HMAS SYDNEY – once considered to be one of Australia’s greatest mysteries of World War Two – has been found and is a mystery no longer. But what of her ship’s company and their missing war medals?
It is well documented that 645 men died when H.M.A.S Sydney was sunk off the Western Australian Coast on the 19th of November, 1941. Officially, the World War 2 Nominal role lists the date of death of virtually all of the ships company as being the 20th of November, 1941. Either way, not one crew member survived the encounter with the German Raider Kormoran – to claim his medal entitlement after 1945. So this could lead us to think that any war medals awarded to a crew member – may in this day and age, be virtually devoid of any of the wear and tear associated with 40 odd years of Anzac Day and Remembrance Day services.
PHOTO RIGHT: An inspiring image of H.M.A.S. Sydney in her home port. With such an iconic backdrop, this is perhaps the most appropriate setting for any ship by that name, to have been photographed.
But in my many years as a collector of Australian Military History, I consider it quite fortunate that I have not come across many “medal sets” which had been posthumously awarded to sailors from the HMAS Sydney. My hope in this – is that they are still in the hands of family and descendants – never to be bought, sold or traded.
However, when you search on the Australian War Memorial Website, the solitary 1939-45 Star awarded to Able Seaman Ronald Matthew VOGT comes to light. This medal, along with a small collection of miscellaneous items is perhaps all that remains of one man’s service to his nation. What of the rest?
Ronald Matthew VOGT was born on the 25th of September, 1919 at Blyth in South Australia. He served at Cerberus before being taken on strength of HMAS Sydney. An inspection of his Service Card on the Australian Archives does not reveal a great deal, however at the very least – his medal entitlement extends for eligibility for the 1939-45 War Medal and the WW2 Australian Service Medal.
PHOTO LEFT: A starboard view of HMAS Sydney. When compared to the profile of the Italian Cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni, one may conclude that the similarities in size, shape and armament between the two vessels – rendered them a somewhat even match-up.
PHOTO RIGHT: The Italian light Cruiser, the Bartolomeo Colleoni. The sinking of this vessel by HMAS Sydney in the Mediterranean heralded Australia’s first major naval victory of the Second World War. But it was not all ‘one-sided’ as the photo below depicts.
The majority of sailors, those at least who had served on HMAS Sydney in the Mediterranean during 1940 – were certainly entitled to receive the Africa Star. However when she returned to Fremantle – Australia on the 5th of February, 1941 and then Sydney Harbour only four days later; some men were re-assigned other duties. Replacements were taken on board and for those new arrivals, a different medal entitlement would result.
PHOTO LEFT: Damage sustained to Sydney’s funnel during her engagement with the Bartelomeo Colleoni on the 19th of July, 1940 in the battle of Cape Spada in the Greek campaign.
Like her sister ship HMAS Perth (which would later be lost in the Battle of Sunda Straight in 1942); the Sydney was a ‘Leander Class’ Light Cruiser. This class of ship carried a company, numbering in the vicinity of 650 men (HMAS Perth actually carried about 680 crew at the time that she went down and 357 men would lose their life in this action). Subsequently, the number of men on board and make-up of the ship’s company would invariably alter, whenever it returned to a home port after being away for any period of time. So it is obvious that not all men who served on such a ship, would be awarded the exact same war medals at the conclusion of the war.
PHOTO RIGHT: Official Royal Australian Navy photograph taken on the 22nd of July, 1940 depicts 3 crew members recording their own ‘snapshots’ of the damage to the funnel of HMAS Sydney. The man on the left is said to be Leading Aircraftsman 7143 Arthur John CLARKE who was serving with No.9 Fleet Co-Operation Squadron. The man in the centre with the beard is believed to be Stoker J. HARD. The man on the far right was confirmed by his daughter (Judy McShane) to be Stoker John Hetherington HEAZLEWOOD from Warrnambool in Victoria (Service Number 23026). I am pleased to be able to say that Stoker J.H. Heazlewood was not on board HMAS Sydney during the action with the Kormoran. He survived the war had a very interesting life in the navy. After his service on Sydney, he was in Sydney Harbour on the 31st of May, 1942 when an attack was made by three Japanese Midget Submarines. He spent time with the Occupational Forces in Japan at war’s end and is believed to have made a journey to Antartica around 1947. He discharged from the RAN in April of 1951 with the rank of Stoker Petty Officer.
One medal group, awarded to Petty Officer F.V.W. PRICE who served on the Sydney prior to 1941 (not on HMAS Sydney at the time that she was lost) holds a very interesting set consisting of the 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Burma Star, 1939-45 War Medal and the Australian Service Medal. What is of interest is the “Pacific” Bar that hangs from the Burma Star ribbon. This signifies that the bearer was also entitled to the Pacific Star, but as medal protocols do not allow these two medals to be worn together in the same set – the bar is issued instead.
