In June of 1942, a Japanese submarine sunk an Australian freighter ship off the coast of Victoria. It wasn’t until April 2019 that marine archeologists discovered the location of the wreck.
As important as finding the sunken vessel is to historians, the event proved to be more life-changing to one man in particular.
Bill Stewart, a Sydney man in his 90s, had lost his father, Frank Stewart, in the sinking. The boy had been living in an orphanage while his father was at sea with his sister when he was given the horrible news. The two children had already lost their mother years earlier and found themselves then orphaned.
Astonishingly, the siblings were then separated. Bill was sent to a boys’ home in Adelaide while his sister, Beryl, was adopted.
It was thought the two needed a “clean break” from remaining relatives.
Speaking about that goodbye with ABC Net News, Bill recalled, “The two of us put our arms around each other and cried our eyes out. I was told to leave the room and I never saw Beryl again.”
Through the years, each tried to find the other. They had no luck, but they persisted. “The two of us were looking for one another but didn’t get any help from the orphanage,” Bill remembered. Bill eventually moved to Sydney but never gave up his search. He continued, “I would go back to Adelaide every year and look for Beryl.”
Beryl also looked for her long-lost brother. “I couldn’t find any details of Bill’s whereabouts or where he’d gone, I tried for years …
I gave up and started thinking perhaps he’s dead, but in my mind, I always thought one day we would find one another,” she said, recalling her hope.
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Nothing seemed to connect the two until 2019, when their father’s ship was finally found by a Hobart-based CSIRO research vessel Investigator.
With the wreck located, it was decided to hold a memorial for the remaining descendants of the crew members. Emily Jateff of the Australian National Maritime Museum said of the event, “More than 50 descendants of Iron Crown’s crew gathered for the memorial event at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne on Merchant Navy Day.”
News of the memorial reached Bill. Through it, he met Kylie Watson, a distant relative, who offered to help him locate his sister.
Their search led back to Adelaide, where the two posted a notice in a local newspaper. Bill then received a phone call from Adelaide.
“That same Sunday, my granddaughter told me she had wonderful news regarding Beryl — that she was alive and was going to call me in 10 minutes,” he remembered.
“I cried when I heard Billy was alive,” Beryl said, recalling when she got the news. The two soon reunited in person. Remembering that emotional day, Beryl said, “I couldn’t get into Bill’s arms quick enough, we just hugged one another, and we couldn’t let each other go.” The siblings began calling each other every day.
“I love him dearly, and it’s been a miracle as far as I’m concerned that we found one another after nearly 80 years,” Beryl stated. “Now that Bill is back in my life, I just don’t want it to ever end.”
Their touching reunion reminds us of the importance and impact of family.