BARTEL, Donald John (PA4497)

BARTEL, Donald John (PA4497), studio portrait
The studio portrait of PA4497 Signaller Donald John BARTEL was taken in 1944, the photographer was Artgraf Studios of Bourke Street, Melbourne. From the D.J. Bartel family collection.

PA4497 Signalman Donald John BARTEL

Donald John BARTEL was born at Encounter Bay on 7 October 1925, the youngest son of Johannes Frederick BARTEL and Ivy Grace BARTEL (nee Rumbelow). Don was educated at Victor Harbor Primary and High Schools and after leaving school, he worked in the family building business. During this time he undertook extensive swimming training and was successful in the South Australian Under-16 and Under-18 Swimming Championships.

Don enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy on 25 October 1943, having just turned 18. His older brother Ivan (Frederick Ivan BARTEL born 24 January 1920) had enlisted in the militia forces on 22 October 1940, and later enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. Don had already decided he wanted to be a signalman when he arrived at the Adelaide Recruiting Centre to join the Royal Australian Navy Reserve (RANR). Having finished school before completing the Intermediate Certificate, he was required to pass a scholastic test to be accepted as a Communications Branch sailor. Following a medical examination, Don then, in Navy language, “signed on” (enlisted) was allocated the service number PA 4497; PA showed his home-port was Port Adelaide. Having your home-port recorded was important, as the Navy then issued travel vouchers to that place on the rare occasions long leave was granted. During both World Wars the majority of personnel who joined the Navy did so as members of RANR or the period of hostilities. Reservists were engaged for 3 years or the duration of the war and 6 months thereafter. Joining the permanent Navy required committing to 12 years of service.

Don’s recruit and specialist signal training was undertaken at the Flinders Naval Depot. This shore establishment, more correctly known as HMAS Cerberus was located on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, and remains to this day as one of the Navy’s principal training establishments. Bursting with wartime personnel, Don’s initial living accommodation (mess deck) was in a temporary hut. Later he lived in D Block, one of the three storey barrack buildings. This was much more convenient as the sailors’ galley and dining room (mess) were immediately behind the building.

As in all training establishments, it was important to march smartly and to observe correct military courtesies. Don, as class leader, was marching his class to their next lesson when an officer, carrying books whilst riding a bicycle, approached them. Don ordered his class to eyes right while he saluted, obliging the officer to return the salute and, of course, dropping the books to the amusement of the sailors.

Transport to and from Melbourne for those going on leave or draft (transfer) elsewhere was by steam hauled passenger trains from the station within the Depot. There was always a rush on Friday afternoons for liberty men and girls (WRANS) to catch the last train, which travelled express to Flinders Street Railway Station.
As a Class leader, Don was not required to stand sentry duty, however on one evening, when one of his class could not be found, he took the man’s place as one of two Gunnery School sentries. Following a long established practice, sailors who were under training were not allowed to enter the “wet” canteen where beer was served. Reasoning the missing sailor would most likely be at the “wet” canteen, Don and the other sentry left their post and found the miscreant enjoying a beer. Not one to waste an opportunity, Don and the other sentry joined him. Unfortunately, Don’s companion had never tasted alcohol before. Eventually the beer took effect and he had to be assisted from the canteen. On the way back to their post another sentry leapt out from behind a bush and challenged them, causing the inebriated member to scream and run off.

Don was selected to represent the Navy at the Melbourne inter-service swimming carnival. Despite limited training opportunities, he came a creditable second in the 100 yards freestyle race.

On completion of his training at HMAS Cerberus Don was promoted to Ordinary Signalman V/S (visual signalling) on 23 March 1944. He was then drafted to the personnel pool at HMAS Penguin, a Sydney Naval Depot at Balmoral. Following a week aboard the destroyer HMAS Stuart (previously a ship of the famed Mediterranean “scrap iron” flotilla) Don was drafted ashore on 11 April for transfer to the Darwin shore establishment, HMAS Melville.

Don’s long journey to Darwin was in itself a geography lesson. He started by standard gauge train from Sydney to the dual gauge transfer station, Wallangarra, just over the Queensland border. There passengers and goods were transferred to the narrow gauge Queensland trains for travel to Brisbane. Passing through the Brisbane Naval Establishment, HMAS Moreton, he continued his rail journey north to Townsville then westwards to Mt Isa. Travel resumed by truck to Tennant Creek then along the road now known as the Stuart Highway to Larrimah to catch another train. Eventually he reached Darwin and the naval depot, HMAS Melville, on 25 May 1944.

