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‘Montevideo Maru’ – Australia’s biggest maritime tragedy

Montevideo Maru
Montevideo Maru - the freighter's sinking was Australia's worst ever maritime disaster

GRANTLEE KIEZA | The Courier-Mail (Brisbane)

BRISBANE - They were herded onto the cargo vessel and into the hot, dark, airless hold. Beaten, bullied and bedraggled, they were slaves of the merciless Japanese army during the darkest days of Australia’s history and were treated worse than animals.

It was 22 June 1942 at the tropical outpost of Rabaul, a port on New Britain, part of the Australian mandated territory of New Guinea.

The great volcano there had erupted five years earlier but that disaster was nothing compared with the man-made carnage as Japanese soldiers thrust bayonets toward their prisoners or beat them with bamboo rods.

Soon these men — numbering more than 1,000 and including at least 49 Queenslanders — would become casualties in Australia’s worst ever maritime disaster.

Continue reading "‘Montevideo Maru’ – Australia’s biggest maritime tragedy" »


75 years on, shocking Tol Massacre forgotten in Australia & PNG

Tol Plantation killing fieldMAX UECHTRITZ

IT WAS one of the most callous atrocities of the Pacific war.

Seventy-five years yesterday, 160 Australian prisoners were bayoneted, beheaded, shot or burned alive by Japanese troops – on what was then Australian territory.

So horrific was the Tol Massacre on the island of New Britain that the Australian government suppressed details for 47 years.

That this tragedy is barely remembered and rarely commemorated blights Australia’s national conscience and to this day rankles the distressed families of the victims.

Few Australians know of the carnage at neighbouring Tol and Waitavalo plantations  - nor that it came soon after one of the most shameful episodes of our war when 1,400 diggers and civilians were abandoned as ‘hostages to fortune’ ahead of the Japanese invasion of Rabaul on 23 January 1942.

Rabaul was the capital of Australian-mandated New Guinea and was protected by a tiny garrison consisting mainly of the 2/22nd Battalion Lark Force.

Continue reading "75 years on, shocking Tol Massacre forgotten in Australia & PNG" »


A memorial to honour the dead of the NG islands

KEITH JACKSON

Detail Rabaul & Montevideo Maru MemorialSEVENTY YEARS AGO TODAY, soon after midnight on 1 July 1942, the Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru – carrying over 1,000 civilians and troops who had been captured in Rabaul – was torpedoed and sunk off the Philippines’ coast.

All of the prisoners, and many of the Japanese crew, died. It was one of Australia’s greatest tragedies and by far its worst maritime disaster.

Today, after several years work and a new recognition of this event in both Australia and Papua New Guinea, governor-general Quentin Bryce is to dedicate a splendid memorial in Canberra to mark those dark days in the New Guinea islands – the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial.

Both the Australian and PNG governments, as well as private donors, have provided generous amounts of money to make this long overdue tribute a reality.

And to mark this solemn date in the calendar, one of PNG’s finest poets, Michael Dom, has written this eloquent Haiku-style poem in dedication to those who died and their families and loved ones…..

 

Seventy years on / Montevideo Maru’s / roll is read out

BY MICHAEL DOM

In a blue-green vault;
Montevideo Maru,
resting anchorless

In Philippines sea;
Lost souls entombed in cold steel
await their roll call

Now we will claim them;
Sons sent to do our bidding,
lost, not forgotten
Hidden beneath seas;
But at a shrine of their foes,
an odd pile of notes

There in its pages
waiting a lifetime unread
an old list of names

These tomes lay unsought
foreign script, in foreign lands;
Stake a thousand sons

Prisoners of war;
Their story will now be told
Their freedom granted

Seventy years on
Montevideo Maru’s
roll call is read out

A testament for
a thousand sons lost to war;
Their score – stainless steel

Christine ArnottAnd in tribute to
Their great sacrifice, their hopes
now sail in our hearts

We remember them;
Their years spent on Rabaul’s soil
for Australia

We remember them;
Their bodies broken by war
for all our freedoms

We remember them;
Their joys and sorrows, their love
ours now to bestow

To their families
what more peace can we offer;
We remember them

Image: Christine Arnott


Japanese researcher helps solve 70 year mystery

KEITH JACKSON

Detail Rabaul & Montevideo Maru MemorialAN INDEFATIGABLE JAPANESE RESEARCHER, who prefers not to be publicly identified, has been able to confirm the authenticity of the list of men who died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru prison ship on 1 July 1942.

