Reluctant hero remembers

THIS weekend is a sombre occasion for at least one Tamworthian as he remembers the day his father was killed in the Australian Navy in 1942.

Korean War naval veteran John Gubbins will remember his dad, Able Seaman John J Gubbins, who died in the sinking of the HMAS Perth in the Battle of Sunda Strait in Java on March 1.

Able Seaman Gubbins served in World War II and was on the HMAS Perth in the Battle of Java Sea with British, US, Australian and Dutch navy ships.

“Singapore had fallen and the navy put up a good show against the Japanese in the Java Sea,” Mr Gubbins said.

“The Japanese navy was the strongest on the planet next to the British. The most senior officer was a Dutchman, who commanded the battle, but he had never fired a shot in anger.”

Mr Gubbins said the Australians “lost the battle horribly” and only 229 returned home from 682 crew onboard.

“They lost the battle against the Japanese and tried to get back to Australia,” he said.

“The HMAS Perth and USS Houston tried to get out between Java and the Sunda Strait, but there was no intelligence and they ran straight into a Japanese landing party and the invasion of Sumatra.”

Mr Gubbins was 14 years old when his father died.

When he tried to join the navy he was 14 and eight months and his mother wouldn’t sign the papers until World War II was over.

“She signed them when the war was over, but didn’t know that I’d be going to Korea five years later,” he said.

“I was 22 when I went. When I went into the navy they were building the second Perth, so I served on the second Perth because it was my father’s ship.

“The navy really is family. It (HMAS Perth) served in Vietnam, then they built the third Perth, which was an Anzac class.”

An Australian naval comrade of Mr Gubbins, Keith Arkinstall, has paid tribute to his friend, recounting how he saved a fellow sailor from icy waters during the Korean War.

Mr Arkinstall contacted The Leader because he felt it was important the community knew of Mr Gubbins’ war service.

Late in 1950 HMAS Bataan returned from an extended patrol of the Korean west coast and was anchored in Sasedo Harbour.

On this day, there were many sailors on shore leave and only the duty watch was aboard. The weather turned bad in the afternoon and the wind was bitterly cold.

The ship received word a typhoon warning was in place so it was to be prepared for sea and ready to leave at short notice.

A recall was dispatched ashore for all personnel on leave to return aboard immediately.

The officer of the day told the chief stoker that the motor cutter was to collect the crew members.

Mr Arkinstall said he “foolishly volunteered”to crew the boat as a driver “out of sheer boredom and personal ego”.

The crew gathered to get on board the boat, wearing their heavy duffle coats. When boarding the boat, the bowman miscalculated and fell into the icy waters, wearing his heavy coat and warm clothing.

Mr Arkinstall and the coxswain stopped the boat from hitting the bowman, who was struggling to keep afloat.

“Out of the blue” someone jumped into the freezing water to support the swimmer and other crew threw a life preserver to the two men in the water.

The rescuer was Tamworth’s John Gubbins, who helped the bowman to a scaling ladder and the crew pulled him aboard.

In 2000, when the then prime minister John Howard unveiled the Korean War Memorial, Mr Arkinstall reminisced about this incident with Mr Gubbins, who modestly replied: “I was a pretty strong swimmer back then, Keith.”

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