- Swinden, Greg
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney II
- September 1999 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In late 1998 the Guided Missile Frigate HMAS Canberra visited the remote Australian Territory of Christmas Island. During her visit a group of young sailors journeyed to the old European Cemetery at Flying Fish Cove, where there is supposedly the grave of a sailor from the cruiser HMAS Sydney (II). Sydney was sunk by the German raider Kormoran, with the loss of all hands, on 19 November 1941.
In the cemetery there now stands a rough wooden cross with a small metal plaque on it. The plaque reads `In honour of this Unknown Sailor and the 644 men of HMAS Sydney 19 Nov 41′. The body which lies in this grave is believed to be that of a sailor from HMAS Sydney, and was recovered from a Carley Float found floating off Christmas Island on 6 February 1942.
The body was clad in a blue boiler suit (overalls) which had been bleached white by the sun and the body was in an advanced state of decay. No identity disc, nametags or papers of any description were found on the body. The float also contained a white canvas shoe or boot which did not fit the body. A local doctor examined the body and stated that it was definitely a male Caucasian. Another report states that the body had a good set of teeth with no fillings or other sign of dental work.
After the body had been buried the Carley Float was examined and found to be of Australian manufacture and had at least two months of marine growth on it. Japanese forces occupied the island a few weeks later and the fate of the Carley Float is not known with any certainty.
The jury is still out as to whether the body in the cemetery at Flying Fish Cove is that of a sailor from Sydney or from another ship. Some evidence suggests the body could have come from Sydney, while other information refutes this. For those interested in reading more on the subject the four sources listed in the Bibliography provide a range of information and differing views on the matter.
There is, however, one question which is continuously raised. That is if the body is not from HMAS Sydney, then where did it come from?
Clark B. Australia’s Forgotten Son (Naval Historical Review – December 1989)
Frame T.R. HMAS SYDNEY – Loss and Controversy, Hodder and Stoughton Australia 1993.
Summerell R. (Compiler) The Sinking of HMAS SYDNEY – A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records (Guide 3), Australian Archives Canberra January 1997.
Winter B. HMAS SYDNEY – Fact, Fantasy and Fraud, Boolerong Publications Brisbane 1984.