- Noble, SBA A.M.
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I
- June 1986 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
SBA Noble joined HMAS Perth three months before she sunk. His story is simple and frank but reflects the hardships suffered by her survivors. For his work in attending the sick he was recognised by both the Dutch and Australian governments.
I WAS STATIONED in the wardroom with Dr. Stening and I did not see any of the actual action. There were no casualties brought to our station before being sunk. When the call to abandon ship came through we left via a hatch and the ship was sinking.
A large number of the crew were already in the water and I wandered around trying to find a raft or something to throw overboard. Eventually I slid down the side and swam around until I joined a raft on which was Dr. Tymms, Dental Surgeon Tregear and I think the gunnery officer (I think his name was Hancox) and several others including PO Salmon who was mortally wounded. During the night I left the raft twice in an effort to swim to land, but on my own in the darkness I saw it was hopeless so I swam back to the raft which must have had a leak because it was slowly settling. I then stayed with it until daybreak. PO Salmon died during the night.
At daybreak we saw Sangieng Island and I decided to swim for it. I encountered the very strong current and despite desperate swimming I found it too strong. I could see myself being swept away from the island and became exhausted trying to get to it. I was still a long way off it and concluded that I couldn’t make it as I was all in. Just then another swimmer passed me-and I saw him emerge from the strong current about 30 or 40 yards away, so I somehow struck out again and finally made it.
A couple of those already on the island came out and dragged me from the water. The swimmer who had passed me was named Nash. He had a head wound exposing his skull but seemed unaffected. I am not sure, but I think about 7 or 8 managed to swim to the island. I think a lot were drowned in that current. I heard calls for help while swimming through it but couldn’t see the callers.
Those left on the raft were not seen again and somehow perished either by being swept out to the open sea or drowning. I am unable to say how many finally got to Sangieng Island. It was deserted of natives and we slept in their huts making quite a mess because of our being absolutely covered in oil.
We killed one or two of the sheep there and managed to make up some stew from the few vegetables we found. Being an SBA I had the job of looking after the wounded but of course could do very little about it in the circumstances. We had no medical supplies. One young AB had bad shrapnel wounds and needed treatment badly.
When the natives returned one was armed and we were made to leave. Of course we had already made arrangements to do so, having the iron boat rigged out and another party left in a wooden boat. I am afraid I cannot recall the numbers in the respective boats. I left in the steel boat with Ray Parkin and company and his story is well known. I think Ray’s account is pretty accurate. We split up at Labuan – 10 stayed with the boat in an attempt to reach Australia. The rest of us intended to march inland until we met up with the Japanese so that our wounded could get medical treatment.
We carried the wounded lad on a makeshift stretcher and we were indeed a sorry sight as we followed the railway line inland. Some of the natives were very hostile and had already attacked some of the survivors, and as you know an ERA was murdered. I think his name was Smith.
On the island he mentioned he had Javanese money and that would help him to get overland to Tjilatjap. I think this was probably his undoing, because the natives took anything of value from us, even a bunch of keys I was carrying was taken from me. At first, when I refused I was menaced so I gave them up very smartly. There were two officers in our party – Lt. Burgess and Lt.Comdr. Owen.