Lutonian in the Australian Navy

Able Seaman J. H. Green, a son of Mrs Green of the Cranbourne Boarding Establishment, Brook Street, Luton, has sent home a letter giving a very interesting description of some of the work the Australian Navy has been doing since war broke out.

He writes: "At present I must inform you that I am none the worse for this war. Our first spasm was at Herbertshowe [Herbertshöhe], Rabaul, New Britain [in Papua New Guinea], when we landed a Naval Brigade (me included) with a 12-pounder field gun. Stormed the place, took everything before us, losing five killed and about a dozen wounded. Thankful to say, I and everyone else belonging to HMAS Sydney escaped without a scratch. The casualties were those that landed belonging to the Naval Reserves and Expeditionary Force - about 1,000 landed all told.

HMAS Sydney steaming for Rabaul, 1914Besides capturing Herbertshowe, Rabaul and Simpson Haven, we captured and blew up two wireless stations, Paparatapa and Toma. All this lasted only from 11th September to the 15th September when the Governor surrendered everything. Altogether we had about 100 prisoners.

"After that the Naval Brigade belonging to the Sydney returned on board and we were ordered to sea to capture about a dozen small trading ships, which we did, and sent them into Rabaul for the Admiral to decide what was to be done with them.

That night one of our submarines, AE 1, want out patrolling and has not been heard of since, so all hands have perished. She is probably sunk somewhere within 30 miles radius of New Britain.

"Then we were ordered to Sydney to escort 43 troop ships to Aden. Then we went in search of two German gunboats - Comet and Planet - which were doing damage around the Caroline Islands. Anyhow, we didn't some across them, but since then the Comet belongs to us, and it is believed the Japanese sank the Planet.

"We went back to Rabaul and coaled, taking upper deck cargoes of coal and proceeded to a place about 1,800 miles from Rabaul, called Angaur, where we landed a small party and broke up the wireless station. Then back we came again to Rabaul, searching lots of islands etc on our way, and sinking a small schooner which would not heave to when ordered but tried to make more sail and run, which was, of course, very silly, because besides carrying powerful guns we can travel at top speed a good 28 knots. There is not a ship anywhere around the Pacific, bar HMAS Australia, that could run away from us. Of course, that does not include our three destroyers.

"By the way, before all this Rabaul turn out we went to a place, Rossel Island, and sneaked a collier bound for Mantia full of coal, coaled ship, so did the Melbourne, each taking a thousand tons. Then we sent her back to Newcastle [New South Wales] to fill up and stop there under escort of a destroyer.

"Also we went to Port Moresby [in Papua New Guinea] and landed all useless gear that was not wanted for fighting purposes, including four boats and accommodation ladders - that's where we cleared the ship for real battle - helping ourselves to an oil tank there, then shoved off at midnight - Sydney and three destroyers cleared off out at 20 knots showing no lights.

"Now I will go back to where I left off at Rabaul. We captured a ship full of frozen mutton and beef, emptied her in our store ship, all lovely meat for nothing. Took part of her engines out and left her useless at Rabaul. Then all the Fleet left, convoy and all and proceeded to search the Southern Seas.

"The Japanese fleet arrived at ----- (name censored) two days after we left. Well this is a very rough outline of what has happened since the war started out here. Of, the Australia and Melbourne went and captured Samoa while we and three destroyers were sweeping the Pacific looking for the Scharnhorst, but up to the present we haven't seen her, although we know she went to a French port called Tiati and bombarded it, but did very little damage. Now the Australia and a French cruiser have gone out in search of her, but where I do not know.

The Sydney had orders to proceed to Sydney at once last Saturday, and last Thursday they bundled me on board this ship as butcher and Captain of the Hold. I am the only blue-jacket aboard.

"Anyhow, I have got a very good job. Nothing to do hardly, not night and day watches, plenty of good fresh food, nice little cabin all to myself and live with the ship's officers. Only me and a Chief Ship's Steward aboard here belonging to the Navy, and I never see him only at meal times after about 7 o'clock in the morning.

"At about 7 o'clock in the morning I have finished until next morning 6-7 o'clock, so you can guess I have at last got a jolly good job which will last me as long as the war does. I suppose until I came aboard here I never knew what it was to have a night's rest since the war broke out, as we were always at our guns half asleep and half awake, ready for any emergency, besides having an empty tummy. But now - Oh, lovely full tummy, plenty of sleep, all day and all night to myself, half-an-hour out of 24 I work now, so I am in for a good spell, aren't I?"

Able Seaman Green admitted that he had committed two murders that he knew of during the war. "One I shot stone dead in cold blood. I was put sentry on a captain or lieutenant of the German Army at Herbertshowe. After searching him, taking away his firearms, left him to me when he picked up a kind of big club and would in a jiffy have bashed my brains out had I not been looking. He came for me with a mad rush, and without hesitation I blew his brains out. My God, what a ghastly sight when I saw what I had done with my own hands. It made me feel sick.

"The other fellow I only wounded, but he died in a couple of hours. He was up in a tree waiting to put a kind of dart in me when I got near enough, but by luck I saw him before I had gone too near and put a bullet in his rib from a rifle. The first one I killed was with a revolver.

"Of course, I shot at a good many, but they are the only two I know who actually fell from my firing. I should never have thought I could have blown a fellow's head off in cold blood, but, my word, in these times you know it's a matter of his life or your own, and you could do anything."

The writer of this letter was formerly in the British Navy. He purchased his discharge, married a young lady from this town, and joined the Australian Navy about two years ago. He is a descendent of a family who have followed the sea for generations. His father served in the Navy, his grandfathers in the mercantile marine, and great-grandfathers in King George III's Navy, and beyond for generations.

[The article did not name Able Seaman Green's new ship or explain its role].


[Source: The Luton News, February 11th, 1915]


[Source: Picture of HMAS Sydney, Australian War Memorial Collection, AWM EN0194]