Arthur John Curtin, 1918-2006

Today, Friday the 30th. of June 2006, I was invited to speak at the funeral service for Arthur Curtin, he served with me in both Canberra and Shropshire, and served for many years on my Committee of HMAS Canberra/ HMAS Shropshire Association.

Here is my eulogy for Arthur:

Arthur John Curtin, 1918-2006.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to pay our respects, and offer a tribute to Arthur John Curtin, for his war service in the Royal Australian Navy, as a husband and a father.

But firstly, as President of HMAS Canberra/ HMAS Shropshire Association in Victoria, may I, on behalf of my Committee and all members, offer our sympathy to all the members of Arthur's family on his death. Arthur as a member of my Committee, gave us a long and valued service, for which we are all most grateful.

Arthur joined the RAN at HMAS Lonsdale at Port Melbourne, signing on a Stoker in 1941. In fact, his first draft was to the light, 6 inch gunned cruiser HMAS Sydney, but before he could join her, his car was stolen, and Arthur was called to appear in court, this caused him to luckily miss the ship. As you all know, she fell victim to the German Armed Raider Kormoran in the Indian Ocean in November 1940, to be lost with all of her 645 crew members. Sometimes It is better to be lucky than rich.

Arthur now went off to join the 8 inch cruiser HMAS Canberra, to be on board in Sydney Harbour when the Japanese Midget Submarines attacked over the night of 31st. of May- 1st. of June in 1942.

I too was in Canberra as a Sub Lieutenant, what a chaotic night that was, we were at No. 1 buoy in Farm Cove, and like USS Chicago, were fortunate not to be hit by a torpedo. The only casualty, the old accommodation ferry HMAS Kuttabul alongside at Garden Island. She was blown up when a torpedo struck the wall, and 23 sailors died.

On the 9th. of August 1942, Canberra was involved in the Battle of Savo Island against a Japanese force of 7 cruisers and a single destroyer, we were sunk alongside three US heavy cruisers, Quincy, Astoria and Vincennes, we lost 84 shipmates with another 110 wounded, but our US friends had a 1,000 sailors killed on that fateful night.

One more Arthur had a lucky escape, as did I, as a Stoker his action station would have been deep in the bowels of the ship, not at all good. I hated not being able to see what was going on in any action, much worse to be cooped up and battened down below decks like Arthur.

On his survivors leave after the loss of Canberra, Arthur and Elsie were married on the 29th.of August 1942, they were much braver than me, I waited until December 1945 after the war was over to take that step. So like the Navy, wait till someone is just married then send them off as far away as possible.

So Arthur was soon off on the long journey to Scotland to join HMAS Shropshire, a sister ship to Canberra, and gifted to the RAN by Winston Churchill to replace her.

This first draft crossed the Pacific by ship, traversed the US by train, and thence to make the perilous voyage across the dreaded North Atlantic, infested with German U-Boats, laying in wait to knock you off with a well aimed torpedo.

I had spent over a year in 1940-41 in that arena as a Midshipman, and it was an awful time, the weather rough, and the cold extreme. But Arthur's draft made it safely across to England, to commission the ship, and sail her home.

What a wonderful ship, manned by the RAN, Shropshire became, at her peak, some 1,280 Officers and Sailors manned her, in everything, as we marched northwards across the Pacific to Tokyo, but never to lose a single man to enemy action.

New Guinea, Leyte Gulf, where the dreaded Kamikaze made its first appearance, and Australia was clobbered by the first of 6 Kamikaze's to hit her.

At Manus, Braces, our Gunnery Officer made the best swap ever, two cases of duty free Scotch Whiskey ( probably worth only about $12 in today's money ) for 13, single 40mm Bofor AA guns, they were then mounted on B and X turrets, and all over the upper deck. Without any doubt at all, they saved us from Australia's fate at the Lingayen Gulf landings, and overall we despatched some 15 Japanese aircraft.

Finally Borneo, and on to Tokyo for the Japanese Surrender on Sunday the 2nd. of September. What a wonderful day for us all, we had survived, and would soon go home.

Arthur finished his time in the RAN, in Fairmiles in the New Guinea area, and I believe it was here that he honed his fishing skills from the stern of such craft, by using well aimed hand grenades, beats a simple hand line and hook every time.

In April 1946, Arthur left the Navy where he had joined it, at HMAS Lonsdale. Post war he plied his trade as a bootmaker at both Chelsea, and later when the family moved to Reservoir, in that area. Arthur and Elsie raised their family of a boy and three girls, and then only last September, Arthur lost his life long partner Elsie.

Over the years, Arthur followed North Melbourne, the old Shinboners in the AFL, and he was a member of Northcote RSL.

Arthur and Elsie enjoyed travel in Australia, pulling their caravan as far as the Northern Territory, its a difficult task to take the travel bug out of the old Sailor!

Finally Arthur died aged 88, we salute you Arthur John Curtin, for your service to your country, in the Royal Australian Navy, your long life with Elsie, and as a fine family man. We all sadly bid you FAREWELL!

Thank you all for your attendance here today, and your attention.

Arthur John Curtin, 1918-2006


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