From the Producer, John Schindler
I joined Coogee Surf Lifesaving Club at the age of 19 in 1965 and it changed my very unhappy life from that of divorced parents and a split family to the joy of my new family – Coogee Surf Club.
Joining Coogee Surf Club certainly turned my life around. I did not look back and for 10 years made lifelong friends, went on patrol and competed in carnivals proudly wearing Coogee colours. People say that Australian Surf Lifesavers do a lot for their fellow Australians and that’s true but we also get a lot back
Spike’s story was discovered
I left the club only because I became a radio announcer and television newsreader which means different jobs throughout Australia and whilst in Brisbane I was contacted by old friends Dave “Luna” Park and Bob Middledorp and invited to attend the Coogee SLSC 100th Anniversary dinner in Darling Harbour in 2007. During the formal part of the dinner there was an honour roll call of fallen Coogee Surf Lifesavers. The name John Whitworth was called and John was identified as having been a member of “Z Special Unit” This immediately drew my attention as I had learnt a lot about the highly secretive Z Special Unit when I made a documentary in 1988 called THE STORY OF THE KRAIT featuring the raid on shipping in Singapore – Z Special unit’s most famous mission.
To learn that a fellow Coogee Surf Lifesaver was a member of Z Special unit filled me with a feeling of immense pride and I asked my mate Joe Seddon a past President of the club what had happened to John Whitworth and Joe said “mate we can’t find out a thing about what happened to him nor do we know where his remains lay. We tried to find out but we hit a brick wall every time”
I told Joe I’d try to find out as I had developed a close friendship with Horrie Young who was on the Z Special unit KRAIT mission to Singapore and I figured that Horrie may be able to help. Horrie called back 2 weeks later and said that John Whitworth had been lost on OPERATION RAVEN and that there was a survivor still alive living in Penrith – Henry. I phoned Henry and asked him if he could tell me what had happened.
He said “we lost 3 men on OPERATION RAVEN “ It’s painful to remember it and I’d rather not talk about it.
I explained that I was a former Coogee Surf Lifesaver and even though I was just 2 months old when Spike was killed I feel like all surf lifesavers do about present and past members – we still regard them like brothers. Henry then agreed to provide details.
It was then that I decided that I wanted to pay tribute to a fellow Coogee Surf Lifesaver in the best way I could – as a documentary Producer – and even though Spike’s remains would probably never be found I set out to get recognition for this 20 year old unsung hero. It was also my way of saying “thank you” to Coogee Surf Club for changing my life.
Henry agreed to an interview “on camera” and the documentary was underway. I was bouyed by the fact that I had the full support and encouragement of my mate Joe Seddon.
By this time I had met Spike’s family and formed a friendship with Sally Olander whose Mum was a cousin of Spike. Vonnie and Spike grew up together and were very close.
Fortunately Joe was in the process of finishing the Coogee SLSC 100th Centenary book and Joe made sure that Spike got a full page. I was told by Spike’s family that they were “delighted that Coogee SLSC had not forgotten Spike”
Joe and I were discussing Coogee SLSC veterans and Joe said “hey do you know that we have members who did amazing things in the war and they never talk about it – actually no one ever asks them – take Nob Hill for example – 36 missions over Europe and he never talks about it”
The Americans flew the crew of the MEMPHIS BELLE home to the USA after 25 missions and they became National icons and here we have humble Nob who flew 36 missions and only came home because the war had finished. We have a giant in our midst and hardly anyone in the Surf Club knows about it. I immediately asked Nob for an interview and he readily agreed providing an insight into his good mate Spike.
Navy veteran Bruce Emerson was another of Spike’s close mates. Both Nob and Bruce nor anyone else for that matter were never told by Spike that he was a member of the unit regarded as “the bravest of the brave” – Z Special.
The mystery surrounding Spike’s disappearance is solved in KNOWN UNTO GOD and after 5 years of filming it was a huge shock to us when the most unexpected happened – Spike’s remains were located in a war cemetery in a grave marked KNOWN UNTO GOD.
I was most appreciative of the fact that Joe Seddon initiated financial support from Coogee Surf Club who subsidised the cost of the filming at the war cemetery with a contribution of $6,000. Henry is a member of Penrith RSL and they have been most supportive with major financial support.
Jane and Peter Bout have also supported this project financially.
It is wonderful that Australian Surf Lifesavers joined forces as they always do with Hervey Bay and Bundaberg Surf Lifesavers filling the roles of Spike’s comrades in arms for the filming in Toogoom in Queensland. I thought it was in the true spirit of Surf Lifesaving when Hervey Bay SLSC got right behind this project with major logistic support. It did not matter to them that they were providing an amazing amount of assistance in order to tell the story of a Surf Lifesaver from another club – Coogee SLSC. They even gave every Coogee member a beautiful Hervey Bay SLSC jackets as a gift.
Hervey Bay SLSC understood that by paying tribute to Spike we are honoring all the Surf Lifesavers who fought for Australia. The Fraser Coast Regional Council were also most supportive with the Mayor and Council Executive voting major logistic support including access to the beach, a beach vehicle, the waiving of filming fees and more.
All Surf Lifesavers watching the film and especially Coogee SLSC members will feel an immense pride as they learn of the bravery displayed by fellow Coogee Surf Lifesaver John Hayes Whitworth or “Spike” to his family and Coogee Surf Club mates.
Lest we forget.