Now Harold's the sole survivor
HIS outstretched arm rested on the table, his fist clenched.
Harold Moss held his chin high as he sat upright in his chair.
Yet his eyes were red as tears welled inside.
The 86-year-old Ballina man kept saying ‘time heals old wounds’.
But then he agreed with a quick shake of his head: “Not really.”
Too many mates had been lost.
And now Mr Moss is believed to be the last alive.
He was one of 24 survivors of alittle-known World War II disaster, the sinking of HMAS Parramatta II in the Mediterranean in the early hours of November 27, 1941.
There were 138 crew who lost their lives – including all officers – after a torpedo from a German submarine thundered into the Australian-built sloop-class vessel.
At the time it was in convoy with an ammunition ship and a British ship, HMS Avon Vale, en route to Tobruk.
The Parramatta was torn in twoafter the torpedo struck, and an explosion from the Parramatta’s depth charges hastened the end.
It was a terrible night, Mr Mossrecalls, his voice trembling with emotion.
He was lucky.
He repeats: “Luck is a fortune.
“I could have been like the rest of them.”
And luck was with him throughout his service in the Royal Australian Navy.
He enlisted at the age of 16-and-a-half from his home town of Adelaide in 1939. He signed up for 12 years.
After basic training a bout of the mumps meant he missed out on joining his cohort in being drafted to the ill-fated HMAS Sydney, which was lost during the war with no survivors.
Instead, Mr Moss went to the UK to join the crew of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Arawa.
It was in August, 1941, that Mr Moss boarded the Parramatta, a ship built at Sydney’s Cockatoo Island and commissioned in 1939.
He was a loader on the forward 4.5-inch guns.
On the evening of November 26 it was raining when Mr Moss was on his watch.
The normal crew had been expanded with Royal Navy sailors en route to Tobruk.
When Mr Moss ended his shift at midnight he went below deck to find the hammock in which he normally slept in the forward section of the ship had been taken by another sailor.
He headed to the midships area below the ship’s funnel and found a stool to lie on, inflating his lifebelt to use as a pillow.
It was about 12.45am when the torpedo hit, with two explosions following.
“I knew what had happened straight away,” Mr Moss, who was aged 18 at the time, said.
The order was given to abandon ship.
Mr Moss clambered up a nearby ladder to the upper deck ‘like a rabbit’ and boarded a small whaleboat attached to the ship.
He said he expected the whaler to come adrift from the Parramatta when it sunk, but it was secured tightly, giving Mr Moss no option but to ‘end up in the drink’.
“I wasn’t a strong swimmer,” he said.
“As luck would have it, a Carley float (small raft) came by, and I was the first one in.”
Eight other men ended up joining Mr Moss on the lifesaving float.
The Parramatta went down quickly, after rolling to starboard.
“And it didn’t take long to go down,” Mr Moss said.
He estimated he was in the float for a couple of hours before HMS Avon Vale came to look for survivors.
The eight men in the raft climbed the rope ladder to board the rescue ship, but Mr Moss, because of the cold, found that he couldn’t loosen his grip from the ropes on the raft.
The men were given two minutes to board the Avon Vale as there was concern the enemy submarine was lurking in the area.
Mr Moss couldn’t move.
“A big burly stoker came down and threw me over his shoulders,” he said.
And he was safe.
Only one man who was asleep in the area where Mr Moss would normally have bunked down survived the sinking. He managed to climb through a porthole, while the others were trapped by lockers which fell over as the ship lurched.
“If it hadn’t rained, I would’ve been up there with the rest of them,” Mr Moss said.
He spent a few weeks in hospital after an ordeal with paralysis caused by pinched nerves, then was given 14 days survivors’ leave.
Then it was back to another ship.
“We never had counselling – here’s a new kit, now go and have a bit of leave, then bang: Here’s a new ship,” was the way the men were treated, he said.
Mr Moss served on another three vessels during the war after the sinking of the Parramatta, and was discharged in the late 1940s, deemed unfit for the navy because of flat feet.
He and the other survivors once marched in the annual Anzac Day parade in Sydney.
They also would come together each year at the Sydney suburb of Parramatta for a reunion on November 27.
But no longer.
Four of the last survivors were invited to the commissioning of HMAS Parramatta IV in October 2008.
Since then, three of the men have died, one of them last week.
That leaves Mr Moss as the sole survivor.
He said he has a quiet moment to himself on November 27 each year.
He has, in the past, laid a wreath, by himself, at the Ballina cenotaph in memory of his fallen shipmates.
“Poor bastards,” he said.
He could have been one of them.
His hand relaxed as he looked over the memorabilia of his days in thenavy and the Parramatta scattered over his table, his chin still heldhigh.
“Luck is a fortune,” he said.