- Swinden, Greg
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney II
- December 2018 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Greg Swinden
On 19 July 1940 one of the RAN’s more famous actions was fought in the Mediterranean. HMAS Sydney’s destruction of the Italian light cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, and putting to flight her sister ship Giovanni delle Bande Nere, captured the attention of all Australians and was a much needed victory for the Allies in what was a period of defeat and disaster. Upon Sydney’s return to Australia her crew were feted by the public and the media before she returned to sea and her appointment with fate on 19 November 1941 with the German raider Kormoran in the Indian Ocean.
On 28 July 2018 the last man present when Bartolomeo Colleoni was sunk passed away quietly on the NSW South Coast. John Ravenscroft had been a 20-year-old Able Seaman serving in X Turret as the communications number during the battle and after the action picked up a piece of Italian shell fragment from Sydney’s upper deck. Joining the RAN Reserve in May 1939, when war seemed imminent, John was mobilised for war service on 31 August 1939 and joined Sydneysoon after. He was promoted Able Seaman in 1940 but by mid-1941 his eyesight was failing and rather than be medically discharged he transferred to the Supply Branch as a Writer. John continued to serve in Sydney until he was drafted ashore to HMAS Leeuwin on 26 October 1941 only four weeks before Sydney was lost in action with her entire ships company of 645 men. For the rest of his long life he would often ask – “Why was I spared?”
John Ravenscroft was commissioned as a Supply Sub-Lieutenant in 1943 and served in Darwin at HMAS Melville during 1943-44 and on board the survey vessel HMAS Moresby, as a Supply Lieutenant, in 1945. He was present at the Japanese surrender, on board Moresby, at Kupang, Netherlands East Indies on 11 September 1945. Following demobilisation in late 1946 he joined the Western Australian public service and later re-joined the RAN Reserve in 1949.
He married Joyce Milner in 1950, had a son,and later transferred to the Federal Public Service undertaking postings to Darwin, Canberra and Geneva (Switzerland). John reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander and retired from the RAN Reserve and the Public Service in 1981. He and Joyce moved to Vincentia on the NSW South Coast where they lived for the remainder of their lives.
There are still two men living who served in Sydney(II) – Ordinary Seaman (later Lieutenant Commander) Ken Brown who served in the cruiser in 1938 and Able Seaman Alfred ‘Bluey’ Thornton who served on board during May – September 1941 and like John Ravenscroft was fatefully posted from the ship before her final action.