Inching closer to identification

This article has photo gallery Published on LCDR Jeremy Richardson (author), ABIS Richard Cordell (photographer)

Location(s): Sydney, NSW

Topic(s): Sea Power Centre - Australia, HMAS Sydney (II)

Commanding Officer HMAS Sydney, Lieutenant Commander David Murphy and Mr James Glossop discuss the medals awarded to Mr Glossop's father Vice Admiral John Glossop, who was in command of HMAS Sydney I when she sunk SMS Emden in WWI. (photo: ABIS Richard Cordell)
Commanding Officer HMAS Sydney, Lieutenant Commander David Murphy and Mr James Glossop discuss the medals awarded to Mr Glossop's father Vice Admiral John Glossop, who was in command of HMAS Sydney I when she sunk SMS Emden in WWI.

HMAS Sydney (IV)’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander David Murphy, recently made a visit to Mr James Glossop, son of Vice Admiral John Glossop, CB, RN, who gained fame as the first Commanding Officer of HMAS Sydney (I). 

Intriguingly, the purpose of the visit was to help solve one of the Navy’s most enduring mysteries connected with the loss of HMAS Sydney (II). But whilst there, Lieutenant Commander Murphy was also shown one of the most significant original documents dealing with the Royal Australian Navy’s early history. 

The document, a five volume war diary, covers the years 1914-18 and was written up daily by Vice Admiral Glossop. Stretching across more than 2,000 pages, it provides a fascinating insight into the first of Sydney’s service during the First World War, including the Royal Australian Navy’s initial campaigns in the South Pacific, her victory over SMS Emden at the Cocos Islands and then her activities in the West Indies and North Sea.

A goldmine of information for naval historians, the diaries have now been digitised by the Sea Power Centre – Australia, and will soon be uploaded to the naval history component of the Navy’s website to allow easy access to researchers. 

“To hold in your hands the Captain’s personal account of the Australian Navy’s first and most famous sea victory is mind-blowing,” Lieutenant Commander Murphy said.

Coincidentally, Admiral Glossop’s nephew, Signalman Ian Maxwell, was serving onboard Sydney (II) during her engagement with HSK Kormoran off Geraldton in November 1941. Both ships were lost in the battle, Sydney with all 645 members of her crew. Subsequently, the body of a sailor was found off Christmas Island in one of Sydney’s Carley Floats and buried ashore. The identification of these remains has since been subject to intense debate, with a forensic investigation underway since they were exhumed in 2006 and reburied at the Geraldton War Cemetery. Armed with a DNA test kit, Lieutenant Commander Murphy paid Mr Glossop, a visit.

Commander Greg Swinden has been investigating Sydney (II)’s crew members for possible matches to the Christmas Island body.

"Due to Signalman Maxwell’s age, height and not being excluded through dental records so far, he remains a possible match to the unknown sailor," he said.

The quality of dentistry on the remains indicates a middle-class upbringing. Through further isotope and DNA testing, the bones showed evidence of seafood in his diet, which largely rules out sailors who grew up in rural regions. The evidence also points to a sailor of about 6 feet tall, with fair or red hair and blue or green eyes. 

"Through a process of elimination, we have been able to reduce the list of possible matches from the crew to less than one hundred. 

"By testing Mr Glossop, we will further reduce that list, or hopefully find a match and solve the mystery," Commander Swinden said.

Despite his ninety years of age, Mr Glossop, a retired Lieutenant Commander who served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, was a good sport in providing the required DNA sample, and very happy to assist in solving the mystery. The results of the DNA test are due in the near future. 

Anyone who has a relative who was serving onboard Sydney (II) during her loss is urged to contact Commander Swinden via email on greg.swinden@defence.gov.au