Photography courtesy of the Colac Herald
For 77 years, HMAS Colac’s Gunnery Officer James (Jim) Paizis kept Steward Brian (Percy) Shute’s razor at eye level in his bathroom cabinet as a daily reminder of his mate.
Brian Shute was killed in action on the 26th May, 1945 along with Stan Smith during the shelling of Bathurst class corvette HMAS Colac by the Japanese from Choiseul Island in the Solomon Islands.
On that morning, Jim had borrowed Percy’s razor after his went missing.
Of course, at the time, neither knew such a simple exchange between friends would form the basis of a story more than seven decades later.
Graeme Paizis is Jim’s son.
"I can remember watching dad shave as little kids do, when he had the brush, and I can remember seeing the razor there and I don’t remember asking anything about it and it wouldn’t have meant much to me, but it was there, at eye level in dad’s cabinet all his life."
In 1979, Graeme joined the Army Reserves and served for 30 years.
“I had a big interest in all that stuff and all that dad did during WWII. Dad knew that I understood and was interested and he opened up with all his stories. I vacuumed them all up and that’s when I knew how much the razor meant to him.”
As Jim was preparing to move into a care facility in November last year, Graeme had an idea.
"I said to dad, ‘dad, the razor, would you mind if I could see if I could find a family member?'"
With his dad’s blessing, Graeme embarked on a mission to find links to the Shute family, but to no avail.
Jim Paizis died in Melbourne in February this year, aged 97.
While Graeme planned his father’s funeral, Senior Naval Officer Commodore Greg Yorke offered to deliver a eulogy.
“As part of the conversations we had, I mentioned the razor and it went from there,” says Graeme.
Commodore Yorke roped in Retired Royal Australian Navy Warrant Officer Marty Grogan OAM to help broaden the search.
A newspaper advertisement followed in the Can You Help section, calling on any connections to the Shute Family.
It yielded a number of responses, including from the then 16-year-old telegram boy Ken, who had the unfortunate job of delivering the news from the War Office to Brian Shute’s mother, that her son had been killed in action.
The other to answer the advert was Percy’s sister Maureen, now in her 90s but was a young teenager at the time. By all accounts, she remembers standing next to her mother when the awful news was delivered.
In an added twist of fate, unbeknown to them before answering the newspaper advert, it was realised that Maureen and Ken reside in the same retirement home in Western Australia.
From a simple pledge to reunite the razor to what may have been considered its rightful owners, it really became the gift that kept on giving.
"I just couldn’t believe it, you know I couldn’t and, excuse me, I’m a bit emotional.."
It was agreed that Percy’s razor be handed to the Colac RSL for public display as a way of commemorating Percy’s life and his service on HMAS Colac.
Colac RSL already boasts an HMAS Colac display consisting of the bell and brass fittings and several other items.
“Now with the obtaining of personal items such as the razor, we will be updating the recognition of the men and service of the naval ship HMAS Colac,” says Colac RSL President, Ian Morgan.
He says he was touched that the razor has been kept and treasured for so long.
"After reading and discovering the full story of the situation HMAS Colac found itself in, under attack from land based Japanese troops and receiving two hits, I became more appreciative of the dangers the crew faced, with the first hit killing two sailors and the other hit damaging and crippling the ship putting the lives of the whole crew in jeopardy."
Commodore Greg Yorke says it’s a powerful and emotive story.
"It’s an absolute honour to hand the razor over to the RSL for it to be displayed and for its story to be retold."
Commodore Greg Yorke
“You think of the compassion of and the deep feeling that obviously James Paizis had for that particular sailor, it’s just amazing. People will be able to see that personal responsibility that people take for one another in ship life,” Commodore Greg Yorke said.
With service often comes a unique bond, a mateship and camaraderie that forms through shared and sometimes life-changing experiences. While it may seem like a simple razor once used to keep a naval man appropriately presentable, those who seek the story behind it will find it’s the epitome of an enduring friendship formed under the most horrifying and emotional of backdrops.