Edward Chapman's story

Edward Chapman had been a member of the sea cadets before joining the navy as a 16 year old. He spent 6 months training at the Flinders Naval Depot in Victoria.

After training, Edward was drafted back to Queensland where he participated in the government's requisition scheme of private yachts and boats to form up a river and coastal protection flotilla.

About 12 months later, Edward was drafted to a river patrol boat, travelling up and down the Queensland coast inside the Great Barrier Reef looking for enemy submarines. He recalls the boat being armed with a 'Vickers machine gun and two Thompson machine guns, a couple of hand grenades' and 'two enormous depth charges', which were later swapped for smaller versions.

On one occasion, Edward was called to investigate the presence of an enemy submarine near Fraser Island. The submarine was not found although evidence of its presence was discovered.

Edward was stationed at Bribie Island when the hospital ship Centaur was sunk by a Japanese submarine. He recalled hearing the explosion in the early hours but the ship he was on was debarred from being sent out to investigate because it was too small and not armed heavily enough.

Edward was in Brisbane when the war ended. He remembered the wild celebrations. He was discharged from HMAS Moreton.

Second World War veteran (RAN)



I was working for the Queensland Royal Aero Club as a cleaner, cleaning the aircraft and they mentioned it.

It was another twelve months before I … I was only sixteen at the time and I joined the navy in May 1941…

Well, why I joined the navy, I belonged to the sea cadets which had quarters down at Petrie Point and I was in that for a few years and it was disbanded with the outbreak of war so I eventually joined up to the navy because I liked the navy and I joined up in May.

I think it was the 6th May 1941 and I was transferred down to Flinders Naval Depot and I was there for six months.

River patrol

After six months the navy was taking over all…a lot of private yachts and boats to form upriver protection and a lot of us were drafted back to our state around the Queensland coast picking up boats and bringing them back to Brisbane and I did that for about twelve months and then I was put on what they call the river patrol boats, chuffing up and down different rivers where there was other big boats in port.

All we had on was a Vickers machine gun and two Thompson machine guns, a couple of hand grenades but we had two enormous depth charges about that big like this big drum on the stern and some of the boats would do only about six knots. If we'd have dropped them over the side, we'd be up in heaven right now.

In the end when that Japanese submarine got into Sydney Harbour one of the river patrol boats dropped his depth charges and virtually nosedived them into the river, but they managed to keep her afloat, but it damaged the propellers and everything. That's when they decided to give us the small ones like a four-gallon paint tin. You used to pick it up and just drop it over the side.

We took over those private yachts. Some of them were big some of them small. I was lucky I was on one that was 60-foot long and we used to travel from Brisbane to Maryborough. Maryborough to Bundaberg and we'd return back. We'd be away a week at a time and lucky we never saw any Japanese submarines.

I was assigned to the Vickers machine gun. I was a quartermaster gunner. Used to blow the tin whistle.

We mainly travelled up inside the Barrier Reef, the islands on our right side, the mainland on our left. We'd do a week patrolling and at night-time we needed to find a little lagoon and anchor in there for the night and sail out next morning because they were frightened. There was no lights and any big ship coming along wouldn't see us, they'd go right over the top of us. There was 500 of those ships the navy had taken over.

Carrier pigeons

We had no radio communications. We had no dinghies or that. The only thing we had on board was the Mae West life jackets if anything happened.

And for communications we had carrier pigeons we took to sea every time we went out and they came to our rescue one night at Hervey Bay. We broke down. The skipper just got two of the pigeons out, put messages on them and two hours later there was the harbour master marine boat from Maryborough came and towed us back to port.

People laugh when you tell them you had carrier pigeons for communications.

A Japanese submarine?

When I was situated at Maryborough, the army was on the south side of the island, the commando camp, the air force was on the other end of Fraser Island and we used to supply them with some stores and there was a local fisherman.

He was a German national. He was born and bred in Australia and he was the local fisherman and he reported it to the harbour's marine … that he had spotted a Japanese submarine.

They sent us out and all we found was the creek where they used to park the submarine. We never saw a submarine just a little creek where you could see where it had rested on the bottom.

Sinking of the Centaur

When the Centaur sunk, we were at Bribie Island. We had a small base there where the old Cooper jetty was, and they wouldn't let us go because we were too small and wasn't armed enough. That's the only part I can tell you.

We heard the explosion and that was it…We felt very upset because we didn't know what was going on and it wasn't until a couple of days we were told what happened but we were really upset about it.

All those people being lost. You could say they were virtually your mates, but they were civilian crews on them.

Stitches in the leg

The river class boats, I was on them for about two years on and off. I was on for about 12 months. Then I was at HMAS Moreton for a while and then I went back, I went the second time and that's when I did me knee. The ship rolled. I rolled. Ended up down below decks with my leg ripped open.

They got another ship that was coming into Brisbane, put me on that and I went into HMAS Moreton for a couple of weeks until they fixed it. The doctor we had, Dr Cameron, he knew I was there and he was about to go home and someone said, "You've got a patient in there waiting to get his leg stitched up." I never had any injection or anything. He just got the two pieces together and stitched it together and stitched it up like he was fixing a hole in a pair of pants.

HMAS Moreton

HMAS Moreton was a depot at the North Quay there where the morgue was just near us. North Quay. The navy had the big base there. It had been there since the First World War.

They extended it by putting a few mobile places there for the crews to sleep. Mainly you were there waiting to be transferred to a ship.

I used to stick my hand up to be a volunteer for everything but never got far.

A typical day

A typical day would be you go and have breakfast. Breakfast was whoever they allocated the job and sometimes you either got cold baked beans on toast or spaghetti on toast and when your main meal came along it would be tins of bully beef which was tinned stew and if somebody was too lazy to open the can and warm stuff up, you got it cold.

So that's how it was but we were lucky. One ship I was on we got a fellow named…who was a pastry cook by trade and we lived like kings until the commanding officer of the establishment we were attached to found out we had this pastry cook. He was drafted off the ship in a hurry. He ended up at the commanding officer's quarters.

End of war celebrations

There was big celebration in Brisbane when the war was over. Down in Queen Street you couldn't move. Everybody was dancing and shaking.

You had to hold on to everything, keep your hat on or they'd pull it off you and take it away.

I joined in the fun carrying on like an idiot but there was nothing bad about it. Everybody was so happy the war was over.

Anzac Day

Yes, I remember Anzac Day. Since the day I got discharged I used to march with my dad. Even before I joined the navy as a kid, he used to take us into town and I and my brother would march with him down Queen Street and we did that right up to the outbreak of war.

I joined up. My brother couldn't get in because he had bowel troubles, so he got a job with a heavy lift specialist taking the engines out of boats, so he had a permanent job, but Anzac Day is a day of remembrance.

I remember all my old mates. A lot of them have gone but you have a lot of fun, talk about things you'd done and carrying on. Get around the piano at the RSL and sing your lungs out.

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Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Edward Chapman's story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 20 June 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/oral-histories/edward-chapmans-story
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