BY KEITH JACKSON
EARLIER THIS YEAR, PNG Attitude revealed that in 1955 the Menzies government refused a Japanese offer to provide documents that might have led to the disclosure of the names of the men who died on the Montevideo Maru.
One of the last remaining great mysteries of Australia’s involvement in World War II involves the precise identities of the estimated 1,053 men who died in Australia’s worst maritime disaster when the Japanese POW ship Montevideo Maru was sunk by the US submarine Sturgeon off the Philippines.
Now PNG Attitude has been given a number of images of the cards that the Australian government has still not asked for – although Veterans’ Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon is on the case.
The card shown above and at right is that of a Dutch prisoner of the Japanese captured in Indonesia. As you can see, it contains much detail – detail that would be of great importance to the relatives of Australians who were captured by the Japanese in the Gazelle peninsula in 1942.
These cars even show details of prisoner transfers - which would be of fundamental importance in discovering exactly who was on the Montevideo Maru.
Eight years after the war, on 15 October 1953, ten Allied governments including Australia received a communication from Japan to exchange POW name cards in accordance with the Geneva conventions.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that, although it did not feel bound by the conventions, it desired to “deliver the records of individual prisoners of war … who were in the hands of Japan during the Second World War”.
The Australian government did not respond to the request for 15 months, and when it did – on 18 January 1955 - it put a dampener on the exercise. It said it didn’t want the cards.
The Australian view was that all the information Australia wanted it had, and concluded with these extraordinary words: “No useful purpose would be served by a further exchange of information..."
Australia was the only one of the ten countries involved not to exchange records.
It just requires the Australian government to request the cards, and the relatives will find out more about the death of their loved ones.
It is past time when this should have been done.
Images of POW cards: Thanks to Keiko Tamura