The Sinking of the Emden

Many readers will remember Rye Fisherman, Harry Riddle. He died four years ago.

The following letter written by Harry in the First war was brought in to us by his niece, it describes in remarkable detail the action of H.M.A.S. Sydney against the German Surface Raider the ‘Emden’ and gives some indication of the carnage such an action caused among the crews.

He Helped Sink the Emden

“They had no chance once we got her range, we blew funnels, Bridge and Foremast out of her, and put every gun out of action killing over 200 outright”

The letter is reprinted exactly as it was written.

My Dear Sister,

I expect you are rather anxious about me, for I expect you have heard the news of our deed, sometime ago, by the time you get this it will be rather late news, anyway I will give a description of what happened, thanking the Lord that I am safe. We sighted her about 9 ’o clock and by eleven she was on shore on fire, her skipper ran her on shore to save her from sinking , they put up a grand fight, but they had no chance once we got her range, we blew funnels bridge and foremast out of her, and put every gun.out of action killing over two hundred outright, besides 70 wounded who are all doing well.

There was nobody killed or injured at my gun, which is the one in the bows, (forecastle gun) all through they was falling all around and over us and some through the deck a few feet away, it was not our turn, our skipper manoeuvred so grand that they could not get at us, and we soon had them under, it lasted an hour and three quarters, and we fired just. on 7 hundred rounds of dynamite into her, she was in an awful state, she had done a lot of damage and made a great name for herself sinking 30 Merchant ships and two men-of-war one Russian and the other French, and Penang, every ship was anxious to meet her and it fell to our lot , and we done the job properly, but afterwards was the worst, getting off the wounded, for there was a heavy surf running, and we had to do it with our boats and the sights were heart rendering, but they stuck it like heroes, and never complained in all their agony we gave them their dues, there we done our best for them for if we had left them they would have all perished for where they run ashore was uninhabited and no water some that got on shore were maci with thirst before we could get them off, God knows whether they would have done as much for us if we had gone under.

The Emden Aground and Helpless The crew can be seen abandoning the stricken vessel
The Emden Aground and Helpless The crew can be seen abandoning the stricken vessel

It seems a pity for they are fine big chaps as fine a ships company as ever I have met and it seems awful to see them maimed and blown to atoms. Their skipper was very determined and would not haul his flag down when he was beat, till our Captain signalled. to him in the name of God and humanity to do so, then he did so, he would have saved scores of lives if he had done it before. But the Kaisers nephew was on board and it is thought he influenced him alot. (He is a prisoner on board here) we are, now on our way to Colombo with them all, I am sending you a photo of Emden which came from her, so look after it), shall want it when I gets married, and one of our yacht, we could not get much from her it was so awful to look at.

One chap that was killed ‘Hog’’was in the ‘Boadicia’ with me so I knew him very well, our ship is a floating hospital and several have died so we shall all be glad to be in harbour for to get clear, for the doctors cannot cope with them being so many they are all laying around waiting their turn, and it came on showery and we had a job to keep them dry.

Harry Riddle in Navel Uniform around the time of the battle with Emden

I shall be able to tell you some tales if I live to come back, I will not write it down but it is marvellous how soon you get use to it.

It came as a terrible shock at first, I will bring this to a close now, so long, best to all, and excuse pencil as everything is upside down. will close and remain your loving brother, Goodnight old bean, shall’ live to see you yet.

“Rye’s Own” October 1969

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