On the 18th June 2022 a headstone dedication service was held at Rookwood Catholic Cemetery to commemorate George Ritchie, a 17 year old seaman who was tragically murdered onboard the HMAS Brisbane.
George was buried in the Naval section of the cemetery in 1924 without a headstone, as the Navy only provided them for those that had officially died in the line of duty.
Mark Fleming, founder of the Naval Graves Project started a change.org petition to right this wrong and with the organisations ongoing diligence the Office of Australian War Graves finally agreed to provide a white marble headstone for George 98 years after he died.
The Naval Graves Project volunteers have been on-going advocates for the dedicated Navy men and women who have served their country, highlighting their contributions to Australia and ensuring that they are not forgotten.
Chaplain Rev. Andrew Waters, the patron of the Naval Graves Project and also a keen historian has also been championing George’s case to the Navy. At the service Chaplain Father Adrian Cooke blessed the grave before the laying of wreaths next to the new headstone.
George Ritchie joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1922 at the young age of 16. George joined the training ship HMAS Tingira anchored in Rose Bay. He progressed through the ranks to Boy Seaman 1st Class & Ordinary Seaman and was posted to the HMAS Brisbane for further training.
Sadly, just 6 months later and three months short of his 18th birthday, he was brutally murdered while asleep in his hammock onboard the ship. Another sailor was found to have hanged himself and is suspected of being responsible for the murder.
Mark Fleming and the volunteers from the Naval Graves Project have worked tirelessly to procure a headstone for George Ritchie. As member Ross Beecham expressed “If he was our boy, we would want him to have a headstone”.
The Naval Graves Project is a volunteer group that researches, records and remembers all Australian Navy personnel. The erection of the headstone is a testament to the hard work this organisation does to ensure as Mark Fleming said on the day “ from this day forward his name is displayed for all to see”.
Image: Mark Fleming from the Naval Graves Project