- 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)
On 19 November 2008, 67 years to the day that Sydney was lost, there were a number of memorial services held at sea, around Australia and in London to commemorate those who had lost their lives. In Geraldton a memorial service was held in Queens Park attended by politicians, senior defence personnel and the families of those who were killed. At sea the frigate HMAS Sydney (IV) escorted the amphibious transport ship HMAS Manoora, which had embarked hundreds of family members of those lost in Sydney (II), to the site of the ship’s final resting place and a service was held over the site of the wreck
But it was at Geraldton that the final farewell to the unknown sailor took place. The coffin bearing his remains and covered by the Australian White Ensign was centrepiece to the service as the highest in the land came to offer him and his shipmates the praise they deserved. John Perryman reminded those gathered that while Sydney had been lost with all hands she had still sunk the Kormoran and removed a dangerous enemy from Australian waters. It had been a high price to pay for victory, but it was a victory none the less.
Then as the service concluded the coffin containing the unknown sailor was removed to make the final short journey to the War Cemetery. Accompanied by senior public officials, naval personnel, the expedition and research team members and most importantly by four men who had served in Sydney up until only a few weeks before she was lost, the cortege made its way to the cemetery. Principal Chaplain Gary Lock, RAN conducted a brief service and then the coffin was lowered into the ground while a volley of shots was fired by an honour guard of sailors from HMAS Sydney (IV). The unknown sailor’s journey home that had started 67 years before was finally over.
The search, however, for the identity of the unknown sailor is far from over. While some claim he should not be identified, as by remaining unknown he represents all 645 men who lost their lives, there are others who would like his identity known. The RAN continues to undertake further action to identify this man and DNA testing will continue in the future. Additionally it is proposed to undertake isotope testing which will use small samples taken from his remains to try and identify the region where he was born, or lived his last few years, using oxygen and strontium levels in the bones and teeth. We owe this to him; he has traveled so far and for so long to tell us who he is and we should do all we can to identify him.
In 1993, when the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, spoke at the interment of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial he stated, ‘We don’t know who he is – and we never will’. Perhaps one day, however, the Unknown Sailor will be identified.