Campaign for Commemoration

Kylie Hatfield
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For David Mattiske, now 93 years old, the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 was the highlight of his short, but significant, Naval career.

Campaign for Commemoration
HMAS Shropshire crew company 1945.
Enlisting on his 18th birthday, David spent the three years of his service in HMAS Shropshire, starting from Milne Bay, throughout the Philippines campaign and then  on to Tokyo, where it was the flagship representing Australia days before the surrender.

“I had several positions, but the one that I thought was most interesting and important was to be a lookout. I was in a lookout team that manned what was known as the Captain’s Sights on the compass platform,” David said.

“We were responsible for reporting whatever we saw and heard to the Officer of the Watch, the Gunnery Officer or, if the Captain was there, he sat on a stool beside you and listened to everything you had to say.”

Greatest naval battle in man's sea-faring history

David describes the Battle of Leyte Gulf as the “greatest naval battle in man’s sea-faring history”, with some 341,000 tonnes sunk. A “humble Able Seaman” by his own admission, David is now campaigning to have the 75th anniversary in October 2019 commemorated accordingly.

“There were four major operations taking place at the one time, and the Battle of Surigao Strait is the last time in man’s history when battle ships and cruisers would battle it out with naval guns. It will never happen again,” David said.

“So, the 75th anniversary is a very important point in world history and  in that particular battle, HMAS Arunta, the Australian Destroyer, and then the Cruiser HMAS Shropshire, which I was a member of, performed quite magnificently.

“Here we were, the Navy’s biggest naval operation of any time; ultimately there were 20 ships of the Australian Navy involved in the Philippines campaign and probably 5000 or more men, yet it has never been given its rightful place in history.”

Annual Commemorations

David attends the annual commemorations held on the Gold Coast, where he now lives; however, this year will be travelling to the city of Surigao in the Philippines for their official commemorations. This will be his third visit to the region for their commemoration, which is a major festival of the city, attracting around 2000 people.

“On the foreshore there is quite a big memorial, with a plaque dedicated to HMAS Shropshire and HMAS Arunta. The Philippine people have been very kind and hospitable and given us a very important role in their commemorations,” David said.

“Embassy officials in the past have told us that our trips to these commemorations have created an enormous amount of goodwill between Australia and the Philippines.”

75th anniversary in the Philippines in 2019

For the 75th anniversary next year, David is hoping to again attend the commemorations in Leyte, Philippines, and hopes to be joined by a strong Australian Navy contingent.

“We would hope that conditions are such that the Navy is able to represent Australia in Leyte Gulf and Surigao for that particular commemoration next year. These things have become very important because of their significance in history.”

David will travel to Leyte and the city of Surigao with members of the Southport RSL Sub Branch for the commemorations on October 25.