Australia – Perth War Cemetery & Annex

Surprise surprise!  This post we are in Perth, the capital, and largest city, of Western Australia, at Perth War Cemetery on the eastern edge of the huge civilian cemetery, and thanks to the efforts of Sid from Down Under, our Oceania photographer*, I get the opportunity to show you round.

*since fired.

Main cemetery entrance (there are two),…

…and the view straight ahead on entering.  When we embarked on this project, there were three main areas of the cemetery I wanted Sid to photograph, all marked on the cemetery plan, for which, as always, we thank the CWGC, and which you can look at by clicking the link (two are obvious, one you might have to look a bit closer to spot).  But before we continue, a little background.  This cemetery was established by the Australian Army in 1942 for the burial of wounded servicemen returned from the fighting who died of their injuries in the nearby Hollywood Military Hospital, as well as others who died of sickness or disease, and some casualties from other civil and temporary military cemeteries were later reinterred here.  Thus the majority of the Commonwealth burials here, approximately 475  of them, are from the Second World War and as such come outside the scope of this website.  Which has never stopped us before if we encounter someone or something of interest, and won’t stop us today either.

But first, here’s the Cross of Sacrifice,…

…and should any of us have visited just a couple of weeks previously, as Sid did,…

…we would have encountered a somewhat different view.

I guess the old Cross was past its sell-by date, so it was removed – in January 2017, the intention being for the replacement, new, Cross to be in place by Armistice Day 2017.

Which it wasn’t, nor was it ready for ANZAC Day in April 2018, nor was it in place not much more than two weeks before Armistice Day 2018,…

…because Sid managed to track it down,…

…hiding behind this building,…

…in all its constituent pieces,…

…ready and waiting for erection.

Which, by Armistice Day 2018, thank heavens, had duly taken place, the long delay, it seems, due to problems finding the right quality and quantity of local Donnybrook sandstone, being used to replace the original Sydney ‘yellowblock’ sandstone-made 1949 Cross.

We shall find ourselves in the northern half of the cemetery later in the post,…

…but first,…

…we shall head for the southern half,…

…where our next stop finds us in Plot H, in the centre of this photo,…

…and the grave of Squadron Leader K. W. Truscott D.F.C. & Bar, one of Australia’s most famous Second World War fighter pilots.

Keith William Truscott, known to all as ‘Bluey’, was just twenty six years old when his Kittyhawk A29-150 plunged into the sea at Exmouth Gulf off the West Australian coast on 23rd March 1943, killing its pilot instantly.  Truscott, already known publicly as a top Australian Rules footballer, had joined the Royal Australian Air Force in July 1940, scraping through basic pilot training before being sent to Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme, where he was commissioned in February 1941.  Soon after, he headed for England, becoming a founder member of 452 Squadron, the first Australian fighter squadron to be formed in the U. K., flying Spitfires and initially based in Lincoln before moving to Kenley* in Surrey (the inset photo to the left shows Truscott ‘in Surrey’, presumably at Kenley, showing his D.F.C. to his fellow pilots, that on the right, probably also at Kenley I would have thought, shows five ‘Aces’, Truscott in the white flying suit).

*For many years Kenley aerodrome, still in existence for gliders, was my local aerodrome – many hours in my youth were spent there, and to this day the bomb-proofed fighter pens are still visible (take a Google look at the north and west of the aerodrome).

Dodgy flyer he may have been (his landing ability came under particular scrutiny, seemingly for all of his flying career), but he must have been a damned good shot and a very brave man because, after his first victory came in August 1941, by the time he was returned to Australia in early 1942 he had some eleven Luftwaffe planes to his credit, an ace twice over, had received the D.F.C., and was an acting squadron leader!

Sid’s better half photographs Truscott’s grave.  Many thanks are owed to Carole, not only for her photographic skills, but for keeping Sid in line too.

Once back in Australia he was posted to 76 Squadron R.A.A.F. at Milne Bay in New Guinea, received a bar to his D.F.C., fought at the Battle of Milne Bay, where he was Mentioned in Despatches, and had increased his tally to sixteen enemy aircraft destroyed along with three probables and three damaged by the time his squadron was transferred back to Australia, eventually ending up at the U.S. naval base at Potshot on the south western side of Exmouth Gulf.

