How and When New Guinea was Won – and the Loss of AE1 By GPO HH Kemsley

First published in Una Voce, journal of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia Inc, June 2009 page 46 – with thanks to Jim Kemsley

These extracts were taken from the diary of Petty Officer Kemsley who was in Rabaul during the capture of the wireless station at Bitapaka and who took part in a search for AE1.

In February 1915 he was awarded the Bronze Medallion and a Bar of the Royal Humane Society for saving lives at sea on two occasions. He served for 25 years with the RN and RAN.

Thank you to Jim Kemsley for sending this in.

Diary Commences:

August 1st 1914

HMAS Melbourne arrived in Sydney 6.45 am. HMAS Encounter puts into
Cockatoo Dock for engine repairs. Work all day unshipping yards etc.

2nd Very grave war rumours. Encounter leaves Dock for Farm Cove. Working
all night, taking in War Stores. Australia coaling. HMAS Melbourne ditto.

3rd Coaling ship, shore labour; taking a long time. Australia and
HMAS Sydney left for unknown destination.

4th Provisioning ship etc. Land all unnecessary gear. Turned in at 3pm.

5th Left Sydney at 5 am; start War routine at 12 noon.

6th At sea.

10th Sighted Australia, Sydney and Destroyers off New Guinea Coast.
Proceeded single line ahead 10 miles apart.

11th 2 pm sighted SS Westminster. Held her up; finding she is a British ship allowed her to proceed.

12th Arrived off the coast of New Britain and New Ireland at 6am. German processions, Destroyer and Sydney went inside to destroy the Wireless
Station whilst Encounter patrols outside with Australia and Melbourne.
10am sight ship on the horizon. Thinking it a German Cruiser we cleared ship for action. All movable gear thrown overboard; we steamed full speed ahead to meet her only to find the British Merchantman, SS Zambezi. We sent a Boarding Party to search her. We find she is charted to the Germans and is carrying a German spy with important dispatches for the Islands. He also has a complete set of wireless gear. Fetched him onboard as a prisoner; also take charge of the ship by putting a ‘Prize Crew’ on board to take her to
13th Steaming with Destroyers.

14th Arrived off Rossel Island about 11am. Melbourne arrived with Collier.
Sydney arrives at 3 pm and coals ship. We get orders to leave at full speed for Port Moresby but could not get outside the reef before dark, so could not go.
15th Departed 7 am.

16th Arrived Port Moresby at 1 pm. Australia inside coaling ship.

17th Coal ship;

18, 19, 20th Clean ship.

21st Leave at daybreak.

22nd At sea.

23 rd Arrived off Palm Island. About 9 am.

24th Troop Ship Berrima arrived.

31st Store Ship Aorangi arrived.
September 2nd 1914
Two submarines arrive, AE 1 and AE 2. Left Palm Island with both vessels and submarines; head for Port Moresby.

3rd At sea.

4th Arrived Port Moresby with convoy.

5th Went alongside Troop Ship Kanowna to give her 40 tons of coal. 3 pm coal ship.

6th Clean ship.

7th We all left for unknown destination.

8th Stokers on SS Kanowna refuse to steam ship any further so she is sent back to Townsville.

9th Met Australia off Rossel Island. (I caught a shark.)

10th Australia, Sydney and Destroyers go on ahead leaving us to come on with the submarines and colliers.

11th Troops land from Berrima at Herbertshoe on Blanche Bay in the early hours of the morning to capture a Wireless Station that is inland. They found the place mined and armed natives shooting from coconut palms. The mines were found and destroyed. Our losses being two Officers and two men killed and eight wounded, but two have since died. The German losses are unknown. The Admiral asked the inhabitants to surrender or he would bombard.

12th No surrender. Encounter arrived and went up to Rabaul and anchored.
Berrima leaves her first anchorage and came into Rabaul. She ties up alongside the pier. Encounter landed armed guard to watch the pier while
Berrima ties up. The country looks very pretty and is well cultivated.

