The ashes of five former sailors were committed to the Indian Ocean in a moving ceremony aboard HMAS Canberra on  March 13.

Navy, Army and Air Force personnel gathered on Canberra’s quarterdeck to pay their respects as the Navy’s flagship sailed from Fremantle to Colombo in Sri Lanka.

Among the sailors honoured was Ernie Rudland, who survived the sinking of the World War II heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island in 1942.

“Jack’s on his last journey now. He can rest in peace.”

Personnel of Joint Task Force 661 gather to pay their respects at the committal of ashes ceremony for five former Royal Australian Navy sailors onboard HMAS Canberra. Photo: Leading Seaman Steven Thomson

Mr Rudland and his fellow survivors then formed the crew of the sister ship HMAS Shropshire, gifted by Britain to Australia to replace Canberra.

He was joined aboard Shropshire by his childhood friend Jack Gallagher, whose ashes were also scattered in Canberra’s wake.

Mr Gallagher’s widow Rose said her husband loved the Navy and always regretted leaving the service after the war.

“Jack would have been so proud to be part of the ceremony,” Mrs Gallagher said from her home in Perth.

“I’m disappointed I couldn’t be there, and I got emotional when I handed him over, but I know I have done the right thing.

“Jack’s on his last journey now. He can rest in peace.”

Mr Gallagher and Mr Rudland were aboard Shropshire as she won five battle honours, including Leyte Gulf 1944 where she helped to sink the Japanese battleship Yamashiro.

“This is our chance to thank them and show our gratitude.”

The pair were in the Philippines when Shropshire’s captain piped news of the war’s end and ordered: “All hands to dance and skylark.”

Canberra’s Chaplain Paul Stuart said he was honoured and moved by conducting a scattering of ashes at sea.

“They have given so much and sacrificed so much,” he said.

“This is our chance to thank them and show our gratitude.”

Canberra’s Command Warrant Officer, Tim Badger, had the honour of casting two of the five men’s ashes into the sea.

“It was a privilege to be a part of the service,” Warrant Officer Badger said.

Canberra is sailing as part of Joint Task Force 661, which consists of four ships and more than 1000 ADF personnel.

JTF661 aims to strengthen relationships and promote security and stability with Australia’s key regional partners including Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

IPE 19 will encompass a wide range of activities including disaster recovery planning, multinational naval manoeuvres and land-based training activities with partner security forces.