AE1 Heroes

By Catherine from Annandale Christian College in Queensland

Reflection. What do you think of when I say that powerful word? I am confident that most of you would have a similar answer: ‘YOU’. What you see when you look in the mirror? However, I want to talk about a different kind of reflection. I want to spend some time reflecting on the lives of 35 men, 35 heroes. 35 selfless and inspiring Australians. 35 courageous men who were willing to do what was right is the face of personal danger to ensure the freedom of our great nation. 1 submarine, 35 men, 35 heroes.

In 1910 the Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, ordered two E-Class submarines from England. The AE1 and the AE2. In August 1914, World War 1 broke out. In September that same year the AE1 submarine, alongside the HMAS Parramatta, were sent out as part of the Expedition Force to New Guinea.

Two weeks passed in the New Guinea campaign. The 35 crew members were struggling in the hazy weather beneath sea level. The 3 officers and 32 sailors were led by Lieutenant-Commander Thomas Fleming Besant. ‘Oh, yes, It’s dangerous if you want to look at it like that. But it’s got to be done’, Besant is recorded as saying. ‘And every man in the Navy, no matter what branch he is in, has to be prepared to meet danger when it comes’.

It wasn’t long before Besant was faced with the danger he had spoken of. On the 14th of September at 0230 hours the HMAS Parramatta reported the AE1 was in clear site. ‘What is the distance of visibility?’ the AE1 enquired. The HMAS Parramatta responded: ‘About 5 miles’ Less than an hour later, the AE1 vanished and after years and years of searching, it is still lies buried beneath the unforgiving waves.

That year 35 knocks would have been made on 35 doors of 35 unsuspecting households. 35 families would have been left heartbroken, hoping and praying that somewhere, somehow they would be reunited with their lost loved ones. Families with one less brother or son, children left fatherless, wives left widowed.

When we lose someone we love a ceremony traditionally takes place. A ceremony of remembrance and tribute. We as Australians celebrate the memory of our fallen soldiers, our war hero’s on ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, days to pause and remember those who risked their lives in order to protect Australia and its allies.

We stop and listen to stories and speeches that make us contemplate. We watch a wreath being laid so we don’t forget. But now we have something new, something beautiful, a stainless steel construction of floating twigs, branches and vegetation. The Ocean Bed their Tomb. This wreath was designed for busy Australian who need to stop, take a moment and reflect on the 35 heroes who perished onboard the AE1.

I want to draw your attention back to that beautiful word, reflection. 
This beautiful piece of artwork outside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney is a metaphor. When in sunlight the beautiful stainless steel reflects onto the water’s surface. When the clouds come over and night draws near LED lights illuminate the structure and it reflects onto the iconic harbor. Finally the structure reflects on us as Australians.

My father was in the Army; he served our country in Afghanistan and PNG. When he came home I cried, when he left home I cried. I could not even begin to imagine what it would feel like to hear the news that he would not be coming home. Imagine getting that knock on the door.

I believe the crew of the AE1 would have strove to uphold the 5 Navy Values. Honour, Honesty, Courage, Integrity and Loyalty. The Ocean Bed their Tomb.  Reflect, pause, ponder and remember our naval heroes.