Neil Frederick ROBERTS was born on the 4th of September, 1923 at North Sydney in New South Wales. According to the World War Two Nominal Roll, he enlisted into the Royal Australian Navy on the 24th of November, 1941. Within six short months, Neil would become am unwitting part of Australian military history.
IMAGE RIGHT: Kuttabul survivor Neil Frederick ROBERTS with his friend Alan Yourell at the 2011 commemoration of the sinking of the depot ship.
On the evening of the 31st of May, 1942 three Japanese midget submarines made their way into Sydney Harbour. One of those submarines, M-24 would fire two torpedoes in an attempt to sink the American Heavy Cruiser, U.S.S. Chicago. The torpedoes missed the intended target, however this action had catastrophic consequences for 21 men who were billeted aboard the depot ship, KUTTABUL. Neil Frederick ROBERTS was one of the lucky ones.
Neil ROBERTS, Service Number S5973 was just 18 years of age on that fateful night. He had been in serving in the Royal Australian Navy for just over half a year and held the rank of Seaman. Call it fate, an act of God or pure luck; but Neil would be graced with 70 more years on this earth before he was called up to a new life. A devout Christian, one can only wonder if this event which nearly took his life during a time of war would be the driving force behind his faith?
IMAGE LEFT: The depot ship KUTTABUL, laying in water where it sunk. Often referred to incorrectly as H.M.A.S. Kuttabul, the vessel was not in fact commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy at the time of the Japanese midget submarine attack. The current naval base, HMAS Kuttabul has of course, been named in honour of this depot ship.
Able Seaman Neil Frederick ROBERTS passed away on the 24th of November, 2011 at the James Milson Nursing Home on Milsons Point, aged 88. He was one of just two surviving veterans of the depot ship Kuttabul. With his passing, sadly now – there is only one.
Neil would not have called himself a hero. He would probably have been the first to admit that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But because of that posting on the ferry Kuttabul, Neil became a part of the city of Sydney’s history. And next year, when Sydney hosts the 70th Anniversary of the Japanese midget submarine attack and the sinking of Kuttabul, we will stop and remember what this man and a score like him – did to make Australia a free land.
God bless you Neil ROBERTS, your passing was a sad day for Australia.