Leading Seaman Francis Bassett ‘Dick’ Emms

Leading Seaman Francis Emms

Francis Bassett ‘Dick’ Emms was born at Launceston, Tasmania on 28 November 1909 and following his schooling was employed in his father’s tailoring shop. He joined the Royal Australian Navy on 14 March 1928 and undertook his initial training as an Ordinary Seaman at HMAS Cerberus. On completion of his training he joined the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra in March 1929 and served in her until July 1930. Emms was promoted to Able Seaman in January 1930 and later qualified as a gunnery rating.

Able Seaman Emms then spent much of the next seven years as a member of the Seaman Branch which included postings to Cerberus (1930-31) and the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (1931-33). In January 1932 he married Sylvia Rosetta Tame in Hobart and they later had a daughter Rae. In 1933 Francis Emms was posted to the depot ship HMAS Penguin and later served in the destroyers HMAS Waterhen (1934) and HMAS Vendetta (1934-35). In April 1935 he joined the old coal burning cruiser HMAS Brisbane which was sent to England for scrapping and her crew then became the commissioning crew for HMAS Sydney (II). Francis Emms then served in Sydney from September 1935 until April 1937.

It was while serving in Sydney, in the Mediterranean, that his eyesight began to deteriorate and rather then leave the Navy he decided to transfer to the Supply Branch as a Cook. In January 1937 he undertook a short cookery course at Cerberus to assess his suitability and on 9 February 1937 he was rerated as a Cook (Officers). He was then posted to the destroyer HMAS Stuart in April 1937 and served in her until June 1938. Francis Emms was promoted to Acting Leading Cook (Officers) in April 1938.

Following his service in Stuart he was posted to the sloop HMAS Swan (1938-39) and the depot ship Penguin (1939-40), where he was confirmed in the rank of Leading Cook. He served again briefly in the heavy cruiser Canberra during mid-1940. In September 1940 Francis Emms was posted to the Darwin shore depot HMAS Melville where he was employed as a cook at the base and also in the boom defence vessels which operated the anti submarine boom net in Darwin Harbour.

On 19 February 1942, Leading Cook Francis Emms was serving onboard the boom defence vessel HMAS Kara Kara when the Japanese conducted their first air raid on Darwin. During this raid dozens of Japanese aircraft attacked ships in the harbour, the RAAF airfield and indiscriminately bombed the city. Eight ships were sunk, dozens of aircraft destroyed and nearly 300 people were killed. During the attack Kara Kara was singled out by several Japanese aircraft that commenced strafing the vessel. Emms manned one the vessels machine guns and returned fire and continued to do so even after he had been seriously wounded. His constant and accurate fire forced the Japanese aircraft to break off their attack and probably saved the lives of several of his shipmates.

Francis Emms was badly wounded as a result of the attack and despite being transferred to the hospital ship Manunda he died later that day and was buried at sea. He was subsequently awarded a posthumous mention in dispatches “For courage and devotion to duty in HMAS Kara Kara during an enemy air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942”. Many of his shipmates believed he should have been awarded the Victoria Cross.

Medals and awards include:

  • Mention in dispatches
  • 1939-45 Star
  • Pacific Star
  • Defence Medal
  • 1939-45 War Medal
  • Australian Service Medal 1939-45