Father went down in war

"IT was just their duty - they were Australians so they felt it was just their duty to help."

This was the response from Grafton man George Brooker when asked what led to five members of his family being killed in the fighting of the Second World War.

"My cousin went down on the (HMAS) Parramatta, my father-in-law went down on the (HMAS) Centaur, my uncle got killed in England in the air and my aunty got killed driving an ambulance around in London," Mr Brooker told the Daily Examiner yesterday.

But it was the loss of his father, Able Seaman Henry "Harry" Brooker, a gunner on the ill-fated HMAS Yarra, that had the biggest impact on Mr Brooker.

The HMAS Yarra - a Grimsby class sloop - was sunk by the Japanese Navy on March 4, 1942 while escorting a fleet of transport ships from South-East Asia back to Fremantle.

Of its crew of 138, only 13 survived the tragedy. Harry Brooker was not among them.

Mr Brooker said his mother had been informed of his father's death by telegram on March 13, nine days after the sinking - no details were mentioned apart from the fact he was "missing in action."

The lack of detail about his father's final moments turned into a lifetime quest for knowledge for Mr Brooker but it was only five years ago at the annual memorial service held on March 4 in Melbourne for the victims of the Yarra tragedy that he got a first-hand account from one of its survivors - Bernard Higgins, who has since died.

"It appears Dad was on the upper deck and she had two forward 4-inch (10cm) guns and he was on one of those.

"Well one of the shells from the (Japanese) cruiser or the destroyer hit it which blew the bridge away - he reckons that was how Dad got killed, straight away when that shell hit," Mr Brooker said.

Mr Brooker said this first-hand knowledge of his father's last moments had floored him but said he felt a certain sense of pride in the knowledge his father was manning his post to the end.

With such a strong link to the Second World War, Mr Brooker - a former defence force member himself - said March 4 and Anzac Day were extremely important days for him and his family.

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