On 28th March 1943, Truscott (pictured in a Kittyhawk in the inset) and his wing man engaged in a mock attack on a returning Catalina flying boat, Truscott apparently misjudging the height between the descending Catalina and the water, the Kittyhawk’s propellor clipping the water causing the plane to plunge at high-speed into the sea.  His body was later recovered, still strapped into the cockpit.  One wonders whether his problem with landing, which it seems was caused by a difficulty in judging distance, may have been the root cause of his fatal crash, particularly flying over water.

The only known photograph of the accident shows smoke rising from the crashed plane in the distance; the inset shows Bluey’s original cross here at Here’s a little known fact.  The British came up with all sorts of schemes to raise funds for war production, one of the more left field being a scheme to raise money to build Spitfires; thus women all over the U.K. named Dorothy sent in enough hard-earned cash to build a Spitfire with the name ‘Dorothy’, the Kennel Club funded ‘The Dogfighter’, and Bluey Truscott, nicknamed Bluey because of his red hair, flew a Spitfire at some point during his time in England named ‘Gingerbread’, funded by red-haired men and women across the country!

Looking north west past the new Cross of Sacrifice from near Keith Truscott’s grave.

Interlude One.

A sunny headstone,…

…makes a fine place for a groom,…

…for an Australian magpie.

The second reason for sending Sid and his camera here can be found in the south western part of the cemetery where,…

…across the lawn,…

…and beyond Plot H, in the foreground,…

…a row of sixteen headstones,…

…fifteen Australians and one New Zealander,…

…bear silent witness to another of the Great War’s tragic tales.

The sixteen headstones are the only Great War casualties to be found in this cemetery, all but four bearing dates of death between 12th & 26th December 1918; the other four died in the early months of 1919.  These fifteen men and one woman were all originally buried in the cemetery at the Woodman Point Quarantine Station near Fremantle in Western Australia, and this is their story.

It begins in 1914 with the internment of a German owned ship, the Melbourne (above), in Sydney harbour on the outbreak of war.

Converted into a troopship and rechristened H.M.A.T. Boonah, she would be one of many ships thus converted to transport Australian troops to the Western Front over the ensuing years, in October 1918 becoming the last troopship to leave Fremantle for Europe before the Armistice.

Carrying over 1000 soldiers and crew, she was a few days from the East African coast when news reached the ship that the signing of the Armistice had taken place and that the war was over.

The men on board might well have had mixed feelings, some doubtless pleased that their services would not be needed, others frustrated that their training – all were volunteers – had been for naught and they would not be seeing action, but the ship changed course for South Africa from where it would begin its homeward journey.

Arriving in Durban on 14th November, the crew began making arrangements for the return journey to Australia, which included the use of local stevedores to bunker the ship with the vast amounts of coal required for the passage.

The stevedores not only brought coal.  They also brought Spanish Flu, rife at the time in South Africa, on board, and by the time the ship arrived back at Fremantle on 11th December it was carrying some 300 confirmed cases, one in four of the men on board, with new cases appearing constantly.

The Australian authorities (and public, come to that), made aware of the sickness on board, and equally aware that Western Australia had so far been spared the global pandemic, initially refused to allow anyone to disembark the ship, before some 300 seriously sick men were transported off the ship and ferried to Woodman Point, the quarantine station five miles south of Fremantle.

The grave of Staff Nurse Doris Ridgway, one of three volunteer military nurses who would die of the flu at Woodman Point.

The remaining men were forced to stay on board, effectively until the outbreak had ended, or all had succumbed.  Imagine!

And remain there they did, some almost within sight of their homes, as over the next week conditions on board the ship descended into a nightmare of disease and delirium.

At Woodman Point, facilities were also hopelessly inadequate to deal with what was rapidly becoming a burgeoning crisis.

Food, accommodation and medical staff were lacking, and military nurses from the H.M.A.T. Wyreema, another transport moored nearby, were asked to volunteer along with others, to assist the now 600 sick men from the ship arriving at Woodman Point.

All, of course, did so, but just twenty were chosen; three of these nurses, including Doris Ridgway, and one civilian nurse who also volunteered, would not survive the experience.

Private Dyer, looking fighting fit in this faded photograph.

The graves of Private Nilsson, Private Vernon, New Zealand Trooper Blair & Private Phillips.  After eight days at Fremantle the Boonah, with fresh flu cases being discovered on board every day, broke quarantine regulations and sailed for South Australia where the newer cases would be taken ashore and treated.

By the time the epidemic subsided twenty six soldiers (figures vary slightly depending on the source) from the Boonah had died at Woodman Point, of whom seventeen were buried in the cemetery there,…

…but in 1958 sixteen of these were reinterred here (one man’s descendants wished his grave to remain untouched, and the grave of the civilian nurse who died can also still be found at Woodman Point).

