28 Apr 1941 – RAN volunteer killed in de-mining

28 April 1941. On this day in 1941 LEUT James Henry Kessack, RANVR lost his life trying to defuse a German land mine in London. He was awarded a posthumous George Medal for gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty.

James Kessack was born in Glasgow in 1903 and volunteered for the RANVR Yachtsman’s Scheme in Sydney as a probationary sub Lieutenant in 1940 at an age, 37, when he could have easily have been excused active service. The so called yachtsmen, very few of whom had ever done any sailing, were a group of over 500 Australian and New Zealand new entry volunteer officers asked for by the Admiralty to provide the numbers needed for the wartime RN convoy escorts.

Kessack trained with mine disposal officers at HMS Vernon before becoming operational. He succeeded in defusing 10 mines before the 11th one killed him. The Germans adapted their mines to ensure that de fusing them by hand became increasingly more hazardous. The procedure that had been learned on one mine to make it safe was certain to trigger it when tried on a later model.

Former Yachtsmen Scheme officers considered that post war Australia under rated their service as by 1945 their 1939 decision to volunteer to serve in the UK was not well understood or appreciated by the public who had been focussed on war in New Guinea and the Pacific.

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