- Editorial Staff
- None noted
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney II
- September 2020 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By LCDR Desmond Woods
The HMAS Sydney (II) Memorial at Geraldton in WA has become a place of pilgrimage for 65,000 visitors each year. Some 20,000 arrive by sea on cruise ships that come to Geraldton specifically to allow passengers to visit the Memorial. Many others come because of the reputation of the Memorial as an outstanding example of commemorative art. It was designed by WA sculptors Charlie and Joan Smith and opened by the then Governor of WA Lieutenant General John Sanderson AC, on 19 November 2001. That was on the 60th anniversary of the loss of the RAN’s cruiser in battle with the German raider Kormoran off the coast of WA in 1941. The annual commemoration each November has become a major occasion in the life of Geraldton and attracts relatives of Sydney’s sailors among many others from far and wide who wish to pay their respects to the 645 members of the ship’s company who died with Sydney (II).
Until April 2020 the flags flown at the memorial permanently did not include the Australian White Ensign. Last month the Chief of Navy was requested by the Warden of the memorial, Mr Don Rolston, for permission for this to be changed and the AWE to fly there with the Australian National Flag, the State Flag of WA and the flag of the City of Greater Geraldton. Chief of Navy gave his permission for the AWE to fly permanently at the entrance to the memorial. It was duly hoisted by Geraldton’s Navy Cadet Unit TS Morrow in line with naval traditions in the presence of the Warden and Volunteer Guides, who fulfil an ambassadorial role at the Memorial. Flying the AWE in the order approved by the CN ensures that the protocols of the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Defence Force are upheld. The Warden Mr Don Rolston has written:
Permission by the Chief of Navy to permanently fly the AWE at the HMAS Sydney (II) Memorial in Geraldton greatly enhances the status and relevance of this outstanding memorial. As one who has been associated with this memorial for over two decades, and as its initial and current Warden, to see the AWE permanently flying pays the highest respect to the 645 men lost and who are now at rest with their ship. The HMAS Sydney (II) Memorial in Geraldton was designed to memorialise those lost and is recognised as one of the most outstanding in its class. It conveys its message and focus to all who visit both personally and through various websites throughout the world. The memorial is an absolute credit to the proponents of the memorial, the Rotary Club of Geraldton and the creators and designers, Smith Sculptors – Charles Smith and Joan Walsh-Smith, hence flying the AWE adds the final touch so justly deserving of this Memorial of National Significance, formally declared as such by the Prime Minister of Australia.
The Sydney (I) Mast on the northern shore of Sydney Harbour and the Sydney (II) Memorial at Geraldton are two of the few places, outside of an RAN shore establishment, where the AWE can be permanently flown on land with CN’s permission.
As the years pass the number of those who can claim descent from the 645 men who died in the cruiser in 1941 expands, as new generations are born who only know second-hand of the loss that their family suffered. For them the memorial is a place of pilgrimage where they can touch the name in brass of their lost family member and realise that they are remembered and their life mourned and respected. So the memorial takes on an educational as well as a commemorative role.
For those visitors from many countries who come by sea to Geraldton the memorial may be the first and only place where they learn of the RAN’s world-wide commitment to the fight against Nazi Germany at sea. They may be sobered by the realization that even before Japan entered the war in December 1941 Britain and the countries of the Empire and Commonwealth of Nations, including Australia, were waging war by sea, air and land across the world. Even in the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, close to the coastline of Western Australia, far from Europe, a terrible price was paid in young Australian lives by our Navy in the fight against fascism.
There will be a major commemorative event at the Memorial on 19 November 2021 on the 80th anniversary of the loss of HMAS Sydney (II). More information about the memorial can be found at: https://www.hmassydneymemorialgeraldton.com.au/