Nosey Parker: From the 1944 archives | HMAS Pirie

Monday morning, September 4, 1944

Exploits of the HMAS Pirie

Valuable work in the New Guinea area

Gallant little ship fought off Japanese bombers

It is nearly two years since HMAS Pirie, then a brand new corvette, visited this port.

Since then, the little vessel has given great service in the waters north of Australia.

In her first year of service she steamed 35,000 miles and on one occasion fought off a horde of enemy bombers.

On the morning of Monday, October 12, 1942, HMAS Pirie visited the port for which she was named, secured alongside barrier north wharf.

The occasion was historic, for only two days previously the ship had been commissioned at Whyalla where she had been built by Broken Hill Proprietary Company LTD.

War-time security measures unfortunately precluded any publication of the fact that the ship would be visiting the town, but official calls were exchanged between Lieut-Commander C.F Mills R.A.N (commanding officer) and Mayor of Port Pirie Mr W.H Threadgold.

Thirty-five members of the ship's company were entertained at lunch put on by the Thumps-Up Committee.

Since that date, HMAS Pirie has a good account of herself.

By January 1943, she was in the north, accepting as part of her daily routine air alerts, submarine reports and the anxious work of convoying ships through dangerous waters.

Six months to the day after commissioning, HMAS Pirie had her baptism of fire.

She was escorting a British merchant ship along the coast of New Guinea when Japanese planes dive bombed and zeros swarmed overhead and was bombed by ships.

The merchant ship was hit and near-missed, and HMAS Pirie suffered several near-misses, and a direct hit on the bridge.

Four of her small crew were wounded, seven killed, but HMAS Pirie's guns continued to bark defiance until the raiders made off to their base.

HMAS Pirie shepherded her maimed charge to port and landed her wounded, then she went out to sea again, and as dusk fell the bodies of one officer and six men were committed to the deep while Chaplain-Capt F.F Bartrop, United States Army, read the burial service.

Chaplain Bartrop had been the senior United States officer aboard the merchant ship at the time of the attack, and at the earliest opportunity he visited HMAS Pirie to express gratitude for the ship that gave at the time of the attack.

Subsequently, he presented the ship with a brass plate to commemorate the action.

Whyalla is linked with this naval action.

Captain J Williamson, the Whyalla pilot who handled the ship during the builders' trials, was aboard at the time of the attack and when HMAS Pirie was repaired, subsequently her commanding officer was presented by the dockyard hands with the steel plate through which the fatal bomb had entered to the bridge.

The plate was later given by Lieut-Commanders Mills to the superintendent of Broken Hill Proprietary Dockyard at Whyalla as a tribute to the high quality of work put originally into the ship.

Repaired and once more about her lawful business, HMAS Pirie spent her first birthday at sea between New Guinea and the mainland.

Despite a spell in dock after her engagement with the Japanese planes, the vessel had steamed since commissioning more than 35,000 miles and had been underway 3590 hours.

To mark the occasion, the cooks made and presented to wardroom a special birthday cake iced and decorated, which in the words of the commanding officer, was much appreciated by all others.

HMAS Pirie's service has been mainly in the New Guinea area where incidentally, she has seen a gratifying increase in the volume of allied shipping, but she has many to bind her to her birth place.

There is the silk commissioning pendant, presented by the citizens of Port Pirie, a silver salver kept in a place of honour in the wardroom which was given by Mrs R.T Kleeman (wife of Broken Hill Proprietary superintendent at Whyalla) who had christened the ship at her launching, pictures for the wardroom, and sporting gear for the ship's company presented by Miss Nell Eley.

- Des Parker (photos supplied by Geoff Milhinch)