Mr. J. W. Brown stated in May, 1949 that the Carley float held, "... the body of an engine room rating in blue overalls very much decomposed.
How would Mr. Brown have known the body had been an engine room rating in life? Well, Christmas Island would have been visited by plenty of Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy ships by 1941. The corpse held no personal identification, so there must have been something about the clothing which led Mr. Brown to these two conclusions - that it was a "rating" (i.e. an enlisted rank or non-officer), and from the "engine room"
Let's look at naval engineering branch insignia. The Royal Australian Navy used significantly the same badges to denote the engineering branch from 1911 to 1990.
A three-bladed propeller.
The upper example in the photograph was the printed type worn on overalls or boiler suit by Stokers.
See also the written description here on page 137 of the Navy List. Unsurprising given the close links between the two navies.
Both RN and RAN ships were visitors to Singapore and Christmas Island so it is quite likely that Mr. Brown was familiar with the enginering branch insignia.
Let's now consider which members of the crew aboard HMAS Sydney may have been wearing a blue boiler suit bleached white by exposure, with four or five press stud closures down the front.
My regular readers know that my preferred evidence is a first person accout, so I thought it may be useful to see what a couple of people I know who actually served aboard Royal Australian Navy ships during World War Two had to say on the topic of clothing they wore. My friend Mackenzie Gregory was a Sub-Lieutenant and Lieutenant RAN aboard Australia's three 8-inch gun cruisers HMAS Australia, HMAS Canberra and HMAS Shropshire for the duration of WWII (except for time off to complete his Lieutenant's course in the UK).
I asked Mac about WWII era RAN workclothes. He said,
- Engineering officers wore white overalls by convention. But in Shropshire I seem to recall that I wore a white type of overall at action stations, plus anti-flash gear and blue mae west life belt. See the attachement after I was rescued by Patterson.
- Stokers, ERA's wore blue overalls. (E.R.A. = engine room assistant)
- Overalls of no other colour were worn.
- Also think the sailors all wore a blue overall at action stations, plus anti flash gear and blue mae west life belt.
- By day we normally wore Khaki shorts and shirt.
My father was a Stoker, RAN aboard HMAS Shropshire during WWII, so had a different perspective on navy life. He said,
- He wore a blue coloured boiler suit made from a denim like material which when new was very stiff. Some other stokers wore pants made of the same material without a shirt due to the high temperature in the engine compartment.
- When I asked him if anyone aboard ship wore a white coloured boiler suit, he said that some fellow stokers bleached their blue boiler suits to soften them and make them more comfortable to wear.
- He said that he thinks that his boiler suit did NOT have press stud closures, instead it used buttons.
- He wore black leather boots.
What about the possibility that the Unknown Sailor of Christmas Island was a German, probably from the Kormoran?
In the media conference addressed by Captain Jim Parsons, Commander Matt Blenkin and Jo Button on 26 October 2006, the Q & A had this exchange:
REPORTER: So, to the team leader, just based on what you've discovered, what degree of probability would you say this sailor or this person who was buried, was actually from the Sydney ? What sort of level of probability would you put on it?
JIM PARSONS: I think you're bringing in some issues there where I can't draw a conclusion from, but the Defence Standing Committee drew the conclusion that on the balance of probability it was a sailor from HMAS Sydney . I think we have to accept that. What I have, is a strong belief that the person that we have recovered is the person that was recovered from the Carley raft in February 1942. I think the link is already made between that and the other part.
REPORTER: Just, is there any possibility that the sailor could be a German?
JIM PARSONS: It's not impossible and it would be interesting to theorise how he got into the Carley raft, but it's certainly not implausible. And this will be part of the process that we go through.
If the engine room sailor had been a german of the Kriegsmarine, he may have been wearing a patch like this one for the Maschinenlaufbahn, although the one pictured is known to have been in the U-boat service.
The military history website http://www.diggerhistory3.info/ has helpfully reproduced a copy of book produced in 1943 by the British Admiralty's Naval Intelligence Division.
And what of overalls or a boiler suit in the Kriegsmarine? Well page 28, section C.of the book says, "In small craft such as E-boats, a black leatherette and one-piece suit is often worn at sea. The lining is provided with elastic cuffs and ankle pieces, to keep out the water. The suit is closed by a zip-fastener."
That does not correspond to the boiler suit that the Uknown Sailor was wearing so, at present there seems no evidence that a Kormoran sailor may have worn a blue boiler suit or even a boiler suit at all. More research into the uniforms of the Kormoran sailors and the Kriegsmarine will be needed.
We must also consider the latest information from the mettalurgical analysis of the shrpnel fragment found inside the skull of the Unknown Sailor after the 2006 exhumation
In no account given by Kormoran survivors either during their wartime interrogation or after the war was there a desription or an instance of a German shell exploding and injuring one of the Kormoran's sailors. A file comprising 491 pages exists in the nationa Archives of Australia as 'Kormoran'(Raider No. 41) - 'G'German AMC - Interrogation of Prisoners [ NAA: B6121, 734562 ] which may be viewed online via NAA's RecordSearch facility.
Additionally, on page 13 of 491 in that NAA file the inferrogation notes with Richard Emil Adolphe KOHLS, Chief Engineer, Kormoran contains this ,
"... In Indian ocean all wore only white clothes - weather was never really cold (below 10 degrees centigrade)... all wore warm clothes at night (except near Equator)."
Hence that appears to rule out that the Unknown Sailor was from the Kormoran.
We must now also consider other persons aboard who may have worn blue overalls.
- One eyewitness stated the Unknown Sailor was wearing a blue boiler suit bleached white by exposure. There were four plain press studs from neck to waist.
- One of these witness said that the body was that of an "engine room rating" dressed in blue overalls.
- One eye witness stated the Uknown Sailor was wearing a white boiler suit.
Adelaide University has helpfully placed online an article titled Bone Sailor by Cheryl Jones in the September 4, 2007 issued of the now-defunct Bulletin Magazine. The substantive contents of the article is an interview with Jeremy Austin of Adelaide University's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ADAD). Dr. Austin , Deputy Director of ACAD, is part of the team attempting to identify the Unknown Sailor.
Austin read the unknown sailor's genetic code to work out his position on the global human family tree. The man was of European descent but carried unusual mutaions that put him in the haplogroup J1, rare but widespread in Europe. Haplogroups - twigs on the family tree - are big groups of people with a common ancestor.
Austin says research on other sections of the genome would be needed to pin the sailor's linage down to a place in Europe - another possible clue to his identity.
The geneticist knows the tall sailor, who had a mouthful of gold fillings, well, but he won't be able to finish the story until he gets a DNA match.
We must also consider the RAAF members aboard HMAS Sydney who may have been wearing blue coveralls.
Next, in Part 4 I will list USEFUL LINKS.