Geraldton honours 80th anniversary of HMAS Sydney tragedy at memorial site

Phoebe PinGeraldton Guardian
Hundreds of guests attended the 80th anniversary memorial service for HMAS Sydney II.
Camera IconHundreds of guests attended the 80th anniversary memorial service for HMAS Sydney II. Credit: Geraldton Guardian

Just days short of his 25th birthday, Able Seaman Stanley Maurice Darby became one of the 645 men aboard the HMAS Sydney (II) to perish at sea.

Eighty years after his death, Peter Darby travelled to Geraldton from Mandurah to honour the father he never knew.

Mr Darby was one of hundreds of guests at the City of Greater Geraldton’s HMAS Sydney (II) commemorative service last Friday to mark the anniversary of Australia’s greatest naval tragedy.

The ship and its crew were just one day from their home port when a harmless-looking freighter flying a Dutch flag was spotted on November 19, 1941.

By the time those on board the Sydney realised the true identity of the ship — a warship flying the German Battle Ensign — it was too late.

A torpedo ripped into the ship and cost all aboard their lives, but not before HMAS Sydney’s retaliatory fire wiped out the raider’s radio and engine rooms, and killed 20 men on the enemy vessel.

RSL Geraldton sub branch president Barry Stinson
Camera IconRSL Geraldton sub branch president Barry Stinson Credit: Phoebe Pin/Phoebe Pin

During the service on Friday, Commodore Ivan Ingham read excerpts from the diary of Stoker Cyril James Nugent, who wrote of the triumphs of the Royal Australian Navy cruiser and gave his musings to his family before embarking on his final journey.

The young man wrote with pride of the “Aussie gunnery” which shot down wartime enemies in the face of adversity.

Veterans, dignitaries and loved ones of the HMAS Sydney’s crew lay wreaths at the centre of the Geraldton memorial before an evening gun fired two blank canon shots into the ocean.

As a final tribute, Geraldton Volunteer Marine Rescue released flares into the sky.

Earlier on Friday a smaller service was held at Geraldton War Cemetery, where it was revealed the Unknown Sailor who perished in the tragedy was Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark from Queensland.

It was an emotional event for many.
Camera IconIt was an emotional event for many. Credit: Phoebe Pin/Geraldton Guardian

HMAS Sydney (II) memorial warden Don Rolston said the news the 80-year mystery would finally be solved hit the grapevine the week of the anniversary, but not even he could pry the name from officials’ lips before the announcement.

“We all waited for Friday with bated breath, and it was great to hear it,” he said.

“It’s probably unbelievably important (for Mr Clark’s family) ... they can now really feel him as part of the 645 (who died) and they can come to this memorial and see his name set up permanently alongside the others.”

Mr Rolston said it had been humbling to see so many people attend the morning and evening memorial services.

“I think the most pleasing part for us was to see so many people here because their presence honoured us, it honoured those who are lost, and it honoured the very purpose that the memorial serves,” he said.

For Mr Darby, the anniversary was the chance to watch the sun set on the horizon on which his father would have taken his last breath. “We didn’t talk about what happened when I was growing up but as I have gotten older, the more I have thought I should come to pay my respects,” he said.

Mr Darby was just short of his third birthday when his father died.

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