Brothers fire Newcastle's Fort Scratchley guns to salute late father’s service

BROTHERS Robert, Don and Colin Pryke’s moving tribute to their father has reverberated across the city he loved.

The trio fired the guns at Fort Scratchley on Monday, almost 76 years to the day after their late father Walter did, during the infamous submarine attack on Newcastle Harbour, which occurred at 2.17am on June 8, 1942.

“It was quite overwhelming to be involved in this knowing our dad was in that same position back on that night,” Colin said.

“He’d be over the moon.”

The brothers – three of Walter’s seven children – were joined by many of his 11 grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren.

Robert said their gunner father had arrived back at Fort Scratchley just seconds before the attack, after visiting their mother, Norma, who was living with her parents in Dudley.

He said personnel would bring supplies in a jeep out to a bunker on Redhead bluff and their father would often hitch a ride out to visit his then girlfriend.

“He ran up and had forgotten half of his equipment,” he said. “It damaged his hearing in his right ear.”

The gunners fired four shells at the submarine, but did not score any hits.

“It all happened so quickly, they just got in and did what they had to do and away they went,” Don said.

Don said their father was “very proud” of his involvement on the night and took his children to The Obelisk, where the guns were located temporarily, at least twice, and back to Fort Scratchley around five times.

“He fired the guns once in a re-enactment and the other times would show us how he loaded them and explained everything to us,” Don said. 

Robert said their father had become “emotional” standing behind the guns and in front of his family. “He was so proud he was up here during the war and helped save Newcastle.”

Walter Pryke, originally from Bellingen, was 23 when he enlisted in 1941 and 26 when he was discharged in 1944.

The family moved to Laurieton, where he worked at a sawmill and on the railway, before relocating back to the Hunter where he found work at tube manufacturer Stewarts and Lloyds.

They lived in Dudley, Little Pelican, Waratah and Windale and his children remember him as family oriented and a keen fisherman and beekeeper.

Walter never participated in Anzac Day marches, but often took his children along to watch.

Colin said he was at Fort Scratchley with a friend on Anzac Day this year when he spoke to one of the volunteers about his father’s service.

After showing documentation, he and his brothers were invited to fire the guns over the long weekend.

“He’d be very proud of us,” Robert said, “for chasing it up to honour his memory”.