Standing outside Cork County Hall is a pair of statues of two men looking up at a tall building. The only information about the statues is on a nearby plaque on which it is stated that it was a gift from the Irish Transport and General Workers Trade Union – a curious fact in itself!
In the courtyard of The Kingsley Hotel across the road, there is another pair of statues. These are two young lads looking up to the top of the tall building that is now the hotel. Dressed in clothing of many decades ago, the sculpture is particularly charming as it is life size.
The poses of the young boys are identical to the characters in the larger statues – the characters on the left have arms akimbo, while those on the right have hands behind their backs and all four are gazing upwards. The plaque alongside explains everything!
‘It’s a fine big place you’ll have to agree’
Says Miah to Cha as they strolled by the Lee
‘I heard’ tis a hotel, called the Kingsley- it’s new’
So they stopped for a while to admire the view.
The spot that they gazed at – they’d looked at before
As the high diver plunged to the onlookers’ roar
The Lee Baths had gone now but here on its site
Was a beautiful Inn, inviting and bright.
The decades have passed now but the two friends still meet
To see them right now just look across the street
A critical eye’s cast on every new building
As curious as ever, just like when young children
The story on the plaque is continued
”In 1968, a stunning piece of sculpture by world renowned artist Oisín Kelly was unveiled just across the street on the Plaza outside County Hall. The piece was entitled ‘Two Working Men’ but the people of Cork quickly and affectionately renamed them ‘Cha and Miah’ (Charles and Jeremiah) after two famous Cork characters. The curiosity displayed by the men depicted in the sculpture led us to think that they must have been just as inquisitive as children. So the hotel commissioned this piece to remind us of a time when we were young and the world was full of wonder and curiosity was just part of who we were. Stay forever young at heart.
The Kingsley is located on the banks of the River Lee on a site that was once the famous Lee Baths, where hundreds played, dived and frolicked in the decades between the 1930s to the 1980s.
Oisín Kelly (1915-1981) was a renowned Irish sculptor who had been a student with the famous sculptor Henry Moore. Visitors to Dublin will be familiar with the impressive statue of Jim Larkin on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare. Jim Larkin (1874 – 1947) was a labour rights activist who founded the Workers Union of Ireland and co- founded The Labour Party in Ireland. A powerful orator, he was known as ‘Big Jim’. Kelly’s statue was unveiled in 1977 and has become an iconic feature of O’Connell Street. Among several inscriptions on the plinth is a quote that I particularly like from one of his Larkin’s speeches – ”The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.”
Another equally famous and earlier work of Kelly’s is the Children of Lir sculpture that dominates the Garden of Remembrance, also in Dublin. It is based on the ancient Irish Legend of four children who were turned into swans, about which more can be seen here.
Kelly’s ‘Two Working Men’ were commissioned by the Irish Transport & General Workers Union. Kelly spent three years fashioning the older man and the younger man gazing in admiration at the impressive Liberty Hall in Dublin – Ireland’s tallest building at that time. The local council refused permission for the installation, arguing that it would be a traffic hazard. And so the ITGWU decided that the statues would go to County Hall in Cork in 1969. By that time, Cork County Hall had replaced Liberty Hall as the tallest building in Ireland – a title it held until 2008. In true Cork style the sculptures were nicknamed Cha and Miah after a Cork comedy duo. The names have stuck and while a request for directions to the Oisín Kelly sculpture might be met with blank stares, a request for directions to see Cha and Miah would be immeditely recognized!
It’s a pity that Cork County Council do not have information at their site about this work of one of our most renowned sculptors. Kudos to The Kingsley Hotel for their salute to the monument across the street!
This is Blacksod Lighthouse, near Belmullet, County Mayo on the remote west coast of Ireland. It doesn’t look much like traditional lighthouses as the light is perched on top of an old granite building that dates from 1864. It may look insignificant, but what happened here a few days before the World War 2 D-Day Landings in France would change the course of history.
