The Great War: “Prepare for action “ – German raider was a battered ruin

The HMAS Sydney and the German cruiser Emden fight to the death in one of the first sea battles on November 9, 1914. Emden is done for, was the chorus cry from the HMAS Sydney.


Adapted by Frank Morris

The HMAS Sydney caught a view of the German cruiser Emden just as they approached Cocos Island. As a result, both ships began to prepare for a slugging match. It was the morning of November 9, 1914. It was one of the first sea battles of the war.

In the opening stages of the action, Emden’s guns, firing salvos rapidly at extreme range, caught Sydney unawares. She received fifteen hits in ten minutes, but only five burst. By turning away slightly, Sydney kept the fight at her range. And with her six-inch guns she overwhelmed the German raider.

By 10.30 in the morning Emden, after a gallant showdown, was a battered ruin. At the direction of her commander the Emden was headed for North Keeling Island where she ran aground on the reef.

Sydney, laconically, signalled the convoy she was protecting, “Emden beached and done for.”

The big day happened at 6.30 am the November 9.

Melbourne, at the head of the convoy, picked up a wireless message from the cable station in the Cocos-Keeling Group. The message said” “Enemy warship off island.”

The convoy was less than sixty miles from Cocos Island. With her stokers “working like demons” the Sydney reached a speed of 27 knots and reached the Emden two and a half hours later at 9 am. By 9.45 am the battle had begun.

Emden had two guns of only 4.1 calibre and it was her policy to fight at comparatively short range. Sydney had 6-inch guns and could use her tactical advantage, staying either outside the range of the smaller guns; or at a distance where the extreme range would make good shooting difficult.

The blasting lasted an hour and forty minutes.

Lieutenant Garsia recorded every second of it, this time in a letter he despatched from HMAS Sydney in Colombo to his father. Within a few days it was to flash around the world.

Sydney “had some hits” and losses. Of the 8 or 9 wounded only two are permanently affected. Hampden, who had “bites” out of both calves, will be fit to go in 6 weeks. The hits on the Sydney were severe.

In his report, Captain Glossop stated a ‘terrible sight” had met them on the Emden. Glossop wrote: “Corpses and fragments of human remains lay about, shrivelled by the blazing fires under the deck and the hardly less blazing tropical sun.

“The wounded had been without food and water for 24 hours; their wounds were corrupted … with maggots a quarter inch in length crawling in them.” Captain Glossop described a later sight on board HMAS Sydney which was “scarcely less dreadful” and wrote: “That the cruiser has become nothing but a hospital of the most painful description.”

Sydney had been a crowded ship when she sailed but now, with almost two hundred of the Emden’s crew on board, the wounded and dying were in every hammock and lay thick on the deck.”

And for rest of the war, convoys called in at Colombo and passed the Emden. The troops took snapshots.

[Adapted by Frank Morris. Patsy Adams-Smith, Norman Bartlett.]


FIRST-HAND: Private George McClintock’s diary showing a pressed poppy inside. “Revealing, compelling and uncensored” – that shows how these batch of letters written by the young soldiers to their parents or girl friends were described by the historians. These letters that came from Gallipoli, North Africa, Palestine and the Western Front gave the family the true and horrendous tale of the war. Vivid and emotional, these letters gave their family the true meaning of how they faced up to hope and fear, love and longing, life and death. To read these letters or diaries is to live, in retrospect, a little of the life of an Anzac Digger – muddy trenches, bloody battlefields and death. Then, through the bleak anonymity, the official telegram would arrive. – FM.

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The Great War: The Emden Affair: Sailor Andrews saw it all

The Germans beached the Emden rather than let her sink.


The HMAS Sydney sailed into Sydney Harbour on October 4, 1913. This was the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet -- the HMAS Australia, Sydney, Melbourne and various other crafts.

On board the HMAS Sydney was young crew member Charles James Andrews. It was a personal milestone for Peter Gough and family because his grandfather was Charles Andrews.

“Charles ran away from home at 14 to get to get away from his stepmother,” Mr Gough said. “He joined the army in 1910 and transferred to the navy, which was then called the fledgling Commonwealth and Naval Forces.”

In 1911, he later served on the British cruiser HMS Challenger which trained Australian navy personnel.

“Andrews and his crewmates arrived in England in 1912. They were trained in British ships to take over the Australian naval ship being built in Britain,” Mr Gough said. “He was part of the crew of HMAS Sydney which was brought back to Sydney.

“He was on board when HMAS Sydney engaged and destroyed the German cruiser SMS Emden off the coast of the Cocos-Keeling Island in 1914.”

After the melee had ended, “the Germans beached the Emden rather than let her sink.”

Andrews married Dorothy in 1918 and he left the Royal Australian Navy in 1919. “Charles ran his own trucking business, one the first in the city,” said Mr Gough. Charles died in 1980.

[Adapted from conversations with Peter Gough in a newspaper.]

The Great War: Hogue was no bushman but the “chief promoter” of the “rural superman”

He published articles under the by-line “Trooper Bluegum”.


Alas, Australia is full of Oliver Hogues. For Lt Oliver Hogue, though, his story is worth knowing about. Hogue, who came to prominence in the First World War, was an unofficial Australian war correspondent who was “chief promoter” of the burgeoning bush myth, the “rural superman.”

He was himself no bushman.

University educated, Hogue was well connected. His father was a leading NSW politician and, primarily, he worked on the Herald where he met up with Charles Bean.

Hogue rode with the Australian Light Horse, a “repository for upcoming Australians”, which was considered to be the elite arm of the national forces. He proceeded to “publicise” its exploits with the same brashness as a modern-day press agent.

He was singularly devoted to the Light Horse and published several articles under the by-line “Trooper Bluegum,” which would later be the material for three books: The Cameliers, Love Letters of the Anzacs and Trooper Bluegum at the Dardanelles.

Dr Robin Gerster, in his comprehensive treatise on the heroic theme of Australian war writing (Big Noting, MUP 1987), states that Hogue sang the praises of “the hero bushman … and by virtue of their rural background the horsemen were viewed as the best Australians, and consequently, even more effective than the infantrymen as fighters.”

Sir Henry Gullett, who served with the Light Horse in Palestine, wrote to Hogue, and stated that their “great physical strength, superb athleticism and love of physical exercise” was comparable to the ancient Greeks horses.”

[Australian Biographies Begging to be Written by Frank Morris, Australian Book Collector; later as an  syndication story.]

The Great War: Before making a separate peace in 1917, the Russian Imperial army made an important contribution to the Allies war effort. The late Russian-French historian, Serge Andolenko, wrote that key aspects of Russian’s involvement in World War 1 have been overlooked … A museum dedicatied to World War 1 has been built near St Petersburg and is purporting to be the first in Russia … The estimated number of military casualties that had befallen Russia was nearly 2 million troops.

Posted in: Grand Years with Frank Morris at 07 November 14

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