The identity of an Australian sailor who died during the Second World War has been confirmed after 80 years.
Thomas Welsby Clark was announced as the country’s famous ‘unknown sailor’ in late November following years of DNA testing.
Born in Brisbane in 1920, Clark was the son of a wealthy family that made its fortune in grazing. His elder brothers, Arthur and James, served in the army and air force respectively.
Clark was 20 when he joined HMAS Sydney in the summer of 1941. At the time, the light cruiser was serving as an escort ship, protecting famous troopships such as the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in southern Australian waters.
In November that year, Sydney was involved in an engagement with German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran, disguised as a Dutch steamer, off the coast of Western Australia. Both ships were completely destroyed in the action, with all 645 men on board Sydney perishing. Kormoran was scuttled with approximately three-quarters of her crew surviving to become prisoners of war.
Three months after the incident, a body washed up in a life-raft on Australia’s Christmas Island. The corpse, which had no identifying features, was dressed in navy overalls that had been bleached white by the sun. He became known as ‘the unknown sailor’.
The body was buried first on the island, a territory more than 930 miles off Western Australia, before later being reinterred on the mainland with full military honours.
No other sailors from HMAS Sydney were ever recovered, even after the ship’s wreckage was located in 2008.
Thomas Welsby Clark has only been identified following tests on his teeth which matched genetic material belonging to his surviving descendants.
‘It’s a testament to modern science and technology that we have been able to identify Tom, after all these decades,’ Australia’s Veteran Affairs Minister Andrew McGee said.
‘Even after 80 years, we are still working so hard to identify and honour our servicemen and -women.’
Following the identification, Clark’s grave in Geraldton, Western Australia, is due to receive a new headstone. The current inscription reads: ‘A Serviceman of the 1939-1945 War HMAS Sydney.’