On 4 July 1944 Don was drafted to HMAS Southern Cross, which had been in Darwin Harbour during the first Japanese air raid on 19 February 1942. During the raid Southern Cross and her crew rescued survivors from two American ships that sank, and assisted a third ship that was damaged.

In early July 1942, Southern Cross accompanied HMAS Warrnambool from Darwin to land Dutch troops and equipment in the Aru Islands. Later in July Southern Cross sailed with the ketch HMAS Chinampa to land Australian troops at Saumlaki (now Maluka, Indonesia, north of Darwin). Chinampa berthed alone as Southern Cross had broken down. As Chinampa berthed it was hit by Japanese gunfire, killing the Captain and wounding two others. Both ships then withdrew to Darwin.
By 1944 Southern Cross duties were less hazardous. Classified as an examination vessel, Southern Cross was built in 1933 for the Anglican Church to carry supplies and personnel to remote mission stations along the northern coast. Requisitioned by the Navy in 1941, the 298 ton diesel engine ship, with a service speed of 8 knots, was armed with a 40mm Bofors gun and several machine guns. While most remote mission stations were abandoned as the threat of Japanese invasion grew, those remaining open still had to be supplied by ship.

When Don joined the ship at Darwin it was commanded by Lieutenant Goldsmith, a former merchant navy officer. During Don’s service the ship was usually anchored for up to a month at Abbots Shoal Buoy near Cape Keith on Melville Island some 70 miles from the port. Southern Cross provided accommodation for the harbour pilots who navigated ships in and out of Darwin. After a fortnight, fresh food would run out and fresh water would be rationed.

The inner Darwin harbour was protected from submarines by a boom net of meshed steel wire cable stretching across the harbour from East Point to West Point. Initially 4.6 km long in early 1942 it was later lengthened to 5.6 km. The gate for ships to pass through the net was about 3 kms from East Point. There were also coastal gun batteries to protect Darwin from surface ships, while anti-aircraft batteries were scattered around to defend the town and airfields against Japanese air attacks.

The Southern Cross crew of 30 included several young Victorians who became prominent post-war public figures. Gunner Alan Killigrew (PM5997, born 27 February 1918, demobilised 1 August 1946) later coached both the North Melbourne and Norwood Australian Rules football teams. Supply Assistant Frank (Francis) Galbally (PM6474, born 13 October 1922, demobilised 23 November1945), who had played junior football with the Collingwood Football Club, entered the legal profession and rose to be a Queens Counsel. Sick Berth Attendant Reginald (Doc) Barlow (PA3424, born 31 August 1923, demobilised 11 July 1946) was a member of the well-known Adelaide Barlow Shoes family.

Frank Galbally shared a cabin on the upper deck with the cook, Kanga, who was rather unhygienic. Eventually Frank threw some of the cook’s dirty clothing over the side and had Kanga transferred to another berth. Don then shared the two-berth cabin with Frank for the remainder of his time on Southern Cross.
In later years Don received a letter from his former cabin mate telling the story of the ship’s pigs. Occasionally, the ship’s pilot duties included the carrying supplies to mission stations. Two pigs and other supplies intended for Crocker Island remained onboard after it was evacuated. During their three months on the ship the pigs grew in size. Unlike most ships, beer was issued with tops on allowing some to be hoarded. One night after consuming some of the hoard, the letter writer carried the smaller of the two pigs up two decks to the Captain’s cabin and thrust it into the cabin. The pig’s squeals could be heard throughout the ship as it was ejected by the Captain. Next morning he spoke to the crew, plainly advising them there would be no repeat of the event. Nevertheless, they realised he could see the funny side of it but the privilege of having beer issued unopened was withdrawn.

Generally the food in the Navy was good, particularly in shore establishments. But the beef meat supplied to the Southern Cross was of poor quality. Whilst serving on HMAS Broome, the victualling supply assistant liked pasta, so it featured regularly on the crew’s menu.

As a signalman, Don also assisted with the coding and decoding of signals (messages). Signals sent by radio were encrypted using codes to hide their meaning. It was a painstaking task requiring great concentration, as a mistake could change a signal into a jumble of meaningless characters. On one occasion when the 40 mm Bofors gun (mounted aft) was being fired for practice Don had arranged to be allowed to fire it. But in his haste to finish encrypting a signal advising the ship’s estimated time of arrival, he left out the indicator group and the signal could not be read, so it had to be repeated. He never did get to fire the Bofors.

