ALBERT Speer (1922-2014), who died peacefully in Sydney last Wednesday aged 92, was born in Goulburn NSW and served in New Guinea with 2/2 Australian Field Ambulance from 1942-45, marking the beginning of his long association with Papua New Guinea.
Aged just 17, he needed his mother’s permission to join the army , becoming a medic and serving at a number of locations including Milne Bay and Wau.
After the war, he joined the PNG Administration as a medical assistant in 1947 with early postings to Kerema, Madang and Saiho, where he led the medical team in the evacuation of victims of the 1951 Mt Lamington disaster.
In the 1950s documentary film, New Guinea Patrol, he was part of the team that was in the field for 70 days with a line of carriers half a mile long.
Around the same time, Albert and District Officer JP Sinclair captured a pair of rare singing dogs in the Lavanni Valley. The dogs eventually were housed in Taronga Zoo in Sydney.
Albert’s other postings included Tari and Koroba, where he made exploratory patrols into uncontrolled areas of the Southern Highlands, eventually taking over the administrative management of Koroba hospital. From 1957-59 he was a medical assistant in charge of the Malahang Native Hospital at Lae.
From 1959-67 he worked as the Regional Administrative Officer for the Department of Public Health in Rabaul and later Goroka.
In 1969 he was appointed Executive Officer of the Malaria Branch. In all, he served in the Department of Public Health from 1947 until his retirement in 1971 - a pioneer in the establishment of health services in PNG.
In 1979, the year of his retirement, Albert was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his work in the PNG Public Health Department. When he retired, Albert had served in PNG for 37 years.
In 2009, Albert was made the first and only life member of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee because of his long-standing advocacy for the recognition of the 1,300 servicemen and civilians who died in the wartime maritime disaster.
He became interested in the Montevideo Maru during his posting in Rabaul and started intensive research into the tragedy around 1997.
His commitment to finding the nominal roll of the men who died on the ship was often frustrating and for many years seemed fruitless. But Albert was undaunted and, in his pursuit of the truth, kept the flame burning for the relatives of the missing men.
Albert’s Life Membership citation read: “You have the Gratitude of us All. We know your Good Works, your Faithfulness, your Diligence, your Loyalty and your Truth. And we know how hard it could be. Yours was the Determining Contribution.”
In June 2010, both Houses of Australia’s Federal Parliament formally recognised the tragedy after nearly seventy years and paid tribute to those who had died in the New Guinea Islands and on the Montevideo Maru.
And in In July 2012 a new memorial was dedicated in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial to commemorate those Australians who died in the defence of Rabaul, and those who later died as prisoners in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.
A member of the organising committee said of Albert at the time: “He really is a man of New Guinea.”
Albert never married but adopted three children from Papua New Guinea, including the late Sir Albert Maori Kiki, and one, Maurice, from the Philippines.
Bert’s funeral service will be held on Thursday, 24 April at 10:30am at the Anglican Church, 205 Willoughby Road, Naremburn, NSW. Burial will follow at Woronora Cemetery, 121 Linden Street, Sutherland.
Additional source material: National Library of Australia