Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

WEBSTER, James Henry

James Webster was born in the July Quarter of 1924 in Wallasey, near Liverpool, Cheshire, England; his mother’s maiden name was Pilkington. Webster joined the Merchant Navy (identity certificate number R103566) and was the 2nd Radio Operator on board the MV British Motorist.

Tom Minto, 1st. Mate,  records in the Manunda Ship’s Log for 8am 20.2.42 at Darwin (entered on 23.2.1942) "The following patients having died from injuries were landed for burial at 8am 20.2.42 Signalman Breen, Leading Seaman Sault,  A.B. Purdon …

In the case of the three men from the HMAS Swan some doubt exists. They were brought off dead in a naval launch. One body was brought on board. The remaining two were wrapped together and were too heavy to carry on a stretcher. The launch driver was ordered to go away for more patients. And an attempt would be made to bring them back on board on his next return. There is no proof that he did return, and it seems probable that two other men were landed for burial in their names. This seems most likely in view of the fact that the ships motor launch definitely brought on board Captain Bates and 2nd Radio Operator Webster of the “British Motorist”, both badly injured. A search of the wards the following day by the Chief officer Mr. Woods of the British Motorist failed to locate these men, and all the patients on board had by then been identified. There are no patients on board named Bates or Webster.

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 raid on 19 February 1942 in Darwin. She was sunk in 66 feet of water.

After the war she was salvaged by the Fujita Salvage Company, with the fore and aft sections of the hull welded together while the engine room was left under water, 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.

British Motorist

The British Motorist burning.

The remains of the British Motorist lay near the remains of the Zealandia near Darwin’s main wharves.

Webster’s 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.

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