- Swinden, Greg
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS AE1, HMAS Creswell, HMAS Sydney I
- June 1990 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In 1987 while posted to Canberra, I visited the Australian War Memorial on several occasions. On one visit I noticed what appeared to me to be several omissions on the bronze Roll of Honour plaques which surround the Pool of Remembrance. The most notable of these is the omission of three of the four men who lost their lives in the SYDNEY-EMDEN clash of 9 November 1914.
Puzzled at this, I contacted the Australian War Memorial for clarification. I was informed that the only RAN member they had listed killed in the SYDNEY-EMDEN battle was Ordinary Seaman Robert William Bell (Official Number 1964). Yet at the Royal Australian Naval College a memorial plaque (well known to the Midshipmen who have to polish it) lists four men as being killed. They are:
- Ordinary Seaman Robert William BELL (1964)
- Able Seaman Albert HAY (7912)
- Leading Seaman Reginald Albert SHARPE (8003)
- Petty Officer Thomas LYNCH (7902)
To confirm this I contacted the Directorate of Sailors Postings at Navy Office who replied with the information that four men had been killed or died from their wounds during the SYDNEY’s fight with the EMDEN. The only difference from the plaque at RANC was that Reginald Sharpe was listed as an Able Seaman and not a Leading Seaman.
This information was passed to the Australian War Memorial where it was promptly filed and forgotten. In 1990 I rediscovered my file copy of the unanswered 1987 letter. A check of several RAN histories revealed that four men had been killed. In Patsy Adam-Smith’s “The Anzacs” a Lieutenant Garsia states:
‘Right near the beginning, though I knew nothing about it, a shot hit the range finder without exploding….the poor range finder, Hay, Able Seaman was done for’. Garsia later recorded ‘Able Seaman Hay and Ordinary Seaman Bell were gone poor beggars, and Petty Officer Lynch and Able Seaman Sharp(e) died one that afternoon and the other the next day’.
Another reference is in Alun Evans’ “A Navy for Australia” where Harry Freeman, a young Boy Seaman recalls the action:
“We’d had a seven bell breakfast and a half-dozen of us were sitting below the forebridge having a smoke and talking about things. A chap there Able Seaman Hay said “Well I’ve got two legs and they can have this one”…he hit his right leg. Later a shell came down on a high trajectory and took his leg off and hurled it down on the awning between the forebridge and the for’ard funnel. He died from shock and loss of blood”.
The shell-damaged range finder at which Hay lost his life is now located at HMAS CRESWELL (RANC) on which the previously referred to plaque commemorating those killed is attached.
Freeman also recalled the deaths of Lynch, Bell and Able Seaman Sharpe:
“Sharpe, he was hit with shrapnel, and he was down in sickbay when we were getting German prisoners onboard. He got hold of the bunk above him and hauled himself up into a sitting position and said ‘You bloody bastards, you got me before I could get a shot at you’, then he fell back dead”.
Finally in C.E. Daw’s and L.J. Lind’s ‘HMAS SYDNEY 1913-1929’ it is recorded that SYDNEY suffered four dead and thirteen wounded compared with EMDEN’s 134 dead and 65 wounded, and that ‘the dead were buried at night, there was no distinction between friend and foe’.
Armed with this information I again contacted the Australian War Memorial to have the matter settled. An apology for failing to answer my previous letter was quickly given and in a month I had an answer to the question which I had asked three years before. The names omitted from the Roll of Honour were done so because the men were not Australians, they were Royal Navy personnel on loan to the RAN, the fact that they were serving in an Australian warship and had lost their lives in a purely RAN action in defence of Australia did not qualify them to have their names borne on the Roll of Honour.
The inclusion or exclusion of these men’s names can be argued from both sides, that their names should not be included as they were not Australians, or that they should as they died whilst serving with the RAN. However a further examination revealed more omissions and some, possibly incorrect additions.