The single New Zealand burial in the row, Trooper Gordon Blair, surely proves that there must have been New Zealand troops on board as well, although they don’t seem to get a mention if this is the case.

Ironically, the Boonah would be sold to a German steamship company in 1925 before becoming a part of the Kriegsmarine on the outbreak of World War II, meeting her fate when she was torpedoed and sunk by the British submarine H.M.S. Narwhal off the coast of Norway in 1940.

Patients at Woodham Point during the crisis and, at the top, the station’s cemetery and a letter published in the West Australian in March 1919 (click, as always, to enlarge).

Interlude 2.

Looking west from the cemetery’s south west corner, across, from right to left, Plots N, O & P.

A quick pan to our left, the row of Great War headstones in the foreground,…

…before it’s time to make our way past the new Cross,…

…looking good, I must say,…

…into the northern half of the cemetery, Plot R Rows A (right) & B directly ahead of us. At the far end of these rows…

…are the pillars at the entrance to the Dutch Cemetery.

The CWGC database refers to this section of the cemetery as Perth War Cemetery Netherlands Annexe, and inside seven Dutch servicemen and twenty one Dutch civilians are buried, five of these unidentified.

Evacuated by flying boats from Java in the teeth of the Japanese invasion, as they arrived in Broome harbour the planes were jumped by Japanese fighters and all were sunk; although many of the passengers and crews survived, these twenty eight casualties, and a number whose bodies were never recovered, did not.

Beyond the graves in the northern half of the cemetery,…

…is the Western Australian Garden of Remembrance.

Interlude 3.

View looking south down the length of the cemetery.  The dates of death of the Second World War casualties range from 6th November 1939, and the death of a Royal Australian Naval Steward at the naval shore establishment H.M.A.S. Leeuwin (or whatever was there before it; it became the naval depot for Fremantle in August 1940), to the last days of 1947.

Now looking south west, Plot S in the foreground.  Behind the gentleman walking purposefully down the lawn on the right you will notice a handful of headstones set apart from the rest, the third reason for sending Sid on his visit.

This is Plot X, which the cemetery plan shows as having four burials and which now quite clearly has five, one of these men being reinterred here as recently as 2016.

These five Australians died between August 1968 & September 1971 in Vietnam.

Sapper Rodney Noel Hubble, Royal Australian Engineers, killed, aged 19, on 28th February 1970 at Phuoc Tuy when a friendly engineer’s party detonated a M16 mine, killing Hubble and five others, and wounding another thirteen.

Major Brenton George Mowbray, HQ Australian Army Force, Far East Land Forces, who died of heart failure, aged 36, at Vung Tau on 14th September 1970.

Private Bernahl Michael Pengilly, 4th Bn. Royal Australian Regiment, aged 22, killed in a mine explosion at Phuoc Tuy on 30th July 1971.

The final two burials in the row,…

…Private Brian Charles Beilken, 4th Bn. Royal Australian Regiment, who died of gunshot wounds, also at Phuoc Tuy on 21st September 1971 aged 21,…

…and Sergeant Ronald Thomas Carroll, 3rd Bn. Royal Australian Regiment, the first of the five to die, also of gunshot wounds, aged 31, at Bien Hoa, on 4th August 1968.

Interlude 4.

View from the cemetery’s north western corner, the five Vietnam War burials on the far right beneath the trees,…

…and now from the north east corner of the cemetery, both views looking roughly south.

And so we’ll leave by the other entrance at the far end of the cemetery,…

…following the rows of headstones,…

…past the Cross,…

…and the main entrance,…

…which is where the register and visitor’s book are kept, should you ever visit, as well as the Western Australian Cremation Memorial which remembers seven Australian servicemen who were cremated at Karrakatta Crematorium,…

…to the south of the cemetery, this view taken from the south east corner looking north west.

And finally, or nearly finally, the view from Karella Street, the southern entrance to the cemetery.

Because we finish once more at the grave of Bluey Truscott, and a photograph of his grave taken by Sid at the Armistice Day commemorations on 11th November 2018, one hundred years to the day after the end of the Great War, and seventy five years since Truscott met oblivion in the waters of Exmouth Gulf, and (below) the eyewitness statement of Pilot Officer Ian Loudon, the pilot accompanying Truscott on his final flight.

