Stephen St George, Able Seaman, suvived sinking of Canberra

May 08, 2010
  Subject: Canberra

Hello Mac,

I came across this weblog accidentally but am thrilled to find a link to my father's past. He was a survivor of HMAS Canberra and his name was Stephen St George....an able seaman I believe. Like so many others, the war tore our family apart. I was a month old when the Canberra was sunk and in retrospect I believe my father was deeply traumatised by the experience. He severed all ties with my brother and myself after our parents separated in 1947 and I was in my thirties before we re-established a shaky relationship. He died in 1987 but his mind was constantly going back to those events, even in the last moments of his life. Any info you have would be received gratefully.

Anne St George


Yes your Father was an Able Seaman in Canberra when we were sunk.

I knew him quite well.

Here is an extract from Alan Payne's book: " HMAS Canberra" published by the Naval Historical Society of
Australia in 1973, and I quote:

" One of the best accounts of the action was by Able Seaman Stephen St.George, who ended his account as follows:

We watched the exploding ammunition for a while, then the ship began to list more heavily, I went over the side, swam to a raft and made my way along the ship's side to the remainder of the rafts, which were hopelessly entangled, cut all the securing ropes and shoved them clear. Noticed BLUE ( a US destroyer, my note ) coming up then, so I paddled clear and boarded her from the outboard side.

In a long letter dated May 1973, Stephen St. George casually blew the Board of Inquiry's " No torpedo claim " sky  high, but at the same time wrongly assumed that everyone knew that Canberra had in fact been torpedoed.

Why St. George did not record the fact in his report is difficult to understand. " Now I did not bother to include it in my action report ( all on board were told to write their action report on what they saw and remembered, my note ) but I did mention, in the last few lines that I had gone over the side ( the bows in fact ) and cleared the entangled rafts. In doing so, I circled the ship. What I saw was later confirmed when I boarded Blue and standing next to the Chief Buffer ( Chief Bosun's Mate, Petty Officer Bevern, my note ) who was in tears, and saying " We could save her- we could tow her out ". I took note again as Blue leaving our port side cleared our bows and turned 90 degrees to starboard giving me a clear view of Canberra's starboard side.

And what I saw was a hole- made by torpedoes and big enough to to drive a loco throughy on our starboard ( right hand side of the ship, my note ) side amidship. But, having been around the ship I noticed all shells had arrived from the Port side......"

My note, this was crucial evidence that the torpedo hit had not come from the Japanese attacking force of 7 cruisers + 1 destroyer, later, Bruce Loxton ( a Midshipman at the time ) in his book " The Shame of Savo " went on to prove beyond any doubt that our starboard destroyer escort USS Bagley, was the culprit in firing the torpedo that hit Canberra on her starboard side.

In a recent letter Captain Walsh ( our Executive Commander in Canberra when we were sunk, my note ) confirmed that St.George did go over the side and gave his views on why he also believes that Canberra was torpedoed. " Then amongst the continuing explosions of shell hits, there was a bigger one with a big thud. A solid column of water illuminated by the flames rose just abaft the torpedo tube ( situated amidships on Canberra's upper deck, on both port and starboard sides, my note ) space and I remember wishing it would fall inboard and help with the fire fighting.

As I went to the bridge ( Walsh was second in command, and at that time Captain Getting was mortally wounded, my note ) I was informed that A.B. St.George was " swimming over the side " - I think by the Chief Bosun's Mate, Petty Officer Bevern. Bevern was the Chief Buffer as both a Petty Officer and Chief Petty Officer, and a most admirable fellow too."

You will see I have included some of my own comments, and noted them when I have done so.

Anne, you may well be aware of all of this, and I am sorry if I have wasted your time.

Although the sinking of Canberra was over 67 years ago, it is still fresh in my memory, if you go to this URL:
H.M.A.S. Canberra and the Battle of Savo Island you can read my Monograph on the Loss of Canberra at Savo.

It was lovely to hear from you, and your Father was held in high esteem in our ship.

Best regards and wishes,

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