Coffs Harbour Remembrance Day. November 11, 2014 Photo: Leigh Jensen / The Coffs Coast Advocate
Coffs Harbour Remembrance Day. November 11, 2014 Photo: Leigh Jensen / The Coffs Coast Advocate Leigh Jensen

Extraordinary tale of a boy soldier remembered

THE ever-present poignancy of Remembrance Day was particularly keen as we marked 96 years since the First World War ended yesterday.

In Coffs Harbour, those who attended the Remembrance Day service heard the extraordinary story of boy soldier Alan Colless, who served aboard HMAS Sydney.

"All those who served our country in that war are now long passed, and only some of us have personal memories of them," his son, Michael Colless (pictured addressing the crowd), said.

Michael was born when Alan was in his sixties - making him perhaps the youngest child of an Australian First World War veteran.

"He was a product of the Victorian era and he didn't speak about the war," Michael said.

"We found out a lot about it from records."

Alan's story is an extraordinary one, but for boys of that era, not an uncommon one.

Assigned to the naval training ship HMAS Tingira at 15, Alan volunteered to join the crew of HMAS Sydney at 16.

"The captain wasn't that enthusiastic about him and only agreed to take him if he threw himself into the boxing program," Michael said.

The captain would not regret his decision. After the historic defeat of the German ship SMS Emden by Sydney at Cocos Island - Australia's first naval victory - the captain's official report noted: "One slip of a boy did not turn a hair, and worked splendidly."

Correction: A story in the Coffs Coast Advocate on November 8 mistakenly said Alan Colless is Michael's grandfather.



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