Amistice Day 2018: This post would have been impossible without the photographic efforts of Sid Breeden, so thank you very much indeed, my one-time-friend, I (still) hope you enjoyed your involvement, and I (still) hope my words have done your photographs some sort of justice.

For more information on the Quarantine Station at Woodman Point, there’s an excellent website, from which I have borrowed a few of the inset photos and I hope they will accept this link as thanks, that you might find of interest, and which you will find here.

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10 Responses to Australia – Perth War Cemetery & Annex

  1. Sid from Down Under says:

    As is your standard, you have done this Post proud Magicfingers and I hope other readers enjoy your foray to a CWGC cemetery Down Under in Western Australia. I must thank my Surrey-born wife Carole for her photography. Being Australia’s closest state to Europe, a Qantas Dreamliner non-stop service between London and Perth means anyone can nip across our Indian Ocean for a weekend visit!

    Two important clarifications concern Bluey Truscott. The newspaper report of the day is grossly distorted and was strongly criticised by the Court of Inquiry. The 78 page report records the factual lead up to and cause of the fatal crash. Truscott and his wing man were not escorting the Catalina back from the north but were returning from duties at the Squadron’s northern detachment at Onslow aerodrome. By United States Fleet Air Wing #10 request they commenced a mock attack on the returning Cat. Certainly Bluey misjudged the height but this was blamed on the glassy sea surface causing “abnormal refractive light conditions resulting in a false horizon being seen at low altitude”. He grazed the surface dislodging the propeller which led to catastrophic disaster.

    In defense of Bluey’s otherwise landing abilities, P-40 Kittyhawks were notoriously difficult crates to land and many a pilot damaged undercarriages.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Excellent Sid. I seriously hope you approve of what I have made of your photos. I have done my best. I have now slightly changed the text to remove the ‘escort’ bit from the Catalina part of the story. I am sticking to my theory on his landing ability, however; there is ample evidence of his ability to crash on landing, and it seems he was quite capable of crashing Spitfires too, and there appears to be evidence that he did suffer from something that affected his judgement of distance. “Abnormal refractive light conditions resulting in a false horizon being seen at low altitude” sounds to me like enquiry-speak for “he misjudged his height because of the sea”.

      • Sid from Down Under says:

        Thank you kind Sir – and I highly approve what you have achieved with Carole’s and my photos

        On the crash score, I can only but accept the findings and wording of the Court of Inquiry – including his wing man’s detailed clear statement (he himself thought they were at 200 feet until he saw a fish splashing, pulled up violently and transmitted a last second warning) – I’d prefer not to interpret any hidden meaning otherwise – but clearly, based on the Inquiry’s presented evidence, his land based landing ability had nothing to do with this grazing the glassy smooth sea surface in a shallow dive that resulted in his final crash (he was not “rolling away” after attack )

        • Magicfingers says:

          ‘Rolling away’ now consigned to the bin. Thanks again. But his wingman didn’t crash, thanks to a fish. Just saying. Anyway, these are exactly the discussions that hopefully the post might engender. Can you extrapolate or post Louden ‘s statement? Or email me with it. I think we could add it maybe at the end. Do we have any photos of him, I wonder?

  2. Sid from Down Under says:

    Louden’s statement soon on its way – there are other statements with detail including the US officer earlier requesting the mock attacks and Bluey saying the Catalinas must maintain a good height … all very enlightening …. the entire Report needs to be read so nothing is taken out of context. This link is the shortest way to the Court of Inquiry 78 pages (there are other access methods that provide better options but this should suffice)

  3. Val says:

    Hi wow u really get around so pleased with all photos showing us all places you visit . The pics of the menin gate where a pleasure to see and how I would have liked to have been there with my dad but due to a hol beinging extended by mistake over dates I was in South Africa but was luckey enough to spend 2 days visiting Rourkes drift and spent 2 days with a wonderful guided . I am sure you must think how u every had the time to work the WGC should give u a job .

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Val! Thanks ever so for being so kind, and for bothering to read all this stuff I put together. The Menin Gate was a special place to be that day – well it always is – extra special then. I would lerv to go to Rourke’ Drift, but I doubt that is going to happen any day soon somehow. It must be amazing, and particularly with a good Guide. And as for your last comment; I wish. In fact I shall probably be available soon, so I shall borrow those immortal words. “Gissajob!” Anyone? I’m probably not kidding…

  4. Nick Kilner says:

    Excellent work from all involved! thanks to all of you, a very interesting post and nice to be able to look around a cemetery that few of us will likely ever visit.

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