Excerpt from “Prisoner of the Kormoran” told by W.A. “Syd” Jones to James Taylor

Syd Jones was a crewman aboard the S.S. Mareeba, which was fired upon (and ultimately sunk by demolition) by the German raider Kormoran. He and fellow crew members were held prisoner on the Kormoran for over three months before being relocated to a supply ship, Kulmerland, for eventual return to Germany.
While they were on this vessel, they received the news of their former captor.


Nothing of interest occurred for several days. Then we learned for the first time that retribution had at last overtaken the Kormoran. At 10 o’clock one morning, Gus walked into the galley, looking pale about the gills. He seemed to have had a shock.
“Yonis,” he said in a subdued voice which made me wonder what in the world had come over him, “you have not forgotten zee Kormoran, have you?”
“I don’t know the Kormoran, sir.”
That, as a matter of fact, was the first time I had heard the name.
“Listen, Yonis, zee sheep that captured zee Mareeba was called zee Kormoran.”
“Well, I never! The raider?”
“She was what you call the raider, Yonis, ja. But we do not call her a raider; we call her an armed merchant cruiser!”
“Yes, sir. What about her?”
Gus heaved a sign and went on: “We have zee radio message that she has sunk your cruiser Sydney. It is zee greatest feat in naval history, and our Fuhrer has awarded her commander zee highest honour that he can bestow. But, Yonis, zee Kormoran, too, is finished – kaput. Our comrades, four hundred of them, would have to fight to zee death. That is zee way of zee German navy. But some survive the fight, we know.”
“What about the Sydney men, sir?”
“We theenk there are none saved. Some of our men have arrived in Australia. They are prisoners. That is sad.”
But it definitely wasn’t so sad as the news of a disaster that had evidently brought death to the Sydney’s glorious company. I simply couldn’t believe such a thing, and when I excitedly told my shipmates, neither could they. The story was fantastic. Dave Kitchen had a brother in the cruiser. He was very close to tears, and so, I soon discovered, was one of our guards whose brother had been a member of the raider’s crew. It’s a small world!
Captain Skinner, who later obtained additional details, admitted to us that everything pointed to the loss of the Sydney with all hands. Wireless messages from several sources had been picked up which left no doubt of the tragedy.


W.A. ‘Syd’ Jones was assistant cook on the Mareeba. He eventually made it to German soil and was held as a prisoner of war. He was exchanged, together with a number of allied prisoners, for a similar group of German merchant seamen around July 1943.

Dave Kitchen was a deck boy on the Mareeba, but his fate is unknown. There was a fellow, Clayton Kitchin (22649) who was aboard the Sydney, perhaps this was his brother. His date of death is recorded as 20 November 1941.

Captain M.B. Skinner was presumably lost at sea following the sinking of the German prison ship, Spreewald, while they were en route to Germany.

‘Gus’ had been a crew member on the Kormoran, but transferred to the supply ship with the prisoners. He had reached retiring age, being near 60, and was to return to Germany. He was killed when leaving the stricken Spreewald.


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Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

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