A lone headstone in the Geraldton War Cemetery is no longer unnamed.
It now carries the name of Thomas Welsby Clark, an able-bodied seaman who managed to escape the sinking of the HMAS Sydney in 1941, only to die alone at sea.
Born in the Brisbane suburb of New Farm on January 28, 1920, Thomas was the third son of James Colin Clark and Marion (nee Welsby).
Thomas was a keen yachtsman and excellent swimmer and after a short stint in the Army Reserves, he was discharged to join the Royal Australian Navy in 1940.
Thomas Welsby Clark. Courtesy Australian War Memorial
He was posted to the anti-submarine training school, HMAS Rushcutter in Sydney where he qualified as a submarine detector. He then served as an Ordinary Seaman in the anti-submarine training ship HMAS St Giles, which was based in Sydney Harbour.
His work was obviously noticed as not even a year later he was promoted to Acting Able Seaman on 15 July, 1941 with a short training period on the HMAS Cerberus. In August 1941 Thomas joined HMAS Sydney (II) which was tasked to conduct patrol and escort work with troopships in southern Australian waters throughout early September.
Later that month the Sydney started working off the Western Australian coast, escorting convoys from Fremantle to the Sunda Strait in the Netherlands East Indies. The convoys would be handed over to other Allied warships that would continue escorting the ships to Singapore.
All was going well until the afternoon of 19 November of the same year when the Sydney noticed a merchant ship about 200 kilometres west of Shark Bay. On nearing the mystery ship Sydney signaled for it to identify itself. It responded that it was the Dutch steamer Straat Malakka, but it was a lie. It was actually the German merchant raider Kormoran which had already done damage and sunk 10 merchant ships in the Indian Ocean.
The Sydney demanded the German ship provide the secret call sign, but in response it hoisted the German battle ensign and opened fire. Both ships were irreparably damaged with the Sydney later sinking with the loss of all 645 souls. The crew of the Kormoran abandoned ship with three quarters of them surviving and ending up prisoners of war.
Despite a major search for survivors of the Sydney only a single empty life raft was found. It wasn't until a number of months later in February 1942 that another life raft with a body was discovered washed up on Christmas Island. There was no way of identifying the body so his remains were buried on the island.
The headstone that indicates where Thomas Welsby Clark is buried. It now carries his name. Courtesy Findagrave
Fast forward to 2006 and the body of the unknown sailor was exhumed by a specialist ADF team who examined the remains and took DNA samples. The body was then relocated to Geraldton cemetery and buried with full Naval Honours. Researchers continued their work, but it wasn't until 2021 the DNA samples were able to prove without doubt, the mysterious body was that of Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark who had finally come home.
Roll of Honour name projection
Thomas Welsby Clark's name will be projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory in Canberra on:
Mon 11 April 2022 at 3:50am
Mon 27 June 2022 at 12:58am
Wed 21 September 2022 at 1:56am
Swinden, Commander Greg, 'Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark', Navy -Serving Australia with Pride, accessed online 16th February 2022, Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark | Royal Australian Navy
'Thomas Welsby Clark', Australian War Memorial, accessed online 16th February 2022, Thomas Welsby Clark | Australian War Memorial (awm.gov.au)