- Swinden, Greg
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney IV, HMAS Sydney II
- June 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Digging re-started at the new location and an hour or so later the tell tale sign of disturbed earth was found. The team continued to dig and at about a depth of five feet the first signs of a wooden coffin were found; it had been buried at a right angle to the other graves. Then bones were found with an ankle bone being the first located – Christmas Island Man as he was to become known had been found and his long journey home had begun. The body was lying face down at a peculiar angle and the state of the body corresponded with details provided by the Deputy Harbour Master in his 1981 letter. The remains of four press studs were also found which further indicated the body was that of the unknown sailor who had been buried in 1942. CI Man was then flown by a RAAF aircraft to Sydney and placed in the Shellshear Museum of Physical Anthropology at the University of Sydney for further examination (in early February 2009 a memorial cairns was dedicated at Christmas Island to mark the location where the Unknown Sailor had lain for 67 years).
Throughout 2007-08 extensive investigations, directed by Commander Fiona McNaught from Navy Headquarters, were undertaken to try and establish the identity of the unknown sailor. Anthropological data indicated he was a tall ‘gracile’ Caucasian male (between five feet six inches and six feet two inches in height with a shoe size of around size 11 indicating a man on the taller side of this range). He was also assessed as being between the age of 22 and 31 years due to bone development. The remains showed signs of degeneration of the vertebral column, an old healed small depressed fracture of the right side of the skull and an old healed broken toe.
It was obvious from the head injuries that the man had suffered (bone loss in the vicinity of the left ear) that he had fractured his skull from the result of a fall or being thrown against a solid object such as being blown by the force of an exploding shell (a small piece of shell fragment was found embedded in his forehead but this was deemed not to have caused his death). Forensic analysis indicated that without medical attention this man would have died as a result of receiving these head injuries.
There were also wear marks on his leg bones, known as squatting facets, indicating someone who perhaps had grown up in a rural region or possibly in a culture where squatting was a common activity. Equally possible was that the wear marks could have been caused by other activities such as sports which involved flexing the foot back against the leg.
The dental examination was of particular interest as the man had significant high quality and expensive dental work, with several gold fillings, and there was also a missing tooth but with the gap completely closed over by another tooth, but at a noticeable angle. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted from the teeth but all attempts to extract nuclear DNA failed. The DNA found was identified as coming from Haplogroup J1 which is common in southern Europe and the Middle East but also found in other regions of the world including Britain and Australia.
The Australian War Memorial (AWM) staff analysed the press studs and found portions of cloth still present. This cloth was assessed as being originally white (or undyed) and of a particular weave which was not consistent with the blue twill cloth used on RAN Ratings or RAAF Airmen’s overalls. Examples of RAN and RAAF overalls held at the AWM were examined and found to be of a coarse blue twill cloth and with black buttons as fasteners. This finding was supported by photographic evidence and first hand evidence from ex RAN Ratings and RAAF Airmen from World War II. Ex RAN officers from the World War II era were interviewed and many recalled being issued white overalls, with press stud fasteners at the front, or being issued white cloth and then getting a civilian tailor to make up the overalls using either buttons or press studs as fasteners. This evidence was supported by Australian Naval Orders of the era regarding officers’ overalls. Thus much of the evidence pointed towards CI Man being an officer or warrant officer.