MARTIN KERR | Ex Kiap Website
CAIRNS - With moving tributes from family and friends, former sailor and shipowner Harry Brutnall was interred at Ravenshoe Cemetery on Friday 29 September. More than 120 attended the graveside service with military honours coordinated by the RSL sub-branch.
Born in England, Harry Brutnall came to Ravenshoe in 1926 and briefly attended Ravenshoe State School. He milked cows and at 14 worked as a blacksmith’s nipper on the Tully Falls Road, enabling him to purchase his first motor cycle.
Harry then went tin mining before joining the navy in 1938. On HMAS Perth he visited New York just before the outbreak of war. He later served on HMAS Swan and HMAS Adelaide.
In 1942, as an able seaman, he was selected for diving school. Quartered at HMAS Kuttabul, Harry was in Kings Cross when the vessel was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Without a diving suit, he retrieved bodies.
After arriving in Darwin in the middle of a Japanese air raid, Harry and his fellow divers worked all night to remove wire from the propeller of HMAS Vigilant enabling it leave port to withdraw troops from Timor.
For intelligence purposes, Harry also retrieved downed Japanese Zero aircraft in murky and treacherous waters.
In 1943 he was assigned to build a slipway in Port Moresby. Back in Australia, he installed hydrophones on the Pittwater (Sydney) torpedo testing range. In Fremantle, by now a petty officer, he introduced, developed and adapted free diving technology.
After resigning in 1950 Harry hauled slaughtered wales at Carnarvon and then commenced salvage operations in Papua New Guinea, based in Rabaul. He purchased a copra plantation, acquired a number of coastal vessels and employed his three sons.
Resting his sea legs in Ravenshoe since 2004, Harry generously entertained and cooked for his PNG mates, members of the Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers Association, motorcyclists, family, friends and neighbours. In 2008 he co-authored with Martin Kerr Brutnall’s Follies, a brief memoir.
Harry is survived by a wife, three sons, six daughters and many grandchildren.
He was World War II’s last hard-hat diver, strength and mental agility second to none.
Harry Roland Brutnall – Royal Australian Navy No 22421. Born, Leicester, United Kingdom 17/01/1920. Died, Cairns Hospital, 22 September 2017