Ted Sweeney was the lighthouse keeper who also logged hourly weather reports. Blacksod was of meteorological significance as it was the first land based weather station in Europe, where weather readings could be professionally taken on the prevailing European Atlantic westerly weather systems. Ted’s weather reports were relayed to the Meteorological Office in Dunstable in Bedfordshire, England. Operation Overlord was planned for June 5th as moon and tide conditions were ideal, and the weather looked favourable.
But, Ted’s report at 2 am on June 3rd recorded a rapidly falling barometer and strong winds. This caused consternation with the Allies. Dunstable called to confirm the accuracy of the readings and asked Ted to repeat the details of the 2 am report. They called a second time to verify the same information. Ted had no idea of course what the fuss was about. But Eisenhower, who commanded the Allied Expeditionary Forces cancelled Operation Overlord as heavy rain and wind was now forecast in the English Channel on the morning of June 5th
By noon on June 4th Ted’s readings looked more favorable. Rain had cleared at Blacksod and visibility was good. This improved weather would reach the English Channel, some 450 miles away, in time to allow Eisenhower to order the D-Day landings of some 160,000 army personnel on the beaches of Normandy on June 6 1944 – the largest amphibious invasion in history.
The 10th annual Age Action Silver Surfer awards were held yesterday at Dublin City University (DCU) and what an inspiring event it was! The image of the overall winner 95 year old Florence McGillicuddy is all over the newspapers today. He was the winner of the Golden IT category for people over 85 years of age, and then went on to take the ultimate prize. Flor is a ‘grandad’ to boys at Ballyroan School in Dublin. He runs a blog at grandadonline.com on which he records his memoirs for his young friends. There you will find some of his activities and ways in which he interacts with the scholars. I think this must surely rank as the most inspirational winner of the title to date. It would be good to see similar inter generational projects all lover the country!
An Acorn tablet was presented to each winner. It is designed specially for older users to help overcome social isolation and open up communications using safe and secure platforms. It is designed around secure Apps covering Independence, Health, Finance, Communications and Security and has been extensively tested by groups of older users. It sounds to me like a wonderful idea and will be most welcome when it comes to the market in July. Another sponsor of the awards was Doro Phones – smartphones designed with older users in mind, another splendid idea. It’s great to see the technological needs of older people being facilitated by these companies.
DCU is a particularly appropriate venue for these awards as it was the world’s first Age Friendly University. The President of DCU, Prof. Brian MacCraith, whose mother will reach her 100th birthday this week, established the ‘Age Friendly’ status in 2012 and is proud of the fact that this model has now been replicated in 50 other establishments across the world.
The entire event was presided over by the very genial radio personality Shay Byrne who was chivalrous and delightfully entertaining. An excellent choice as host! Paddy Connolly, CEO of Age Action reinforced the main messages of the organization – challenging stereotypes, embracing new challenges and empowering older people.
So, back to the real stars of the show- the finalists!.
First up was the category for people who have just discovered IT and have enhanced their lives as a result.
Sr Barbara Molloy hails from Galway and had to leave her work in Egypt when her congregation considered it unsafe for her to remain. On her return to Ireland she got online and found she could keep in touch with friends she had to leave behind when she mastered email and apps.
Patrick Douglas from Clonmel has discovered internet technology and uses it to keep up with his former army colleagues who served in the Lebanon.
From Limerick, we met Patrick Begley who does work with the Southhill Community and George Virgo who hails from Cork .
Eleanor Lynch from Togher came out winner. Eleanor was profoundly deaf but following a cochlear implant she has embraced technology to enhance her life. She is now never far from her phone and her laptop. Well done Eleanor!
The next category ‘Hobbies on the Net’ had some fascinating finalists!
81-year -old Stan Philips from Ferrybank uses his digital skills to enhance his poetry and music collections, while Corkman Tim Hegarty has taken up Furniture Restoration since retirement and uses music and TED talks to keep him motivated while he works. 83-year-old Kevin McDermott has a body of work on Youtube and the Liberties History Group, ranging in age from 60 to 89, research local history and genealogy and are currently undertaking a project on Quakers in their very old part of Dublin. All are doing excellent work, but the winners chose The Three Paddys from Mallow as winners. Paddy McAuliffe, Tobin and Buckley learned filming and editing skills that they now use to film and record the life stories of local residents. Excellent work!
