Sydney sailor remembered in AWM service

Published on LCDR Peter Croce (author), POIS Phil Cullinan (photographer)

Location(s): Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Topic(s): Last Post Ceremony, HMAS Sydney (II), Australian War Memorial

Commander Paul Cottier will lead the reading to remember Able Seaman Martin Curtis James at the Australian War Memorial Last Post Ceremony. (photo: POIS Phil Cullinan)
Commander Paul Cottier will lead the reading to remember Able Seaman Martin Curtis James at the Australian War Memorial Last Post Ceremony.

A sailor lost during HMAS Sydney’s battle with a German raider off the coast of Western Australia will be remembered at this afternoon’s Australian War Memorial Last Post Ceremony.

Commander Paul Cottier will lead the reading to remember Able Seaman Martin Curtis James who was among 645 killed in one of Australia’s biggest war mysteries that was solved in 2008.

CMDR Cottier said it was a moving experience to be part of a ceremony remember the personnel of HMAS Sydney (II), who were lost after engaging the German surface raider Kormoran in 1941.

“It is an honour to take part in this ceremony and honour a sailor who gave his life in Defence of Australia in those very turbulent years of World War II,” he said.

Informal portrait of 23464 Able Seaman Martin Curtis James. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Informal portrait of 23464 Able Seaman Martin Curtis James. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

“It’s a great story behind a name cast the wall among many others. To read about a 19-year-old who lost his life is just terrible and I hope today is a fitting tribute to a proud young man taken far too early in his life.”

AB James is also commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Britain. His name is also listed on the Roll of Honour with about 40,000 others from the Second World War.

Able Seaman Martin James was born in Ballarat, Victoria, on 10 December 1921, the son of Lewis and Roseann James.

The family later moved to Newcastle, New South Wales. Enlisting in the navy on his 18th birthday, Martin James stood about 173 centimetres tall, with brown hair and eyes and what was described as a fresh completion.

He posted to HMAS Sydney in mid-1940 and was onboard the cruiser when it was sent as one of several Australian warships to the Mediterranean where she sank the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in the battle of Cape Spada in July.

On 19 November HMAS Sydney was steaming back to Fremantle, having escorted a troopship part of the way to Singapore. At about 4pm the cruiser spotted a suspicious merchant ship and decided to investigate and by 5:30pm, Sydney had almost drawn alongside the vessel when it suddenly revealed its true identity as a German raider.

After a fierce exchange, Kormoran abandoned ship and a damaged Sydney limped over the horizon – succumbing in darkness and never to be seen for another 67 years.

Read more about HMAS Sydney (II) and the battle at http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-sydney-ii-part-1.

NOTE: Personnel attending the ceremony should muster by the pool of reflection at 1640.