From Sydney High to World War 2 heroes….

Even with all the idiocy happening between Facebook and the Australian Government (property of Rupert?) interesting things do pop up there still — and a reduction in news and associated moans is not an entirely bad thing. Trouble is the determined newsmoaner (I just invented that word) will find a way, and they have it seems. Anyway, this post is actually not news, but it is serious. I think it tells a great story — and not a moan in sight!

A Brown (bow), W Skinner (2), E White (3), G Meldrum (str), T Kelly (cox)

That’s the Sydney High First IV in 1939. They won their GPS Regatta race that year, as did the Second IV. The VIIIs, the prestigious Head of the River, was won by Shore. Mind you, not a good year, was it, given what was to come six months later….

Made in 1965

That is what popped up on YouTube last night. It is a good reminder of what my parents’ generation went through, and near the beginning it does mention the 1939 Head of the River, or The Boat Race as it calls it. Now that was just twenty years before my own Leaving Certificate at a Sydney High hardly changed from 1939! There were even some staff members still there! In fact, looking just now at a 1943 staff photo there are six there who were still there between 1955 and 1959! On reflection — twenty years (21 to be exact) since I taught that memorable Class of 2000 at High! Unbelievable!

In sharing that video to Facebook I wrote: “The Boat Race referred to near the start is the GPS Regatta.. The last times SBHS won were 1957 (when John Pilger was in the crew) and 1959. So I am in that special bracket that is still alive and saw SBHS win ‘the boat race’. There were no boat races from 1940-1945, so the doco must be referring to 1939. Shore did win the VIIIs, but High won the other two major events, 1st and 2nd IVs. Then came the war. There were SBHS boys involved, Roden Cutler for one, and one Bob Page…”

[Sir] Roden Cutler was awarded the VC and went on to be Governor of NSW. The driveway from Anzac Parade to Cleveland Street past the school’s front entrance is named after him. And the gates at Anzac Parade, dedicated to him in 2007.

Dr Jaggar, the Principal, said at the Dedication:

As a scholar, sportsman, soldier, leader,diplomat, concerned citizen and statesman,Sir Roden Cutler was an example in action of our SBHS ethos – with truth and courage. At High in 1934, Sir Roden was awarded School Blues for swimming, water polo and target rifle shooting. Sir Roden was described as a trier, a leader and a role model for younger boys. At High, then as now, we idealise the good all-rounder – the person who has the talent, courage, will power, self-discipline, flexibility and communication skills to succeed in a variety of endeavours. Sir Roden was such a man. His integrity in public life was legendary; his gallantry conspicuous, his humility inspirational. He was able to interact easily and warmly with people from all walks of life. He loved his sport. His lifelong dedication to public service and charitable causes marks him out as a very special Australian icon – a man of the people.

Most importantly of all for us here, Sir Roden held his old school in high regard and throughout his life supported its activities. His involvement as patron of our organisations made him special to our community. He was a point of reference for the school in its history and a champion of its causes. He dedicated buildings and made himself available at ceremonial occasions, despite his commitments as Governor. Even as late as 2000, nearly two decades after his retirement, he attended an Anzac Day assembly with a 1934-40 class reunion at High, despite his ill health and the inconvenience of being confined to a wheel chair. He joined in the singing of the school song with his old classmates. He followed closely the fortunes of the cadets and the rifle team and was very pleased with the gift of a picture of the High GPS Championship target rifle shooting team of 2001. It was with a solemn pride that twenty School Prefects formed up behind our school banner and led the procession into St Andrews cathedral at Sir Roden‟s state funeral in 2002.

As a staff member in 2000, I was at that Anzac Day assembly. But Bob Page? Now there is a story!

This humble fishing trawler led a double life during World War II as part of Operation Jaywick.

I then cited the story from The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX19158) Captain Robert Charles Page, Z Special Unit, Second World War.

Bob Page was born on 21 July 1920 in Sydney, the eldest son of Harold and Anne Page. He attended Sydney Boys’ High School and enrolled to study medicine at the University of Sydney in 1940. He left his studies a little over 12 months later to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. Joining the 2/4th Pioneer Battalion, he was quickly promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

In 1942 Page’s father, Harold, who had been a senior administrator in New Guinea, was captured by the Japanese at Rabaul. Later that year Harold Page was en route to Japan on board the Montevideo Maru with more than a thousand prisoners of war when it was torpedoed and sunk, killing all the prisoners on board.

In the same year Lieutenant Page transferred to Z Special Unit, a joint Allied unit formed to conduct clandestine operations behind Japanese lines in South East Asia. In September 1943 he took part in Operation Jaywick, devised by British officer Captain Ivan Lyon and using a dilapidated Japanese-built fishing vessel, the Krait, to sneak a crew of 14 into enemy waters. The Krait left Western Australia on the 2nd of September and arrived off Singapore about three weeks later. From there, Page and five other men paddled canoes in to Singapore Harbour and attached limpet mines to Japanese ships under cover of darkness. They destroyed or seriously damaged seven ships, more than 35,000 tonnes of shipping.

On his return, Bob Page married Roma Prowse in Canberra on the 1st of November, 1943. His role in Z Special Unit required him to keep the operation secret from Roma. Page was awarded the DSO for his “courage and devotion under extreme hazardous conditions”, but because of the need for secrecy it was not officially promulgated until 1945 and Bob never knew about it….

To conclude the story, I turn to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

In September 1944 Page was one of twenty-three men taken by submarine to the South China Sea. There they seized a junk in which they sailed towards Singapore. On 6 October, off Laban Island, they mistakenly fired on a Malay police launch, killing some or all of the crew. With secrecy lost, the mission was abandoned. The commandos scuttled the junk and made their way in rubber dinghies to their base on Merapas Island. For about two months they either evaded or fought off the pursuing Japanese. A British submarine sent to collect them failed to make contact. Page and ten other survivors were eventually captured, taken to Singapore and sentenced to death. With nine comrades, he was beheaded on 7 July 1945 at Ulu Pandan. After the war had ended, his remains were reinterred in Kranji war cemetery. His wife survived him.

There was a made-for-TV movie in 1989, Heroes of the Krait. It is on YouTube, quality watchable but not great.

2 thoughts on “From Sydney High to World War 2 heroes….

  1. Pingback: From Sydney High to World War 2 heroes…. — Neil’s Commonplace Book – battleoftheatlantic19391945

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