The Community Champion IT Award brought finalists from Meath, where Ita Healy does trojan work for the age friendly town of Trim, from Dublin where Roderick Hanley is the chief ‘techy’ person in Kiltipper Woods Residential Centre. Sr Catherine Kelly, an 82 year old in Kilcock Co Kidare has her community up to speed with laptops and ipads and smart phones while in Millstreet Co Cork Séan Radley runs the Millstreet .ie website as well as the local museum when he is not busy editing music and being an historian. Margaret Culloty, 77, from Co Kerry was the winner in this category for her selfless work in keeping online records for over 3,000 participants in the Kerry Community Games. Well done Margaret!
Tutors are vitally important to Age Action as they are the crucial links for overcoming digital exclusion in older people. We have two categories here – Tutor(s) of the Year had some impressive contenders for the award. Brian Lennox of Dublin has guided 79 learners on the Getting Started programe, as well as volunteering at the LauraLyn childrens hospice. We then heard about Michael Dangerfield from Malahide who has patiently steered 72 Getting Started students through the course and Leslie Thornton who has tutored 88 older people. The dedicated staff of Deloitte Ireland have shared their expertise with over 100 older learners. Amazing and life changing contributions from them all! The winner of this category was Sr Margaret Kiely a retired addiction Councillor and now an Age Action volunteer, based in Cork who enthusiastically helps older learners, keeps excellent records and produces certificates for those who complete the courses.
Schools are also involved in upskilling older people – Transition year students in 27 schools have so far had 680 trainees. It was so nice to see so many young people at this event this year and huge thank you to all of them! The schools making it to the short list were Bantry Community College in Co Cork, Newpark Comprehensive in Blackrock Co Dublin, aided and abetted by the Gardaí from Blackrock police station. The title of Schools IT Tutors of the year went to the students of Bandon Grammar School- well done to them!
Huge thanks to Age Action and all their sponsors for making this such a wonderfully positive event, and a thousand congratulations to all those finalists who have inspired us all.
Tomorrow, 24 May 2019, we in Ireland will once again be casting our votes on an aspect of our divorce legislation. Because we have a written Constitution, the consent of the Irish people is needed before the Constitution can be amended. This can only be done by way of a referendum.
The proposed amendment is for the removal of the requirement for spouses to have lived apart for at least 4 years in the previous 5 before a divorce can be granted. We will at the same time be voting for foreign divorces to be recognized here.
Our written constitution was adopted in 1937 (following independence from Great Britain in 1922) and while based on the British parliamentary system it also included fundamental rights based on the teachings of the Catholic faith. The Church was very influential at that time and for many decades afterwards. John Charles McQuaid was a friend of the then leader of the government, Eamon DeValera. McQuaid went on to become the Primate of Ireland and wielded extraordinary influence on succesive governments. The new constitution was unequivocal with regards to divorce. It stated: No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage .
I was a footsoldier canvassing in favour of the amendment to remove the bar on divorce in 1986, mainly because of these three women:
‘Mary’ had married in Ireland. She endured years of abuse in a violent relationship. She was thrown down the stairs a number of times and her husband put weedkiller in her shoes. She had nowhere to go. Police were reluctant to get involved in domestic disputes.
‘Kate’ fled from an intolerable marriage to an alcoholic and took her children to live in England. She obtained a divorce and eventually moved back to Ireland. Following a church annulment of her first marriage, she remarried in the church. Her second marriage was recognized by the Church, but not by the state, to whom she was a bigamist.
‘Brigid’ was the daughter of a farmer. She lived in the family home with her father, a married brother and his wife and children. Her father arranged a marriage with a neighbouring farmer and he provided a dowry of some acreage. Brigid and her future husband met just once prior to the marriage, that had taken place some ten years earlier. They spent one week together before she was forced to move back to her father’s house, as she was not acceptable to her new husband’s mother. ‘Brigid’ gave birth nine months later. Her father had died and her brother and his wife, now with their own growing family wanted her to move out, but she had nowhere to go. She had no entitlement to any state assistance as her husband was a well-to-do farmer.
