- Clark, Bryan
- Biographies and personal histories, RAN operations, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney I
- September 1989 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On the second day the surf was even higher than on the first. Things on board became worse; the ship was still burning, huge sea gulls were continually attacking us, there was no fresh water, the wounded suffered terribly and so I decided to jump overboard to establish connection with the island to get the wounded ashore. I asked Captain von Mueller’s permission and I shall never forget his look when he wished me success. Under the guidance of Captain Witthoefft everything was carefully prepared. A long rope, which I was going to carry to the shore, was fastened to my body and, armed with a huge knife as protection against sharks, I jumped overboard into the crest of an on-coming wave. A whirlpool, which had its centre just below the bow of the ship, dragged me deep down under the keel of the Emden. When the speed slackened, I saw the pool had at least a diameter of ten feet. Further, I saw that the Emden was pinched between two coral reefs stretching finger-like out from the island and thought that this surely caused the large whirl.
I was not alone. Just opposite me, quite as helpless as I, was whirling a big shark, his white belly showing towards me. Then there was a moment of no movement. The water slowly began to rise filling the base of the pool. I heard a breaker thunder. The pool was filled with a strange green light. It had been closed by the waves. Then with tremendous force the water, like a gigantic fountain, rose from the base of the pool and flung me straight up. The keel of the Emden was passing like a red line before my eyes. In this moment I had the feeling of being lost. I saw the huge shark flattened against the bow of the ship and I felt it was my turn.
When I regained consciousness I was far away from the Emden, amidst the boiling water of the surf. About 200 yards away was the shore. I swam towards it but, strangely, every time a wave was coming on I was pushed below the surface instead of thrown up. The rope had been caught by the reef and I was tied as to a buoy. At last the rope broke and I reached the tide of the surf. It was impossible for me to overcome the backwash. I tried again and again and then gave up. Down I went: two times, three times, then all was peaceful. I saw the blue sky, the white beach with palms moving gently in the breeze and, really, I felt quite happy.
Then suddenly I shot straight up into the air, as I was caught by a breaker, and thrown ashore and back to life. I am sometimes inclined not to call this strange incident “luck”. I was going peacefully to rest, but providence cheated me. My explanation is that, like a drowning rat, I had convulsively stretched my legs; my right foot hit a rock and out of the water I shot.
For this I was awarded the Iron Cross First Class. My friends told me later that as they watched me from the deck of the ship they considered my life worth nothing. At length, I was joined by comrades who had been blown off the ship and managed, by clinging to empty ammunition boxes, to be washed ashore. The sights of the suffering were terrible. Armless and legless men lay dying on the beach as the tide rolled over them. Helpless men called in vain for water and then, maddened by thirst, gulped down big mouthfuls of saltwater. Those of us who could walk tried in vain to stop them drinking brine. Even the Second Medical Officer, in his madness, drank himself to death with saltwater. Then we were faced with the problem of removing the wounded out of the glare of the burning sun. Most of us had not a stitch of clothes on and we realised that exposure to the rays of the hot tropical sun would be fatal. We, who were able to do so, dragged the rest into the shade of rocks and trees.