Farewell tribute to Arthur Bancroft: A legend and inspiration

Published on LEUT Andrew Herring (author)

Topic(s): Naval Heritage and History, HMAS Perth (I)

CAPT Brett Dowsing, RAN, CO HMAS Stirling, (left) and Arthur Bancroft, sharing a  joke with the audience during the book launch of 'Arthur's War' held at the Barry Cable Room, Subiaco Oval, WA. (photo: )
CAPT Brett Dowsing, RAN, CO HMAS Stirling, (left) and Arthur Bancroft, sharing a joke with the audience during the book launch of 'Arthur's War' held at the Barry Cable Room, Subiaco Oval, WA.

On 28 July 2013 Australia and its Navy lost a living legend when Arthur Bancroft, a veteran of Perth (I) passed away.

In an email to Captain Lee Goddard, Commanding Officer of the current HMAS Perth, Arthur’s son, Colin Bancroft said his father was a “great man who has been an inspiration to many, he may be physically gone but will be remembered my so many.”

So true.

Arthur was born in Fremantle in 1921. He grew up in the inner western Perth suburb of Subiaco, was a good student and a keen sportsman playing AFL football and cricket.

In 1940 at age 19, Arthur left his job in a bank to join the Navy, eager to do his bit for the war.

After initially joining to become a signalman, his eagerness to get into the war saw him change category and accept a demotion to ordinary seaman in order to be posted to a fighting ship as soon as possible. He was posted to the light cruiser HMAS Perth (I) in October 1941, while she was in refit in Sydney after returning from her exploits in the Mediterranean Sea.

After surviving a fierce battle as part of the American, British, Dutch and Australian task force defending Java, HMAS Perth and USS Houston encountered a Japanese invasion force in the Sunda Strait on 28 February 1941. Overwhelmingly outgunned, outnumbered and surrounded, Perth and Houston fought valiantly until both ships were sunk.

Arthur Bancroft, a strong swimmer, was among the survivors.

He spent the next two years as a Japanese prisoner of war, working on the Burma-Thailand Railway before being sent to Japan, only to be torpedoed en-route and spending six days clinging to debris at sea before being rescued by a US submarine and eventually returning to Australia.

Arthur’s loyalty to his mates, his positive outlook, and his will to endure sustained him through combat at sea, two sinkings and years of malnourishment, abuse and hard labour. He remains an inspiration to all of us who serve today.

Farewell Arthur. Rest now. We have the watch.

Additional imagery available at http://images.defence.gov.au/11122209.

For more on Arthur Bancroft please visit the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance website at https://www.shrine.org.au/Remembrance/Stories-(1)/Able-Seaman-Arthur-Bancroft-(1).