There were many more ‘Marys’, ‘Kates’ and ‘Brigids’ in Ireland with tragic stories to tell. And some people who had entered marriage for life found that it simply didn’t work out. I was prepared to stand up for them and with them in campaigning for an amendment to our constitution.
The campaign was a harrowing one at many levels. Taking on the might of the Catholic Church – not to mention their devout followers- was not for the fainthearted. Compassion was not part of their version of ‘Christianity’. The campaign was divisive; it was personal, with insults and even objects being thrown at will. Priests bellowed from pulpits. On my final day as a practicing catholic, a young curate yelled about the ‘Jezebels’ in the town who were lining up to ensnare the happily married men of the parish. I got up and walked out and away from all of it.
The referendum was resoundingly defeated by 63% to 34%. The outlook was bleak for those caught in the awfulness of marital breakdown, but their plight was of no consequence to the Church who had won the moral conflict. 9 years later it was once again put to the people, once again it was a bitter and divisive conflict, but it was won by the slimmest of margins – 50.28% to 49.72%. Divorce legislation was enacted in 1996.
Tomorrow we will vote again. This time we have no visible campaigners. No hollering clerics. No praying zealots at every corner. We will vote to remove divorce restrictions from the Constitution altogether, and if passed, the government will enact legislation to reduce the waiting time from 4 to 2 years. Two days ago, the Catholic bishops requested that people think very carefully before they vote. A very reasonable request. Yesterday I saw 6 Vote Yes posters outside Cork. I have not seen a single poster urging a No vote. We have come a long way in 33 years.
Both earlier campaigns had memorable moments that remain etched in the memories of those of us who fought the battles. Alice Glenn famously remarked that women who voted for divorce would be ‘like turkeys voting for Christmas’. A priest claimed that by divorcing abusive husbands, women were simply ‘passing on the abuse to another unsuspecting woman’ and Alice again warned that divorced women with children would be exposing their children to sexual abuse by the stranger who would replace the father. Older wives would be replaced by fresher younger models and there would not be a farm left in Ireland as women would rush to get their share of the land when marriages fell apart. At the 1995 referendum count, as results were announced, a well known religious zealot, Mrs Cribben, shouted out – “G’way ye wife-swapping sodomites.”
And so tomorrow, let us vote YES once again, to show that we have evolved into a more humane and compassionate society than existed just a few decades ago.
Both the cartoon and my 1986 badge will now be returned to my treasures box,
On Anzac Day on 25 April last, and I went along to the annual Anzac Dawn Service in Grangegorman Military Cemetery in Dublin hosted by the Australian Embassy in Ireland.
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops first landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula, in Turkey on 25 April 1915. This was the first significant military action undertaken by ANZACs. They suffered heavy casualties in a campaign that overall cost the lives of 131,000, with 11,488 being ANZAC. On this date each year Australia and New Zealand remember all those who died in the service of their countries in all wars and in peacetime. This remembrance traditionally takes place at dawn.
It was an early rise to be at Grangegorman Military Cemetery by 6.20. A.M. The weather forecast promised low temperatures and rain, but it turned out to be a relatively balmy, dry morning! On arrival, we were presented with a programme and a sprig of Rosemary. Rosemary grows wild all over Gallipoli, it is a symbol of remembrance. and is traditionally worn for Anzac Day.
An introduction was given by the Australian Ambassador Mr Richard Andrews. The service was lead by Father Séamus Madigan, the head chaplain of the Irish Defence Forces. The newly arrived New Zealand Ambassador, Mr Brad Burgess, remembered those brutally murdered in Christchurch, and read from Homecoming – Te Hokinga Mai by New Zealand poet, Vincent O’Sullivan. (His father was born in Tralee Co.Kerry) Atatürk’s Epilogue was read by the Turkish Ambassador to Ireland, Mr Levent Murat Burhan. Such poignant words, penned by the former Field Marshall who masterminded the Ottoman Turkish victory at Gallipoli. (He later went on to become the first President of the Republic of Turkey.)
Wreaths were laid by the Ambassadors, Representatives of the Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces and members of the Diplomatic Corps and others. It was hard to keep a dry eye as the harpist, Ms Anne Tuite, played the air of ‘The Green Fields of France‘ during the wreath laying.