While serving on the ship, Don represented the Navy at an inter-service swimming carnival in Darwin and played football for the ship’s team. Despite playing well in a practice match for the Navy team he was not selected by the playing coach who kept the coveted centre position for himself.

Naval policy required personnel who had served 12 months in the harsher Northern Territory conditions to be sent south to another draft. Accordingly, Don went ashore to HMAS Melville on 21 May 1945 to travel to his home-port of Port Adelaide. Wartime journeys were often both long and uncomfortable. Don’s journey to Adelaide was no exception, beginning with the 511 km narrow gauge northern Australian railway to Larrimah. This railway was vital and ran up to 247 trains per week during 1944. The next stage of the trip to Alice Springs was by road. Personnel then joined a narrow gauge train to Terowie, where everyone and everything, was transferred to a broad gauge train for the trip to Adelaide. The total journey took four days.

During his leave he was attached to HMAS Torrens, the naval establishment at Port Adelaide, then sent to the personnel pool at HMAS Penguin at Balmoral on 21 June 1944 to wait for his next draft.

Don joined HMAS Broome in Sydney on 3 July 1945, remaining with the ship until January 1946. Broome was an Australian minesweeper of the Bathurst Class, more commonly known as corvettes. Adapted from a British Admiralty design, these ubiquitous vessels served in the Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Indian and Pacific Oceans. From a beginning in June 1940, a total of 60 corvettes were built in Australia – 36 for the RAN, 4 for the Indian Navy and 20, including Broome, on account for the British Admiralty.

Building of HMAS Broome commenced on 3 May 1941 in Brisbane, with the ship entering service on 29 July 1942. She was to serve in Australian and Pacific waters. With a length of 186 feet (56.74 metres), its single steam engine provided a maximum speed of 15 knots (27.7 km/h). Living conditions for the crew of 85 were cramped and in rough weather these ships were very uncomfortable. By 1945, Broome’s armament was a single four-inch gun, two x 20 mm Oerlikon, guns, a 40 mm Bofors gun and machine guns. It carried depth charge chutes and throwers for attacking submarines.

Don’s beginning on Broome was inauspicious. As he stepped aboard in early July 1945 to report, the passing Captain immediately ordered him to pick up a pot of paint and begin painting, without allowing Don to change into working rig (working clothes). In hindsight, the Captain, who had commanded ships at sea since 1941, was probably war weary.

Having just completed a refit (overhaul) at Sydney, the ship returned to New Guinea for escort and anti-submarine duties which took it to Morotai Island, Borneo and the Philippines. As the ship sailed from Zamboanga, Philippines, USAAF Lightning fighter aircraft put on an aerobatic display to mark the end of the war. During the passage south to Morotai, Broome and all other Australian ships received the signal on 15 August 1945 “Japan has surrendered. Cease offensive action. Take all wartime precautions for self defence.”

Later four Australian corvettes were exercising, manoeuvring in formation (also called fleet work) off Morotai, using signal flags to order changes of course, speed and the positions of the ships within the formation. Groups of ships usually move in particular standard formations which are altered to provide maximum mutual protection or to allow them to react against an expected threat. Flag hoists can be difficult to distinguish if they do not stream clearly from their halyards. After several successful manoeuvres, Broome’s signalmen misread the next flag hoist and thus gave the Captain the wrong instruction. Consequently Broome turned onto the opposite course, steaming away from the other three ships. The senior ship immediately signalled “Goodbye”. Broome returned to its correct station (position) as quickly as it could.

On the voyage from Morotai to Tarakan, Broome did a stint as a radio relay ship and was berthed in the harbour at Tarakan. Don went ashore and whilst walking along the jetty he saw a soldier who seemed familiar to him. On approaching him, he was surprised to recognise Sgt Bill Battye (SX23561 Sgt George William Battye), another Victor Harbor serviceman. Bill was a member of the 2/9th Armoured Regiment which had landed on Tarakan during the earlier invasion. They had quite a chat together and Bill remarked the Regiment had a rough time helping the infantry clear the Japanese from the Island and had suffered casualties.

Around this time, Broome was inspected by Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, Commander in Chief of the British Far East Fleet. Any inspection by an Admiral, even in wartime, is stressful and is preceded by a hectic period of painting, cleaning and preparation to present the ship and its crew at their best. This inspection was no exception.

