Cook’s heroic sacrifice saved many

This article has photo gallery Published on LCDR Desmond Woods (author)

Topic(s): 75th Anniversary, Bombing of Darwin

Leading Seaman Francis Emms, who heroically fought back during the attack on Darwin Harbour in February 1942. (photo: Unknown)
Leading Seaman Francis Emms, who heroically fought back during the attack on Darwin Harbour in February 1942.

While Australians paused to commemorate the Bombing of Darwin recently, there was a particular Australian Navy sailor whose actions on 19 February 1942 were keenly remembered.

Leading Cook Francis Emms heroically fought back during the attack on Darwin Harbour on board HMAS Kara Kara.

Firing his machine gun from the ship’s weather deck, he was wounded by the incoming fire from the Japanese Zero Fighter aircraft.

After the raid he was taken to the damaged but still functioning Hospital Ship Manunda, where he died later that day.

Leading Cook Emms was a Navy veteran, unlike many of the people who had joined the forces at the outset of the Second World War.

A Tasmanian, he had been in the Navy since 1928 and had originally qualified as a gunnery rating.

While serving in the cruiser HMAS Sydney (II) in the Mediterranean his eyesight began to deteriorate. Rather than leave the Navy he decided to transfer to the Supply Branch as a Cook.

Although married with a daughter by then, he loved the Navy and wanted to continue to serve.

In September 1940 Emms was posted to the Darwin shore depot HMAS Melville where he was employed as a cook at the base, and also in the boom defence vessels which operated the anti-submarine boom net stretched across Darwin Harbour.

Later it emerged that Emms’ operation of the machine guns had continued even after he had been seriously wounded. His constant and accurate fire forced the Japanese aircraft to break off their attack and probably saved the lives of several of his shipmates.

Buried at sea, Emms was subsequently awarded a posthumous Mention in Dispatches for courage and devotion to duty.

The Australian Navy Recruit School at HMAS Cerberus, Victoria, honours his memory with initial trainees being assigned to Emms Division, one of four groupings that bear the names of sailors who served with distinction.

For more information about Navy’s Recruit School visit