Ten WW1 ANZACs are buried here in Grangegorman Military Cemetery. Astonishingly, six of them were returning from leave in Ireland aboard the mailboat, RMS Leinster, when she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat on October 10 1918. The remainder were either on leave and became ill, or on medical leave here and died in hospital.
Those buried here are
2nd Lt Henry Thomas Doyle aged 27 from Otahuhu, New Zealand, died at sinking of RMS Leinster Oct 1918.
Lance Crpl Peter Freitas, an Australian from Guildford, Sydney who served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, died at sinking of RMS Leinster.
Pte John Quinn of Wellington, New Zealand died from illness 6 Nov 1918.
Pte George Bardon aged 26 from Tablelands, Queensland, became ill when visiting relatives in Dublin and died 13 October 2018.
Pte Joseph Thomas Barnes, 37, Peyneham, South Australia, returning from convalescent leave in Ireland, died on RMS Leinster.
Pte Charles Michael Byrne of Nagambie, in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria died of pneumonia 4 November 1918.
Pte Edwin Johnson Carter Warrnambool, Victoria, returning from convalescent leave, died at sinking of RMS Leinster 10 October 1918.
Pte Joseph Gratton, who had visited a cousin in Ireland died at sinking of RMS Leinster.
Pte Arthur Andrew Murphy, became ill while visiting Ireland and died 2 June 1918.
Pte Michael Ernest Smith, from Cobar had enlisted in Sydney, was wounded at the Battle of the Somme was returning from convalescent leave and died on board the RMS Leinster.
A beautiful installation for Anzac Day came from Rostrevor Men’s Shed and Kilbroney Parish Church who brought along their perspex soldiers, originally used for their Ghost Tommy project. These bore the names of other ANZACs buried elsewhere in Ireland.
Here too was a tribute to Nurse Winifred Starling, who was aboard the RMS Leinster when it was torpedoed. Winifred was lost at sea.
Later at the National Museum of Ireland we assembled for a series of talks to mark Anzac Day.
Lynn Scarff, Director of the National Museum of Ireland quoted from the song ‘The Foggy Dew’ ‘Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar .
The slaughter of Irish at Gallipoli, where the sea ‘ran red with blood of Irishmen’ caused many at home to question involvement with the British army. All Irishmen were volunteers in the Army. Then came the rising in 1916 and subsequent executions which consolidated opposition to the British. Meanwhile in Australia and New Zealand some 6,000 Irish born, or men of Irish descent volunteered for service in the forces. One of whom was Martin O’Meara from Lorrha in Co Tipperary who was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery. I have written about his tragic story here and here.
The Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr Charlie Flanagan made the dramatic announcement that the Australian Government had enacted legislation that would for the first time ever, allow for an Australian Victoria Cross in public ownership, to leave the country on loan, and that it would be coming to Ireland in the very near future for a period of 12 months. It will be put on public display in the National Museum as part of the Soldiers and Chiefs exhibition, with Martin’s British War Medal which is in the possession of a family member in England.I am excited to be able to see Martin’s V.C. again, having seen it at close hand in its home in the Army Museum of Western Australia, in Fremantle.
I was thrilled to get this photo of the grave of Martin O’Meara in Karrakatta, in Western Australia, with the programme for this event placed on it, and a small branch of a native gum tree placed there by my friend Leith Landeur, a guide at King’s Park in Perth which contains the State War Memorial, who has done so much to raise awareness of Martin O’Meara in Western Australia.
Robert Fleming, Curator at the National Army Museum in London had a fascinating presentation on the Australian Irish connection. 7 million people in Australia claim Irish or partial Irish descent. Not just convicts, but voluntary immigrants have risen to the top of political and business and every facet of life in Australia. He explored the way in which Irish immigrants influenced the emergence of Australian nationalism. While up to 30% of the AIF volunteers were from UK or Ireland, an estimated 6,000 – 6,500 were Irish or of Irish descent, as were 30 women who served as nurses.