13th Coal ship. News came through from Herbertshoe that fighting was still going on. At 4 pm the British Flag was hoisted in Rabaul and all Officers ashore to witness the impressive ceremony. At about 6 pm about 400 troops boarded us from Berrima and we proceeded to Herbertshoe. Troops land from us about 8 pm. Everything seems quiet on the beach. Comdr. Beresford in charge of the Naval Brigade, reports that the enemy is entrenched about 4 miles inland, having been attacked and repulsed, Lieut. Spooner on the left wing in charge of Naval Patrols reported having the enemy under control and needs no assistance, but our two maxim guns and crews told off to be ready for landing.

14th 3am landed maxim guns in charge of Lieut. Seale. During early hours of the morning, the General in charge of the troops sent word to us of the exact position of the enemy’s trenches and wishes us to bombard, as it was no use him advancing with his troops until the place was shelled. At 6.15 am we opened fire on the place with lyddite and common shells. 46 shells were fired sweeping a great area. 1 pm, no news of our firing or Landing Party yet received. Sydney, on hearing the firing came to us cleared for action and asked if we required assistance. 9 am the Landing Party returns on board with news from the General of our excellent firing, stating we had swept the trenches clear of the enemy, 10 pm leave again for Rabaul.

15th Left Rabaul at daybreak to look for submarine AE 1 which had not been seen since 3.30 pm on the 14th and was then on her way to Rabaul.
Destroyers searched all night but couldn’t find her. We steamed around the Islands (Duke of York Group), where she had been patrolling but could not track her at all. 12.30 pm we went back to Rabaul. The Destroyer Yarra went aground and damaged her propellers. Our divers went down to fix her up. The French Warship Montcalm arrived. At 6 pm Australia, Sydney and Melbourne left for Sydney to convoy the Australian troops to England. We fixed up a small yacht with two 3 pounder guns to go up rivers etc.
Rumours that AE 1 was sunk by the enemy.

16th No news of AE 1. Still searching. Montcalm coaling.
(94 years later the AE 1 still not found)

17th Large store found on the banks of a lagoon on the other side of the island, it was full of coal and stores for German Warships, also plenty of German beer. Left at 9 pm to search around island; strong rumour that German troops were landing from FredrickWilliams Haven.

18th Destroyers still searching the coast. Capture a small sailing boat with a crew of natives; they gave us information concerning a small German gunboat; but did not put too much faith in them. (It was proved later the information was correct. After we had left Rabaul this gun-boat was very cleverly captured by Lieut. Jackson, who was then in command of a small former German boat named Nusa, on which our 3 pounder gun was mounted.) We went back to Rabaul, on the way we noticed a small boat on a reef so sent over our boat to see what it was. We found it had a gunmounting on board, also a 2 inch empty cartridge. Strong belief that this was the boat that sunk AE.1. 6pm. Australia and Sydney recalled as enemy Cruisers reported to be in the Marshall Islands, about 200 miles from here.
In harbour caught a 7 ft. shark.

22nd Left Rabaul with Australia, Sydney and Berrima for Fredrick Williams
Haven in German New Guinea.

23rd At sea.

24thArrived off Fredrick Williams Haven about 7am. Encounter hoists white
flag, then proceeded to the entrance of the harbour; sent our steam-boat
inside with Army Officers and an Interpreter with papers to show Acting
German Governor that the German Governor had surrendered; hoisted the
British Flag. Left again at 6 pm.

25th At sea.

26th Arrived at Rabaul 6 pm. Whilst we were away, Destroyers captured a small steamer hidden away up a creek with palm trees all round it.

27th Sunday. Coal ship.

Oct. 1st Left Rabaul to search for large German Cruisers.

2nd Received orders from Admiralty to return to Rabaul and await further orders as German ships were further south. Arrived 3 pm and coaled.

3rd Australia, Sydney and Montcalm left 11 pm for Fiji Islands.

4th Encounter with Destroyers and AE2 leave with collier and store-ship for Fiji Islands.
Excerpt ends here

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