The reverse design of the China Medal echoes the Orient as is appropriate seeing it was awarded to British and Imperial forces for action during the ‘Boxer Rebellion’ of 1900. Western missionaries and Chinese Christians were under attack from a group calling themselves the ‘Righteous and Harmonious Fists’, or the ‘Boxers’ for short, who had set out to ruthlessly destroy Western cultural and religious influence in China.
Nine countries, including Britain and Australia were keen to maintain their profitable commercial interests in China and so sent military forces ostensibly to protect their citizens and quell the uprising.
The China Medal in our sale was awarded to W.H. LITTLEFIELD. A.B. H.M.S ARETHUSA who was one of over 8000 British recipients and, like most people returning from war, he would have counted his lucky stars that he had survived to tell the tale.
However, history can be cruel and it was not done with Mr Littlefield who would later play an inglorious role in another skirmish known euphemistically known as the ‘Battle of Sydney’.
Littlefield had migrated to Australia in search of a better life and was in charge of the Signal Station at Sydney heads when on the night of 31st May 1942 Japanese midget submarines managed to slip past his watchful gaze and into the Harbour to create havoc for the Allied vessels moored in its bays.
The submarine attack was as audacious as it was unexpected even though Japanese reconnaissance aircraft had been sighted flying over Sydney in the preceding days busily pinpointing targets. The laconic defence forces had dismissed the flyovers as probably an American floatplane or even sightseeing flights.
The M-27, the first submarine to enter the harbour became entangled “in anti-submarine nets close to the western boom gate” at the heads and blew itself up, thus raising the alarm. The second submarine, the M-24 managed to get off two torpedos directed at the naval base at Garden Island, which although they missed their intended target, the ‘USS Chicago’, managed to sink the ‘Kuttabul’ a requisitioned Sydney ferry with the loss of 21 lives. A third submarine, the M-22, which entered the Harbour in the early hours of June 1 was located at Taylors Bay near Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo and was depth-charged and destroyed before it could inflict any damage.
Although the M-24 was the only one of the three raiders to inflict serious physical damage, the psychological scars borne by the local population were much bigger. It was reported that some Sydneysiders sold off prime waterfront real estate for a song and headed inland for safety and, the defence forces were now certainly more cognisant of overflying aircraft.
The partial wrecks of the M-22 and M-27 were retrieved from the harbour and roughly joined together and put on show to raise funds for the war-effort while the heavy lead ballast taken from the subs was moulded into small replicas which were then sold to the general public as souvenirs. An example of a souvenir lead submarine is in our current sale which is duly labelled “Made from the Ballast Jap Midget Sub/Sunk in Sydney Harbour May 31 1942.”
However, it was not until November 2006 that the fate of the M-24 submarine was finally solved when its wreck was discovered off the coast of Sydney’s northern beaches. The submarine had not only entered the Harbour but, after wreaking havoc, it had also made a successful escape out of the Sydney heads. Oh dear Mr Littlefield, that’s not a war tale you want to tell your grandchildren!