Recently, South Australia’s Navy Chaplain, Wayne Philp committed five sailors to the wind and sea.
A ceremony was conducted on the HMAS Gascoyne scatter the ashes of five ex-sailors in Spencer Gulf. Committal of Ashes To Sea (COATS) is available for any one who has rendered full-time service in the Navy. These five saliors were born between 1923 and 1945.
The Australian White Ensign is lowered to half-mast. Then, there is usually a few words about the lives and times of the naval members remembered. The Ship’s Company, assembled on the quarterdeck, are called to “The Ho” as “The Still” is piped and the urn of ashes is upended and shaken over the ship’s side with the words (for a Christian ceremony): “Whereas it has pleased Almighty God to take to himself the soul of our dear brother/sister, (the member’s full name and rank), we therefore commit his/her ashes to the winds of heaven and the depths of the sea in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life; thru our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who reigns for ever and ever. Amen.” Then “The Carry On” is piped and the crew “Stand at ease” as the White Ensign is restored to the masthead. This is the ceremony of COATS.
There is no plaque to mark these lives, there is no place to contain these persons’ remains; rather, dust to dust, ashes to ashes, are returned to the elements of water and air. As we are born from our mother’s water, so we return to water. As we took our first breath, so it is that the breeze carries our last breath away.
Loved ones sometimes come aboard for the day’s run out to sea and back, but whether at sea or having remained on the shore, they are always given a memorial package containing a hydrographer’s chart, annotated with “A Fix” by the ship’s navigator, to mark the time and place of the Committal Of Ashes To Sea. Usually, the package also includes a bereavement pin and a personal letter from the ship’s CO. In every case I have known, the family are deeply thankful and have experienced a sense of peace in knowing that their loved one has fully transitioned to whatever the “next-life” may be. There is nothing more to hold them to this world or to their old-life. They are free. Maybe you too would one day like your ashes committed to the winds of heaven and the depths of the sea. Maybe you have the ashes of a deceased loved one who once served in the full-time navy. Just contact your local Defence Member and Family Support (DMFS) help line https://defence.gov.au/members-families/Defence-Helpline.asp to check on requirements or to make the necessary arrangements.