In a solemn sunrise ceremony in the seas of the Solomon Islands, 84 members of HMAS Canberra held tiny wooden crosses bearing the names of the 84 crew who lost their lives in a World War II naval battle fought there by the ship’s namesake.

The ceremony was held 78 years after the first Canberra sank in the Battle of Savo Island, on August 9, 1942. 

Combat system operator Able Seaman Billi Love-Dowling said she was thinking of the man whose name she was holding and his family during the ceremony. 

“Robert G Doggett was a 21-year-old able seaman, like me,” Able Seaman Love-Dowling said. 

“It’s an honour to be here and recognise how things have changed, how it could have been me. 

“I feel honoured to represent him. Even though these sailors are gone, they’re not forgotten.” 

Canberra is sailing through the region returning to Australia after a two-month Regional Presence Deployment, demonstrating Australia’s enduring commitment to the Indo-Pacific and partners in South-East Asia and the Pacific.

What an honour to represent someone who lost his life for the sake of my freedom.

At dawn, the more than 700 members of the ship’s company and embarked forces gathered on the flight deck to commemorate the ship that now lies 760 metres below, and the lives lost.

Small crosses were held by a ship’s member of the same rank and rating as the one who died. Lined up along the flight deck, they placed the crosses into a box as the names were read.

Commanding Officer Canberra Captain Terry Morrison helped scatter the 84 crosses into Ironbottom Sound, named because of the 48 ships and many planes that sank there in World War II.

“It is humbling to command Canberra’s namesake on this day in this hallowed place and to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the Battle of Savo Island,” Captain Morrison said. 

“We are reminded while sailing through these waters of the friendships and alliances that were forged in hard-won battles such as this.

“This ceremony commemorates the individuals lost in Canberra I and the ship herself, while also paying homage to the enduring relationships that Australia has built with our allies since this battle.”

Eighty-three Australians, including five members of the Royal Australian Air Force and one US Navy member, were among those lost on board Canberra in the 1942 battle.

RAAF Chaplain David Kelly held the cross bearing the name of a fellow Air Force member, Leading Aircraftsman Geoffrey Chapman. 

“What an honour to represent someone who lost his life for the sake of my freedom,” Chaplain Kelly said.

“I have the freedom to go back to Australia and be with my loved ones because of the sacrifices made by these people we were commemorating today – it’s a precious gift.”