A gift for future generations

Published on SBLT Kat Mulheron (author), ABIS Cassie McBride (photographer)

(From left), Commander Australian Maritime Warfare Centre, Captain Guy Holthouse, RAN, Vern Bechaz, Ships Warrant Officer HMAS Cerberus , Brendan Woodsell OAM, and Commanding Officer HMAS Cerberus, Captain Stephen Bowater, OAM, RAN with the donated Sydney and Emden mannequins, in the Warrant Officer and Senior Sailors Mess at HMAS Cerberus, Victoria. (photo: ABIS Cassie McBride )
(From left), Commander Australian Maritime Warfare Centre, Captain Guy Holthouse, RAN, Vern Bechaz, Ships Warrant Officer HMAS Cerberus , Brendan Woodsell OAM, and Commanding Officer HMAS Cerberus, Captain Stephen Bowater, OAM, RAN with the donated Sydney and Emden mannequins, in the Warrant Officer and Senior Sailors Mess at HMAS Cerberus, Victoria.

The story of the battle between HMAS Sydney (I) and SMS Emden is one of cunning, strategy, endurance, and honour. But a labour of love was the focus of this year's traditional mess dinner at HMAS Cerberus.

Captain Guy Holthouse, a former Commanding Officer of HMAS Sydney (IV) lead the gathering to remember the Battle of Cocos on 9 November 1914 and the significance that the battle played in Australia's naval history.   

Mannequins of Captains John Glossop, HMAS Sydney (I) and Karl von Muller, SMS Emden, were donated to the Naval Heritage Collection for permanent display at the Warrant Officers and Senior Sailors' Mess. The mannequins were a four year project by veteran Mr Vern Bechaz, a member of the HMAS Sydney Association.

“I wanted to leave something behind for our future generations. I have a passion for this sort of thing. It gives me great pleasure and if the viewer gets as much pleasure as I did, then one cannot ask for more,” Mr Bechaz said.

Commanding Officer HMAS Cerberus, Captain Stephen Bowater, said he was honoured to accept the donations.

"These amazing exhibits represent a momentous occasion in Australian naval history and the esteemed men who played out that fateful tableau," he said.

The Emden lost 134 crew with 69 wounded, while Sydney lost only four with 16 wounded. Though fighting on different sides of the battle, the men of both ships are remembered for their actions and ultimate sacrifice.