On 19th November 1941, the Australian Navy cruiser HMAS Sydney II engaged in a sea battle with the German raider HSK Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia. Both vessels sank and while most of the crew of the Kormoran were rescued, the 645 personnel on board Sydney all perished. The loss of HMAS Sydney II and her crew is still Australia’s worst naval disaster.
A memorial commemorating HMAS Sydney II and her crew stands on a hill overlooking the city of Geraldton, on the mid-north coast of Western Australia.
From a ship’s propeller to the flock of silver gulls and the dramatic sculpture of the Waiting Woman, the symbolism incorporated in the memorial is full of emotion, and is best explained by the plaques on the granite wall surrounding the site.
Despite many intensive searches, the location of both shipwrecks was unknown for more than 60 years. They were finally discovered on 16 March 2008, lying of the floor of the Indian Ocean at a depth of more than 2 km.
Even though she was placed here long before they were found, the Waiting Woman looks towards the exact site where the ship and her crew lie. Was it an eerie coincidence or the hand of fate guiding the sculptors?
On 3rd May 1915 a Canadian soldier sat at the Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station outside Ypres. He had just performed the funeral service of a dear friend killed in the second battle of Ypres and was so moved he penned three verses of a poem in his friend’s honour. The soldier was Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae and the poem “In Flanders Fields” has become one of the most famous and beloved commemorative poems in the world.
After the devastation of war on the battlefields of northern France and Belgium there was almost no vegetation left. The seeds of the hardy Papaver rhoeas or red field poppy, stirred up by the constant movement of battle, germinated and flourished, and the bright flowers grew around the trenches and graves. These resilient yet delicate poppies were the inspiration for John McCrae’s poem.
At the end of the war the poppy became a symbol of remembrance and silk poppies were traditionally worn on Armistice Day. Today wreaths of poppies are placed on the graves of the fallen and at memorials while single blossoms are placed beside names on Rolls of Honour.