A ship’s bell which bears the inscription “HMAS Kuttabul” has been located for sale in 2011 at an auction house in the Illawarra. Is it an authentic piece of militaria which has a direct association with the depot ship which was sunk by an Japanese midget submarine during the attack upon Sydney Harbour? Or is it merely a post-war piece which was made by persons unknown, as a conversation piece? It would not be the first time that a “fake” has surfaced to cast speculation for military historians and enthusiasts.
The bell, which shows obvious signs of aging and weathering, has been engraved with the words “HMAS Kuttabul” and certainly looks as if it is a relic from the 1942 era. With a height of approximately 8 inches and a matching width; one could certainly speculate that this bell was aboard the civillian ferry, prior to its requisition as a depot for the Royal Australian Navy during World War Two. Could this bell have been engraved by a bored sailor who found himself temporarily billeted to the depot ship which was being used to accommodate Navy personnel?
IMAGE LEFT: The reverse side of the ship’s bell, showing the hairline crack which exists in the casting. The bell certainly shows signs of ‘weathering’ which suggests that the relic is of the 1940’s era.
However, comments from a staff member completely refute the possibility of this being an authentic bell.
Firstly, it is evident that the original ship’s bell is safely contained within the exhibits of the Australian Navy Heritage Centre at Garden Island. Secondly, it has been clearly stated that the depot ship ‘Kuttabul’ was not commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy. This is dispite the fact that the ferry is continually referred to as “HMAS” in contemporary records.
Contrary evidence exists in regard to the display of Kuttabul’s wheelhouse, which stands in Anzac Hall at the Australian War Memorial. A plaque attached to the exhibit records that the vessel was in fact commissioned into the navy.
An investigation into the status of the depot ship ‘Kuttabul’ is currently being conducted, however if any person has any knowledge of the history of this bell – please contact the Medals Gone Missing Administrator.
Glued inside the bell has a clipping from a newspaper which reports a commemorative service that was being conducted for the crew of the submarine, A.E.1. This appears to be quite genuine and possibly from a newspaper printed between 1918 and 1940.
IMAGE LEFT: Photograph showing the interior of the bell. Note the newspaper clipping which has been glued to the inside of the bell. A spliced piece of cord is also evident which may have held a metal striker and lanyard to ‘ring’ the bell.
The newspaper clipping has the words “Lest We Forget – Curley Hyde” typed onto it, suggesting that the previous owner of this relic had some interest in the crew of the First World War Submarine which was lost with all hands during September, 1914 off Rabaul. However, a search of the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) records fails to identify any crew members of the submarine AE1 by this surname.
The clipping of the newspaper states:- In memory of the crew of the Australian submarine AE1, a wreath will be placed on the Cenotaph at 6pm on Saturday, September 12. Members of the Submarine Old Comrades’ Association will assemble at the George Street corner of the G.P.O. at 5.45pm and relatives and friends of the crew of AE1 are invited.
So the history of this bell, at this time is up for speculation. Is it possible that this bell was engraved by a “bored” sailor who found himself, temporarily billeted to the depot ship during 1942? Or perhaps a family member of one of the sailors who tragically lost his life in the Japanese midget submarine attack on the 31st May/1st June, 1942. Did one of the ship’s survivors engrave the bell postwar and keep it as a private shrine to his fallen comrades? Should any of these assumptions be the case, then hopefully somebody out there will remember seeing this bell – hanging from a wall in the house of a person who felt it important enough to remember that tragic loss of life in Australia’s home waters.
If you can shed any further light as to the origins or history of this bell, please contact the Medals Gone Missing Administrator. It would be pleasing to solve this mystery before next year’s commemoration, recognising the 70th Anniversary of the sinking of Kuttabul. Apart from the official ceremony conducted annually by the Royal Australian Navy, an event which is open to the general public is being organised as a fund raiser for Legacy Australia. For further details regarding this event, please contact the ‘Kuttabul Commemoration Project’ through this website.