Tom Kirkham's story

In 1941, at 15 years of age, Tom Kirkham joined the Merchant Navy. His first posting was aboard HMT Aquitania carrying troops from Wellington in New Zealand to the Middle East, via Fremantle, Colombo and the Suez Canal, and returning with Italian prisoners of war. In November 1941, Aquitania picked up 26 survivors of the German ship Kormoran, which had recently engaged HMAS Sydney.

On his return to Australia, Tom joined the Thornleigh-Normanhurst RSL Sub-Branch in Sydney. He was possibly the youngest veteran ever to join the RSL.

After transporting Australian troops to New Guinea, Tom transferred to SS Ulysses and sailed for England via Auckland and Panama. After a collision with a tanker near the Panama Canal, Ulysses made for Newport in the United States for repairs but was torpedoed by a U-boat and sunk off Cape Hatteras on 11 April 1942.

Fortunately, all survived and were rescued within approximately 4.5 hours. Granted survivor's leave, Tom spent a memorable 2 weeks in New York, which included an Anzac Day dinner at the famous Waldorf Astoria hotel. Tom started a new posting on HMT Orcades in Nova Scotia and participated in four Atlantic convoys.

After a bout of pleurisy, he joined SS Sarpedon and later served on the Danish Prize Ship, Astoria, en route from Chile to Australia with a cargo of bulk nitrate. Tom recalled socialising with German sailors in the South American ports.

Tom's final postings took him to Japan to supply the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Kure and to the Philippines to collect US Army vehicles to be sent to Australia. He paid off in December 1947.

Last updated: 17 November 2022

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2022), Tom Kirkham's story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 3 October 2023,
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