Fallen sailors remembered by grateful Sydneysiders

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Todd Fitzgerald (author), Frank Vella (photographer)

Location(s): Merrylands, NSW

Lieutenant Commander Alan Parton, RAN, salutes as sailors from HMAS Waterhen conduct Colours at Charles Mance Reserve Memorial, Merrylands, NSW. (photo: Frank Vella, Merrylands RSL)
Lieutenant Commander Alan Parton, RAN, salutes as sailors from HMAS Waterhen conduct Colours at Charles Mance Reserve Memorial, Merrylands, NSW.

Of the eight warships the Navy lost in 1942, three had sailors or officers onboard from the Western Sydney suburb of Merrylands.

During one of the darkest periods in the history of the Royal Australian Navy, few suburbs felt its impact as acutely.

Their names were honoured during a ceremony at Charles Mance Reserve Memorial recently to mark the Navy's 116th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the Australian White Ensign.

Lieutenant Commander Alan Parton of local base HMAS Waterhen said the Ensign meant a lot to the locals because of Navy's ties to the area. He said it was important to remember the sacrifices of our forefathers.

“If they don’t know what others have sacrificed they cannot comprehend what they have and what must be done to maintain our liberty,” Lieutenant Commander Parton said.

Sailors from Waterhen conducted a flag raising ceremony known as Colours to mark the birthday of the Navy and anniversary of the Ensign.

Fifty local community members attended, including children from Hilltop Road Public School.

Those assembled retired to Merrylands Returned and Services League Club where the children learned about the make-up of the Australian White Ensign, including the names of the stars on the flag.

Lieutenant Commander Parton said the Navy had a number of time-honoured traditions that survive today as a reminder of its rich history.

“They are important in building Navy’s esprit de corps, spirit of comradeship, and commitment to each cause,” he said.

“The Ensign and Colours are two of these traditions.

“The Australian White Ensign allows members to show we are part of a large organisation that works towards Australia's and our immediate neighbours’ well-being and safety, and to display a pride in ourselves and our organisation,” he said.

Lieutenant Commander Robert Rankin was the most famous of Merrylands’ fallen.

He was the Commanding Officer of HMAS Yarra (II) when a Japanese task group sunk the sloop as it attempted to defend three merchant vessels off the Indonesian coast.

Able Seaman David Kitcher, also of Merrylands, survived the sinking of HMAS Perth (I) but died later in Burma in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

Perth shipmate and fellow local, Mechanic 2nd Class Thomas Wright, died with the Australian warship when the Imperial Japanese Navy sunk her in Sunda Strait.

Leading Stoker William Luckman was a crew member onboard HMAS Armidale when Japanese aircraft attacked and sunk her off the coast of what is now Timor-Leste.

Able Seaman Edward Riters died on HMAS Sydney (II) during a battle with the German raider HSK Kormoran in November 1941.

The location of both ships was a mystery until their wreckages were found in 2008, more than 100 nautical miles off Steep Point in Western Australia.