- Clark, Bryan
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney II
- December 1989 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
“…The raft showed damage from gunfire, and upon opening up sections of it we found expended bullets. It was not possible to tell if they had penetrated before the raft had been launched, or had been fired into it when the survivor, or survivors, were in it. We would never know the story of the last voyage, or how far it had travelled before reaching us. It must have come from the HMAS Sydney which had been engaged in that theatre of war. Sad though it was, we gained some satisfaction from the fact that this lonely sailor had been brought by the sea to a place occupied by his allies and friends. We carried him up the hillside to a lovely park site overlooking the Cove, and surrounded by a mass of bougainvillea. He was buried in what was then the cemetery, near to the coffee gardens. The District Officer conducted a short service whilst we few volunteers provided a military escort. A Sikh policeman sounded the Last Post and the notes floated down the hillside to the shore in the quiet evening. It was a very sombre escort that returned down the hill, and the war seemed to be getting a little closer…”
Sgt. J. Brown of the Christmas Island platoon of the Singapore Volunteers told a West Australian newspaper reporter, J. Atkinson, in 1949: “…It was…the body of an Engine Room rating in blue overalls, very much decomposed… A pair of boots was…on the raft which our medical officer said could not have been worn by the dead man. This led us to believe that there may have been others on the raft… The raft was riddled with shrapnel… We took the body ashore and buried it with full military honours… And there he rests on that island in the Indian Ocean in the little cemetery on the hillside under the towering cliffs. Who he was we shall never know. He rests in honour.”
Captain R. Hannevig, in his official report of February 23, 1942, recorded that, as of February 17, “an inquest…was in progress (and) a full report is to be forwarded to Australia as soon as this…is concluded.”
All evidence of this alleged inquest has vanished.
Seven years after the event, prompted by RAN historian, George Hermon Gill, a confidential Department of the Navy minute paper of April 23, 1949, written by Captain G. Oldham, notes: “The attached memorandum from NOIC, Fremantle, resuscitates a matter which was brought under notice during the War and which is believed to have been investigated at the time, although no records can be found…”.
The D.N.S. was asked: “…Please remark on…para 3 to determine whether or not the Carley Float and corpse…at Christmas Island were ex…Sydney…sunk (by) Cormoran (sic)…”
The relevant passage read, “The marking on the shoes (of the Christmas Island corpse) described by Captain J. Smith, as underlined in blue pencil, definitely correspond with supplies from our stock, provided they were of leather, not canvas… I should think they had been issued to an officer or rating.”
Yet, in a strangely reasoned vein, Captain G. Oldham, the Director of Naval Intelligence, concluded on August 2, 1949: “…I have carried out detailed investigations for the purpose of assessing the possibility whether the Carley Float, with the corpse on board could have been ex the cruiser, Sydney. …Identification particulars set out in some detail in Shipping Intelligence Report No. 137/1942 …assisted those investigations. While these show that the clothing found on the corpse could possibly have been that of an RAN rating, it seems reasonably certain from the particulars given of the covering of the Carley Float that the float did not belong to an H.M.A. ship. My conclusion, therefore, is that the Carley Float sighted…off Christmas Island was NOT ex HMAS Sydney.”
Veronica Wright, the acting director of the Office of Australian War Graves, writing to the Christmas Island administrator, Mr T. Paterson, on December 1, 1983, noted: “Earlier this year, this office was asked to investigate the possibility of exhuming remains from the grave of an unknown seaman on Christmas Island for re-burial in Australia. The naval intelligence reports at the time conclude that the float was not ex-HMAS Sydney, although this remains open to dispute”.