In April 1934, a small elderly lady hurried into the temporary Australian War Memorial exhibition in Sydney.
Approaching the nearest attendant, she asked breathlessly: “Will you please show me where the Emden Bell is? I’d like to see it before it is stolen again.”
The tale of the Emden Bell is one of the more unusual stories from the Memorial’s collection.
Recovered from the wreck of the first enemy ship sunk by the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War, the bell was twice stolen and recovered in high-profile cases that captured the public imagination and made newspaper headlines around the country.
The bell came from SMS Emden, a German cruiser that had been stalking shipping routes across the Indian Ocean and south-east Asia from August 1914, wreaking havoc on Allied shipping.
Emden became the scourge of the Allied navies, capturing or sinking 21 vessels before being attacked, driven aground and destroyed by HMAS Sydney at the Cocos (Keeling) Islands on 9 November 1914.