Monday, January 25, 2016

My Grandfather's Seagoing Tent

HMAS Patricia Cam

The provenance on the back of the picture (clumsily redacted as per Mrs. R's wishes to protect family privacy.)

I rescued this lovely piece of militaria from the cupboard under the stairs at my father's beach house. He's moved down there permanently and has had to cull a lot of stuff from his other house to fit into the new one, and had always intended to give this to me, but somehow we never got around to managing the transfer!

It's a painting by renowned Australian naval history artist and RAN veteran Dacre Smyth of HMAS Patricia Cam, a coastal supply ship based in Darwin during the war. Apparently Grandpa commissioned the artist to paint the picture after getting in touch with him to tell him his story. Grandpa was a Chaplain in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and part of his duties during his posting to Darwin was sharing the pastoral duties with chaplains of other denominations and other services out in the Tiwi Islands. The islands were used as a early warning station for incoming Japanese air raids on Darwin and other communities in the Top End. With these raids in 1942 and 1943 Australia suffered its first and only attack by a foreign enemy. While the attacks pale into comparison when compared to the devastation suffered elsewhere, they certainly heightened anxiety in Australia, especially at a time when Britain was not surprisingly more concerned with home defense and the US had still to make its presence strongly felt in the Pacific War.

My dad and uncle both grew up knowing their father as well as becoming older brothers to their little sister. Their lives could well have been so very different; they may well have grown up without a father and have never had a little sister. Grandpa made one of those life-changing (indeed, life-saving) decisions when he agreed to swap rotations to the Tiwi islands with Rev. Leonard Kentish, who was to be on leave during his rostered trip to the islands. But for a fateful decision to help a colleague, it would have been my grandfather and not Rev. Kentish who would have been aboard the Patricia Cam when it was bombed and strafed by a Japanese floatplane. It would have been my grandfather, and not Rev. Kentish, who was then taken prisoner by the crew of the float plane and beheaded in 1943.


  1. Wonderful tale and a wonderful painting too. History is all about those fateful decisions

  2. Cool painting and quite the story, live turn on those sort of desisions every day but never so dramaticly as in war.

  3. A wonderful family relic. I am always glad to see these traditions remembered and survive.

  4. I'm writing an account of the loss of the Pat Cam and would be grateful for approval to use the image of her on Darwin harbour where she did boom defence support as well as supplying the remote stations across the top. I have managed to identify all the Yolngu who lost their lives in her sinking and the beach where the Stoker Percy Cameron & Gitjbapuy lie buried side by side. There is a great deal more to the story and a view of her at sea would be most helpful. Kind Regards Mike Owen TopEndHeritage at


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