If this is what I think it is, then it's significant because it was presented to one of Australia's best known naval heroes for his work captaining one of our most famous though ill-fated ships. It's my second favourite.
The Powerhouse Museum describes it thus:
"N19261 Medal (-1) in case (-2), Australia: NSW, commemorative, presented by the City of Sydney to Captain J.A. Collins C.B.,R.A.N. for the sinking of B Colleoni by HMAS Sydney, 1940."
At age 14, John Augustine Collins entered the new Royal Australian Naval College in the first intake, 1913. After various career postings he was promoted Captain in 1937 and after war came assumed command of HMAS Sydney (II) in November 1939.
(Department of Defence photo - HMAS Sydney arrives in Sydney for the first time 1936)
On 19 July 1940, HMAS Sydney (II) captained by Collins engaged the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in battle. Naval gunfire was exchanged, but Sydney was the victor, sinking the Bartolomeo Colleoni in the first such allied naval victory in the mediterranean. Captain Collins was honoured on 26 July 1940 by being made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB)
When the ship returned to Sydney on 11 February 1941 it was met by huge crowds, about 150,000 people. The crew marched through the streets of Sydney and were feted with a civic reception at the Sydney Town Hall.
(Department of Defence photo- HMAS Sydney II crew parade at Sydney's Martin Place after Meditteranian victories. 11th February 1941)
Here is the report from The Canberra Times of the follwoing day, Wednesday 12 February 1941. The reports says:
"Replicas of the plaque to celebrate the victory over the Italian cruiser were presented to ten representatives of the cruiser's company by the Lord Mayor, at the Town Hall.
A plaque has been placed on the gun turret on the quarter deck of the cruiser.
The Lord Mayor who carried out the opening ceremony, also presented a rose bowl to the ward room and a set of silver tankards to the officers mess.
Alderman Crick also said an identical plaque would be set up in the Sydney Town Hall."
This medal presented to Captain Collins is one of the replicas of that plaque.
As the newspaper report states, the identical plaque to that presented to the ship was set up in Sydney Town Hall. I know it still exists, although I have not yet seen it myself.
The perfect companion item to the Powerhouse Museum's medal presented to Captain Collins would be this audio recording of the speech he gave that day, held by ScreenSound Australia.
The record also shows that the officers and crew were treated to a dinner at the Sydney Town Hall that night. Captain Collins relinquished command of HMAS Sydney (II) on 14 May 1941.
Alas, the ship met a terrible fate on 20 November 1941and was sunk by the German raider Kormoran. There were no survivors.
In the case of this medal, it will be interesting to find out how many medals were struck, and how many presented to members of the crew. Some would likely have gone down with the ship.
At the moment, my guesstimate is that less than 20 would have been struck.
The archives of the City of Sydney will have some of that information and part will lay elsewhere.
There is an interesting file at the National Archives of Australiatitled HMAS Sydney - Replicas presented to Ships Co. (NAA: SP338/1, 691/19) It's 167 pages and runs from 14 August 1940 to 8 June 1943. According to Richard Summerrell's guide to Commonwealth Government records on the sinking of HMAS sydney (II), he states in Chapter 10:
"Late on the evening of 10 February 1941 the HMAS Sydney returned to Sydney after its tour of duty in the Mediterranean. The next day an estimated crowd of 200 000 welcomed the officers and men of the ship when they marched through the city. This file deals with arrangements for the Sydney’s arrival at Circular Quay, for a civic reception on 11 February at the Town Hall, and for the presentation to the ship by the people of Sydney of a plaque in commemoration of Sydney’s sinking of the Bartolomeo Colleoni in the Mediterranean on 19 July 1940. The file includes letters from relatives of the crew both before and after the Sydney’s loss in November 1941, seeking presentation of replica plaques to those crew unable to collect them on the day of the presentation. Navy Office’s advice was that unpresented plaques had been placed in the Sydney’s safe and had therefore been lost with the ship."
It will be interesting to see the correspondence, especially any between Navy Office and the City of Sydney about the number of medals struck and their disposition. I'm trying to get a copy of the NAA file.
John A. Collins went on to become a stellar person in the development of the Royal Australian Navy.
In mid-1944 he was promoted Commodore and became the first Australian to command the Australian Naval Squadron, as ships of the RAN were collectively known. Prior to that a Royal Navy man had always been the senior operational commander. He made HMAS Australia his flagship, and was seriously injured in October 1944 when that ship became one of the first victims of a deliberate Japanese suicide plane.
In July 1945 he returned to duty and made HMAS Shropshire his flagship.
And this is where the story got very interesting for me. My father served in that ship.
After the long years of World War II, the guns were silent on 2 September 1945 when the Japanese surrender was accepted aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
HMAS Shropshire was in Tokyo Bay on that day, and Commodore Collins was accorded the honour of representing the Royal Australian Navy at the surrender ceremony.
Here's an excerpt from the ship's deck log of that day:
(National Archives of Australia SP551/1 Bundle 503 - photograph by blog author)
The Ship's post office had made a special mail canceling stamp to mark the occasion of the end of the war and my father, like many others, sent a letter home postmarked "Tokyo Bay 2 Sep 1945"; and also like many others taking signatures from shipmates :
You'll notice the signature at the bottom right hand corner: "John Collins".
The same John Collins??
It would be nice to think so, but there was also a Stoker named John Collins, as well as Commodore John Collins in the ship on that great day.
I'll have to check with my dear Dad and see.
It is worth noting that apart from this medal believed to have been presented to Captain Colllins, there is one other example of the replica plaque in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, and it appears here.
So it seems that the Powerhouse Museum has two specimens of war related numismatics both of which are very rare, and highly significant. As far as I can tell at the moment, the Australian War Memorial - our nation's great repository of things military and relating to war - has zero specimens.
Now, enough of things relating to war, naval history and the sea.
And on page 97 appears this reminiscence of the presentation of medals to each member of the ship at Sydney Town Hall:
H.M.A.S. Sydney, Meditemmell7l-lJ
families and girlfriends. This over, we set out on our march
to the TO'wn Hall.
I had warned the ship's company it would be a march at
attention with no waving to the crowd. As we marched up
Macquarie Street I saw, out of the corner of my eye, my
five-year-old daughter with her grandmother. Seeing her
father again was tOo much for Gillian. She broke away from
the grand-parental hand and rushed across the street \vaving
a flag at me. A press photographer must have been on the
spot, for next morning the picrure in the paper showed that
I had remembered my own orders. Gillian is waving a flag
a few feet away from me but I was happy to see that my
head and eyes were to the front. The sailors would have been
amused had I been shown waving back, and it would have
been difficult to know how many days' No. 11 punishment
to give myself!
The city of Sydney gave her name-ship a wonderful reception,
including presenting a medallion to each crew
member. A large plaque of the same design was presented to
the ship and secured to Y rurret. That, like the plaque from
Swan Hunter's workmen, also rests at the bonom of the
The only untoward incident occurred as the ship went into
dry dock at Cockatoo Island a few days after arrival. The
entrance to the dock is rather trid:y in a southerly wind as
there is no room for rugs forward.It is essential to get a wire
out from the bows to the nose of the dock as soon as the
ship is positioned, otherwise she will blow down on shoal
water. Out went the heaving lines but the dockyard riggers
refused to handle them. There Was some dispute on about
the time allowed for washing hands after breakfast! We
had lowered boats on approaching the dock and thus we
were able to get our own hands ashore to man the wires
before it was toO late. vVe were not amused by Our welcome