Chief Petty Officer Louis Nicholas Sampson

Louis Nicholas ‘Sam’ Sampson was born at St Peters, Adelaide on 30 September 1907 and was the eldest child of Nicholas and Olive Sampson. In his early childhood he lived at Crystal Brook, a town near Port Pirie, where his parents owned a small farm. The family later moved to Gawler and then to Port Adelaide where Louis and his two younger brothers attended the Port Adelaide Public School. Louis Sampson joined the RAN on 3 May 1922 as a 15 year old Tingira Boy; stating his occupation on enlistment as a newspaper employee. His two brothers, Frederick and Wallace, also later joined the RAN in 1925 and 1929 respectively.

Louis joined the Boys Training Ship HMAS Tingira (the old clipper ship Sobroan) which was moored in Rose Bay, Sydney. Initially he was a Boy 2nd Class (Seaman Branch) but transferred to the Supply Branch in May 1923 and became a Victualling Boy. Louis joined his first ship, the cruiser HMAS Brisbane, in October 1923 and served in her until September 1924. During his service onboard Brisbane the ship operated mainly off the east coast of Australia.

He was then posted ashore to HMAS Cerberus and his rank was changed to Supply Boy. On 30 September 1925, when he turned 18, he was promoted to the rank of Supply Assistant. Louis Sampson joined the cruiser HMAS Adelaide in September 1926 and served in her until late June 1928. Adelaide spent most of 1926-27 operating in Australian waters and then in mid-1927 was dispatched on a ‘showing the flag’ cruise to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. A few months after returning to Sydney, however, Adelaide was dispatched to the Solomon Islands to help put down a native uprising on the island of Malaita.  

Adelaide arrived off Malaita in mid-October 1927 and several of her crew were put ashore to provide logistics support and base security while a native police force was landed to deal with the rebellious native tribe. Adelaide returned to Sydney in later November 1927 after the rebellion had been put down. The cruiser then became the designated RAN training ship until decommissioned in June 1928. While serving in Adelaide Louis Sampson was promoted to Leading Supply Assistant on 30 March 1928.

After Adelaide was decommissioned he returned to Cerberus and served there until December 1930. Louis Sampson was promoted to Supply Petty Officer on 1 January 1929. He then served briefly on the staff of the RAN College during 1930; which included the transfer of the College from Jervis Bay to Cerberus in June/July of that year. Louis was heavily involved in the transfer of stores and accounts during this period.

In September 1930 he joined the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra. During 1931 the cruiser operated off the east coast of Australia and also conducted ‘showing the flag’ cruises to New Caledonia, Fiji, the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), Norfolk Island and Lord Howe. In 1932 Canberra undertook a circumnavigation of Australia which took three months and the ship visited ports in each state. Louis returned again to Cerberus in November 1932 and served there until March 1935. He was promoted to Supply Chief Petty Officer on 1 January 1935. 

Louis Sampson married Mary Agnes Murphy at St Michaels Church, Nowra on 8 January 1935 and they were later to have three children (John born 1935, Frances born 1937 and Helen born 1938).

His next ship was Brisbane; which had been his first ship in 1923. The now elderly coal burning cruiser was being sent to England to be scrapped and her men were to form the crew of the new light cruiser HMAS Sydney (II). Brisbane departed Sydney in mid April 1935 and steamed, via the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean, to arrive in England in early July and was paid off on 26 September 1935. The next day Louis Sampson became a member of the commissioning crew of Sydney.

He remained in Sydney until August 1936 during which time the ship served on exchange with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and was part of the British force that was held there in case war broke out with Italy following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Louis Sampson then returned again to Cerberus. In April-July 1938 he was posted briefly to the sea-plane tender, HMAS Albatross, which had been re-commissioned due to the possibility of war with Germany. Louis then returned to HMAS Sydney in July 1938.

When war with Germany broke out in September 1939, Louis was still serving in Sydney which was operating in Australian waters. In May 1940, however, the cruiser was dispatched to the Mediterranean war zone. On 28 June 1940, while escorting a convoy, Sydney sank the Italian destroyer Espero and a few weeks later on 19 July 1940 destroyed the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni. Sydney became the glamour ship of the RAN and her crew were treated as conquering heroes. The cruiser remained in the Mediterranean until January 1941 and was involved in several actions, against the Italian navy and air force, before she finally returned to her home port of Sydney in February 1941.

Sydney’s crew were treated to a rousing reception including being given the honour of marching through the streets of Sydney and all crew members were presented with a medallion by the Lord Mayor commemorating her triumph over the Bartolomeo Colleoni. But after a short refit the  cruiser was back at sea on convoy escort duties. In September 1941 she was deployed to Western Australian waters and commenced escorting troopships to South East Asia as Australia began to build up the 8th Division (AIF) in Malaya and Singapore.

Louis Sampson was a dedicated family man who also enjoyed fishing, gardening and rugby union. He was also an accomplished sketch artist and during a visit by HMAS Sydney to Geraldton in mid-October 1941, he produced a chalk drawing of the ship which was presented to the Sergeant's Mess at RAAF Geraldton with the caption 'Good Luck to the Air Boys' and signed by Sam. This drawing is now on display in the Australian War Memorial and is one of the last tangible links with HMAS Sydney.

On 19 November 1941, Sydney was returning to Fremantle after escorting the troopship Zealandia to Java when she encountered the disguised German raider Kormoran some 100 miles off the coast of Western Australia. In circumstances yet to be fully explained Sydney approached Kormoran to within one mile and then the German ship opened fire on the Australian cruiser.  Sydney returned fire and in the ensuing battle both ships were badly damaged and later sank. In this bitter victory all 645 men from Sydney were killed including Supply Chief Petty Officer Louis Sampson.

In the grim irony of war Sydney had endured several months of combat in the Mediterranean without the loss of a single life. But in stark contrast in her final action with the Kormoran not one man survived.