Mystery of sailor recovered from sunken Navy craft solved on 80th anniversary

By Jackson Graham

Monday November 22, 2021

Thomas Welsby Clark relatives
Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, AO, RAN, speaks with family members of Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark, Dr. Leigh Lehane (centre) and Robert Lehane at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. (Defence)

DNA analysis from scientists has revealed the identity of the only body ever recovered from HMAS Sydney.

The evidence has found the remains were those of Thomas Welsby Clark, who lived in New Farm, Brisbane. 

The Defence Department unveiled on Friday the findings on the 80th anniversary of the ship’s final battle. 

Dr Leigh Lehane, a retired academic, said in a statement she was surprised and saddened to learn her uncle was the previously unknown sailor and thanked those who had helped with the identification. 

“It was a bit upsetting,” she said. “I am so grateful for the many, many people, well over a hundred, who helped ascertain the truth about his identity.” 

Her family has passed down the knowledge that Clark and she met when she was very young. 

“He came and held me as a little baby. That’s a very pleasurable thought because I don’t think anyone else is alive now who knew Tom sort of eye to eye,” Lehane said. 

Sydney sank while engaged in conflict with a German vessel 200 kilometres off the Western Australian coast, with all 645 of its crew dying. 

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mike Noonan said AB Clark was just 21 years old when he died. 

“His long voyage is complete, may he rest in peace,” Noonan said. “We revere the service and sacrifice of all who perished.” 

The Navy’s Sea Power Centre led the research, which also involved the Australian Federal Police, Australian National University, Australian War Memorial, University of Adelaide and University of Sydney, and Clark’s family. 

Noonan said the identification required a range of expertise to complete. 

“Solving this World War II case involved specialists in DNA analysis, forensic pathology and dentistry, ballistics, anthropology, archaeology and naval history,” he said.


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