Shortly after the declaration of war in August 1914, the British government requested the Australian government to send a force to Rabaul to capture the wireless station at Bitapaka in order to stop or at least hamper communications with German shipping in the Pacific Ocean. It was also tasked with the job of capturing Rabaul, removing the German administration and then providing an interim administration until such time as a more permanent arrangement could be made.
Part of the duties of the H.M.A.S. Parramatta was to capture two small German vessels. The Parramatta subsequently carried out further patrol operations in New Guinean waters in company with the Yarra and Warrego. In December, accompanied by the Warrego and Nuso, she steamed 310 kilometres up the Sepik River to check for any German presence.
Among the crew of H.M.A.S. Parramatta was Able Seaman Joseph John Lawler. He was among several Tasmanians in the Australian Navel and Military Expeditionary Force. As brigade major was Francis Heritage and his brother Keith who was appointed as the transport officer for the expeditionary force. At least one Tasmanian was on board the ill-fated AEl.
Joseph Lawler was born at Port Cygnet on 30 May 1888, one of five children born to Joseph Lawler and his wife Mary Peppard. At the age of 25 years, Joseph joined the Australian Navy signing on for five years in February 1913. He first served on Cerebus before joining the Parramatta in April 1914. He re-joined the Cerebus in October 1915 and in July 1916 transferred to the Torrens where he remained until July 1919 when he was discharged.
In civilian life post war -Jospeh worked as a labourer and a rigger. In the late 1920’s the family moved to Maria Island where Joseph worked as a rigger at the cement works. He later worked for the E.Z. Coy in a similar capacity. According to a snippet from the newspaper he was still working there when he died at the Repatriation General Hospital on 8 September 1941. He was survived by his second wife Eliza Jane (Elsie) and son John and a daughter. His first wife died very shortly after they married.