The stories of sailors in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) spring from the pages of their diaries, memoirs and journals – some of them pocket books with brief notes, others detailed descriptions of daily life at sea.

Officers and crew of submarine AE2 at Portsmouth, February 1914. Harry Kinder is front row, far right. Australian War Memorial, P01075.045

Some are punctuated with intense periods of action such as the battle between HMAS Sydney and the German battleship SMS Emden. Others are full of complaints about the drudgery of patrolling and blockading or the impossibly hard consistency of ‘salt biscuit’ rations. These diaries are a wonderful insight into life in the navy, and as first-hand voices from the past they also resist re-interpretation after the events by historians and others.

One of hundreds of war diaries that have never been published – and one of the comparatively few accounts by sailors – is that of Stoker Petty Officer Henry (Harry) James Elly Kinder. It is also one of a handful by submariners from the war. Kinder’s dramatic account of forcing an underwater passage of the Dardanelles Strait – at the same moment as the Anzacs were landing ashore at Gallipoli – is one of the many engrossing personal stories from the Australian National Maritime Museum’s 2014-15 exhibition War at Sea: the Navy in WWI.

A lucky turn of fate

Henry Kinder was born in Kogarah, Sydney, in 1891. He joined the colonial navy aged 17, entering the submarine service four years later, in 1912. Two E-Class submarines had been ordered and constructed in Britain for the new fleet that was to be the backbone of Australia’s own naval force – the Royal Australian Navy.

Postcard showing the submarine AE2 in 1914, probably taken at Garden Island, Sydney. Australian National Maritime Museum Collection

Submarines were a relatively new arm of the force – in 1901 the idea of submarine warfare was considered by senior personnel in the British Admiralty to be ‘underhand, unfair and damned un-English’, in the words of Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson vc. They were also still somewhat experimental and not the safest of vessels to serve on. Kinder joined submarines for the ‘extra allowances as danger money’ – what sailors called ‘blood money’.