John Samuel Asher: “He will not be forgotten”

May 21, 2017 by Henry Benjamin
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Shortly after midnight on May 29. 1942 a Japanese midget submarine fired a torpedo towards the USS Chicago, a heavy cruiser moored on Sydney Harbour.

The torpedo passed under its target and slamming into the retaining wall at Garden Island sending the  converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul out of the water and sinking it. On board were 21 sleeping sailors….including John Samuel Asher, a Jewish sailor from South Australia. He has no family surviving today…but he has special friends he never knew who still visit his grave.

John Samuel Asher

Asher was a stoker in the Royal Australian Navy and was awaiting deployment. The “HMAS Kuttabul” was being used as dormitory vessel for sailors awaiting posting.

The Japanese mother submarine had surfaced outside Sydney Heads and had on board a demountable seaplane. They made reconnaissance flight over the harbour and spotted the Chicago. They sent three midget submarines in at night-time to attack it but miscalculated the draught of the warship and the Kuttabul became their victim.

In June 1942, shortly after the sinking of the Kuttabul, another Japanese submarine shelled Sydney and Newcastle. This time their target was the Harbour Bridge and their motive was not to necessarily kill but to create disquiet. Ernest Hirsch was a 35-yr-old electrical engineer who had fled Nazi Germany. One of the Japanese shells tore through the wall of his Rose Bay flat at the corner of Manion Avenue and Iluka Street passing through the room in which his mother was sleeping and came to rest on the stairwell without exploding. Other shells landed in Bradley Avenue,  9 Bunyula Rd and 68 Streathfield Rd in Bellevue Hill and at 67 Balfour Rd, Rose Bay, 1 Simpson St, Bondi and Olola Avenue Vaucluse. None exploded. The only shell which did explode hit 33 Plumer Rd in Rose Bay causing only a slight injury.

The 21 sailors who died on the Kuttabul were the only fatalities resulting from an attack on Sydney.

John Samuel Asher has been dutifully remembered…and there remains no trace today of his family.

John Asher is buried in Adelaide.

He was mentioned in Mark Dapin’s recently released book “Jewish ANZACS – Jewish in the Australian Military”.

But John Asher is also remembered outside of the Jewish community.

Mark Fleming told J-Wire: “I run the Naval Graves Project and we hold a ceremony on site at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery where 18 of the 21 killed on board the “Kuttabul” are buried or commemorated.

John Samuel Asher is one of three buried elsewhere and we make sure they are visited in the week preceding the anniversary of their deaths.

I would like to say regarding him not having any family that Samuel has his naval family. He is one of the very many the Naval Graves Project looks out for and he is remembered and spoken of at our Kuttabul Events. His grave is visited as often as our resources permit and his memory as a member of the Royal Australian Navy is honoured. John Samuel Asher is our shipmate separated only by time – he will not be forgotten…..”


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