Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Page, Robert Charles (1920–1945)

by Shirley Lithgow

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Robert Charles Page (1920-1945), by unknown photographer

Robert Charles Page (1920-1945), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 045416

Robert Charles Page (1920-1945), soldier, was born on 21 July 1920 at Summer Hill, Sydney, eldest of four children of Harold Hillis Page, an Australian-born public servant, and his wife Anne Miller, née Brewster, who came from Scotland. (Sir) Earle Page was his uncle. Educated at Sydney Boys' High School, Bob enrolled in medicine at the University of Sydney in 1940 and joined the Sydney University Rifles. On 15 April 1941 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was posted to the 2nd/4th Pioneer Battalion in May and promoted lieutenant in July. In February 1943 he transferred to 'Z' Special Unit, whose members conducted secret operations behind enemy lines in the South-West Pacific Area.

Six feet (183 cm) tall and lean, with fair hair, blue eyes and 'a smile that seemed to splash his face', Page underwent training near Cairns, Queensland. He was selected to take part in Operation Jaywick, a raid on enemy shipping at Singapore. The party left Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, on 2 September 1943, bound for the Rhio (Riau) Archipelago (near Singapore) in a 70-ft (21 m) motor vessel which had been captured from the Japanese and renamed Krait. Before dawn on 18 September Page and five companions were put ashore at Panjang Island. On the night of the 26th they paddled three two-man canoes towards their objectives. Page and Able Seaman A. W. Jones attached limpet mines to three merchant ships, one at Bukum Island and two in Keppel Harbour. Their comrades targeted three freighters and a tanker before all six commandos withdrew. They heard the first explosions at 5.15 a.m. on the 27th as they reached Dongas Island.

The Krait picked up Page and his companions at Pompong Island on 2 and 3 October, and returned to Exmouth Gulf on the 19th. In all, the party had sunk or damaged more than 36,000 tons of Japanese shipping. Page won the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the action, but the award was not promulgated until 1945. At St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Canberra, on 1 November 1943 he married Roma Noelene Prowse, a 21-year-old machinist. He was promoted temporary captain in July 1944 while training for Operation Rimau, a second raid on Singapore.

In September 1944 Page was one of twenty-three men taken by submarine to the South China Sea. There they seized a junk in which they sailed towards Singapore. On 6 October, off Laban Island, they mistakenly fired on a Malay police launch, killing some or all of the crew. With secrecy lost, the mission was abandoned. The commandos scuttled the junk and made their way in rubber dinghies to their base on Merapas Island. For about two months they either evaded or fought off the pursuing Japanese. A British submarine sent to collect them failed to make contact. Page and ten other survivors were eventually captured, taken to Singapore and sentenced to death. With nine comrades, he was beheaded on 7 July 1945 at Ulu Pandan. After the war had ended, his remains were reinterred in Kranji war cemetery. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Wynyard, Winning Hazard (Lond, 1947)
  • A. Ind, Spy Ring Pacific (Lond, 1958)
  • R. McKie, The Heroes (Syd, 1960)
  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1968)
  • D. C. Horton, Ring of Fire (Melb, 1983)
  • S. Lithgow, Special Operations: The Organisations of the Special Operations Executive in Australia and their Operations Against the Japanese during the Second World War (M.A. Hons thesis, Australian Defence Force Academy, University of New South Wales, 1992).

Citation details

Shirley Lithgow, 'Page, Robert Charles (1920–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/page-robert-charles-11328/text20225, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 April 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019

Robert Charles Page (1920-1945), by unknown photographer

Robert Charles Page (1920-1945), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 045416