17 May 2024

Family of fallen soldier to mark 81 years since historic Bass Point ship sinking

| Kellie O'Brien
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David Allan Bass Point memorial

David Allan at the Bass Point memorial for his uncle Sgt William Francis Allan. Photo: Supplied.

The nephew of a soldier who lost his life during a maritime military rescue mission at Bass Point during Shellharbour’s most tragic shipping incident will attend the 81st anniversary commemorative ceremony on Sunday (19 May).

David Allan, from Cowra, is the nephew of Sgt William Francis Allan, one of the four soldiers who lost their lives in the rescue effort and one of two whose bodies were never recovered.

On 16 May, 1943, the US military ship SS Cities Service Boston hit a reef during a violent storm and was run aground at Bass Point to avoid sinking, but left 62 men on board stranded.

Thirty-five soldiers from the 6th Australian Machine Gun Battalion (AIF), stationed in nearby Dapto, came to their aid.

In the final stages of the rescue effort, a large wave washed 10 of the rescuers off the rocks, with six clambering back up to safety.

The remaining four – Allan, Pte Geoffrey William Pitt, Pte Raymond John Snell and Pte Bruce Howard Simmons – lost their lives.

David’s daughter Katie Hochbaum from Sydney, whose middle name Frances was in honour of her great uncle, said she attended last year’s ceremony with her father for the first time due to the family previously not being aware of it.

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“My younger brother, who is named William after him, always goes down there on Anzac Day,” she said.

“He’s got three little girls and they always draw some poppies and colour them in and pop them on the Bass Point memorial each Anzac Day.

“He’s been doing that for a few years now and he saw something when he was down there and that’s how we found out about the ceremony.”

She said as children they were always told about the story of their great uncle and always remembered him each Anzac Day and visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra to put poppies next to his name.

“But we never knew about this ceremony at Bass Point that’s been happening,” she said.

The service takes place each year at a memorial that was unveiled on the northern side of Bass Point in 1968 to honour the four lives lost.

“I grew up in Cowra as well, but if we went for a holiday on the South Coast, we’d always go and visit the monument,” she said.

After last year’s ceremony, Katie and her dad met with the 6 Machine Gun Battalion Association, where historian John Campbell was amazed by all the stories coming to light after writing a book about the machine gunners 17 years earlier.

“We were in shock at how excited they were to see us, because we’ve been searching for information on it for years,” she said.

“We had no idea that he’d been honoured in such a way for so many years without us knowing.

“We were excited to know that but also sad it was the first time we’d been there and that these people had been searching for us and couldn’t find us.”

At Bass Point last year, Katie wore the US Soldiers Medal the four next of kin – three mothers and one widow – received from the US Consul-General in Sydney in 1944.

This Sunday her brother William will wear the medal and be joined by his wife and three children; Katie, her husband and three children; and dad, David and mum, Joan.

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“It was given to my great-grandmother – so David’s grandmother Lillian – and that was awarded to her from the Americans,” she said.

“There was a special ceremony for that after he died.

“It wasn’t awarded to many Australians.”

Allan and Simmons are also remembered at the Memorial to the Missing in Rookwood in Sydney, which has the names of more than 700 men and women who served during World War II.

Katie visited a service there last year and will continue to do so each year.

“We had heard that his name had been put on a plaque there, but we hadn’t visited it, so I attended that last year.”

Sgt Allan is survived by three other nephews, Bill, Richard and Chris, who live in Queensland and are hoping to attend next year’s service.

Privates Pitt and Snell are buried at the Kembla Grange War Cemetery on Reddalls Road.

The service will be at Bass Point Reserve on Sunday (19 May) at 11 am with Australia’s Federation Guard mounting a Catafalque Party as part of the ceremony. A display is also set up in the Shellharbour Civic Centre.

Original Article published by Kellie O’Brien on Region Illawarra.

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