Tarra describes the 25 years of service provided to the nation by a 125-foot wooden cargo vessel, operated by the Australian Army from her launch in 1945 to her abandonment in huge seas off the north coast of New South Wales in 1965. During the war in the South Pacific, the only mode of transport available to provide food ammunition and supplies to the fighting forces and civilian population to the north of Australia, other than aircraft and pack horses, was seagoing small craft and small ships.
The Tarra story follows her launch in Tasmania in 1945, when the ship was employed in dumping ammunition off the east coast of Australia. Based in Newcastle and later in Cairns, she was seconded to the Graves Registration Unit during the establishment of the Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby, and then lent to the civil authorities to collect copra from remote islands. Tarra provided the only form of transport for materials and personnel for the construction of the Vanimo Outstation of the Pacific Islands Regiment on the Dutch border in 1952, and she continued to resupply the Company base for the next ten years, making two voyages per year from Brisbane.
Tarra and her sister, ship Vasse, played a key role in training soldiers to become sailors, particularly in the Citizen Military Forces and in the development of the Australian Regular Army after the war and during the Pentropic experiment. In declining condition, she was sold to the Societe Marine Caledonian and renamed Milos Del Mar in April 1965.
The dramatic rescue of her civilian crew eight months later and her abandonment to sink slowly in rough seas was described on the front pages of major newspapers at the time and by the commander of the Air Force Sea Air Rescue aircraft, thereby completing Tarra's story. Army water transport had been operated by the Royal Australian Engineers however the function was taken over by the newly formed Royal Australian Corps of Transport. Army water transport continues today with landing craft operated by 35 Water Transport Squadron RACT.
John Peel, known as Jack, was born in Newcastle in 1943. He graduated from the Army Apprentice School as a Fitter and Turner in 1961, completing his trade training in the engine room of AV 1379 Tarra. For the next seven years, he was employed as an engine room watchkeeper with the Royal Australian Engineer’s Transportation service, where he served on all four Landing Ships Medium of 32 Small Ship Squadron and the cargo vessel John Monash, as the ships visited Papua New Guinea, Borneo, Singapore and South Vietnam. He attained the rank of Temporary Warrant Officer in 1969.
Commissioned as a Captain in 1981, Jack served as the Cadre Officer 33 Terminal Squadron and then as the Officer Commanding the Army Maritime School at Chowder Bay from 1985 to 1987, retiring as Second in Command 10 Terminal Regiment in 1988.