Today, the 19th November 2014, marks the 73rd anniversary of the sinking of the RAN Cruiser HMAS Sydney II off the Western Australian coast, by the German armed raider HSK Kormoran. There were 645 men on board and all lives were lost. One of those men was Able Seaman, Richard Severn Perryman, aged 21 years.
Now you’re probably wondering where Richard fits into our family tree. Well he doesn’t directly, but let me tell you how this comes about.
Earlier this year I decided I’d like to be a tour guide for the Geraldton Voluntary Tour Guides who take visitors to the HMAS Sydney Memorial, which has been built high up on Mount Scott, towering over the city, as a memorial to the 645 sailors who lost their lives. It is a place where their families and friends can come to remember them and that it will help ease the legacy of pain for many Australians and others that were involved. As tour guides, we explain to our visitors what each of the 5 elements that make up the memorial, signify. On my travels overseas or even when touring our own country, we try to attend tours that have a guide. I feel this gives you a much more personal insight into the significance of the site you are visiting and not just trying to read off a brochure.
My cousin Joanne Parker picked up on this and told me the story of how her step-mother, Margaret (Meg) Perryman’s brother was one of the sailors lost in the Sydney. She explained to me that after her mother, Brenda Cripps had passed away, her father David Parker married Meg (nee Perryman).
I felt impelled today, to tell Richard’s story to keep his memory alive and I tell his story to my group of visitors each time I take a tour.
Richard was born the eldest son of John and Margaret Susan Perryman nee Crouch on the 24th November 1919, in York Western Australia. When he was 6 years old, the family moved to Northampton where John was an accountant. Margaret’s sister Millicent and her husband Herbert Graham were also in Northampton, where Herbert (Cookie) ran the power station.
Meg was born in Northampton 10 years after her brother.
In 1935, the family moved to Perth so that Richard could get a trade. On the 29th July 1938, he joined the navy in Fremantle, Western Australia.
The HMAS Sydney II was lost on the 19th November 1941, just 5 days before Richard’s 22nd birthday. His fiancée was waiting for him and they were to be married the weekend after the Sydney was due in to Fremantle.
Their father died on the 29th December 1941 at the age of 76 from a heart attack, only 6 weeks after finding out about the loss of their son and brother.
Their mother Margaret always held out hope for him and thought he might have been a POW in Japan. At that time there was much speculation as to what had happened to Sydney, many believing a Japanese submarine had sunk it and taken the sailors as prisoners. This is the telegram the family received from the naval board, postmarked 26 Nov 1941. At that stage, no one knew exactly what day Sydney was lost, however we now know from interrogating the survivors of the Kormoran, that it was the 19th November. This telegram came 7 days later. It reads:
“with deep regret I have to inform you your son Richard Svern Perryman able seaman is missing as a result of enemy action stop Minister for the navy and the Naval Board desire to express to you their sincere sympathy // Navy”
When the Finding Sydney Foundation hired David Mearns to find HMAS Sydney II, on board was Lieutenant John Perryman, the Senior Navy historian. Meg had given a photo of her brother Richard to Glenys McDonald and Glenys gave it to Lt Perryman who had the photo on his laptop the whole time that he was on the SV Geosounder with David Mearns while searching for the Sydney. He always held the name of Seaman Richard Perryman close and wondered if they were related as they had the same surname, although he could never prove their relationship.
Quote from a letter to Meg Parker: “Whilst I have never known whether I was related to Dick or not, he has served as an inspiration to me. It may please you to know that I have carried his picture on my laptop computer during this voyage and that he has accompanied me to the site where Sydney now lies. I also had the privilege of leading a small commemoration service over this location and as I tossed the specially made wreath over the side I said a silent prayer for the sailor who carried my last name – Richard Severn (Dick) Perryman.”
Eventually Meg and her mother came to Geraldton for a holiday in 1944, when her mother met and later married Mr O’Driscoll. They lived at 91 Durlacher Street and Meg attended the Geraldton Senior High School and became head girl in 1946.
HMAS Sydney II Memorial