On August 8-9, 1942, the First Battle of Savo Island took place, the first major naval engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign.
While the initial conflict resulted in a victory for the enemy – more than 1000 allied lives were lost and three cruisers, including the HMAS Canberra, were sunk – the six-month Battle of Guadalcanal was credited with turning the tide against the Japanese in the Pacific.
Included in the contingent of Australian sailors was 19-year-old stoker William (Bill) Quinn who was on board the HMAS Australia located outside the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara.
The long-time Tuncurry resident witnessed horrific scenes and an event that has stuck with him since that day.
Earlier this week Bill – one of the last surviving Australian WWII veterans of the Solomon Islands’ campaign – returned to the scene to commemorate 75th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal.
“We were providing protection for the transports and the US Marines that were being landed,” Bill said.
"My action station was below deck," the 94-year-old said as he overlooked the now tranquil waters of what is today known as Iron Bottom Sound.
"But at the time I was given permission to go up on deck and get a breath of fresh air. I saw in the distance the ships on fire, and the action coming.
“There was fire everywhere."
I think of all those sailors that went down with the ships, and we got off scott-free.
What Bill saw from the deck of his ship was HMAS Canberra, the Australian Navy's flagship vessel during World War II, burning.
Hit by Japanese fire, it eventually sank to the bottom of the ocean, taking 84 Australian lives with it. Three United States Navy cruisers went down as well.
Last Wednesday, August 9 marked the 75th anniversary of that fateful day, and Bill was keen to be in the Solomon Islands paying respects to his mates.
"It's a very emotional time for me," he said.
"I never thought I'd get back here … I think of all those sailors that went down with the ships, and we got off scott-free."
Earlier this week Bill was on board HMAS Success as part of a convoy from the US Navy, New Zealand Navy and Solomon Islands Police Force, which cruised out to the site where HMAS Canberra now sits, 700 metres below the surface of Iron Bottom Sound, one of the world's largest maritime war grave sites.
During a ceremony on deck, a procession of mourners from Australia, the US, Japan and various Pacific nations dropped wreaths into the ocean as a mark of respect for the dead.
Flanked by his two daughters, Pamela Lange and Marcia James, and wiping a tear from his eye, Bill was one of the mourners - his wreath slowly floating over the grave site of too many of his mates.
Later, the crew from HMAS Success dropped 84 crosses, representing the men who died, into the ocean with messages written on them from primary schoolchildren back home.
Accompanied by two of his daughters, niece and god-daughter, Maree Quin and son-in-law, Graham Lange, this week’s visit to the Solomons was Bill’s second in as many years
Bill and his late wife Betty lived in Tuncurry for more than 30 years before moving to GLACIA last year.
A well-known, respected and active member of the community, Bill has pared back his activities to concentrate on his new passion bridge.