- Wright, Ken
- Biographies and personal histories, Naval Intelligence, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Being a man who loved New Guinea, Read was easily lured back into the Public Service as a Native Lands Commissioner/ Lands Titles Commissioner in Rabaul. He had a brief spell in Madang, about four months in Rabaul and 18 months in New Ireland prior to his second, and this time permanent, retirement in December 1976. Returning to Australia, he lived in Dandenong, also a suburb of Melbourne with his wife Gwen and his sister in law, Jess Davidson.
Even in retirement, Read’s life was never dull. Something was always going on.
Read was getting on in years and wanting to be closer to his only daughter Judy, moved to the city of Ballarat in Victoria in 1988 and lived comfortably with his faithful companion ‘Hawke’ an aging Australian terrier. In 1989 Read received another unexpected letter dated 13 September.
‘Dear Mr Read,
I am a Sister of Saint Joseph of Orange, California and I was in the group whom you kindly helped on the famous Nautilus submarine trip [1942 New Years Eve.] We were four Sisters from this area of California and now my three companions are in Heaven. Most of the Marist Missionary sisters are in the Eastern States and scattered around. You and all of the kind Coastwatchers certainly performed many good deeds and assisted so many people during those war years. I pray often for you and for all the Coastwatchers and the brave men of the South Pacific area. Your help and advice during those years was a wonderful gift to us all. The sisters here still ask about those years and they all join in sending you much gratitude and prayerful remembrances and for saving us from the enemy.
Sister M. Irene Alton.
God bless you and all Coastwatchers.
Sister Irene’s letter was referring to the USS submarine Nautilus which was tasked with the evacuation organised by Read of 29 assorted civilians and members of the American Marist religious order on Bougainville. Sister Irene was one of 14 sisters to be evacuated in the early morning of 31 December 1942. Before the Nautilus departed, Read’s party was given two accumulators for the teleradio and some personal firearms arranged by Lieutenant Commander Mackenzie at DNI headquarters and, quite unexpectedly, several packages of mixed stores and medicines. It was much later when the contents were examined ashore that they were surprised to find the packages were not official ones but personal gifts from the submarine’s crew. These were greatly appreciated.
During April 1992 Jack Read was very honoured to be invited, along with other surviving Coastwatchers, to a commemoration ceremony at HMAS Cerberus, the Flinders Naval Depot in Western Port Bay in Victoria, for the dedication of an oil painting depicting him observing and reporting the Japanese fleet as it sails south en route to attack Guadalcanal. The painting and an accompanying dedication are mounted on the bulkhead of the Communications School section. The commemoration ceremony was organised by the Naval Association’s Victorian Branch. Sadly, Jack Read was the only Coastwatcher present. Read’s daughter Judy, her husband, and Read’s nephew Geoff Davidson were present as were some Naval Association members, one of the commandos and a coding expert who had served with him on Bougainville. The event introduced an award – The Coastwatchers Award – to be presented to the best first year signals recruit. Unfortunately, this was the last function Read would attend as he became very ill and was bedridden. Read died on 29 June 1992, aged 86. It was exactly 63 years from the start of his relationship with New Guinea.
Every single one in that unique group of Coastwatchers was collectively responsible for placing the Allied forces in a position of advantage over the enemy. If it wasn’t for their determination and courage and that of the local people in the areas they operated in, who knows how the war would have finished. Their deeds were certainly out of proportion to their numbers. Thank God such men lived.
Special thanks to:
- Judith Eugenie Fairhurst (nee Read) for permission to use material from her father’s private papers and photographs.
- Geoff Davidson for his valuable assistance in supplying additional material about his uncle, Jack Read.
- Alexander (Sandy) McNab for permission to quote from his book.