- 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)
It appeared that with all this evidence the identity of CI Man would soon be known; but this was not to be. Matt Blenkin and Russell Lain had analysed over 330 dental records of the men lost in HMAS Sydney but none matched CI Man and the other records could not be found in Defence Medical Records in Canberra or had been lost with Sydney. Commander Greg Swinden, a naval historian, constructed a database of the 645 men killed using their service records to identify age, height and any notable injuries (such as broken legs or missing fingers). Using this data, and the dental records, a short list numbering just over 100 men was created for further investigation.
From this data base a smaller group, comprising mainly officers, was selected as being the most likely to provide a positive answer. Relatives were invited via media releases to come forward for DNA testing. Several did but in a number of cases further research was required to find relatives as many did not know they were related to a man from HMAS Sydney. Over the next 18 months the painstaking work of the research team saw several DNA samples and photographs (which could be used for comparison with the sailor’s teeth) collected from all over Australia and even as far away as the United Kingdom. Unfortunately no positive results were obtained.
Throughout the investigation process members of the public and the media made claims that the research should include all Sydney personnel and some claimed the body was not of a man from Sydney. This latter claim is highly unlikely. The first hand evidence from 1942 indicates the Carley Float was of a naval pattern and manufactured in Australia (when the metal tubing was opened it was found to be stamped with `Made in NSW/Australia’ and ‘Lysaght’ which was an Australian manufacturer of sheet metal from which the raft was made).
The weed growth on the bottom of the float was assessed by Captain Smith (an experienced mariner) as indicating the raft had been afloat for several months. The Senate Inquiry in 1998 had also ruled out the raft coming from another ship, having identified the date and location of all vessels lost in the Indian Ocean and South East Asia during 1941-42. The inquiry ascertained that no wreckage from these ships could have made it to Christmas Island due to unfavourable currents and winds or it being physically impossible due to the speed at which the raft would have had to travel.
Also, and more importantly, the metal fragment found embedded in the forehead of the remains was examined by a forensic ballistics investigator who indicated it was a not a small arms bullet but a shell fragment from a larger shell or projectile. This fragment was further analysed by the AWM and the Australian National University and found to contain a large percentage of manganese and silicon, consistent with German hardened steel materials used in high explosive shells.
In September 2008 the Navy, in consultation with the Office of Australian War Graves, made the decision that CI Man was to be re-buried with or without a name. While the government team (consisting of naval historians, anthropologists and forensic dentists) continued to conduct research into CI Man’s identity the Navy undertook preparations to re-bury the unknown sailor in Geraldton War Cemetery. Geraldton War Cemetery was technically the most appropriate site as it was the closest Australian War Cemetery to Christmas Island, but it had several other factors making it the best site. Firstly, the recently discovered wreck of Sydney was off the Western Australian coast only some 120 nautical miles from Geraldton. Secondly, Sydney had visited Geraldton several times while stationed in Western Australian waters including a visit only a few weeks before she was lost. Finally, the HMAS Sydney Memorial, including the Dome of Souls with 645 stainless steel seagulls representing each man lost as well as the black marble Wall of Remembrance with each man’s name engraved upon it, is located in Geraldton on a hill over looking the harbour.
Geraldton was the ideal final resting place for CI Man and for many families of those lost this is the spiritual home of the ship and her men. In late October 2008, the remains of the unknown sailor were collected from the Shellshear Museum where he had lain for nearly two years under the watchful eyes of Denise Donlon. She later stated , ‘So he is on his way – I was sad to see him go’. The final part of his long journey had started.