The men – troops and civilians - were being transported from Rabaul to Hainan, China, when the vessel was torpedoed by a US submarine off the Philippines. All the prisoners and many Japanese sailors and marines died in the incident.

Australia’s worst maritime disaster will be marked at a ceremony in Canberra on Sunday when the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial [detail from invitation at right] is to be dedicated by Australian governor-general Quentin Bryce exactly 70 years after the ship was sunk.

The Japanese researcher, who once worked in Papua New Guinea, has been a most tenacious and assiduous student of the history of the sinking and has devoted years of research to determining the authenticity of records used to identify who exactly was on board the ship.

Earlier this month, he informed Australian authorities that the list of men on the ship, first assembled by Australian Army Major Harold Williams in Japan late 1945 was largely correct.

However he has also identified additional information, covering both civilians and troops.

The National Archives of Australia will unveil the document at a public viewing in Canberra tomorrow.

The researcher and I have been corresponding on this matter for some years, and – through email - I have been privileged to share his journey of discovery through its twists and turns, breakthroughs and setbacks, including the tragic death of leading Australian researcher Chris Diercke two years ago.

Despite having nailed the list down with admirable precision, the Japanese researcher is now extending his study to PNG, which is where some of our readers may be able to help. He has told me:

“One of my most important findings is that there was a complete nominal roll of the men (servicemen and civilians) sent by the Central Army Records Office (2nd Echelon) to the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages in Waigani, NCD [Papua New Guinea] in 1966."

If you may be able to help locate this record, you can get in touch with me at PNG Attitude.


Memorial to worst maritime disaster to be unveiled

RABAUL & MONTEVIDEO MARU SOCIETY

ON 1 JULY 1942, nearly 70 years ago, the Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru was sunk by an American submarine off the Philippines and more than 1,000 Australian soldiers and civilians perished.

Next week, hundreds of relatives and friends of the men who died will converge on Canberra to attend the dedication of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial on Sunday 1 July.

The service at the Australian War Memorial will be attended by Governor-General Quentin Bryce and ver 500 other guests.

The Australian soldiers were taken prisoners of war in Rabaul in the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of the New Guinea Islands in January 1942.

The POWs were variously members of the 2/22nd Infantry Battalion, 1st Independent Company, New Guinea Volunteer Rifles along with civilian internees - officers of the Australian Administration, businessmen, bankers, planters, missionaries and merchant seaman.

Their number included relatives of some well known Australians: Kim Beazley's uncle (a builder with the Methodist Mission); Peter Garrett's grandfather (a planter); former Senate President Kerry Sibraa’s cousin; and one time Prime Minister Sir Earl Page’s brother, who was the senior government official in Rabaul.

Women and children had been evacuated to Australia in the weeks preceding the Japanese invasion and it was not until 1945 when the war ended that they learned whether their husbands and fathers were alive or dead.

About 400 Australians did manage to escape and many more died trying to do so. Some were captured and summarily executed; others died from illness and starvation, or drowned crossing fast flowing rivers.

Apart from the dedication service at the Australian War Memorial, there will a luncheon at the Lakeside Hotel on Saturday 30 June and a concert that evening by the Salvation Army's Melbourne Staff Band.


POW records shed light on Montevideo Maru mystery

AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY, TOKYO

POW war recordsTHE AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY in Tokyo recently took possession of Japan's World War II records on Australians held as prisoners of war, a mark of the close friendship between two former foes.

The records, which include name cards and related information, have been transferred to the Australian National Archives in Canberra.

Amongst the records of particular significance are the first complete list of Australian victims of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942 near Luzon in the Philippines.

The prison ship was carrying more than 1,000 civilians and troops from Rabaul to Hainan when it was torpedoed by the US submarine Sturgeon.

All the prisoners lost their lives but the records identifying who exactly was on the ship have never previously been sighted..

Over the coming months, the National Archives will restore and digitise the records for public access, allowing family members and historians better knowledge of Australia’s biggest disaster at sea.


