HMAS AE1 remembered by two Navies

This article has photo gallery Published on CMDR Stuart Watters (author), ABIS Steven Thomson (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Toowoomba (F156), HMAS AE1, Memorial Service

Members of HMAS Toowoomba's ship's company hold a memorial service for HMAS AE1 on the ships flight deck in waters off Papua New Guinea. (photo: ABIS Steven Thomson)
Members of HMAS Toowoomba's ship's company hold a memorial service for HMAS AE1 on the ships flight deck in waters off Papua New Guinea.

HMAS Toowoomba and HMS Sutherland have held simultaneous memorial services in honour of the lives lost during the sinking of Australia’s first submarine.

The crews of both ships attended small ceremonies as they transited past the site of HMAS AE1 and its 35 crew members who went missing off the coast of the Duke of York Islands, Papua New Guinea in September 1914.

HMAS AE1 was Australia’s first naval loss of World War One and the country’s oldest maritime war mystery before the submarine was discovered in December 2017. The presence of both Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy warships at the remembrance services was particularly significant as the submarine was crewed by a combination of British and Australian personnel.

Commander Andrew Canale is the Commanding Officer HMS Sutherland.

“The memorial service provided a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made by those who have gone before,” he said.

“It was a rare opportunity and honour to commemorate the 35 souls who perished in the very early days of the war, and especially to do so with our Australian colleagues.”

Several personnel onboard HMAS Toowoomba had previously served in submarines and found the ceremonies particularly significant.

Command Warrant Officer Christopher Garner said it was a valuable experience.

“It was a tremendous privilege to participate in the ceremony honouring the life and service of pioneering submariners from the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.”

Petty Officer Steven Merritt said the finding of HMAS AE1 was of great historical importance.

“To me the discovery of AE1 is equal to that of previous naval conflicts including that of HMAS Sydney and German ship SMS Emden.

“It is a rare privilege to be part of such an historical event,” Petty Officer Merritt said.

HMAS AE1 was deployed as part of the Australian Naval and Military Expedition Force for operations in Papua New Guinea.

The submarine sailed with HMAS Parramatta on 14 September 1914 to conduct a patrol in St George’s Channel to the south and east of the Duke of York Islands. The submarine did not return from the patrol and despite immediate and subsequent searches was not found until December 2017.