Dr Jennifer Wellington, Australian born lecturer at the War Studies Centre at UCD told of the painful statistics of those killed and injured. She had some anecdotes about a ;pair of ANZACs in Dublin attending the jubilant Victory Parades and ended up carrying a Sinn Fein flag, for which they were subsequently court martialed, but acquitted. Some years earlier during the Easter Rising in 1916, five New Zealand soldiers assisted in the defence of Trinity College Dublin. One of the five was born in Australia, grew up in New Zealand and was wounded at Gallipoli.
The consequences of war for returning survivors were considerable with hospitalized shell shocked soldiers not included in statistics. About 1/5th of those coming home were shell shocked, with many suicides, much alcoholism. There are no stats for self harm or early deaths as a result of military service. War, she said, does not begin and end on the battlefield. (Martin O ‘Meara’s war went on for many tormented years after returning to Australia after his service)
Brenda Malone, Curator of Military History at the National Museum of Ireland looks forward to the arrival of Martin O’Meara’s V.C. by July. Personal memories and artifacts pertaining to the first world war were more challenging for the Museum to obtain than those associated with the rising for example. Hopefully the arrival of Martin O’Meara’s V.C. may entice others to share memorabilia of this very important part of our history
I was happy to seek out and meet a Lorrha man – Séamus King, who was so helpful to my friend Leith in putting Martin O’Meara’s story together for the State War Memorial and King’s Park. His publication ‘A Lorrha Miscellany’ had invaluable information on Martin.
Glad too to meet Gerard O’Meara, who has written a very considerable tome on ‘ Lorrha people and the great war’, launched in Lorrha by the Australian Ambassador, Mr. Richard Andrews. I look forward to getting a copy!
And I was delighted to meet Aileen and Australian who happened to be in Dublin on holiday and came along to the service. She was excited to see mention of her Queensland hometown, Tablelands as the hometown of Pte. George Bardon who is buried here.
It was a very special and enlightening day, highlighting the many positive connections between our countries. A theme that we will revisit when Martin O’Meara’s medal comes home.
One of the other Anzac graves is in my local town of Midleton. You can read about Ambrose Augustus Haley from Tasmania, here.
There is yet another link with Midleton and an Australian who served in Gallipoli here.
ANZAC commemorations in 2020 will be hosted by the Embassy of New Zealand, opened in Ireland late last year.
At about 2 pm on Friday May 7th 1915, the Cunard Ocean liner, RMS Lusitania, was torpedoed by a German U-Boat as she approached Cork Harbour on a voyage from New York to Liverpool. She sank in just 18 minutes off the Old Head of Kinsale, with the loss of 1,198 lives. 764 people were saved and many of these were landed at Cobh, together with many of the dead. 289 bodies were recovered, 189 of whom rest in the graveyard just outside the town.
The monument is also dedicated to those who assisted the survivors and buried the dead.
In the nearby President John F Kennedy Memorial Park is this wall of tiles in memory of survivors and victims who came ashore on that fateful day.
At the Old Church Cemetery, are the mass graves – one containing 23 bodies, one holds 52 bodies and the third has 69 bodies. Clear perspex panels are placed on each of the three sites, erected on the centenary of the sinking.
A very impressive dome-shaped structure perched high on a hill presides over the town of Geraldton in Western Australia. Passing through on a whistle-stop visit recently, it was a good decision to go and investigate. What we discovered was a stunning and very poignant war memorial with a difference, as it stands to the memory of the crew of an Australian warship that vanished in 1941.
When HMAS (His Majesty’s Australian Ship) Sydney II failed to return to Fremantle as scheduled on November 20, 1941 there was not too much concern. A troopship, Zelandia, which had been escorted by Sydney, had arrived a day later than expected in Singapore and so it was thought that Sydney was simply running behind schedule. She had also been ordered to maintain radio silence. Concern grew however when she had not arrived by Sunday evening, November 23 and signals were sent ordering her to report her position. But she did not respond. In spite of aerial searches which began some days later, there was no sign of her. And so began a mystery that lasted for 67 years.