POW cards may shed light on Maru tragedy

EMBASSY OF JAPAN IN AUSTRALIA

AngelbeekTHE JAPANESE FOREIGN AFFAIRS Ministry has handed to the Australian government individual record cards and other related materials concerning former Australian prisoners of war.

The cards are likely to shed some light on who exactly was aboard the prison ship Montevideo Maru, sunk by a US submarine off the Philippines coast on 1 July 1942 with the loss of all 1,000 prisoners.

The precise death toll is not known, nor the identity of all the prisoners – civilians and troops who had been captured in Rabaul and were being transported to Hainan in China.

A similar handover of personal cards had taken place between Japan and the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of China during the 1950s; however at the time Australia stated it did not intend to accept the cards.

In November 2010, a Japanese NGO approached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointing out that the cards themselves would be of value not only to former prisoners of war, but also to their families, as the cards have historical value through their depiction of life at the time.

In March last year, the then Japanese foreign minister Maehara announced that preparations had begun for the handover to Australia of the cards and related materials.

It is hoped that this exchange of individual record cards and related materials will serve as a fitting opportunity to further promote the amiable relations between Japan and Australia.

Some 4,497 prisoner of war individual record cards and 16 related items have been handed over to the Australian government.

PNG Attitude pays tribute to our good friend Harumi Sakaguchi for the instrumental role he has played in this process and for his other work to bring comfort to the relatives of Japanese and Australian nationals who died as a result of World War II.

Read more about the background to this story here and here


Diggers look back on New Britain WW2 ordeal

BY ELISE SNASHALL-WOODHAMS

Norm Furness & Sam BlabySURVIVING A WORLD WAR, a POW massacre, repeated bombing and three months of jungle life is no mean feat.

That’s exactly what members of the 2/22 battalion faced when they were shipped to Papua New Guinea during World War II.

Norm Furness and Sam Blaby [pictured] are two of four remaining survivors of what they label a “bugger-up” of military proportions.

The men were among 1,400 soldiers sent by the Australian Army to Rabaul in 1941.

When the Japanese invaded the New Guinea Islands in 1942 the 2/22 battalion was among the first to engage with the enemy.

Both men said the assault from the Japanese was extraordinary, first from the air, then on land.

The Australians were under-equipped, using antique equipment from World War I.

“They blew our good guns to pieces in 20 minutes,” Sam said. “Australia sent training aircraft up as fighter planes, but the first time the Japanese flew over they blasted them out of the sky.”

When the Japanese forces landed there were 10 Japanese soldiers to every Australian. The allied forces quickly realised the situation was hopeless. Norm and Sam had no other choice but to retreat deep into the jungle if they wanted to survive.

“The order was given, every man for himself, and that’s what you had to do,” Norm said. “You would eat anything that crawled; rats were great, almost as good as chicken.

“It was three months of jungle food. I was 12 stone six when the Japanese landed; when I left the island I was nine stone.”

For those that chose to surrender to the Japanese, their fate was even worse. More than 100 men were massacred by the Japanese after they gave themselves up.

The rest were put on the Japanese ship Montevideo Maru which, days into its voyage, was sunk by the Americans.

More than 1,000 Australians were killed, the nation’s biggest loss of life in a single action. Of the 1,400 soldiers that had landed on the island three months earlier, only 300 made it back to Australia alive.

When Norm landed in Cairns on 28 March 1942, he said the feeling was “marvellous”.

Source: Bendigo Advertiser, 11 November


Peter O’Neill ensures Maru memorial will be built

BY KEITH JACKSON

IN A SINGLE generous gesture this afternoon, Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill handed over a cheque for $100,000 to the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, ensuring that work on the long-awaited memorial will begin soon.

The Society has been working for nearly three years to establish a memorial in Canberra to commemorate the sinking of the Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942.

More than 1,000 troops and civilians, most of them Australians who had been captured by the Japanese in Rabaul, drowned when the ship was torpedoed by a US submarine.

More than 50 relatives and friends gathered at the Australian War Memorial today to meet Peter O’Neill, who inspected the site before handing over the cheque for $100,000.