IMAGE LEFT: A set of medals similar to that issued to Petty Officer F.V.W. PRICE. The “bar” mentioned in the narrative above consists of a small brass plaque with the word ‘Pacific’ embossed across it. The bar would sit on the ribbon of the centre medal.
Certainly, her duties prior to the engagement with the Kormoran – places the ship’s crew in the geographic area that forms the entitlement for the Pacific Star.
So the question may be asked, where is the rest of the entitlement belonging to Able Seaman VOGT? I only hope, that if these missing war medals are out there – somewhere – they can be reunited with the 39-45 Star that takes pride of place at the Australian War Memorial. Perhaps the rest of this broken set is amongst your collection??
IMAGE RIGHT: After her engagement in the battle of Cape Spada, HMAS Sydney returned to her home port and took on some more crew. These men, who were not present during the Africa/Greek campaign (but who were on board, during the Kormoran engagement) may have been awarded a medal set similar to this.
If a ship, laying in the depths of the Indian ocean can be located at a depth of approximately 2,500 metres, then I can only hope that the missing medals of HMAS Sydney can be found and re-united with their respective families. It is the least that we can do to complete the mystery.
Are you a descendant of one of the 645 souls aboard the HMAS SYDNEY???? Do you have your family’s war medals??? If so – I would love to hear from you. Please tell us about them.
Or – if you are a descendant of a sailor from HMAS Sydney and your family’s war medals are missing – then I am offering FREE lifetime listing of your wanted medals on the website: medalsgonemissing.com
Just contact us for further details.
IMAGE LEFT: This medal was commissioned to commemorate Sydney’s action with the Bartelomeo Colleoni. As only one was issued to each member of the ship’s company at the time of the engagement (numbering approximately 640 men) they are not very common. Information from Greg Abernethy indicates that the edge of these medals was inscribed with the recipient’s personal particulars – similar to all Australian ‘disc’ medals, awarded during the First & Second World Wars. The medal depicts a ‘relief’ image of the ship steaming at full speed with all guns blazing.
IMAGE RIGHT: The reverse side of the same medal. The inscription reads:- Presented by the citizens of Sydney to Captain J.A. COLLINS C.B., R.A.N. The Officers and ship’s company H.M.A.S. SYDNEY in commemoration of their gallant fight, against superier speed and weight of armament, which resulted in the sinking of the Italian Cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in the Mediterranean Sea, July nineteen 1940.
We often forget that there is always two sides to a story. The Medals Gone Missing Administrator would like to hear from any Italian descendant’s of the Bartelomeo Colleoni’s crew, who fought in the action at Cape Spada. Also any German descendants of the crew of the Kormoran who fought in Sydney’s last action and were later interned as P.O.W’s (prisoners of war). Your comments are very welcome and I invite you to write their story on this website.
PHOTO LEFT: The Italian Cruiser, Bartolomeo Colleoni – hit and on fire.
WISH TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE SHIPS COMPANY OF HMAS SYDNEY? Please visit the link below:-
The designer of the above webpage & link – Greg Abernethy (Great nephew to sailor Roderic Bell ABERNETHY who lost his life when HMAS Sydney went down) has constructed the “memorial” to this member of the ship’s company. If your relative was also lost on the Sydney, perhaps you would like for him to construct a similar memorial web page. If so, please contact the Medals Gone Missing Administrator or Greg ABERNETHY (Lead Programmer) at Medusa Business Solutions. email@example.com
Dear Sir, two things – do you have any photos of either of our 2 relations on board HMAS Sydney from our Family? These were:-
F/O R.B.(Ray)BARREY of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) – Seaplane Pilot and RAAF Detachment Commander (9 RAAF Sqd Joined HMAS Sydney March-April 1941)
Petty Officer Steward Donald Ross Royal Australian Navu (Reg RAN – Served 1 AIF France 1918-1919, then joined RAN 1925 and Joined HMAS Sydney 1939).
Born Melb (often listed incorrectly as NSW). Failed Soldier Settler in Vicoria and living in New South Wales after marrying a local girl.
Both members were Married(Ray only a few weeks before joining HMAS Sydney in Sydney),while Don had a Daughter.
Lastly, I can confirm that based on my own research into RAAF Detachment on HMAS Sydney in 1941, which has included obtaining a copy of Arthur John CLARKE’s RAAF service record (including his photo) that this is indeed him.
I would love to hear from ANYONE associated with either HMAS Sydney or RAAF Cruiser Duty on Cruisers with Seagull Mk Vs or Walrus.
