Stoker Ray MAJOR – B2993
12 Jan 1923 – 12 Jan 2012
Ray Major from Albany Creek, Queensland, was the last known survivor of HMAS Kuttabul, which was sunk in Sydney Harbour by a Japanese torpedo soon after midnight on 1 June 1942. Ray, who was a 19-year-old second-class stoker at the time, had slung his hammock above the stokers mess as usual that night. “Next thing I knew I was flying through the air then I hit the back (of the ship),” he said. “There was rubbish all around me and I was clearing that when I noticed a fellow just over from me and he was in trouble. So I took care of a beam that came off the top of the lockers and was across his legs and got him up on his feet and we crawled out,” said Ray.
IMAGE RIGHT: Stoker Raymond MAJOR, Service Number B2993. Ray was the last known survivor of the sinking of the RAN depot ship Kuttabul, by Japanese midget submarines at 12.30am on the 01st June, 1942.
Ray remembers his call for help went unheeded and he realised they would have to brave the cold water.“So I grabbed hold of the sailor and said, “let’s get the hell out of here” because the water was rising and rising,” he said. “We went over the side and he grabbed hold of the rail and wouldn’t let go. I told him, ‘Come on, we’ve got to get to the boat ramp’, and the next thing, fellers were shouting out… and picked us up”.
The Kuttabul was a converted harbour ferry requisitioned by the Navy and used to billet naval personnel at its mooring alongside Garden Island. About 12.30 am a Japanese midget submarine fired two torpedoes at the heavy cruiser USS Chicago but missed. The first torpedo ran up on the rocks near Gun Wharf on Garden Island and failed to explode; the other passed under the Dutch submarine K9 and Kuttabul and struck a concrete retaining wall. The explosion ripped the bottom out of the barracks vessel, which sank quickly with the loss of 21 Australian and British sailors.
IMAGE LEFT: The wreck of the KUTTABUL where she was sunk at Garden Island on the 1st of June, 1942. It was from this vessel that Ray rescued one of his shipmates.
Ray was one of only three sailors to survive from the stokers mess. As a result of the explosion Ray discharged medically unfit from the Navy in July 1943 on a full disability pension. Miffed that he was no longer deemed physically able to carry out his duties, he became a merchant seaman to prove to himself that he could do the job.
IMAGE RIGHT: Stoker Ray MAJOR in his retirement. With his passing, goes the last known survivor of the Kuttabul crew who were on board when the vessel was destroyed by a Japanese torpedo.
Born in Brisbane, Ray joined the Navy in 1941 as a Steward rating before transferring to the Engineering Branch. During his service career he served on the auxiliary minesweeper HMAS Narani and the cable layer HMAS Bangalow, which laid the anti-submarine indicator loops at the entrance to Darwin Harbour. After the war Ray worked as a cane cutter in Mackay before moving to the Sunshine Coast where he worked in the construction industry until his retirement. Ray passed away peacefully on his 89th birthday.
Hail and farewell!
By Steven Carruthers
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steven Carruthers served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1969 to 1977 and specialized as a radar plotter and ASAC (anti-submarine air controller). He has written two books on the subject of Kuttabul:- Australia Under Siege & Japanese Submarine Raiders 1942. Steven is the official historian of the Kuttabul Commemoration Harbour Cruise in accordance with the 70th Anniversary of the Japanese midget submarine attack upon Sydney Harbour.