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A Japanese triumph where Australia fails


THERE IT WAS, buried at the end of the AAP news story.  The revelation of a golden key that may unlock a 70-year long mystery. A mystery some Australian families still grieve over.

And the mystery is this. Who exactly was on the Montevideo Maru when it sank in the early hours of 1 July 1942? What names were borne by those 1,000 and more men from the New Guinea islands who drowned that night?

Eventually, yesterday, it was the Japanese government that came good with the key. And it was the Australian government that looked bad.

Because, back in 1953, the Japanese offered the Allies index cards they’d compiled on all the people they’d taken as POWs.

The rest of the Allies – the British, Dutch, New Zealanders, Americans and the rest -said, yep, we’ll have those cards.

The Menzies government, after an 18 month delay, spurned the offer. No one knows why. And in the ensuing years, until now, no Australian government did anything. Even when asked.

And this despite the fact the government had no idea of the fate of many of those Australians who never returned to Australia’s shores and to their families.

A matter long forgotten and irrelevant today, you think? Try being a member of one of those families. They grieve still.

If it wasn’t for dogged work by researcher Harumi Nakaguchi, the cards the Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara yesterday promised to return to Australia would not have come to light.

For more than twelve months Harumi had been in regular contact with me to get the Australian government to get those cards back here where they could be examined.

At Ministerial level the Labor government had been superficially enthusiastic. But in terms of actual delivery, it was pathetic.

And now the Japanese government has decided to unilaterally send the cards to Australia. Maybe that'll motivate the government to bring closure to this matter and communicate properly with the families.

I also hope the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Warren 'Tardy' Snowdon, now gets moving and checks those cards against other records the Army holds, many of which had “gone missing” until quite recently.

It is way past time to bring to a close the mystery of who was on the Montevideo Maru.

And, while it's doing that, the Australian government should also recognise the dedication, persistence and compassion of Harumi Sakaguchi.

Today, to many Australian families, the man is a true hero.


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Michelle Rooney

Hi Keith - Kindly pass this on to Harumi Sakaguchi.

Harumi - Congratulations. I am also one who witnessed first hand your passion on this issue. I still remember well your captivating stories retelling in great detail this rich history.

I hope you write a book one day.

Harumi Sakaguchi

Hi Keith - It may now be opportune to revisit the following newspaper article.

I understand that the Mortuary Roll for the deceased Australian PWs is with the same Ministry. If Canberra does not have a copy, why not request a copy from the Japanese Government now? Australian people would be interested.

I see no reason why the request should not be heeded. Both the PW cards and this Roll for the deceased Australians in one transaction.

When the time comes to get the returned PW cards translated into English (I believe every single card should be fully translated), please count me in. I'd like to be the first volunteer for translation work.

Rod Miller

Harumi - Congratulations on your achievement. I know how much work you put into this.

It just goes to show what a focused back packer researcher can do when passionate about a subject.

I look forward to seeing the Rabaul nurses' and officers' cards.

Peter Kranz

There is an old Japanese man, often seen in Port Moresby, who has dedicated his life to finding the remains of Japanese soldiers and burying them with due ceremony.

I have met him walking along Waigani Drive carrying plastic bags containing his few possessions. He is not disturbed by raskols and is well-known by local people.

No matter what you think might about war, all combatants deserve respect. After all they were doing as they were ordered.

Martin Hadlow

Keith - Interested readers may also care to check the latest edition (Issue 53) of the Australian War Memorial magazine, 'Wartime'.

It contains a feature story about the Montevideo Maru entitled 'Missing But Not Forgotten' by Margaret Reeson.

Lest we forget.

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