Lord it’s hard to believe that it is five years since we were in Muscat, Oman just beginning to enjoy a couple of days leave. Most of the crew were exhausted after a long and demanding deployment. It was hot.
And then somehow word got around and we were recalled to the ship.
Many knew exactly why- others found out as our CO broke the news on the flight deck. Tears flowed!
Cameron Acreman was dead.
Our grief at the time was extreme. Looking back now Lord we wonder how we got through those days. We lost an extra-ordinary ship mate. Cam was a treasured member of our crew and many counted him as a friend. He was our sailor of the quarter. His enthusiasm, theatrics, passion and bravado are etched in our hearts and minds forever.
So many of the Darwins's sailors and officers did so much to help get through that intense couple of days. There were a maze of practical problems but somehow, the ship's company, found a way through. We farewelled Cam with a ramp ceremony, at an Omani Air Base, in the middle of Ramadan. In the company of his best mate and the Pusser, the RAAFies flew Cam home. We sailed from Muscat a couple of days later without time to grieve but determined to crack on.
A few weeks later and back on Australian soil the Captain and I travelled from Darwin to Brisbane to conduct the funeral service. We met Cam’s family and watched them face unspeakable pain as they began their journey of devastation and loss. Many of Cam’s Navy cheffo mates from Sydney were there as well.
It was a tough day.
Jetstar red eyes each way didn’t help.
The next day the ship sailed from Darwin for home.
Five years on, the pain may have changed but remains an unwanted companion.
Many from that crew are still in the Navy and most have been promoted – some a couple of times. Many of the junior sailors of that crew have since married and quite a few have joined the ranks of parents. Leading Seaman Acreman would now be Petty Officer Acreman at the very least and the ranks of senior sailors would have been changed for ever. Marriage and family were not on Cam’s radar in 2016 but life might have surprised him too.
Alas death has robbed us of all those possibilities.
Five years on Lord we remember that grief too can mature but it never entirely goes away. Life does go on. We learnt painful lessons from that terrible day.
We learnt that death is our final fate and hides crouching at the door.
Sometimes death stalks ready to punish our mistakes and at other times appears uninvited.
In the face of death, we are reminded of what really matters.
Friendships, especially those forged at sea and in adversity are incredibly precious. The memories become more special as the years progress.
We are reminded that love is our greatest gift. To have another person love us and call us their spouse or partner or mate fulfils us and deserves our commitment, faithfulness and passion. To raise children is our highest calling and the joys and pain of parenting are more precious than medals.
To have one chance to live, with all the uncertainties of life is still our greatest blessing – and deserves to be revered and celebrated, every day. Life’s ups and downs are refocused when we remember a ship mate who was unable to celebrate thirty years. Gratitude could replace entitlement, contentment should overwhelm dissatisfaction and peace might hold back anxiety when we remember the blessings we have and the opportunity that breath maintains.
To work together in the Defence is more than a job – it is a national calling that rewards us in many ways. Being a member of the Navy family remains our special blessing.
Cameron Acreman’s life and passion was the Royal Australian Navy.
His legacy, cruelly shortened five years ago, deserves to be honoured by us remembering the brevity of life and committing ourselves to the things that really matter and the people who really count.
Lest we forget.