January 14

The search for two warships

ABC Television is to broadcast a progamme about an important aspect of Australian and British history, in which the prominent educationalist Mr. Rex Morgan AM MBE plays a significant role.  (Mr. Morgan is well known to many readers of this column for his consistent defence of our constitutional system).  The programme is the first episode in a new series, “SHIPWRECK DETECTIVE”, and is to be shown nationally on ABC TV on Thursday 18 January 2007 at 8.30 pm.   This episode tells the poignant story of the search for the two warships, HMS Hermes and HMAS Vampire, which were sunk by Japanese bombers on 9 April, 1942.  The South Asian theatre in the Second World War is quite often overlooked or underrated these days. There is almost an assumption that the Japanese limited their depredations to South East Asia.   Australians would do well to learn about and to remember those who served there.  

Mr. Morgan is a pre-eminent authority on the subject of the ABC progamme.  His book, The Hermes Adventure, was based on the expedition he led in 1962 during which he found HMS Hermes on the bottom of the Bay of Bengal.  There was a particular reason to make this a family expedition:  Mr. Morgan’s father, Charles, was the Royal Naval Intelligence officer who, with extraordinary sangfroid, actually took photographs as Hermes was sinking underneath him. Miraculously, both he – and the photos – survived.  So Mr. Morgan went to the Bay of Bengal with his father, his brother Ian, and his son Christopher.  Later, when his father died, Mr. Morgan fulfilled his request to have his ashes scattered over the wreck. And in  a moving ceremony, full naval honours were provided by the Sri Lankan Navy.

The episode contains scenes from, and follows the pattern set in a short documentary film Mr. Morgan had made about the expedition.  At that time, he did not have the advantages offered by modern technology, which have made it possible for a diving team to stay on the bottom for an hour at a time. At the time of Mr. Morgan’s expedition, they could only stay there for seven minutes – if they were lucky.  The programme also shows a reunion in Colombo of two survivors from each ship.  Mr. Morgan was there –he was the President of the HMAS Hermes Association for many years.

This is an important piece of Australian history, to which Mr. Morgan has made a significant contribution.  It is precisely the sort of programme young Australians and immigrants should see in order to appreciate and to understand the values of this nation, and of the people who fought to defend them in our moment of greatest peril.


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