Wartime losses bridge generations and distance

This article has photo gallery Published on POIS Phil Cullinan (author)

Location(s): Australian War Memorial

Topic(s): HMAS Perth (F157), Last Post Ceremony, 75th Anniversary, Australian War Memorial, Battle of Sunda Strait

The Perth/Amphion bell was retrieved from Perth's wreck by an Indonesian diving team in 1974 and subsequently presented to the Australian Government by the Indonesian Government. (photo: POIS Phil Cullinan)
The Perth/Amphion bell was retrieved from Perth's wreck by an Indonesian diving team in 1974 and subsequently presented to the Australian Government by the Indonesian Government.

The loss of HMAS Perth and USS Houston in the Second World War was one of many tragic events that forged the relationship between the United States and Australian navies.

Last week marked 75 years since the Battle of Sunda Strait, and service personnel on two sides of the globe commemorated the losses.
At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the nightly Last Post Ceremony was dedicated to the near 1,000 Allied sailors and marines who lost their lives in the action. HMAS Perth (I) ship's bell was solemnly struck after the still was piped by Navy members of Australia's Federation Guard.
Commander Paul Cottier was one of the Navy personnel at the service and said it was respectful and moving.

"To think that the bell laid on the ocean bed for 37 years and here we are in 2017 hearing it ring once more made the service even more special," he said.
"It is hard to believe that Perth and Houston were able to fight so valiantly for so long against overwhelming odds. It is occasions such as this that make me so proud to be a member of the Royal Australian Navy."
The daily ceremony includes a story of one of the more than 102,000 Australians who have died in conflicts over more than a century. For the Perth ceremony, Leading Seaman Boatswains Mate Matthew Reirri who is a member of the ship's company of HMAS Perth (III), reflected on the service of Able Seaman Ernest John Atkins who was from Melbourne, Victoria, and was killed in the Sunda Strait action with the Japanese forces.
Former Commanding Officer of Perth (III), Commodore Michele Miller represented the Chief of Navy at the service and said that every Australian should consider attending the daily commemoration at least once.
"To be able to lay a wreath on behalf of the Navy at the pool of reflection was very humbling and something I'll remember for the rest of my life," she said.
"Hearing the bell salvaged from the wreck echoing in the courtyard, followed by the piping of the still was a very special way to start the commemoration. 
"It was also fantastic that the current Executive Officer and sailors from Perth (III) were able to attend and pay their respects alongside veterans who had served in Perth (II), and their families."
Other commemorative services were held in both Australia and Indonesia with Australian patrol boat HMAS Maryborough sailing to the Strait to hold a service over the sunken wreck of Perth.
The USS Houston Survivors Association held a service in the city of Houston, Texas, on 4 March. Emphasising the strong links between the two nations, Australian Naval Attaché, Commodore Peter Leavy and Assistant Naval Attaché, Commander Scott Craig traveled from Washington to attend.
"Both of us served in HMAS Perth (II) and were over the site of the wreck of Perth (I) for the 50th commemorative service in 1992, so it was important for us to attend on a personal level also," Commodore Leavy said.
A US Sea Cadet contingent supported service that was attended by relatives of those who served in Houston.
Both Captains, Hec Waller in Perth and Albert Rooks in Houston went down with their ships - Captain Rooks was posthumously awarded the US Medal of Honour (equivalent of the Victoria Cross). 

Captain Waller is remembered with his namesake Australian submarine and an initial training division at the Royal Australian Naval College.

Read more about Perth and the Battle of Sunda Strait at www.navy.gov.au/hmas-perth-i

Lest We Forget.