South Shields Local History Group

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Band, John Morrell (RANR)

John Morrell Band (1902-1943), naval officer, was born on 22 March 1902 at South Shields, County of Durham, England, son of John Oliver Band, master mariner, and his wife Margaret, née Morrell. The family moved to London where young John’s education at Enfield Grammar School was interrupted by trips to sea with his parents. He followed his father into the Merchant Navy, gaining his first-mate’s certificate in 1924. When his venture as part-owner of a trading vessel was curtailed by the Depression, Band went to China and accumulated enough money to settle on a farm at Nyeri, Kenya. There he bred Ayrshire cattle and did safari work. In 1932 at Nanyuki he married Clara Violet Howes.

After his cattle died of disease, Band tried running guns and smuggling potatoes to Ethiopia, but was apprehended. By the late 1930s he was sailing in coastal steamers in the Pacific and had bought land at Woorim on Queensland’s Bribie Island. Keen to be in uniform in the event of war, on 1 September 1939 he obtained an appointment as temporary sub-lieutenant in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve. From October that year to July 1940 he served in the armed merchant cruiser, H.M.S. Moreton Bay, undergoing an arduous series of patrols in Japanese waters. His subsequent ships included H.M.A.S. Moresby and the cruiser, Hobart, in which he saw action in May 1942 during the battle of the Coral Sea. On 1 October he was posted to command the naval section of the Combined Training Centre at Toorbul Point, near Brisbane.

The school instructed Australian and American soldiers and sailors in amphibious warfare. Band was in his element, teaching landing operations to his students, and training them to be physically and mentally tough. Over six feet (183 cm) tall, well built, part buccaneer and part gentleman, he had a ready, sardonic grin which he used effectively when deriding his juniors. Although a strict disciplinarian, he could be charming and had a fund of stories about his adventures. In January 1943 he was promoted temporary acting lieutenant commander and in July took charge of the mobile base staff organization in Port Moresby. Appointed port director at Buna, Papua, next month, he took initiatives which enabled its facilities to handle shipping twenty-four hours a day.

On 22 September 1943 Band led the beach party accompanying the seaborne assault against Finschhafen, New Guinea. As beachmaster, he was responsible for placing markers and for providing inshore navigational assistance to subsequent waves of landing craft. The first attackers arrived at 4.45 that morning, but—due to an error—found themselves at Siki Cove, south of their objective of Scarlet Beach. Band leapt ashore and called his men to follow. According to one account, a Japanese shouted, ‘Who’s there?’ Band answered, ‘The navy’, and was hit by a burst of machine-gun fire. Despite his wounds, he continued to direct operations and saved a group of vessels from beaching in the wrong position. He died next day and was buried in Bomana war cemetery, Port Moresby; his wife and daughter survived him; he was posthumously awarded the United States Navy Cross.

Navy Cross (Sample from Wikipedia)

Navy Cross: The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Commander John Morel Band, Royal Australian Naval Voluntary Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy, as Officer in Charge of the Naval Beach Party that landed at Japanese occupied Finschafen on 22 September 1943. Lieutenant Commander Band landed with the first wave in face of heavy enemy machine gun and mortar fire. In absolute disregard for his own safety he repeatedly exposed himself in efforts to execute successfully the task that had been assigned him, and in doing so, was mortally wounded. Demonstrating tenacious courage, he continued to direct his group and was successful in diverting one group of landing craft which were about to land on the wrong beach in the face of heavy enemy opposition. As the result of his wounds he fell unconscious on the beach and was returned to a field hospital where he died. His daring leadership and devotion to duty contributed to the successful completion of a vital mission. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.


David Fenton

Hugh Jarrett,

Medal citation details

National Archives of Australia

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