Walter “Wally” Bettinson was born on 8 March 1919 in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville, one of four children to John and Charlotte Bettinson. Bettinson enlisted and began a professional career in the navy in November 1936, when he was 17 years old.
After training at HMAS Cerberus on the Mornington Peninsula, and HMAS Penguin on Sydney Harbour, Bettinson served for seven months on the W Class Destroyer HMAS Waterhen.
In June 1938, he was promoted to leading steward.
In 1939, Bettinson began service as a rating on board HMAS Sydney II, a modified Leander Class Light Cruiser, where he continued to serve as leading steward.
From the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939, Sydney carried out patrol and escort duties across the Indian Ocean.
In May 1940, it sailed from Australian waters to the Mediterranean, where it began serving as part of the Royal Navy 7th Cruiser Squadron. In this role Sydney took part in a number of engagements against enemy forces, including the bombardment of land forces at Bardia in June, and the significant sea battles of Calabria and Cape Spada in July. At Calabria and Cape Spada, HMAS Sydney came under heavy air attack and was involved with sizeable Italian naval forces, but emerged successful in each case, including the sinking of the cruiser Bartolomeo Colleonni.
Sydney spent the rest of 1940 and early 1941 carrying out patrols and escorts in the Mediterranean theatre.
In February 1941, Bettinson and the crew of HMAS Sydney returned to Australia, where they were hailed as heroes in a parade through Sydney. While in Sydney, Bettinson married his sweetheart, June Anges Shaw, in Redfern.
From March 1941, Sydney returned to escort and patrol duties in the Indian Ocean and south-east Asia.
On 19 November 1941, Sydney was in the Indian Ocean returning from one of its troopship escorts when it came upon the German raider HSK Kormoran, disguised as a Dutch merchant ship. As Sydney approached, Kormoran opened fire.
In the ensuing fight, Sydney was able to deliver significant blows to Kormoran that eventually destroyed the German ship but the damage sustained in the initial surprise attack was so severe that Sydney did not survive the fight. Sydney was last seen by German sailors burning on the horizon as it limped away from battle.
All 645 crewmembers were lost, and have no known grave.
Sydney’s final resting place – near the wreck of the Kormoran off the West Australian coast – was not discovered until 2008.
Bettinson went down with the ship. He was 22 years old, and had been married for less than a year.
David Sutton, Historian, Military History Section
Image: HMAS Sydney liberty men at the Fleet Club, Able Seaman Edmund Sturgeon Rolfe, Leading Stewards Walter Edward Bettinson and R Edwards, 1940. Rolfe and Bettinson were killed in action on HMAS Sydney II.