HMAS Canberra flag?

20th October 2007, 07:37
Someone is claiming they have a flag from HMAS Canberra (sunk off Savo in 1942):

The sailor mentioned, Stephen Stewart St George, was in fact an A.B. on the heavy cruiser. Here's his R.A.N. service record (first time you click the link, you then need to click Login, Guest, then click the link again):

Does anyone know anything about this?


Steve Woodward
20th October 2007, 12:09
Canberra was litterally over-whelmed by a furious nightime assault by the Japanese force led by Admiral Mikawa, hit by large number of 8" shells early on in the engagement she was out of the battle in the first few minutes. Although badly damaged the high degree of subdivision of the Kent class kept her afloat until the next morning and although salvagable she was in a risky area, Rear Admiral Turner(USN) gave the order that if she could not get underway herself she should be scuttled, the US destroyers Blue and Patterson took off all the Canberra's crew.
The US selfridge then fired 263 rounds of 5" shell at point blank range plus four torpedoes and still she remained afloat, finally the destroyer Elliot fired a further torpedo into her and she finally slipped beneath the waves at 0800.
Canberra lost 84 men with a 109 injured.
It would be perfecctly possible given the time from disabling to abandonment for soveniers to be taken.

Winstons statement to the First Sea Lord
"Australia have lost their 8" cruiser CANBERRA. It might have lasting effect on Australian sentiment if we gave freely and outright to Royal Australian Navy one of our similar ships. Please give your most sympathetic consideration to the project and be ready to tell me about it when I return. Meanwhile I am not mentioning it to any one."
The UK followed up on Winstons words and the Shropshire was given to Australia to replace the canberra

20th October 2007, 20:00
Thanks for that, Steve. Yes, it does seem quite possible that someone, given the opportunity, could secure a flag from the Canberra. I believe the action was not long after midnight and, as you say, the badly damaged but still afloat cruiser was finally dispatched to the bottom with a torpedo coup de grāce by USS ELLET sometime before 8 am.

I contacted Mac Gregory, a Sub Lieutenant on the Canberra and O.O.W. when the battle commenced to get his reaction (his website, with Terry Kearns of Atlanta, is Ahoy ( He does recall St George but had not heard of him souveniring a flag. Mac quoted the following from Alan Payne's "HMAS Canberra" published by the Naval Historical Society of Australia (1973), p.103:

One of the best accounts of the action was by Able Seaman Stephen St George who ended his official account as follows:
"We watched the exploding ammunition for a while, then the ship began to list more heavily, I went over the side, swam to a raft and made my way along the ship's side to the remainder of the rafts, which were apparently hopelessly entangled, cut all the securing ropes and shoved them clear. Noticed "BLUE" coming up then, so I paddled clear, and boarded her from the outboard side."

No mention of a flag, though that doesn't mean he didn't tuck one away earlier.

Mac said that in May 1973 St George, who previously had not mentioned torpedoing in his action report, wrote a long letter to the Naval Board:

"Now I did not bother to include it in my action report, but I did mention, in the last few lines that I had gone over the side (the bows in fact) and cleared the entangled rafts. In doing so, I circled the ship. What I saw was later confirmed when I boarded BLUE and standing next to the Chief Buffer, who was in tears, and saying "We could save her, we could tow her out." I took note again as BLUE leaving our port side cleared our bows and turned 90 degrees to starboard giving me a clear view of Canberra's starboard side. And I saw a hole, made by torpedoes and big enough to drive a loco through on our starboard side amidship. But, having been around the ship I noticed all shells arrived from the Port side....."

My dad, Walter Elliget, was also on the Canberra that night (on the lower bridge). He was bosun's mate and Canberra's bugler and he was knocked clean off hit feet when the salvos from the Japanese cruiser force came in. Fortunately he survived. Initially, when he came around, he thought he was badly injured because he was covered in blood but it turned out to be someone else's! One of his mates, who he'd been sharing a cup of chai with only moments before, had largely shielded him from the blast.

Later he climbed down to the USS BLUE and distinctly remembers being given a boiling hot cup of coffee by an American sailor the second he was aboard. Dad managed to souvenir a large pair of binoculars from the Canberra but sadly someone "relieved" him of it when he left it with his kit on the deck of the transport that took the survivors back to Australia. He did manage to keep his bugle however (minus the mouthpiece).

Getting back to the ABC article, I note that the number 2725 is quoted. I assume that this is some sort of issue number, from naval stores perhaps? My guess is that it may be hard to prove conclusively that the flag is from the Canberra unless this number could be somehow traced to the ship via official records.

Thanks for your interest.


Steve Woodward
20th October 2007, 21:20
The two website's that give a good account of that terrible night are I think:-

The second one being the US Navies official wording on it, both make interesting reading and show the horrors of that night and war in general.

I have seen references to the fact that for some reason Canberra's sistership Australia was not with the Southern groupthat night, had she been it may have had an effect on the outcome.


20th October 2007, 23:35
Thanks, Steve. Mac Gregory's detailed description of Savo is also well worth a read:

The Australian flag ship AUSTRALIA had left the company of the southern force because Rear Admiral Turner, USN, Commander South Pacific Amphibious Forces, had at 2045 called his second in command, Rear Admiral Crutchley VC, RN, and Major General Vandegrift (in command of the 1st Marine Division) to his flag ship McCAWLEY some 20 miles away off Lunga Point, where the transports were located. It does make you wonder what might have happened if AUSTRALIA hadn't been called away.

I note the mention, on that first website, of US destroyer BAGLEY hitting the CANBERRA with a torpedo in the ensuing confusion (have heard about this previously). I wonder if this made the hole "big enough to drive a loco through" that St George described. There are some photos of BAGLEY, ASTORIA and other participants of the action in the Solomon Islands here (, taken by a rating on HMAS AUSTRALIA.


Steve Woodward
21st October 2007, 21:03
Thanks very much Martin
I ll have a look at that website shortly, from all the accounts I have read there was quite a few incidents of friendly fire in this incident so the torpedo remains a possibility.

9th February 2011, 02:35
Regarding the flag from HMAS Canberra.
I have it.

I was the executer to his estate when he passed away in 1987, I was instructed to place the flag on his coffin and then to retain it for posterity
I contacted the war memorial about it but nobody was interested, I also have the manuscript written by Steve regarding the time he spent on board Canberra ( including the battle at Savo) .