The fate of the crew aboard Australia’s first submarine – including an Eaglehawk man – has been shrouded in mystery for more than 103 years.
Efforts are now being made to contact their descendants, after the wreck of the HMAS AE1 was found in more than 300 metres of water off the coast of the Duke of York Islands in Papua New Guinea.
The discovery came during a fresh search to find the vessel, which only started last week.
Stoker 1st Class John James Bray, of Eaglehawk, was one of the 35 crew members lost when the submarine vanished on September 14, 1914, the Bendigo Advertiser reported at the time.
He was the region’s first local casualty, according to the Anzac Centenary Bendigo website.
Stoker Bray joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1912 – two days after his 21st birthday.
He previously worked at the Austral Drill Company foundry in Eaglehawk.
Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson said finding AE1 represented one of the most significant and practically meaningful events of Australia's commemoration of the First World War.
“Now we can properly mourn the deaths of those men who served in AE1, and commemorate their sacrifice in a meaningful and fitting way,” Dr Nelson said.
“I know that the descendants of the crew will feel comfort in knowing the final resting place of their family members is now known and will be protected.”
A small commemorative service was conducted by those on board the search vessel Fugro Equator after the submarine was found, Defence Minister Marise Payne said.
She said the Australian Government would work closely with the Papua New Guinean Government to consider a lasting commemoration and recognition of the crew of AE1 and to preserve the site.
“It was the first loss for the RAN and the first Allied submarine loss in World War I; a significant tragedy felt by our nation and our allies,” Ms Payne said.
The search was funded by the government, Silentworld Foundation, Australian National Maritime Museum and the group Find AE1.
“It was supposed that the disappearance was due to an accident,” the Bendigo Advertiser wrote in 1914.
The article said the AE1 was last seen at 3.30pm on Monday, September 14, returning from patrol duty.
“None of the enemy’s ships were in the vicinity where the submarine was last seen, and the weather was fine,” the newspaper stated.
“A thorough search was made, but no wreckage was found.”
The Minister for Defence at the time, Senator George Pearce, was quoted as having said the one gleam of consolation was that the disaster was not due to the action of the enemy.
“The men had given their lives just as truly for the Empire as though they had died in action,” the Bendigo Advertiser stated.
A popular ‘lad’ from Eaglehawk
An article published in the Bendigo Advertiser seven days after the submarine disappeared remembered Stoker Bray as a 23-year-old lad “held in very high esteem by a very large circle of friends.”
“When 16 years of age he had an earnest desire to join the navy, and about four years ago he went to England to enter service on the H.M.A.S. Australia.
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“Shortly after his arrival at Portsmouth he joined the crew of the submarine Penguin, in which he returned to Australia.
“Bray made periodical visits to Eaglehawk and his jovial and courteous disposition earned for him the respect of all with whom he came in contact.”
Stoker Bray’s parents, John Bray and Alice Bray, lived “near the Prince of Wales mine” at Maiden Gully.