Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

BATES, Gilbert Chase

Gilbert Bates was born on 2 February 1904 in Minster-in-Thanet, Kent, England to parents Elijah Bates and Julia Annie Golder. Elijah and Julia were married on 29 April 1903 in Thanet and had three children. Bates was the eldest child in the family, with a sister, Eleanor, born in 1912 and a brother, John, born in 1915.

Elijah died in 1951 and Julia in 1958, having lived and worked in Thanet all their lives, Elijah worked with Julia’s uncle, a farmer and grocer, John Richard Chase, at his shop in Church Street of Minster and the family lived with him at the family house “The Elms”, situated in the High Street. The house was originally bought by the family in 1860 and was passed down the family until sold in 1996. The family’s Watchester Farm is situated in Watchester Lane, Minster and was worked on by the family.

Bates was educated at Chatham House Grammar School, Ramsgate, Kent. He went on to become an apprentice in the English Merchant Navy in about 1918 and his identity certificate number is 217860. He worked is way up the ranks, obtaining his Second Mates’ certificate in 1924, then his First Mates’ certificate in 1926, serving on many BP tankers. In 1938 he became Captain of the MV British Destiny tanker built in 1937.

Bates and Helena Taylor, born 17 March 1906, also in Thanet, were married in the July Quarter of 1933 in Thanet and they lived in Derwent Gardens, Ilford, Essex. They had no children and Helena did not remarry after her husband's death; she died in December, 1999.

The MV British Motorist was a 6,891 ton tanker with a crew of sixty-one men under charter to the merchant navy. She had been carrying oil, aviation fuel and petrol and was refuelling USS Peary when she was hit by two bombs during the Japanese raid on 19 February 1942 in Darwin. She was sunk in 66 feet of water.

It is likely that Captain Bates and 2nd Radio Operator Webster died aboard the hospital ship Manunda, as the Ship’s Log indicates the two badly injured men were brought on board by a naval motor launch. It is probable that Bates and Webster were then landed for burial under the names of two other men from the HMAS Swan during the confusion that followed the bombing.

BATES, Gilbert Chase
Gilbert's photo taken on enlistment into the British Merchant Navy as an apprentice 1918

After the war the MV British Motorist was salvaged by the Fujita Salvage Company, with the fore and aft sections of the hull welded together while the engine room was left, as it was too heavy to refloat. The salvage team lived on board this makeshift vessel and used it to stow scrap metal recovered in the other salvage operations. The makeshift vessel was towed back to Japan and broken up for scrap metal. The remains of the British Motorist lay near the remains of Zealandia near Darwin’s main wharves.

Bates' name can be found on panel 20 of the Tower Hill Memorial, Greater London, which commemorates men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who died in both World Wars and have no known grave but the sea. His name is also listed on the war memorial, in St. Mary's Church, Minster, Ramsgate, Kent.

Compiled with the assistance of John and Paul Bates, sons of John Bates, nephews of Gilbert Bates.

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British Motorist

The British Motorist, refloated by the Fujita Salvage Company in Darwin Harbour.


This Merchant Navy Memorial has the names of the dead under the names of the ships in which they were serving.

BATES, Gilbert Chase

2nd Mate Certificate attained 22 December 1924

First mate.pdf

1st Mate Certificate attained 13 October 1926


Condolence letter written by former crew member to wife Helena Bates.