About the same time that Sydney vanished, German sailors from the Kormoran were rescued by a number of ships and some other members of the crew came ashore on lifeboats. They claimed that their ship had been sunk by a ‘raider’. The Australian Government withheld the news that Sydney was missing until November 30th, while the relatives became more and more anxious about their loved ones. Finally, a statement was released confirming that HMAS Sydney was ‘presumed lost’ following engagement with a ‘heavily armed enemy raider, which she sank by gunfire’. The nation was stunned as the ship had been thought of as a ‘naval Titanic’ – invincible and indestructible.
HMAS Sydney, a light cruiser, was built in the world-famous shipyards of Newcastle – upon- Tyne in 1933 and was launched in 1934. Originally HMS Phaeton, she was renamed HMAS Sydney when bought by the Commonwealth of Australia. She was the pride of their fleet.
HMAS Sydney saw much action. She was involved in the bombardment of the Libyan port of Bardia in June 1940 and sank the Italian destroyer Espero just days later while on convoy escort duty. In July of that year, she came under fire from Italian warships and then disabled the Italian Bartolomeo Colleoni. She returned home to Australia in triumph after many successful engagements with the enemy. She undertook further convoy duties both overseas and off the coast of Western Australia. The port of Geraldton welcomed her on three visits, the last one being between the 18th and 20th October in 1941 just a month before she vanished, when the crew fielded teams against the locals in a variety of sports. Her last goodwill visit was to the people of Geraldton and they would not forget her. There was total shock in the town when the announcement came that she was lost. Stories about her were handed down through the generations so that she remained very much in the minds of the locals.
645 men went down on HMAS Sydney, and 80 of the 397 strong crew of the German ship were also drowned in the incident. The loss of 645 Australian men represented a loss of approximately 1/3rd of the total Navy personnel lost in the entire conflict. The war which had been played out in faraway lands of North Africa, and Europe had arrived on Australian shores. Fueled in large part by the silence of the authorities, all sorts of theories abounded as to the location and the fate of the Sydney. It was not until 1957 that the Royal Australian Navy offered any explanation and that was based largely on the accounts of the survivors of the Kormoran. And who would believe Germans? And could it really have been the Japanese who dispatched her?
Meanwhile, in Geraldton, there was talk of a Sydney memorial in the 1960s. These plans came to naught, but eventually came to fruition when the Geraldton Rotary Club took on the project to construct a memorial to the men who had visited the town shortly before they went to their watery graves. And so the very poignant Memorial was constructed atop Mount Scott in 1988.
It consists of five quite different but equally poignant elements.
Within is the impressive ‘Dome of Souls’ created with 645 stainless steel gulls, representing the spirits of those lost at sea, arranged in a massive dome that can be seen far below in the town and in the busy port. This feature was constructed from stone for every state of Australia, marking the fact that the crew were from all states.
A semi-circular black granite wall, the Wall of Remembrance, wraps around the site. It is engraved with the story of HMAS Sydney in images and with the names, rank and homebase of every crew member who served at the time of her disappearance.
At the front of the site is a bronze sculpture- ‘The Waiting Woman’ holding her hat and gazing out to sea hoping to see the ship sail into view. My grandchildren were particularly taken with her as she looked so real, and spoke of her for days afterwards!
Behind her is a representation of the bow of the ship – an actual size stone monument, a representation of the bow towering above, with the plimsoll lines marked out. This is also clearly visible for miles around.
But the mysterious story of HMAS Sydney was not to end there. On March 16, 2008, using modern technology, she was finally discovered on the sea bed, more or less where the German sailors had said she was. It was obvious that the Komoran had inflicted catastrophic damage. She lay in 2,468 metres of water.
And so another element was added to the Geraldton Memorial – an illuminated Pool of Remembrance in black polished granite. Etched on the edge of the pool are 644 gulls. At the centre is the 645th gull, two metres high with a wingtip pointing to the precise coordinates where HMAS Sydney lies on the sea bed. The pool was dedicated in 2011, on the 70th Anniversary of the loss of this ship and all hands. She and they are forever and beautifully remembered in Geraldton.
Anyone who visits this Australian National Memorial will be touched and saddened by this story that rolled on for decades. This memorial stands not only in remembrance of the lost ship and her crew, but in recognition of the determination of the people of Geraldton in making sure they are never forgotten.