Between 21-26 August 1945, Broome, with her sister corvettes, conducted minesweeping exercises in Subic Bay in preparation for sweeping to clear Hong Kong and nearby waters. The Captain wanted the signalmen to obtain the names of ship’s Captains but the message was not passed on so Don received a bollocking from the Captain. Don did not get leave in Hong Kong for a week until the Captain’s wrath subsided.

Arriving at Hong Kong on 30 August, these ships were soon joined by others bringing 22 Australian corvettes together to form the 21st and 22nd Minesweeping Flotillas where they carried out minesweeping, anti-piracy and survey duties.

Don was lookout on the ship’s bridge one evening while Broome was anchored off Hong Kong. Seeing a floating square water tank or perhaps a mine drifting towards the ship, Don shook (woke) the Officer of the Day who ordered it sunk by gunfire. Grabbing a Thompson sub-machine gun from the bridge ready-use rack, Don took aim and pulled the trigger which caused the round to explode in the breech. Immediately grabbing another gun, he fired at the object in the water, but being inexperienced with the weapon it kicked up causing the rounds to miss their target.

Broome returned to Morotai in mid-October 1945 to ferry soldiers and stores, followed by searching three islands for missing aircraft. On 18 October, Lieutenant Osborne, until then the ship’s First Lieutenant, assumed command. He was more pleasant to serve under.

Returning to Australia in December 1945, the ship visited the town of Broome over 4-5 January, arriving at Fremantle on 10 January 1946 where HMAS Broome was to be paid off (decommissioned) into reserve. Don left the ship at Fremantle to return to South Australia. This journey was by wartime troop train with most of the men travelling in goods wagons with a steel arch roof and open sides, with straw on the floor for sleeping. The few carriages at the front of the train were allocated to servicewomen and those recovering from wounds or illness. The train had to wait at Cook for three days for floodwaters to disperse. Don offered to cut firewood at the hospital and received a cup of coffee for his efforts. Reaching Adelaide Don reported to HMAS Torrens (Birkenhead Naval Depot) on 25 February 1946 for demobilisation and he was discharged to shore the next day.

For his war service, Don was awarded the following medals: 1939-1945 Star, Pacific Star, the War Medal 1939-1945 and Australian Service Medal 1939-1945. Many years later, in 2007, he received the Philippine Government’s Philippine Liberation Medal awarded to those, including Australians, who participated in the liberation of the Philippines between 17 October 1944 and 2 September 1945.

At his father’s request, Don had been released early from the Navy ahead of other sailors to return to the family building business. Building houses was given high priority to meet the escalating demand to accommodate many newly married couples and the surging birth rate. Post-war immigration also rapidly increased Australia’s population. Later his father, a stonemason, left the building business to manufacture concrete building blocks.

The family business expanded to include a carpentry workshop. Don, who specialised in bricklaying, together with his brother, Ivan, ran the building business. Ivan retired nine years before Don, who carried on the business which became increasingly difficult due to the demands of labour unions.

Don’s football prowess survived naval service. Back home he played a number of games for the Sturt Football Club in the SANFL, then later played for Encounter Bay, where he won Mail Medals for being the fairest and most brilliant player.

On 25 September 1948, Don married Barbara Joy IRELAND and they raised their family of three children.

Don found it difficult to keep in touch with former shipmates. He only marched once on Anzac Day in Adelaide with the Corvettes Association. Of the four former Broome crew members marching that day, only one had served with Don. In retrospect, Don now summarises his service in the Navy as “an education”.

BARTEL, Donald John (PA4497), portrait of Don & Ivan
The informal portrait photograph of 122109 LAC Frederick Ivan BARTEL and PA4497 Signalman Donald John BARTEL was taken in 1944 at Victor Harbor. The photographer was Mrs Ivy Bartel. From the D.J. Bartel family collection.

       BARTEL, Donald John (PA4497) The Times 11 Dec 1942 Don BARTEL & Doug COX swimming

Hermon G. GILL, Australia in the War of 1939 -1945, Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1957.

Hermon G. GILL, Australia in the War of 1939 -1945, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1968.

Rex RUWOLT, Darwin’s Battle for Australia, Darwin Defenders 1942-45 Inc., Sydney, 2006.

Tom FRAME, No Pleasure Cruise – The Story of the Royal Australian Navy, Allen & Unwin, Sydney. 2004.

Royal Australian Navy Website ( ) – history section.

Lesley AVERY, The Rumbelows of Encounter Bay, 150 Years of the family in Australia.

Service file of PA4497 Donald John BARTEL downloaded from the National Archives of Australia ( ).


Compiled by the RSL Victor Harbor Sub-branch History Research Team, September 2017.