Surviving Emden

For the anniversary of the Battle of Cocos 100 years ago, the museum is displaying a collection of material associated with the World War I German raider SMS Emden that was destroyed by HMAS Sydney on 9 November 1914.

Objects on display at the museum to commemorate the Royal Australian Navy’s battle cruiser HMAS Sydney defeated the German raider SMS Emden at the Battle of Cocos.

Objects on display at the museum to commemorate the Royal Australian Navy’s battle cruiser HMAS Sydney defeating the German raider SMS Emden at the Battle of Cocos on 9 November 1914.

The items include a German military songbook from 1912, a Reich Pass or travel document, two photographs of Emden crew with a model of their vessel, a small purse, a pair of glasses, and several hand-carved wooden decorative picture frames and skittles  games. Importantly, the material includes first-hand accounts by German sailors of ‘The Raid of the Emden’ and the Emden’s battle with HMAS Sydney.

The wreck of the Emden beached on North Keeling Island, Cocos Islands.

The wreck of the Emden beached on North Keeling Island, Cocos Islands. ANMM Collection.

One hundred and thirty men of the Emden crew were killed in battle and 157 were made prisoners and sent to the ‘German Concentration Camp’ at Holsworthy near Liverpool, southwest of Sydney. Widespread hysteria about German spies and saboteurs in Australia saw many German workers and ships’ crews interned during the war. Even second and third generation naturalised Australians with German surnames were rounded up and spent the war in camps. At the end of World War I, only 306 of the 5,600 internees and prisoners at the Holsworthy camp were allowed to stay in Australia and the rest were deported back to Europe.

As the war dragged on, many Germans at the camp passed the hours by making art and handcrafts. They also conducted theatre and music nights and held regular art and craft competitions.

Many surviving examples of handcrafts by internees and prisoners of war show an element of defiance in their use of German symbols. Interestingly, some of the artefacts in this collection show a fusion of Australian and German symbolism – one picture frame blends Australian flora and fauna with images of the Emden and the schooner Ayesha (the vessel on which some of the Emden crew began their incredible escape voyage back to Germany).

The raid of emden account

This Australian school exercise book contains a four page account by an unknown author titled ‘The Raid of the Emden’. It records a rare German viewpoint of the battle and is written in English, probably taken down by an Australian prison guard. ANMM Collection.

The memoirs of the Sydney–Emden battle were likely to have been taken down by Australian prison guards. They are important in highlighting the German experience of Australia’s first great naval battle.

A display case with some of the items will feature in the museum foyer for the 9 November anniversary and some will be included in the exhibition War at Sea – The Navy in WWI when it travels nationally from May 2015.

Courses taken by HMAS Sydney and SMS Emden

Watercolour and pen diagram of the courses taken by HMAS Sydney and SMS Emden during the Battle of Cocos. Drawn by Albert M Barker. ANMM Collection.


6 thoughts on “Surviving Emden

  1. Reblogged this on recherchenorthcote and commented:
    We’ve just yesterday had the first of the medals regarding service on HMAS Sydney (including this famous battle) in at Recherché l Service Medals Melbourne. This group includes the Distinguished Service Medal for Able Seaman J.L.Kinniburgh who later served in WW2 in North Africa and Crete in the Army (having put his age down to re-enlist in the Army!).

  2. Stphen: Thank you for this. An illuminating and valuable collection. It will be a pleasure to seek on our next visit. Your captions are precise, but two aspects intrigue me: I shudder a bit to think that flogging was by implication a practice on the Emden – a ‘Cat o’ FIVE tails’…? And what was the relationsip of the courses steered in the pen and watercolour impression…?

    – Theo. Bennett
    Canberra via Kuching

  3. Thank you for the comments. As a new acquisition there is still some interesting research to be conducted around some of the items. I believe the whip to be made at the camp, not on the Emden. The track chart of the battle was based on a version agreed upon by both captains after the battle and widely reproduced. It is not part of the new material but is a wonderful schematic illuminating the engagement. More information on this and the Battle of Cocos can be found in the War at Sea exhibition and the museum’s online collection and blog pages.

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  5. For anyone interested I have a list of the Emden’s crew, will be happy to forward a copy to anyone who wants it

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