Honouring the fallen
FOR Bowen resident Vicki Birkhead, ANZAC Day 2014 will always hold a special significance as the year in which her grandfather was formally recognised for his bravery at sea.
Bruce Cairncross was a leading stoker in the Royal Australian Navy, who served during World War II on the HMAS Yarra II.
In March, 1942, the ship was sunk by the Japanese just off the coast of Java in the Sunda Strait.
Bruce Cairncross was one of just 13 survivors, picked up after four days in the water by the Dutch submarine K11.
Ms Birkhead said her “Pop” didn’t speak much about his experiences when she was a child, but as she grew older, she began to do some research herself.
“I read a book about the Yarra II from front to back and I was just absolutely covered in goose bumps,” she said.
“And Pop – he was just extraordinary – a brilliant man.”
Since everything was lost with the ship, the wives of the 13 survivors made a new banner for the servicemen to march under each ANZAC Day. As time went on and many of them passed away, the banner went to other family members, finally ending up with Ms Birkhead, who wanted to see it formally displayed.
By chance, she met Airlie Beach / Whitsunday RSL sub branch vice president Bill Rose in 2010 and discovered he and her “Pop” had both served under Admiral Harrington, who was once the captain of the Yarra II.
Mr Rose was more than happy to offer a home for the banner at the RSL and “to be able to help an immediate family member of a war hero”.
“It’s about being recognised for what they did and it also allows the public to be able to look at it and understand,” he said.
Tomorrow, Ms Birkhead will accept a gallantry citation insignia on her grandfather’s behalf at the main service in Airlie Beach.
She said this was one of the highest distinctions that could be awarded to Navy personnel and something she wished he was still alive to see.
RECOGNISED: Airlie Beach RSL vice president Bill Rose and former Naval chief petty officer Peter McKellin (left and right) with Bowen resident Vicki Birkhead (centre) holding memorabilia from the HMAS Yarra II, on which Ms Birkhead’s grandfather, Bruce Cairncross, served during World War II. Ms Birkhead will accept a gallantry citation insignia on her grandfather’s behalf this ANZAC Day.