The Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, His Excellency Dr Christoph Müller, Ambassador of the Republic of Germany, and Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, travelled to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to commemorate the action between HMAS Sydney (I) and the German light cruiser SMS Emden, which occurred on 9 November 1914.
Sydney was undertaking escort duties for a convoy of First World War ships that departed Albany, Western Australia, on 1 November 1914, and was called to action when the German ship was discovered by wireless telegraphy operators on the Islands.
On a windy day on West Island, descendants and dignitaries from both sides gathered to remember those lost and celebrate the friendships borne from a battle that became part of Australian and German folklore.
Vice Admiral Barrett said that Sydney’s victory was a boost for the Allies early in the war and foremost provided a victory for the young nation as it ventured off to the other side of the world.
“HMAS Sydney’s defeat of SMS Emden was and remains an important achievement in our history, as our first victory, our first demonstration of the Navy’s ability to fight and win at sea.
“The skill and determination shown by both ships’ companies during the action, and the compassion afterwards, forged a respect between two maritime nations.
“We must not forget the four Australian and 134 German sailors who died in the action, the 85 men wounded and the men forever changed by the events of that day.
“One hundred years on, I am honoured to share this moment of remembrance with the descendants of those courageous sailors from both sides,” he said.
The Governor-General presided over a ceremony unveiling a ‘friendship mast’ which carries a replica ship’s bell for each nation that bears the inscription, ‘Friends today, friends tomorrow, friends forever’, echoing the sentiments of Emden sailor Able Seaman Arthur Werner.
Able Seaman Musician Kirsten Hobbs, vocalist with the Royal Australian Navy Band – Melbourne Detachment sang the national anthems of both countries in their native tongues.
Able Seaman Hobbs joined the Navy with a classical and musical theatre background and said that she was a little nervous about singing the anthems.
“Attention to detail is paramount, I don’t want to offend anyone, it’s a national anthem,” she said.
Having undertaken German at school, she was more familiar with the language than for another recent task.
“I was practising Maori for the New Zealand national anthem in case I had to sing it for the Albany Convoy Commemorative Event, but luckily a native speaker was able to sing at short notice.”
Petty Officer Combat Systems Supervisor Craig Mellberg was the guard commander for the event and has served in HMAS Sydney for four years. He said he was honoured to take part in the commemoration.
“When I heard Sydney were providing the guard, I volunteered without a moment’s hesitation,” he said.
“Sydney is such a part of my life, so it’s great to be able to give something back on behalf of current ship’s company.”
The activities in the Cocos Islands form part of the broader commemorative program for the Centenary of Anzac, marking 100 years of service and sacrifice by Australia’s military personnel since the start of the First World War.
Commemorative events were also held in Sydney and elsewhere across the country.
Defence imagery is available at: http://images.defence.gov.au/S20143183