FROM baby to great-grandmother such has been the change in Pam Shirley’s life from her father dying in a World War II Japanese naval attack to him being officially honoured along with fellow HMAS Yarra crewmen.
More than 70 years after the sloop’s sinking in the Java Sea, Mrs Shirley, a Wodonga retiree, was among relatives to gather in Melbourne on Tuesday to witness the crew receive a unit citation for gallantry from Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
The HMAS Yarra was among a convoy withdrawing to Australia on March 4, 1942, when it was confronted by five Japanese warships with vastly better firepower.
Commander Robert Rankin took on the enemy with a smokescreen and directed fellow allied ships to scatter before his sloop was struck down by gunfire from a cruiser.
“They were faced with incredibly superior forces when they went in,” Mrs Shirley said.
“They faced a Japanese group which consisted of three heavy cruisers and two destroyers. Lieutenant-Commander Rankin manoeuvred the ship between the enemy and the convoy and it was obvious they couldn’t do much but they went straight in.
“It really was incredible bravery.”
Mrs Shirley’s father was petty officer Arthur Quick, 34, a member of the navy since the age of 13 and a signaller on the HMAS Yarra.
He had left Australia and his wife Alice and son Brian in August 1940. Daughter Pam was born in December that year.
Mrs Shirley said growing up without a father had been tough, but she was extremely proud of his wartime service.
“My grandmother took me to a movie theatre when I was four years old and they had some footage of Japanese ships being sunk and apparently I stood up in the theatre and said ‘kill them all, kill them all, because they killed my daddy’,” Mrs Shirley said.
“The theatre erupted in applause because they were all servicemen there.
“I was asked at the Melbourne ceremony did I feel bitter about it because life could have been so different growing up with a father, but they did what they needed to do to help keep us safe.
“We don’t speak Japanese, that’s probably the answer to that question.”
Mrs Shirley received a copy of the citation and a ribbon which can be worn on remembrance occasions.