Two men believed to have been the first service personnel killed on Australian soil as a result of enemy action during World War II have been remembered.
CAPTION: Commanding Officer Navy Headquarters – South Australia Commander Alastair Cooper with the granddaughters of Thomas Todd, Debra Filippona, left, and Michelle Bitmead at the memorial service. Story by Leading Seaman Jonathan Rendell.
A memorial service was held on July 16 at Beachport for Royal Australian Navy able seamen Thomas W Todd and William E L Danswan, who were killed on July 14, 1941, near the South Australian town when a sea mine exploded while they were attempting to render it safe.
The mine had broken free from an enemy-laid field and was spotted about 12km off the coast of Beachport.
It was brought ashore for inspection by the two sailors and their officer-in-charge, Lieutenant Commander Arthur Greening, with help from the crews of four fishing boats.
After the decision was made to destroy the mine, it was towed to a stretch of beach away from the town and the Navy three-man Rendering Mines Safe team began the demolition process.
Tragically, although 800m of demolition cable had been laid from the mine, the demolition charge exploded prematurely, with the two able seamen metres from the mine.
Both men were killed. Lieutenant Commander Greening narrowly escaped the blast.
Eighty years on, the Robe and Millicent RSL Sub-Branches came together for the first time, supported by Navy Headquarters – South Australia, to commemorate the tragic loss of the two sailors.
The service was held at the Beachport Mine Memorial.
The granddaughters of Thomas Todd, Debra Filippona and Michelle Bitmead, addressed those in attendance.
“My father was only 18 months old when the explosion killed his father,” Mrs Filippona said.
She spoke of the challenges her grandfather’s death had presented for her family over decades, and of their pride in his sacrifice through service.
Commanding Officer Navy Headquarters – South Australia Commander Alastair Cooper also addressed those gathered.
“It was an honour to represent the Royal Australian Navy at the service,” Commander Cooper said.
He reflected on the importance of the men’s sacrifice.
“They were doing something that took courage in cold blood. They did it because it meant safety for the Beachport community,” he said.
“Their service had meaning, their action mattered, and that spirit of service and sacrifice is something we must seek to emulate.”