the inaugural Boeing Visiting Fellow to the international conference, titled Kokoda: Beyond the Legend, and convened to mark the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda and Papuan campaigns in 1942. He heads a distinguished line-up of historians and emerging scholars from Britain, the United States, and Australia attending the two-day event.

“This conference features some of the leading scholars in the field, with international reputations,” says Australian War Memorial historian Dr Karl James. “Bringing them together in Canberra for the Memorial’s conference is a great coup.”

The aim of the conference is to reassess the principal battles fought in Papua and discuss the campaign from both the Allied and Japanese perspectives. According to James, “this is a unique opportunity to bring together leading historians from around the world to assess Papua’s significance to the global war while also getting into the real tactics – the mud and blood – of the campaign”.

Beevor’s latest book is a single-volume history of the Second World War. In it he weaves together the story of the conflict in its entirety to show how one theatre of war influenced events in other regions, while detailing the fate of ordinary soldiers and civilians in Europe, the North Atlantic, and Northern Africa, as well as in the South Pacific. His appearance at the conference is a rare opportunity for Australian followers to see him speak.

James says Beevor’s keynote address on “The World at War, 1942” will be a highlight for conference attendees seeking to place the story of Kokoda in a broader context. “Kokoda has become a major focus of Second World War commemorations in Australia, and the campaign dominates our popular memory. But it is rarely discussed in terms of its strategic role in the wider war effort. Antony Beevor will enlighten the audience on events occurring concurrently with Kokoda, and the links between them.”

Other guest speakers attending the conference include the acclaimed historian Richard B. Frank, who has written several books on the Pacific War. He will give an address on “South Pacific turning points: Guadalcanal, Kokoda and Milne Bay” at the conference dinner.

Another military historian attending from the United States is Dr Edward J. Drea, who works with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A former soldier who served in Japan and Vietnam, Drea will deliver an address titled “Making Soldiers: training, doctrine, and culture in the Imperial Japanese Army” during the Second World War. The conference program also includes renowned American naval historian John B. Lundstrom, and James Zobel from the MacArthur Memorial, who will speak about Douglas MacArthur’s controversial command in Papua in 1942.

Esteemed Australian military historian Professor David Horner will give an address on Kokoda and its place in Australian history. Horner is the official historian and general editor for the Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post–Cold War Operations, as well as Professor of Australian Defence History at the Australian National University’s Research School of International, Political and Strategic Studies. Other Australian historians who will speak at the conference include Dr Mark Johnston, of Scotch College Melbourne, who will speak on the air war over Papua; Dr Peter Williams, who will address the question of the strength of the forces engaged on the Kokoda Trail; and Dr James, who will present “A terrible experience: the battle of Eora Creek”.

There will also be speakers from Japan and Papua New Guinea. “Including Japanese and Papuan voices in the conference reflects a more sophisticated and inclusive approach to thinking about Australian military history,” says James.

The Australian War Memorial’s international history conference Kokoda: Beyond the Legend is on Thursday 6 and Friday 7 September, 2012. Tickets to the conference are limited and are selling fast. For program details and to register, go to /events/conference/2012/

While recently at Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli, I took the opportunity to visit the graves of two men, Corporal David 'Yank' McVay and Private Charles Hampson who served with D Company in the 23rd Battalion. A few years ago I researched their stories while cataloguing the metal cross plates that came from their original graves.

 The original grave marker for David McVay 

In 1915, the plates were attached wooden crosses. Both plates have holes around the edges for nails, showing where they were attached. Unfortunately, the crosses were probably used as fire wood by Turkish soldiers or civilians after the evacuation, as wood was scarce in the area and the crosses were easy to access. Stylistically, Hampson's and McVay's cross plates are very similar, and may have been made by the same person, possibly also a member of D Company, 23rd Battalion. Hampson's cross is currently on display in ANZAC Hall and is more damaged than McVay's - with some bullet or shrapnel holes and some sections torn away. 

The plates were found at Gallipoli by Captain Gordon Samuel Keesing in 1919. Keesing was an assistant to the architect, Sir John Burnet and they were visiting Gallipoli to inspect the area as Burnet was designing the permanent cemeteries at Gallipoli for the Imperial War Graves Commission.


1243 Private David McVay was a 32 year old miner from Fitzroy in Melbourne and he enlisted in the AIF on 8 April 1915. He was an original member of D Coy, and embarked from Australia aboard HMAT Euripides on 10 May 1915. McVay was born in England, and had previously served with the Field Artillery in South Africa. He had deserted from the army but was pardoned on King Edward VII's death in 1910.

After a period of training in Egypt, he landed with the 23rd Battalion at Gallipoli on the night of 4 September and was marched to Rest Gully. On 5 September the battalion spent their first night in the front line trenches at Lone Pine. The fighting here was so dangerous and exhausting that battalions were relieved every day. The 23rd Battalion manned Lone Pine, alternating with the 24th Battalion, until they left Gallipoli in December 1915. McVay was promoted to corporal on 9 September. Four days later, he was one of three men from the 23rd Battalion killed at Lone Pine on 13 September. The unit war diary for that day notes that McVay was sniped by a Turk from the unit's right flank. McVay had no known surviving relatives.

