Today, Saturday, 19 November 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Sydney off the Western Australian coast. The Sydney was sunk with the loss of all the ship’s company of 645. It remains Australia’s worst naval disaster. The Sydney was sunk by the German HSK (German Navy) Kormoran disguised as the Dutch merchant ship Straat Malakka. Until 2008, the resting place of this ship and its company remained a mystery. There have been many countless words written on the history of this disaster by professional historians, and I am not in that illustrious company, so will not be adding to that. So, for those interested, you should check out this link HMAS Sydney History
My thoughts today go to Petty Officer Henry Buccleuch Shipstone. According to the records he was my first cousin, 1 x removed. My grandfather and Henry’s father were half-brothers (they shared the same father). Confused? Family history is a bit like that. Many’s the hour I have spent trying to work out just who is who in the family zoo. Anyway, we are related. That’s what counts – I think.
Back to Henry Shipstone. In 1941 Henry was 28 years old when he and his 644 companions went down to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Evidently, Henry liked to write. He wrote poems. A few days, or weeks before the sinking of his ship, Henry wrote the poem below, A Sailor’s Prayer. This poem was read as part of the memorial service for those lost on the Sydney after its discovery in 2008. I am fortunate to have a framed copy of the poem which was given to me by a much-loved uncle.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened to Henry if he had survived the awful war that did indeed take his life. He was 28, single and had grown up in Graceville, a leafy Western suburb of Brisbane with his mother, father and four sisters. I didn’t know the family personally as I was born in the 1950s. I didn’t find out too much about Henry until more recent times. Would he have gone on to be a writer or author of some kind? or would he, as so many did after the Second World War, work in an ordinary job, have a mortgage and a family. Just one of the crowd. Of course, this is just musing because Henry never did get to do anything after the War. His war ended on this day 75 years ago. Along with so many other young and, not so young, men and women who never reached their potential. War does that. It robs a generation of so much potential. Families grieved for never to be seen again, husbands, wives, children and siblings. What is sad about the sinking of the Sydney is that the families left behind never really knew where their precious loved ones were lying. Many of the immediate families had passed on before 2008, when they discovered the whereabouts of both the Sydney and the Kormoran.
It’s funny, though, if it wasn’t for this tragedy I probably wouldn’t have given Henry Buccleuch Shipstone much of a thought as I worked through the family history. That is, except for the unusual name. That my friends, is another story for my Saturday Arvo Thoughts…