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Sailing into storms of war

REFLECTING: Peter Morris and retired mariner Allen Renwick preparing for a service at the Merchant Navy memorial on the Newcastle harbour foreshore tomorrow. Photo: Max Mason-HubersWHEN retired mariner Allen Renwick lays a wreath at a service tomorrowat the Merchant Navy memorial on the Newcastleharbour foreshore, he will be thinking of one lost colleaguein particular.
Nanjing Night Net

“One bloke I knew was killed on his first trip,” 91-year-old Mr Renwick said. “He was a deck boy, I was a cabin boy. He was torpedoed onthe Iron Chieftain.”

The BHP ship had set sail from Newcastle when she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine just off Sydney on June 3, 1942. Twelve crew members died, including Mr Renwick’s friend, J.W. Lindemann. His name is on a plaque at the memorial.

He was one of about 1550 mariners who died at sea around Australia on 41 ships sunk by the enemy during the Second World War.

“The Merchant Navy maintained the supply lines in the Australian economy and the war effort, yet they were overlooked compared to the uniformed services,” said Peter Morris, the chairman of the Newcastle Merchant Navy Memorial Committee. “It was the forgotten war.”

Yet that aspect of the war, along with all those lost at sea, will be remembered at the service at 11.15 am. Mr Morris, a former federal politician, expected up to 200 to attend, particularly as it marked 75 years,to the day, since the sinking of theIron Chieftain.The day after the Iron Chieftain was lost, another Newcastle-crewed ship, the Iron Crown, was torpedoed, with37 killed.

“The iron ore ships were the ‘coffin ships’, they sank so fast,” Mr Morris said.

The BHP ship Iron Chieftain, which was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine on June 3, 1942.

Just a few days later, Newcastle itself was attacked. OnJune 8, 1942, the Japanese submarine I-21 surfaced in Stockton Bight and shelled the city. The prime targets were the steelworks and the Walsh Island dockyard. But shells were also fired at Fort Scratchley, with one exploding in Parnell Place, close to homes.While the attack caused minimal damage, it rattled Novocastrians.

“It was very scary,” recalled Mr Renwick, who was 16 and in the family home in the city as he heard shells whizzing in. “People were expecting the Japs to invade the place.”

While there was no invasion, Japanesesubmarines lurked off the east coast for another year. It is believed the I-21 was responsible for sinking another BHP ship, the Iron Knight,off the NSW south coast onFebruary 8, 1943. Thirty-six crew members were lost.

Soon after the shelling of Newcastle, Mr Renwick ventured to sea, launching in tumultuous times a career that would last46 years.

“We didn’t realise how dangerous it was,” he reflected. “When you’re young, it’slike a great adventure.

In tomorrow’s Newcastle Herald is a special eight-page souvenir supplement, ‘Newcastle Under Fire’, relivingthenight 75 years ago whenwar came to the city.