743 Private Charles George Hubbard Hampson was a 36 year old driver from Richmond, Victoria when he enlisted in the AIF on 1 March 1915. Like McVay, he was also a member of D Company, 23 Battalion and he landed at Gallipoli on the night of 4 September. Hampson had served at Gallipoli for almost a month when he was was killed on 3 October 1915, at Lone Pine. That day, Turkish artillery were firing from the direction of Scrubby Knoll at the Lone Pine trenches, and it is possible he was killed by a shell. Hampson's Mother died in 1917 and his Father had been dead for many years before that. After the war his sisters chose to put an epitaph on his new headstone which reads "OUR BROTHER THE DEAREST AND BEST EVER FONDLY LOVED AND REMEMBERED".

Brown's Dip Cemetery 1919

Both McVay and Hampson were originally buried at Brown's Dip Cemetery, which was near Lone Pine.  After the war the cemetery was found to be at major risk from erosion, so in 1923 the bodies were exhumed and reinterred in what became known as the Brown's Dip plot in Lone Pine Cemetery. This is located at the opposite end of the cemetery from the Lone Pine Memorial.

If you have the chance to visit Lone Pine Cemetery and are interested in visiting their graves, McVay and Hampson are both located in Plot 1 of the Brown's Dip Plot, Mc Vay is in Row B grave 15 and Hampson in Row E grave 6.

The Pacific war campaign fought by the Australians on Bougainville in 1944–45 has long suffered from a poor reputation: during its first few months, the operation was disparaged by politicians and the media as “mopping-up”; for decades afterwards, it was criticised as “unnecessary”.

But in his new book The Hard Slog, Australian War Memorial historian Dr Karl James argues that the arduous fight that involved more than 30,000 Australians – 500 of whom were killed – against the Japanese on the South Pacific island was both important and successful.

“Bougainville was one of the largest campaigns the Australians fought during the Second World War, and it’s certainly the most controversial in terms of the debate over its necessity,” says James. “But they did the job they were meant to do, and they did it with minimal casualties.”

Private Gordon Atwell of the 42nd Battaltion checks over the mechanism of his Vickers gun, at Mawaraka, 20 January 1945.

The Japanese invaded the Australian Mandated Territory of Bougainville in 1942 as part of their sweep across the South Pacific. They remained there unchallenged until November 1943, when the Americans landed on Bougainville as part of the Allied counter-offensive to regain domination of the South West Pacific Area. 

The Australians were brought in to relieve the Americans a year later. The war was expected to continue until at least 1946, and so aggressive operations were planned for Bougainville and New Guinea with the aim of freeing up Australian manpower for future operations against Japan, or for employment on the home front. However, critics claimed that Australian forces were being “whittled away” on a more or less “face-saving” task in New Guinea and Bougainville.

“By 1945 the Americans in the central Pacific were pushing toward Japan, having landed in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, whereas the Australians were still in the jungle in New Guinea, Bougainville and Borneo, and seem to have been sidelined from the main game rather than being at the forefront of Allied operations,” James says. “There was a lot of resentment and frustration within Australia during 1944-45, with critics wondering why we weren’t in a more prominent role.”

It was a slow and gruelling effort, fought with limited resources and in difficult tropical conditions. Over nine months Lieutenant General Stanley Savige’s Australian II Corps made tedious advances; actions were fierce, but on a small-scale, and the patrolling was constant.

“The war the infantry knew was one of patrolling along stinking, humid jungle tracks and putrid swamps in an intimate, personal war of section patrols and the occasional company-size attack,” James writes. “The strain of constant clashes with the Japanese and harassing artillery fire eroded the men’s morale.”

But it was even worse for the Japanese. “The Japanese experience of the campaign was one of deprivation, desperation and defeat. In the most extreme instances, a few even resorted to cannibalism.”

A patrol from the 42nd Battalion crosses a log bridge as it works its way through the oppressive jungle.

The Australians suffered just one defeat during the Bougainville campaign, at the Porton Plantation in the island’s northern sector. An amphibious landing on the night of 8–9 June 1945 went awry: the landing was in the wrong place, an essential supply barge was grounded on the rough coral that surrounded the beach, and the Japanese were able to get in reinforcements that gave them control over the area. Dozens of Australian troops were stranded on the beach, and when rescue craft were sent in to get the men, they also became stuck on reefs. Men tried to swim through the shark-infested water to safe ground. When the ordeal was over, 27 men had been killed or were missing, and 69 were wounded.

The Bougainville campaign came to an end when the Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945. The objective set by senior Australian commanders for “destruction” of the Japanese had not been fulfilled, but II Corps could claim to have controlled about two-thirds of Bougainville. About 65,000 Japanese occupied the island when the Americans arrived in 1943; at surrender, there were just over 23,800. The Australians had killed 8,789 Japanese during the nine-month campaign, and the Americans estimated they had killed about 9,890. Many thousands of Japanese had died from sickness and disease. Australian deaths on Bougainville numbered 516, and another 1,572 were wounded.

While the Bougainville campaign did not change the outcome of the war, nor help it end any sooner, James says its importance lay in fulfilling the Australian government’s political and strategic agenda “of having Australian forces actively involved in the liberation of Australian territory”. It also ensured a favourable postwar position for Australia among its allies, and in the distribution of the spoils of war.

“The war ends, fortunately, just before the Australians make that last attack on the big Japanese base at Buin. I think that had that happened, we would have seen the outcome of the campaign as being quite different. We would have had heavy casualties for little gains. Because the war ended when it did, I think you can judge it to be a successful campaign.”

The Hard Slog: Australians in the Bougainville Campaign, 1944–45, by Karl James, is published by Cambridge and available at the Australian War Memorial bookshop or online at /shop/

 Jeeps and trailers loaded with members of the 58th/59th Battalion make their way along the muddy, corduroyed Buin Road near the Ogorata River, 18 July 1945.

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