Bombed, torpedoed and wanting remembrance

IN Joe Miller’s 100 years he’s escaped death on a number of occasions but before he dies he wants to be sure the efforts of his fellow merchant seamen are remembered.

In the 1930s, the Callala Beach resident worked on passenger and cargo ships up and down the east coast of Australia.

Through World War II many of those ships and their crew were used to transport weapons, personnel, fuel and other supplies.

As a seaman he was aboard ships that were bombed by aircraft, hunted by submarines and sunk by torpedoes.

The Coast Farmer was one of those ships and after being torpedoed it sunk about 20 nautical miles off Ulladulla in 1942.

Mr Miller remembered events of that time like they happened yesterday.

“I was asleep when two torpedos hit the ship,” he said.

“The shockwave when that happens tends to jam things up. The door to the compartment I was in would not open, I was trapped,” he said.

“Luckily for me, a much larger sailor than me on the other side was able to force the door open.”

Mr Miller, still in his pyjamas, was the second last person off the ship. He jumped for a lifeboat as it was being lowered.

“It was 2.05am and the ship went down in about eight minutes,” he said.

Strong winds then took the men about 60 nautical miles further out to sea.

“We were spotted by a search plane on its last run.” 

“I learned never to wear pyjamas to bed after that,” he said.

Two weeks later he signed up on a ship called the Admiral Halsted, which followed the US Army advance through the Pacific and took part in five invasions.

It was experiences and sacrifices like these he hoped would be remembered by the nation.

The federal government and the Australian War Memorial have events and displays dedicated to the Merchant Navy.  

In 2008 the Governor-General Quentin Bryce announced September 3 was to become Merchant Navy Day in recognition of the merchant seamen who served Australia in wartime.

The Australian War Memorial also acknowledges the service and sacrifice of Merchant Navy sailors through a number of displays.

A memorial in the western courtyard of the AWM commemorates Australian merchant seamen who manned ships in all ports of the world during the First and Second World wars.

A spokesman from the memorial said the support these men provided was vital to the success of the war effort. 

“Merchant ships carried vital supplies and troops, but were vulnerable to enemy attack because they were generally slow, poorly armed and often loaded with dangerous cargoes,” he said.

“The memorial also lists the names of merchant seamen who died, those who died serving with the Merchant Navy are also listed in the Commemorative Roll.

“The memorial also collects material that relates to the wartime experiences of Australians including merchant 

seamen.”

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