Concetta Fierravanti - Wells' speech - Solomon Star News

Concetta Fierravanti - Wells' speech

10 August 2017
Senator Fierravanti-Wells laying a wreath above the site of the HMAS Canberra. Australian High Commission

Sinking of HMAS Canberra Memorial Ceremony

Honiara, Solomon Islands
Wednesday, 9 August 2017

It is an absolute honour and privilege for John and I to be able take part in this service today.

Last year, I had the honour to be here as we commemorated the 74th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Canberra.

This year, I am joined by my husband John Wells who himself spent 35 years serving in the Royal Australian Navy, including as Commanding Officer of HMAS Tobruk during its operations in Bougainville, Solomon Islands and other Pacific theatres in the 1990s.

Could I acknowledge and thank the officers and crew of the HMAS Success for hosting this service, as well as the officers and crew of the accompanying naval vessels the USS Barry, the HMNZS Otago and the RSIPV Auki.

Today’s service of course has a particular resonance given it takes part as one of the suite of 75th anniversary commemorations for the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942.

On a calm morning, not unlike today, it is difficult to fathom that 75 years ago – at this very location – the Royal Australian Navy heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra was lost and now rests below us in this stretch of water known as Iron Bottom Sound, after having sustained heavy damage during the night.

Known as the Battle of Savo Island, named after that small island just over there, the story is both tragic and fascinating.

Canberra was one of several allied ships targeted in a surprise attack by a powerful Japanese naval force lurking in the area.

As the lead ship in a United States-Australian Navy screening force, Canberra received the full force of the Japanese barrage.

The screening force was covering the landings of United States marines on Guadalcanal, which had commenced two days’ before.

In less than two minutes, Canberra was hit more than twenty times, resulting in the loss of 84 of her crew, including Captain Frank Getting and injuring a further 109.

Captain Getting had only assumed command of Canberra two months before.

In the proudest traditions of the Royal Australian Navy, he remained steadfast on the bridge, refusing medical attention, and passed away later that day en route to Noumea.

It having been decided that there was not enough time to repair Canberra, she was scuttled and slipped beneath the waves at about 8.00 am.

She lies about 760 metres below us.

She remains the largest Australian warship ever lost in battle.

We are grateful to be joined by so many of you this morning to reflect on the events of that day 75 years ago and to honour the service of those who lost their lives fighting to protect their country, their loved ones and their comrades.

I would like to acknowledge, in particular, Australians and their families who have special links to the Guadalcanal campaign: Mr Bill Quinn, who has once again travelled from Australia to be with us today.

I met Bill on this day last year.

Bill fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal, serving aboard HMAS Australia.

He had many friends serving in Canberra at the time.

Mrs Janette Wong and her husband Dr Fred Wong.

Janette is the daughter of HMAS Canberra’s Chief Engineer, Douglas Hazelton, whose parents were married on Tulagi in 1903 where his father had a trading business.

Douglas died during the Battle of Savo Island.

Mrs Julie Webb and her husband Barry Webb.

Julie is the niece of HMAS Canberra’s Regulating Chief Petty Officer Alfred Connors.

Mr Graeme Day and his wife Mrs Carmel Day.

Graeme’s family in Ballarat was entrusted with the Roosevelt bible of Marine George Bodman of Mississippi, which he returned to Major-General Smith on Monday.

John and I also remember our dear friend Aubrey King, who was also in the Australia during the illfated battle.

We are also particularly honoured that Prime Minister Sogavare could be with us today.

We remember with great pride and gratitude the crucial role of Solomon Islanders working alongside Australians, Americans and other nationalities as part of the Coastwatcher intelligence network throughout these islands.

As Australian Coastwatcher John Keenan later recalled, “Without local help I don’t know what we would have done. We wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes.”

Such was Canberra’s distinction and the strength of the Australian-US alliance during the war, that the US Navy named a new cruiser after her, on the direct instructions of then President Franklin Roosevelt.

USS Canberra remains to this day the only US navy ship named after a foreign ship or a foreign capital city.

Its name has also been passed on to the new HMAS Canberra, commissioned in 2014, which is the largest ship ever built for the Royal Australian Navy and is building on the Pacific legacy of its predecessor.

Canberra and its crew played a significant role delivering humanitarian supplies and making crucial repairs following the devastating impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston on Fiji last year.

Australia is proud to have been able to call on Canberra and her highly-skilled crew to help a Pacific neighbour in need.

Canberra is continuing to ensure our region remains peaceful and prosperous.

Only two weeks ago, Canberra took part in the biennial military training exercise TALISMAN SABRE which involved over 30,000 Australian and US Defence personnel.

Our bilateral defence cooperation with Solomon Islands remains strong and continues to expand into new areas.

In October this year, the Australian Defence Force will conduct a new training exercise with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, with a focus on outer-island law enforcement and humanitarian and disaster relief activities.

The exercise is named Exercise COASTWATCHERS, in honour of the legacy of the bilateral security cooperation that began 75 years ago and still endures today.

So on behalf of the Australian Government, on such a significant historical occasion and in honour of allies past and present, I welcome all of you to today’s ceremony in remembrance of the first HMAS Canberra.

We gather today to remember:

  • the lives lost;
  • the many injured;
  • the sacrifices made during the pivotal Guadalcanal campaign and throughout the Pacific war;
  • and the hard-fought legacy of freedom and democracy which all of us continue to enjoy to this day.

Thank you tumas.