Bell tolls to mark the life of Nestor’s last surviving shipmate

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Jessica Craig (author)

Topic(s): Naval Heritage and History, Funeral

Ken and Mavis Brown christen their son Rodney in the bell from HMAS Nestor, May 1954. (photo: )
Ken and Mavis Brown christen their son Rodney in the bell from HMAS Nestor, May 1954.

The bell from HMAS Nestor was present at some significant events in the life of the ship’s last surviving crew member.

The bell from the N Class Destroyer, which was lost in action on 16 June 1942, was a constant in the life of Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Brown.

It was with him during his service, on the day HMAS Nestor was scuttled, at his son Rodney’s baptism, and at his funeral on 1 June 2020, where it was proudly and stoically displayed with his son’s details engraved inside.

Born in 1921, Kenneth Brown from Frankston, Victoria enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy at 16 as an Ordinary Seaman 2nd Class.

His 36-year naval career took him through oceans the world over, from the Mediterranean, to the Atlantic, the Arctic and the Pacific.

He was first posted to HMAS Sydney (II) in 1938, and was part of the commissioning crew of HMAS Perth (I) in 1939.

In June 1942, while in the Mediterranean and serving in HMAS Nestor, Kenneth (then an Able Seaman) was on board when the destroyer was sunk after being heavily bombed.

During this confrontation, Kenneth was blown from his gun platform by the force of an explosion and injured. After receiving first aid to stop his bleeding, he returned to his high angle Oerlikon gun and opened sustained fire on the dive bombers attacking Nestor with machine guns.

That night, when it became necessary to abandon and sink Nestor, Kenneth dismantled two valuable Oerlikon guns and passed them to HMS Javelin with their belts of ammunition.

Ken Brown at the launch of the future HMAS Sydney (V), with Warrant Officer Martin Grogan, left, and then Warrant Officer of the Navy, Warrant Officer Gary Wight, May 2018.

Ken Brown at the launch of the future HMAS Sydney (V), with Warrant Officer Martin Grogan, left, and then Warrant Officer of the Navy, Warrant Officer Gary Wight, May 2018.

In September 1945, he served in HMAS Shropshire in Tokyo Bay as a Petty Officer, and witnessed the surrender of Japan to the Allies.

After the war, Kenneth was serving in HMAS Australia (II) when he became the youngest Master at Arms (CPO Regulating Branch) in the history of the Australian Navy at aged 26.

He went on to commission in 1951 and continued his career in the regulating branch as a Naval Provost Marshal at HMAS Kuttabul and HMAS Lonsdale. He retired in 1974.

In addition to being the last living crew member of HMAS Nestor, Kenneth was also the last sailor to have served before the war in HMAS Sydney (II) - which was lost in 1941 with all 645 crew - and was present to witness the launch of the future HMAS Sydney (V) in May 2018.

Kenneth will be remembered by the Navy community for his dedication to, and lifelong pride of, service to the Royal Australian Navy.