Sydney II 80th anniversary services honour those lost

Edward ScownMidwest Times
Veterans march in to the HMAS Sydney II memorial service.
Camera IconVeterans march in to the HMAS Sydney II memorial service. Credit: Pictures: Phoebe Pin

On November 19, 1941, 200km off the coast of Shark Bay, the pride of the Royal Australian Navy came to rest on the ocean floor.

Eighty years on, Mid West residents turned out to services across the region to pay their respects to the 645 men lost aboard HMAS Sydney.

Denham is Federally recognised as the closest town to the site of the wreck. In 2008, search efforts were based out of the town, and hundreds turned out at the weekend to commemorate the sinking, and HMAS Sydney’s discovery 66 years later.

“Some of the old people in town still remember seeing flashes and hearing explosions from the ship,” Shark Bay Shire president Cheryl Cowell said.

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Families of those lost were taken the 112 nautical miles out to sea to lay wreaths at the wreck site, nearly 2.5km below the surface.

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Recent unmanned expeditions have produced 3-D video footage which is now played in the Denham Discovery Centre. “I’ve seen it three or four times, and it still make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s amazing how well preserved everything is,” Cr Cowell said,

A march of navy personnel and well-wishers followed a memorial concert, headlined by ARIA Hall of Famer and Vietnam veteran Normie Rowe.

Geraldton’s HMAS Sydney II Memorial had a turnout of hundreds on Friday evening, with veterans, dignitaries, and loved ones of those lost laying wreaths.

Two blank cannon shots were fired towards the ocean, and Geraldton Volunteer Marine Rescue set off flares on the water in tribute.

Earlier on Friday, a service was held at the Geraldton War Cemetery to honour the Unknown Sailor, whose identity that morning became known after a 15-year investigation.

Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark was named as the sailor who washed ashore on Christmas Island days after HMAS Sydney’s encounter with HSK Kormoran.

AB Clark was 21 years old when he boarded a life raft and escaped the burning ship. His body was too damaged to identify, and he was buried by locals and largely forgotten until his body was exhumed in 2006 for testing.

Anthropologists noted a large wound in his head containing German shrapnel and kept bone and DNA samples before re-interring AB Clark in Geraldton.

Progress in DNA technology allowed researchers nearly a decade later to pinpoint further details.

Clark was right-handed, of Scottish ancestry with blue/green eyes, brown hair, and ate a lot of fish as a child.

The description sounded familiar to Queensland farmer Colin Clark, who knew he had a relative on HMAS Sydney. He submitted a DNA sample to Federal Police researchers, and the 80-year-old mystery was solved. AB Clark will remain buried in Geraldton, and his headstone can now be replaced with one bearing his name.

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