Around 70 years ago, the sanctity of Australian waters was violated. Three Japanese midget submarines breached the limited defences of Sydney Harbour. Torpedoes were launched, depth charges were sunk, a battle ensued. A converted ferry, being used an accommodation vessel, was hit by a torpedo killing 21 on board – casualties of war.

All three submarines failed to return from their mission. Each midget sub had two crew, cramped and confined. The bodies of four crewmen inside the submarines that became known as I-22 and I-27 were recovered when the vessels were raised. What may otherwise be a tale of a naval battle becomes something more significant at this point.

The recovered bodies of the four Japanese crewmen were cremated at Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Crematorium with full naval honours. Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould, in charge of Sydney Harbour defences, attended the service. The admiral’s decision to accord the enemy a military funeral was criticised by many Australians but he defended his decision to honour the submariners’ bravery.

The decision by Rear-Admiral Muirhead-Gould ensured this war story becomes one about dignity. The ashes of the four crewmen were returned to Japan. Relatives of the crewmen only recently saw archival footage via an Australian television network and were moved to tears, noting what they perceived as extraordinary compassion shown their ancestors by who were their enemy.

Even in the midst of battle, dignity has a place.


Image and facts courtesy of: http://www.ww2australia.gov.au/underattack/sydharbour.html

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