24 May 2024

Canberra storyteller connects tale of heroic proportions - from the other side of the world

| Sally Hopman
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Kaaron Warren presents the HMS Jervis Bay autograph book to Kevin Reeves and his wife.

Kaaron Warren presents the HMS Jervis Bay autograph book to Trevor Reeves and his wife at their home in Hull, in the UK. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra writer Kaaron Warren is no stranger to mystery through her fantastic stories. But this time, thanks to her dogged research skills, it was someone else’s book that told a remarkable tale.

Kaaron worked at the Green Shed’s Civic shop for many years and was a fan for even longer. During the popular recycling shop’s last days of business, she came across a particular book.

“For a while, the [warehouse] staff had been sending in diaries, papers, leaflets and booklets in the knowledge they would find a happy home with our customers in the city,” she said. “When this book came in, I was fascinated by it.”

Kaaron said she often took items home so she could research them and tell customers about them. This one piqued her interest immediately when she discovered it was an autograph book containing notes and signatures from passengers aboard HMS Jervis Bay in 1929.

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A report at the time stated: “The ship was utilised in the war, to the extent it became a hero ship, going down with the loss of many lives but, in the process, saving more.”

When Kaaron realised the book’s significance, she contacted Trevor Reeves from the HMS Jervis Bay Association. It turns out Trevor’s grandfather was one of the casualties.

HMS Jervis Bay remains remembered today for many reasons, not least her indomitable captain and crew. The British liner was later converted into an armed merchant cruiser.

Launched in 1922, she was sunk on 5 November, 1940 by the German battleship Admiral Sheer, earning Captain Edward Fegan the only known Victoria Cross for escort duty.

“[Jervis Bay] did not have a chance, and we all knew it,” Captain Sven Olan, commander of the Swedish freighter Stureholm, one of the convoy ships, was reported saying at the time.

“But she rode like a hero and stayed to the last.”

Drawing of ship

An illustration of HMS Jervis Bay from the 1929 autograph book. Photo: Supplied.

“As I write stories inspired by objects, my latest novel The Underhistory was inspired by a box of old postcards, I knew I wanted to take it further” Kaaron said.

Told of the HMS Jervis Bay album, Green Shed’s co-owner Sandie Parkes agreed the book should be given to Kevin who lived in the United Kingdom.

Fortunately, Kaaron was scheduled to head to the UK on a book tour and told Trevor she would post the box from the UK.

old album cover

The HMS Jervis Bay autograph album found at the Green Shed and taken to the UK to give to the family of one of the seamen. Photo: Supplied.

“But when we decided to go to York, which is only an hour from Hull [where Trevor lives], I knew I would have to deliver it in person.”

How did Trevor react on receiving the autograph book?

“He was absolutely blown away and more so as he delved into the book and really came to terms with what was happening.

“I felt the same way, to be honest. I was a very long way from home, delivering an important, meaningful object to a very dedicated man.”

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