- Clark, Bryan
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney II
- December 1989 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
“There is prima facie evidence that the sailor was a Commonwealth serviceman, possibly Australian, but…this cannot be proved… The identity of the body or the float will probably never be known. If the unknown sailor is a Commonwealth casualty of the Second World War, the marking and location of his grave is the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission…”
“Repatriation of the remains is not the issue. Nevertheless, this office should consider arrangements for a suitable commemoration at the present site of the grave… Naval reports state positively that the body was buried with full military honours in the old cemetery… Our advice from the Department of Local Government and Territories is that there is no grave in the old cemetery identifiable by inscription as being of this sailor. It is possible the body is buried in an unmarked grave. My inclination is to let the matter, and the body, rest.”
On February 9, 1984, same writer: “From a recent inspection of the unmarked grave it seems that there was a headstone on the grave at some time. However, the headstone has been broken off, misplaced or stolen, and the earliest official record we can locate (dated 1966) refers to the grave as being unmarked then.”
Again, on March 6, 1984: “As it has not been possible to positively identify the sailor or the grave, this office will not be providing an official commemoration at the grave site and regards the matter as closed.”
A telex message sent on January 18, 1984, to the Australian War Graves Office from the Secretary of the Department of Territories says: “At this stage we cannot locate any official records confirming that the remains of an unknown seaman were buried on the island, although one island-born person, who was… 14 years in 1942, recalls hearing of the incident… that a seaman was buried in the old cemetery… In the old cemetery is one unmarked grave. A headstone was once in place at the western end of the grave, but is no longer anywhere in sight…”
Queensland writer, Barbara Winter, firmly believes that the unidentified sailor came from the HMAS Sydney. Summer currents from the battle site were to the NNW at half a knot. Accordingly, a raft from the Sydney could have been within 100km of Christmas Island by February 6, 1942.
Treasurer of the Gascoyne Historical Society in W.A., Keith Hasleby, believes he located the unknown sailor’s grave site on Christmas Island in November, 1987. Mr Hasleby believes the skeletal remains should be exhumed and the dental work investigated.
“You can identify a person from the fillings through dental records”, he explained. “They are just about as positive as a finger print.”
If the War Graves Commission and Australian Naval authorities were agreeable, Mr Hasleby said he would like to have the Christmas Island remains exhumed and returned to Western Australia for re-burial.
“I would offer to set up a grave site in Carnarvon where it could be cared for”, he said. “Barbara Winter suggested this originally and I think it’s a very good idea. Carnarvon could then have a Grave of the Unknown Soldier.”
In a letter dated February 5, 1988, an executive officer from the Office of Australian War Graves, in Canberra, Mr Don Taggart, responded to my written enquiry with the statement: “…In early 1984, following extensive investigation… the Office of Australian War Graves failed to positively identify the burial as that of an Australian, or other Commonwealth Veteran, or indeed the grave concerned.”
The most that could be said at the time is that there was an unmarked grave on the island which is generally believed to contain the remains of an unidentified sailor. The Office… cannot undertake official commemoration at the gravesite in the absence of positive identification and as a result of the investigations made in 1984, the matter was not pursued further. If the sailor was a Commonwealth veteran, he would already be officially commemorated somewhere on a Memorial to the Missing and it is not the intention of this Office to initiate any further enquiry.’
I responded at once to the effect: how could an ‘extensive investigation’ have been conducted when (1) the Office of Australian War Graves had failed to locate the grave, and (2) the remains had not been exhumed and dentally analysed?