Email is firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. for the record, my family had 2 Brothers and 1 Cousin enlist in the Great War. Two were seriously wounded in France during 1917. And one of those died of his wounds in the 1930s (as did his only son in 1945). His other son joined the RAN. During World War Two, 7 Enlsited – 6 were Killed from the ‘Extended Family’ i.e. cousins, uncles etc.
2 aboard HMAS Sydney(1 RAAF 1 RAN) during November, 1941
2 aboard HMAS Perth (Both RAN and again joined ship at diffrent dates) March, 1942
1 SRD (Op Rimau) in December, 1944 (RAN)
1 whilst serving with 617 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command during January of 1945 (RAAF) on second tour
Sole Survivor shipped ship to England and joined RAF 1938, retired 1970s (deceased).
Awarded AFC, DFC, DFM completed just under 200 Ops on Kittyhawks and Blenhiems in North Africa or Italy.
I am unsure of the whereabouts of the medals. I am the Great – Great Niece of Leading Cook (S) Walker. He was one of the men that was not on board Sydney during in Africa / Greece. I have since had replica medals made. I would be honoured to recieve the real medals someday.
Hello there Olivia,
Thank you for contacting Medals Gone Missing. As he was a crew member of HMAS Sydney, we shall place a listing for his medals in the hope that they may eventually be located for you and your family. Kind regards Gary Traynor (Administrator)
I am a relative of Stoker Archibald James Thomson, who was aboard the Sydney at the time of it’s destruction. I am wondering, would he be entitled to the 1939-45 medal or any others. If possible could you please find out for me?
P.S:Email me back if you have any info
I believe that Stoker Archibald THOMSON was definitely entitled to war service medals and exactly what type will depend on where he was, prior to the engagement with Kormoran. I will contact you via your email. Kind regards Gary Traynor (Administrator)
I have found some HMAS sydney memerbilia like christmas menu 1940 and other stuff photos etc which were from uncle who was married to my dads sister. He had no family and I don’t know where to start I live in Hastings Victoria 0423689012 pls reply let me know where to start. thanks Lisa
I have my uncles service medals he was George Edward Coleman leading wireman lost on the hmas Sydney in ww2 he was posthumously awarded these.
Hello Kristy. I am very pleased to hear that you have your uncle’s medals and that they are not missing to your family. Whilst you are certainly not obliged, I would welcome you to send us in a photograph of you holding the medals and you can write a short story as a tribute to the life of George. There is absolutely no charge or costs to post this on our site. Thanks again for sharing that with us. Yours in commemoration. Gary Traynor (Administrator)
Those lost onboard SYDNEY on 20 November 1941 were not entitled to the PACIFIC STAR as the dat of commencement for this award was 8 December 1941. They were entitled to the 1939-45 Star as this was the ‘catch all’ award for those theatres not covered by other awards (or before ‘time’ started for these areas of operation). Thereforea man serving in SYDNEY at the time she was lost (who had not been to the Mediterranean) should be entitled to 1939-45 STAR, WAR MEDAL 1939-45 and Australian Service Medal 1939-45.
Of course, Greg is absolutely correct and I thank him for bringing our careless mistake to our attention. The story now stands corrected. Yours gratefully, Gary Traynor (Administrator)
I am writing on behalf of my mother Maureen Louisa O’Leary (Collins). She grew up with limited information about two uncles who died in WW1. (fathers brothers) 1220 Private Raymond Collins 5th Batt and 2124 Private Harold Frederick Collins 24th Batt. I would like to obtain information on any medals these brave great uncles of mine were entitled to so I can inform my mother of their deads. She knows so little about them only name and town from which they came.
I visit many antique places and am sad to see medals sitting on shelves – as the curator of the HMAs Cerberus Museum I wish I had the money to buy them and reunite them with family members – I think there should be some sort of Law that all medals held around the country waiting to be brought should be posted to a site with deals – so at least there would be a common point for families to go to – I think over the next few months I will revisit the places on the Peninsula and start a list – who else out there who could give sometime in their area help grow the list – cheers Toni
Thank you for your comment Toni. I agree with your sentiment. In terms of your idea of a site where all medals are posted for sale, I am afraid that this website is probably the closest that we will ever get. As you know, we DO NOT sell medals generally, but will only return them to a direct descendant. But I guess one service which we do provide is letting families know that their medals have been traded by one means or another (usually on ebay) and that at least their medals are out there. As you can appreciate, the hard part is convincing collectors to part with the medals and return them to their rightful place. Would love to hear more about your work at the museum? Yours gratefully. Gary Traynor (Administrator)
Hello i am trying to find out more information regarding my late father.I have been told and have a picture of him & an unknow gentleman on the ship but thats all i have i would like to find out when he was on this ship and for how long can you please help with ships logs that i may be able to find on the net