Hon­our­ing the fallen

Whitsunday Times - - PREPARING FOR ANZAC DAY 2014 - By Sharon Small­wood

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.

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