Unknown sailor from HMAS Sydney II identified as Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark

Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark and the Australian warship HMAS Sydney (II) sunk off the West Australian coast. Pictures: Department of Defence.

Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark and the Australian warship HMAS Sydney (II) sunk off the West Australian coast. Pictures: Department of Defence.

The body of the previously unknown soldier recovered after the sinking of the Australian warship HMAS Sydney II 80 years ago has been identified.

Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark from New Farm in Brisbane was the only soldier whose body was recovered after the ship sunk off the West Australian coast on November 19, 1941.

AB Clark is believed to be the only sailor from 645 men to have made it to a life raft after the ship went down.

Despite surviving the battle and the sinking, the 21-year-old died at sea. His remains were found near Rocky Point on Christmas Island nearly three months later.

New DNA evidence collected from his body has successfully identified two living direct relatives.

HMAS Sydney's II Unknown Sailor relative, Dr Leigh Lehane with her husband Robert Lehane (centre). Naval Historian Mr John Perryman of the Sea Power Centre (Left) and Naval Researcher, Commander Greg Swinden, RAN (right) stand on the flanks. Picture: Department of Defence

HMAS Sydney's II Unknown Sailor relative, Dr Leigh Lehane with her husband Robert Lehane (centre). Naval Historian Mr John Perryman of the Sea Power Centre (Left) and Naval Researcher, Commander Greg Swinden, RAN (right) stand on the flanks. Picture: Department of Defence

Retired academic Dr Leigh Lehane was recently informed the unknown soldier was her uncle Tom.

Dr Lehane said while the news had been upsetting, she was grateful to the scientists and researchers who had helped ascertain the truth about his identity.

Dr Lehane was born in July 1941, the month before her uncle joined the HMAS Sydney.

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

Chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Mike Noonan said the young soldier was representative of the many young lives lost in the battle.

Vice-Admiral Mike Noonan said the total complement of men perished with the sinking of HMAS Sydney.

This included six Royal Australian Air Force members, eight Royal Navy personnel and four civilian canteen staff, he said.

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"We revere the service and sacrifice of all who perished," Vice-Admiral Noonan said.

Vice-Admiral Noonan said solving this World War II case involved specialists in DNA analysis, forensic pathology and dentistry, ballistics, anthropology, archaeology and naval history.

"I commend the combined effort spearheaded by the Sea Power Centre to confirm AB Clark's identity," he said.

"His long voyage is complete, may he rest in peace."

Minister for Veterans Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel Andrew Gee said the formal identification was a significant development in Sydney's story and an historic moment for Australia.

"To finally learn Tom's name, rank, service number and home town, 80 years after he was lost is truly remarkable", Mr Gee said.

The Office of Australian War Graves will mark a new headstone bearing the name Thomas Welsby Clark from next year.

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This story Unknown sailor finally named after 80 years first appeared on The Canberra Times.