Family Legend

I have enough family legends and mysteries to contend with right now. So how about someone who was considered a ‘legend’ in their line of work instead?

I have briefly written about him previously, but since the suitcase of Taplin family documents found it’s way to me, I have been thinking about it a bit.

James Alan Taplin was my Mum’s biological maternal great uncle. As if that isn’t specific enough, he’s actually a half great uncle to Mum. James was born in 1909 to my great great grandfather, George Richard Taplin and his first wife, Clarice Baldwin.  In following the family tradition, James went into a seagoing career, joining the Navy. He was appointed a Midshipman in 1927, according to his service dossier. This file shows a pretty steady progression up the ranks, with James being promoted to Lieutenant in 1936.

During World War II, James was made Lieutenant Commander of the HMAS Yandra, which was commissioned on the 22nd of September 1940. The HMAS Yandra was one of responders to the attack on Sydney Harbour by the Japanese midget submarines on the 31st of May, 1942. James’ actions that night are noted on the Navy website:

“The blast reverberated around Sydney harbour alerting Yandra’s captain, Lieutenant Taplin, to the threat. He immediately altered course towards the inner harbour to investigate and quickly spotted a conning tower about 360 metres ahead of him. Increasing speed he pursued the submarine towards the eastern channel and attempted to ram it. There is little doubt that Yandra struck the submarine a glancing blow, damaging the protective cage around its torpedo tubes which prevented it from firing its deadly cargo. The submarine, later identified as M-21, was crewed by Lieutenant Keiu Matsuo and Petty Officer First Class Masao Tsuzuku.

Following Taplin’s initial attack, Yandra reversed course and next sighted the submarine approximately 550 metres on her starboard bow moving very slowly from left to right. Taplin immediately pressed home a depth charge attack, the result of which was inconclusive. Unfortunately Yandra sustained damage in this attack, due to her close proximity to the explosion of her own depth charges, and was forced to withdraw from the action to effect repairs.” 

I’ve looked over the records held that detail this attack, including James’ own accounts of what transpired. I’d include them here, however they are hard to read. I will include, however this section, which confirms James’ recommendation for his actions:

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 2.02.24 pm
Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.

Here’s the thing. James received a mention in dispatches. However, that wasn’t recorded until 1945, so I am curious to know whether it had to with the above incident or not. He was appointed temporarily as Lieutenant Commander of HMAS Moresby in 1944 thereabouts…which is where he was when he received the aforementioned Mention in Dispatches. In the Taplin suitcase, I came across this:


Sure enough, it’s his official certificate for his M.I.D:


On the Australian War Memorial website, it says he was awarded his Mention in Dispatches for “Distinguished service in successful survey work”. That’s it. I’ll keep digging, I’d love to know what it was for specifically, if it was in fact for his actions in the attack on Sydney Harbour, or not.

James was clearly very good at his job. I often wonder how his work affected him in later life. Perhaps my answer will lie in the numerous letters sitting in the suitcase I obtained in January.

I believe this is James (could be wrong, anyone who thinks this is incorrect, be sure to tell me!), yet another item from the suitcase:


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