Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

FAIR, James Hammond

Peary and Houston

USS Peary and USS Houston before the first Japanese air raid.

James Hammond Fair was born on 23 May 1912 at Beech Island, Aiken, South Carolina. He was the sixth of seven children born to Benjamin Warren Fair and Sarah Jane nee Eve. His father was a cotton, grain and hay farmer who owned and operated Sand Bar Ferry on the Savannah River and a sawmill in Aiken. Fair was just seventeen when his father died.

Fair enlisted on 4 March 1936 in Macon. He served on USS Paul Jones from 29 February 1940 and transferred to the Peary on 31 August 1940 as Machinist’s Mate 1st Class (268-07-01). He was one of the longest serving crew members on the Peary, and would have endured the Cavite Bay bombings and the multiple attacks on the way to Darwin and again on the way to Timor.

The Peary had endured a dramatic voyage to Australia in December 1941, after sustaining damage in a bombing attack on the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines. The crew camouflaged the ship with green paint borrowed from the Army, and took refuge during daylight by anchoring close to the islands and covering the ship with palm fronds. Many of the Peary’s crew contracted malaria on this journey and eight men eventually died from the disease. They were attacked on 26 and 27 December, but avoided damage by violent manoeuvring. The Peary arrived in Darwin on 3 January.

In January the Peary was operating on anti-submarine patrol, convoy and escort missions; while escorting troops from Darwin to Timor, the ship was again attacked. They returned to Darwin, refuelled and set off again with the cruiser USS Houston. A fruitless submarine chase exhausted the Peary’s fuel, and she returned to Darwin in the early hours of 19 February.

The Peary was hit early in the bombing of Darwin, and appears to have sunk within 40 minutes. The fifth bomb to hit the Peary caused the fatal damage that sent her to the bottom and it was said to be the last bomb dropped that day on the harbour. The Peary’s machine guns continued to fire at the Japanese planes even as she sank. Eighty-eight officers and men, including Captain Bermingham, were killed; twenty of the fifty-seven survivors were wounded.

In December 1942 the Peary was awarded one battle star for service in World War II.

Fair was survived by his mother, four sisters and two brothers. He was nearly thirty and unmarried when he died in Darwin Harbour. Died of wounds on HMAHS Manunda 20 February 1942. Lieutenant Catlett records that both Fair and Holverstott were buried in Darwin.

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