Coogee beach on Boxing Day 1921 was a very popular spot. For returned serviceman Charles Larsen the beach, in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, was a refuge from his home in  inner-city Redfern. Larsen was over six feet tall; blond and blue eyed. He was an experienced body surfer, but that day as he caught a huge breaker  he lost control and speared headfirst into a sand bank. Fortunately he was spotted by other surfers, who carried him to the beach.

Coogee Beach in the 1920s

Coogee Beach in the 1920s (Library of N.S.W)

Twenty seven year old Larsen finally regained consciousness, but was unable to hear, speak or to remember anything, even his own name. For this reason his identity  was initially unknown.  He was taken to Sydney Hospital in Macquarie Street, where he remained for weeks.  When friends and family visited he had no idea who they were.

Sydney Hospital, where Larsen received wonderful care after the Coogee accident.

SYDNEY HOSPITAL (Source – Pinterest)

As Larsen’s  hearing and  speech returned, nursing staff assisted him in learning how to spell and read again. The whole month of January passed by. Then, on the evening of February 9th, something remarkable happened.


Here is Larsen’s own account of what took place;

I went out onto the verandah and heard someone in the nurses’ quarters playing a violin. I seemed to remember the tune, but not the name of it. The night nurse did not remember what it was, and for a while I was puzzled. But suddenly I recalled it. It was ‘Sympathy’. And then I remembered that I had heard it at home. I seemed to hear a great clash then, as though someone had slapped two boards across my ears, and everything came back to me with a rush.

It appears that the Coogee beach accident was related to the young man’s war experience. While he was fighting on the Somme in March, 1917, a German shell exploded beside him. He was almost buried and his tin helmet was forced down on his head. Subsequently he suffered brief bouts of dizziness.  He said, ‘I felt that dizzy feeling come on me while I was shooting the breaker at Coogee….and then my feet went up in the air and I was hurled into the sand. But I did not remember all that until last Wednesday. Although I had been here six weeks I thought it was still Boxing Night, and asked for my clothes because I would be late home for tea. ‘ (Sydney Sun. Feb,  1922)

Larsen wanted people to understand that it was really the wonderful  care of the nurses that led to his recovery rather than the music, even though the violin solo provided the final jolt to his memory.

Whether the concussion affected the rest of his life is unclear, but I suspect it may have done.  He had also suffered a gunshot wound to his knee. Certainly life was not easy for him, which was the case for so many returned servicemen. Larsen next comes to notice in 1932 under very touching circumstances. By this time he had married and moved to South Brisbane.

I have transferred the entire newspaper article from Trove;


I agree with Detective Henderson, surely any man would do the same thing to save his wife.

Charles Larsen died in a Queensland repatriation hospital in 1969.


Charles Patrick Larsen


NOTE – I really wanted to hear a recording of Sympathy and to share a link to it  here, but have been unable to track down the piece.

  1. I grew up in Coogee – spent most of my time when not at school on the beach – those sandbanks were notorious. also ‘dumper’ waves caused by them. Still, a great place to spend my childhood.

  2. Pauline

    I hope there weren’t too many accidents Nancy.

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