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A special connection

The first victory for the fledgling Royal Australian Navy holds a special place in the heart of a member of the Army, but that place is not for the victors.

Capt Yoni Levy flew all the way to the Cocos Islands to pay tribute to his relative, Matrose (Seaman) Gustav Levy, who died when SMS Emden was crippled in the battle with HMAS Sydney (I) on November 9, 1914.

Matrose Levy was a butcher on board Emden when she was on patrol in the Indian Ocean, disrupting Allied shipping during the early stages of WWI. Unbeknown to the German vessel, a convoy of Australian and New Zealand ships had left Albany on November 1, 1914, and was on its way to the waters around Cocos Island, right into the path of Emden.

Capt Levy, who travelled 5840km from Canberra and was joined by family at the commemoration, said it was an important trip. “You can read about these stories, you can watch documentaries, but it’s not until you are actually in the place that you get a feel for it,” Capt Levy said.

Emden had landed a party ashore to destroy the Allied cable and wireless stations on the islands. Communications from the ship had been intercepted and passed to the Allied convoy. Sydney was dispatched and subsequently caused the captain of Emden to run the German ship into a reef. It was a brief and brutal action, resulting in the death of four Australians and 134 Germans, one of them Matrose Levy.

“He was only 20 years old when he died, and he is commemorated in his home town near Hanover in Germany,” Capt Levy said. “Being here is a connection to my family’s history, a connection to that period in history.”

During the ceremony at Cocos Islands on November 9, Governor-General Gen Sir Peter Cosgrove, German Ambassador Christoph Müller, and CN VAdm Tim Barrett officiated at the unveiling of a friendship mast that held replica bells from each ship.

Capt Levy was invited to take part in the commemorations, as the orderly for the German flag. He was joined by Cocos Islands locals, descendants from both sides, a catafalque party from the current HMAS Sydney, and members of the Melbourne Detachment of the RAN Band.

Last updated
6 September 2016
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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