Leading Seaman Sean Hickey R.A.N. played the haunting sounds of The Last Post across the windswept shores of Rivoli Bay as a tragic wartime anniversary was observed by a gathering of 80 at Beachport last week.
Royal Australian Navy Sailors Able Seamen Thomas William Todd (aged 30) and William Leonard Edward Danswan (33) were killed at the Surf Beach while dismantling an enemy sea mine during World War II. The two men died 80 years ago on July 14, 1941 and were the first victims of enemy action on Australian soil.
The Beachport National Trust erected a memorial lookout at Surf Beach in 1974 and it was upgraded a few years ago by the Lions Club of Beachport and Rivoli Bay. The public commemorative service was arranged by the RSL Millicent and Robe sub-branches at a request made five weeks ago by members of the Todd family.
A five-member Royal Australian Navy contingent from Adelaide was headed by senior South Australian officer Commander Alistair Cooper. Federal, State and Local Government representatives were in attendance in the form of member for Barker Tony Pasin, Member for MacKillop Nick McBride and Wattle Range Mayor Des Noll.
Among the large ex-service contingent were retired Mount Gambier naval officers Commander Sandy Coulson and Commander Peter Coulson. Millicent WWII naval veteran Fred Ellis was also present to honour the fallen sailors. The 94-year-old said he was determined to attend the service after reading about it in The SE Voice.
He said he had an affinity with the pair as his war service had been aboard a mine-sweeping ship. It was charged with removal of the Japanese explosive devices from the seas around the Solomon Islands following the cessation of hostilities. Mr Ellis described the service as a “wonderful tribute”.
“I enlisted in Adelaide at HMAS Torrens,” Mr Ellis said. “Our training was in the southern waters between Warrnambool and Thistle Island. “When we went minesweeping, we had a flotilla of 12 or 13 ships. “I was the only one on board with a camera and I still have those photographs.”
Among the other attendees were three local men whose late fathers had played key roles in the events of 1941. Michael Bleby is the son of then Millicent Anglican parish priest Father John Bleby who conducted the burial service for Able Seaman Todd at the Beachport cemetery. Dave Stehbens (son of Maurice Stehbens) and Frank Corigliano Junior (son of Frank Corigliano Senior) recalled how their fishermen fathers had towed the floating mine to shore to allow it to be detonated.
The service had many of the elements of an Anzac Day commemoration including the Ode of Remembrance, singing of the national anthem and laying of memorial wreaths. Retired minister and Millicent RSL chaplain Pastor Paul Hales read from scripture and offered prayers.
Commander Cooper said the mine demolition party had the twin tasks of protecting the people of Beachport and working out the functioning of the mine. “Their work was crucial, essential and important to Australia,” Commander Cooper said. Debra Filippone, granddaughter of Able Seaman Todd, spoke on behalf of her family. Earlier in the day, the Todd family members had inspected the new wartime display featuring the mine explosion at the Beachport National Trust Museum.