An Australian merchant ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Victoria in June 1942. It wasn’t until April 2019 that marine archaeologists located the wreck. Despite its importance to historians, the discovery of the sunken ship had a greater impact on the life of one man.
The wreck claimed the life of Frank Stewart, the father of 90-year-old Sydney resident Bill Stewart. The young man had been living in an orphanage while his father and sister were at sea when he heard the terrible news. Several years earlier, the two children had already lost their mother, leaving them orphans.
Surprisingly, the brothers and sisters were later separated. While his sister, Beryl, was being adopted, Bill was placed in a children’s home in Adelaide. It was believed that they needed a “clean separation” from their other family members. “We hugged each other and sobbed uncontrollably,” Bill recalled in an interview with ABC Net News. My instructions were to leave the room and I never saw Beryl again.”
Over time, each person sought out the other. Despite their lack of success, they persevered. According to Bill, “we looked for each other, but the orphanage couldn’t help us”. Bill eventually moved to Sydney, but he never stopped looking. He said he would come back to Adelaide every year to look for Beryl.
Furthermore, Beryl searched for her long-lost brother. “I searched in vain for years for information on Bill’s location and where he had gone. After I stopped looking, I started to believe that I might be dead, but I had always believed that we would meet again.
Nothing seemed to link the two until the Hobart-based CSIRO research vessel Investigator discovered his father’s ship in 2019. A memorial service was arranged for the surviving ancestors of the crew members after the wreck was discovered. According to Emily Jateff of the Australian National Maritime Museum, more than 50 crew members attended the memorial ceremony at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne on Merchant Marine Day.
Bill heard about the memorial. As a result, he was able to connect with a distant relative, Kylie Watson, who volunteered to help him find his sister. As a result of their investigation, the two placed an advertisement in the Adelaide neighborhood newspaper. Adelaide then called Bill. That same Sunday, my granddaughter notified me that Beryl was alive and would contact me in ten minutes.
“I cried when I heard that Billy was alive,” Beryl recalled the moment she received the news. Shortly after, they met again in person. After that difficult day, Beryl recalled, “I couldn’t get into Bill’s arms fast enough; We hugged each other and couldn’t let go.” The brothers began to speak regularly on the phone.
“I sincerely love him and meeting him after almost 80 years has been a miracle in my eyes.” After meeting Bill, he said, “I just don’t want it to end.”