Tom Fisher OAM, 95, has passed away in Perth, Australia. He was the last surviving crewman of the HMAS Sydney.
He was a crewman on board the vessel during its service in Europe in World War II. He transferred off the ship in October 1941.
On 19 November 1941, Sydney was involved in a mutually destructive engagement with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran and was lost with all 645 souls aboard. The wrecks of both ships were lost until 2008; Sydney was found on 17 March, five days after her adversary. Sydney‘s defeat is commonly attributed to the proximity of the two ships during the engagement, and Kormoran‘s advantages of surprise and rapid, accurate fire.
However, the cruiser’s loss with all hands compared to the survival of most of the Germans have resulted in controversy, with some alleging that the German commander used illegal ruses to lure Sydney into range, that a Japanese submarine was involved, and that the true events of the battle are concealed behind a wide-ranging cover-up.
Australian Prime Minister John Curtin officially announced the loss of the cruiser during the afternoon of 30th November that year. Sydney‘s destruction was a major blow to Australian morale and military capability; her ship’s company made up 35% of the RAN’s wartime casualties.
In an interview, Fisher recalled what it was like to learn about the fate of the Sydney. “I just couldn’t believe it. It was off the coast of Western Australia, and to be lost, there was no action there, no enemy action off that coast,” he said. “We were going to the action.”
He said it was difficult to accept the fact he had survived, while so many of his friends were dead. “I’m alive and they’re not, and I’ve lived this long. It’s a feeling to be the only one alive,” he said.
After leaving the service, Fisher became an active volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul in Perth. He was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his service.