Navy appeals for public help in honouring maritime war dead

Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author)

Topic(s): Naval History

Able Seaman Bill Williams, who died after being shot during an Australian raid on a German radio post on Rabaul on 11 September 1914. AB Williams was the first Australian to die in World War One.

Able Seaman Bill Williams, who died after being shot during an Australian raid on a German radio post on Rabaul on 11 September 1914. AB Williams was the first Australian to die in World War One.

Relatives of Navy World War One fallen members are being asked to search through family photo albums to assist in compiling an updated Roll of Honour, listing Royal Australian Navy personnel who gave their lives in the Great War.

300 Navy members died during the first World War. While some wore Royal Navy uniforms, they were among the first naval officers and sailors to fight on Australia’s behalf.

It’s a little known fact that the first Australian serviceman to die in World War One was an Australian sailor. Able Seaman William ‘Bill’ Williams was shot during an Australian raid on a wireless station at Rabaul in German New Guinea. The submarine AE1 and its crew of 35 were lost soon afterwards and only found in late 2017.

HMAS Sydney suffered four casualties during a sea battle with the German Raider Emden in November 1914. RAN members also played a significant role at Gallipoli, with the submarine AE2 penetrating the Dardanelles on 25 April 1915, and four RAN Bridging Train personnel dying during construction of wharves and piers at Suvla Bay in 1915.

In the most detailed examination of Australia’s maritime war dead yet conducted, the RAN Naval History Section is casting its net wide to ensure that each individual Navy casualty is properly recognised.

“Understandably, World War One saw Australians focus more on the Army as so many of their loved ones fought and died ashore,” Senior Naval Historical Officer, Mr Greg Swinden said.

“The Royal Australian Navy had only been formed in 1911, but despite its small size, the contribution during the war was significant.”

“It’s important to recognise that the war continued to devastate our population for some time after the guns fell silent,” Mr Swinden said.

“Our timeline begins in August 1914 and runs until 31 August 1921 – the same period acknowledged by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.”

“Of the 300 names on our list, only about 25% are identified with a photo so far. We are hoping their relatives can assist us in sourcing imagery. With their help we can create a fitting tribute to our Navy war dead.”

Any imagery of a RAN member who died in WWI should be sent to: navalhistorysection@gmail.com