The supreme sacrifice during wartime of two Royal Australian Navy sailors will be commemorated with a public event at Beachport on July 14. It will be held at 2pm at the lookout at the Beachport Surf Beach which is dedicated to the memory of Able Seamen Thomas William Todd (aged 30) and William Leonard Edward Danswan (33) who were killed nearby while dismantling an enemy sea mine during World War Two.
The two men died on 80 years ago on July 14, 1941 and were the first victims of enemy action on Australian soil. The Beachport National Trust erected the memorial in 1971 and it was upgraded a few years ago by the Lions Club of Beachport and Rivoli Bay. The service is being run jointly by the RSL Millicent and Robe sub-branches.
Millicent RSL president Chris Mathias said it would be a significant community event. “In attendance will be members of the families of the deceased sailors, a Royal Australian Navy contingent and Federal, State and Local Government representatives,” Mr Mathias said.
The circumstances about the enemy mine have become part of Beachport folklore over the past eight decades. The German Navy had laid mines in Australian waters during the war and one came into Rivoli Bay. A Beachport fisherman had towed the mine back to his home port near the foot of the jetty.
It was decided the mine should be taken across the bay to the Beachport Surf Beach to be dismantled. A demolition party was summoned from Adelaide and it comprised Lieutenant Commander Arthur MacKenzie Greening (aged 57) and the two sailors.
A demolition charge was attached and connected by 1km of cable to ensure everyone was a safe distance away and sheltered by the foreshore sand dunes. The charge did not go off as expected and the three sailors returned to the scene. Two of them were only a few metres away when the unexpected explosion occurred.
The officer escaped serious injury but the two able-seamen died of their injuries a short time later. According to contemporary reports, the explosion was heard at Rendelsham and the shock wave smashed windows in many of the buildings in Beachport.
One of the burials was conducted at the Beachport cemetery by then Millicent Anglican parish priest Father John Bleby (now deceased). His son is Millicent resident Michael Bleby OAM and he intends to be present at the July 14 service. “I knew that my father conducted a burial service, but cannot recall him speaking about it in any detail,” Mr Bleby said.
“He did however talk about delivering telegrams, at the request of the Postmaster, to local families of soldiers who had been killed in the war.”