Australia

Australian Bravery Awards: Nauru Five honoured 76 years after WWII execution

Frederick Francis Harmer holds his newborn son Ron, who traveled to Nauru to try and find his father's burial site. Source: SUPPLIED

Five Australians have posthumously received bravery awards 76 years after being executed by Japanese forces on Nauru during WWII.

Caroline Billingham grew up knowing that discussing the tragic fate of her grandfather was strictly taboo in her family.

Early in 1942 western and Chinese civilians evacuated the tiny island of Nauru amid the outbreak of war in the Pacific.

But Ms Billingham's grandfather Frederick Francis Harmer and four other courageous Australians were too concerned about the welfare of the island's indigenous population to leave. So, with no back-up and "no hope in hell", they stayed.

"No one talked about it in our family," Ms Billingham, 49, said.

"It was like a sort of no-go zone for a long time."

In August 1942, Japanese forces invaded the island to commandeer its phosphate deposits and took all five men as prisoners.

They were kept alive until just before dawn on March 25 1943, when they were all executed.

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In March, 101 people were honoured with bravery awards
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But it wasn't until two years later that their families found out the painful truth.

Their story became bogged in bureaucracy, and because the men weren't serving in the armed forces, the Australian government was slow to help.

"His wife wrote to the government after the war ... She really wanted something done about the bodies," Ms Billingham said of her grandmother Bertha.

Now, 76 years on, these courageous Australians have been recognised in the Australian Bravery Awards.

It's bittersweet for Ms Billingham.

"I would like to say it would be closure."

"However ... my dad died five years ago and his brother, the only other sibling, died about nine years ago," she said.

"So, it is very sad that they had no idea anything like this was happening."

It comes after Tasmanian historian Scott Seymour discovered their burial site - a long-time goal of Ms Billingham's father Ron that was never fulfilled, despite a trip to Nauru in the 1990s.

Ms Billingham hopes to bury her grandfather's remains alongside his wife in Coogee, Sydney.

Among those executed was former Nauru administrator Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Royden Chalmers, from Tasmania.

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His grandson Roy Ramage says the award is "long overdue".

Mr Ramage, 69, said their efforts to dig up his grandfather's remains have already been stopped twice because of "government this, government that".

"The Nauruan government has got a say in it, our government has got a say in it, and we couldn't afford to stay there overnight; it's $1000 a night," he said.

William Doyle, Dr Bernard Quin and Wilfred Shugg have also been posthumously named in a Group Bravery Citation.

"They were very brave, to stay on and do that," Ms Billingham said.

"Against Japanese, with no back-up, just them, they didn't really have a hope in hell."

SA family in shark attack honoured 

His sister was one of just a few people attacked by sharks in Australian waters each year, but South Australian man Mitch Williams counts himself lucky.

The family was enjoying an afternoon on Lady Bay at Normanville, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, when 15-year-old Sarah was knocked out of her kayak by a 4.5-metre white pointer shark.

She was thrown into the air then disappeared with the shark below the surface of the water.

Sarah Williams after the shark attack. Today her father and brother will be awarded for the bravery shown saving her life.
Sarah Williams after the shark attack. Today her father and brother will be awarded for the bravery shown saving her life.
ABC News

Mr Williams, 24, and his father Chris - who have both been announced awardees of a bravery commendation - saw the attack from their four-metre dinghy about 30 metres away and sprung into action.

"Time kind of slows down in those situations," he said of the October 2017 incident.

"Seeing the attack take place, my father pulled the chord (on the dinghy) and it started on the first go, which never happens.

"That was a stroke of luck and then we sort of angled in her direction."

Sarah emerged from the water and clambered onto the centre of the damaged kayak, with half her body still in the water, while the shark again knocked the vessel.

She sustained only minor injuries including bruising - a lucky escape Mr Williams attributes to a number of favourable factors.

Governor General David Hurley.
Governor General David Hurley will present the awards.
AAP

Many Australians praised

The Governor-General has announced the following bravery awards:

Bravery Medal 

For acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances:

Miss Elizabeth Ann ADAMS, Palm Beach Qld 

Mr Leon Corey BROUWER, Singleton WA 

Mr Craig Geoffrey COLEMAN, St Lawrence Qld 

Mr Lyle Ernest COLLINS, Rochester Vic 

Sergeant Paul Anthony COX, Queensland Police Service

Mr Jean-Luc GALLO, NSW

Mr Damond Warwick GRAY, Mount Warren Park Qld 

Mr Matthew Caine HASSEN, Bulimba Qld 

Mr Zen Sirius JOYCE, Coledale NSW 

Mr Alan Brian LAWRY, Coolum Beach Qld

Mr Timothy Thomas LEEMING, Coojar Vic

Miss Karina NUMAMURDIRDI, Angurugu Community NT

The late Mr Robert Fawcett PICKERSGILL, formerly of Qld

Mr Todd Jonathan ROBERTSON,Barwon Heads Vic

Mr Jason Troy SHEPHERD, Lower King WA

Mr Andrew Gordon STRUNK, South Fremantle WA 

Mr Axel Christian TRITTON, Dean Park NSW

Commendation for Brave Conduct 

For acts of bravery considered worthy of recognition:

Miss Ella Layne ANDREWS, WA

Mr Lachlan James BULMAN, Vic

Mrs Vivienne Susanne COLEMAN, St Lawrence Qld

Warrant Officer Class Two James Hugh COTTLE, Qld

Mr Robert William DEVLIN, Qld

Mr Mitchell Ronald FING, Raymond Terrace NSW

Mr Craig John HOGARTH, Caloundra Qld

Mr Marc Andrew JOHNSON, Traralgon Vic

The late Mr David KERR, formerly of NSW

Mr David Colin McCARTNEY, Ungarie NSW

Mr Daniel Wayne McDONALD, Marcoola Qld

Mr Darryn Charles MARSHALL, Nerang Qld

Mr William Michael NASH, Conder ACT

Sergeant Matthew John O'BRIEN, Queensland Police Service

Mr Jared ROBINSON, Hatherleigh SA

Mr Roberto SEROLA, Burleigh Heads Qld

Mrs Kerry Lee SEYMOUR, Qld

Senior Constable Jay Stuart SHEPHERD, Queensland Police Service

Mr Christopher John WILLIAMS, Mount Compass SA

Mr Mitchell Clarke WILLIAMS, Mount Compass SA

Group Bravery Citation

For a collective act of bravery, by a group of persons in extraordinary circumstances, that is considered worthy of recognition:

Awardees comprise former NSW Corrections Officers who assisted during a fire and inmate riot at a maximum-security prison in Dutton Park, Queensland, on 2 December 1987.

Mr Cyril Idres CAIRNS, Arundel Qld

Mr John Francis COLLINS, Beenleigh Qld

The Late Mr Geoffrey GRANT, formerly of Sunnybank Qld

Mr David JEFFERSON, Parkinson Qld

Mr Michael James KINDNESS, Boondall Qld

Mr Roy Stanley KOPLICK, Eagleby Qld

Three members and one former member of the Northern Territory Police Force who rescued a woman from a burning unit in Katherine, Northern Territory, on 25 May 2017.

Mr Trent Mitchell DOLE

Constable First Class Blake Peter GOODWORTH

Constable Timothy Liam GOUVERNEUR

Sergeant Benjamin Samuel WATSON

Awardees comprise members of the public who were involved in the rescue of a woman from a burning vehicle at Palm Beach, Queensland, on 29 May 2016.

Miss Elizabeth Ann ADAMS, Palm Beach Qld 

Dr Ashok GANGASANDRA BASAVARAJ, Clear Island Waters Qld 

Mr Vishaak GANGASANDRA, Clear Island Waters Qld 

Mr Richard STAPLES, Currumbin Waters Qld 

Mr John Hendrikus VERBEEK, Currumbin Qld

Awardees comprise three members of the public who rescued people from a burning car at Orelia, Western Australia on 20 April 2018.

Mr Robin John LEE, Burswood WA 

Mr Jake Wilson PUGH, Orelia WA 

Mr Ian Trevor URQUHART, Orelia WA 

Awardees comprise members of the Queensland Police Service who were involved in removing a man from a burning vehicle at Mount Gravatt, Queensland on 25 February 2015.

Sergeant Agnelle Amelia BAGETTI

Senior Constable Jason Patrick BANKS

Senior Constable Brendan Sean O'BRIEN

Sergeant Matthew John O'BRIEN

Senior Constable Jay Stuart SHEPHERD

Senior Constable Ashley Karl THOMPSON

Awardees comprise members of the Queensland Police Service who were confronted by an armed man at Gracemere, Queensland on 22 December 2015.

Constable Richard Louis ADDERLEY

Senior Constable Dale Anthony COOK

Awardees comprise members of the Queensland State Emergency Service and one member of the public who rescued a family stranded in floodwaters following Cyclone Debbie, Queensland on 31 March 2017.

Mrs Claire Louise BROWNING, Tas

Mr James FERGUSON, Waterford Qld 

Mr Samuel Liam FOURAS, Luscombe Qld 

Mr Christopher Edward HOLLOWAY, Logan City Qld 

Awardees comprise members of the public who rescued several children from the ocean at Dolphin Point, NSW, on 17 January 2018.

Mr Brent Jeffrey ELPHINSTON, Engadine NSW 

Mrs Nerida Lee LARTER, NSW

Mrs Kerrie Ann McCULLOCH, Barden Ridge NSW 

Mr Simon James OWEN, Raby NSW 

Mr Brett Colin WILLIAMS, Robertson NSW

Awardees comprise five men who, between 1940 and 1943, elected to remain on the island of Nauru to protect the indigenous population and uphold law and order despite the threat of invasion by Japanese forces.

The late Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Royden CHALMERS CMG DSO

The late Mr William Henry DOYLE

The late Mr Frederick Francis HARMER

The late Dr Bernard Haselden QUIN

The late Mr Wilfred SHUGG

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