Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

KENNAUGH, Gilbert Thomas

Peary and British Motorist

The tanker British Motorist on fire and sinking. Right is USS Peary sinking by the stern.


Gilbert Thomas Kennaugh, Gunner’s Mate 1st Class (285-54-75), was born in Montana in 1911, the eldest son of English immigrant John T. Kennaugh and his Canadian wife Cora. He was living at Snohomish, Washington, in 1920, and his mother was living at Lake Stevens in Washington.

Kennaugh enlisted on 3 February 1937 at Longbeach and served on the USS Henderson from 29 May 1939, transferring to USS Brooklyn FFT Asia station. He joined the USS Peary in September 1939.

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.

In a report on the Peary’s engagement with the enemy in December 1941, Lieutenant Gustafson wrote:

'During the two attacks on this date, Kennaugh, G.T. GM1c, USN, performed his duties in servicing the .50 cal. A.A. battery with great efficiency and utmost bravery in that he worked unceasingly in exposed positions under heavy bombardment and strafing attacks and was largely responsible for maintenance of the heavy A.A. fire.'

Kennaugh’s body was recovered from the harbour and re-interred on 14 January 1949 at the National Memorial Cemetery of The Pacific, Honolulu.

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