Until recently, successive Australian government had ignored the plight of relatives who for nearly seven decades felt that their own country had forgotten about the huge sacrifice of Australia’s worst single tragedy in peace and war.

Now, thanks to the compassion and generosity of the new PNG government, the memorial is likely to be unveiled on 1 July next year – the seventieth anniversary of the sinking.


O’Neill to visit site of Montevideo Maru memorial

Image of proposed memorial PNG PRIME MINISTER Peter O’Neill, will inspect the site of the proposed Rabaul and Montevideo Maru memorial in Canberra next Tuesday.

Mr O’Neill is to spend an hour at the Australian War Memorial as part of a two-day official visit to Australia next week.

His scheduled visit to the AWM at 3pm on Tuesday will include an official welcome, a wreath laying and an inspection of the site of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial.

President of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, Phil Ainsworth, is encouraging members of the Society and NGVR/PNGVR Association members in the Canberra area to attend.

At the site, Mr O’Neill will receive a briefing about progress towards establishing the memorial from Andrea Williams, Don Hook and Mr Ainsworth.

The prime minister is also expected to make a donation on behalf of the PNG government to the Society as a contribution to the memorial.

“This will be a very significant gesture to Australia and the Society,” Mr Ainsworth said.


Winning design selected for MvM memorial

Passage THE LATEST ISSUE of Memorial News, the newsletter of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, has announced that sculptor James Parrett has submitted the winning design for a national memorial to be constructed at the Australian War memorial next year.

The sculpture, entitled Passage, will mark the horrendous loss of life that ensued from the invasion of the New Guinea Islands in 1942 and the subsequent sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

James Parrett says of his design: “My immediate response was to create a work that would protect the memory of the people who lost their lives as well as the tragedy of the event itself.”

He has sought to provide a timeless abstract design that will also be of appeal to future generations and that has both physical and aesthetic integrity.

The sculpture will be fabricated in stainless steel and stand about 3.5 metres high. The design is based on the manipulation of circular forms, and refers to themes of physical and personal journeys and the ocean.

An explanatory text panel will be placed adjacent to the memorial and provide a brief account of the events it commemorates.

The design was recently approved by the Australian War Memorial Council and will require final works approval from the National Capital Authority.

Commissioning of the sculptural memorial will not occur until it is fully funded.

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society – which is now over halfway to its funding goal of $400,000 – still needs support if the memorial is to be completed next year, the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

Visit the website here - http://memorial.org.au/


Rabaul invasion veterans at MvM function

BY DONALD HOOK

Lorna Johnston, Norm Furness 
TWO SPECIAL GUESTS at the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society luncheon in Canberra last week were World War II Japanese prisoner of war, Lorna Johnston, and the president of the Lark Force Association, Norm Furness.

Lorna, aged 96, travelled from her home in Auckland to attend the weekend of activities marking the 69th anniversary of the sinking of the Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru by the American submarine Sturgeon on 1 July 1942.

All 1,053 Australian prisoners died in what remains as Australia's worst maritime tragedy.

More than 150 people attended the luncheon as well as a chapel service at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, on Sunday.


Rudy Buckley: Montevideo Maru witness

BY MAXWELL R HAYES

ONE OF THE MOST incredible discoveries to come to light confirming the Montevideo Maru departure from Rabaul with captive service personnel and civilians was from the eye witness account of a then 12 year old child.

This observation led to further investigations with conclusive proof identifying one of the many soldiers being herded onto this unfortunate Japanese POW vessel.

Rudy Buckley, as a young child living in Rabaul with his parents, was one of several children given camp jobs and various other duties by his Japanese captors one of which was cooking rice for the soldiers. They worked for nine to ten hours daily for a small sack of rice.

Around the time of the sailing of the Montevideo Maru from Rabaul in June 1942, Rudy was working within the area of the Colyer Watson coal wharf near the former Shell depot in Wharf Street, Toboi, when he became aware of extensive lines of servicemen and civilians all in shorts, part or tattered uniforms, under cover of soldiers with machine guns.

They were being herded from a POW camp situated in the area later known as 2/22nd Street towards this partly burnt out wharf. Rudy recalls that at this time the town was under aerial bombardment and squads of the captive soldiers were forced to take cover in a very large concrete rain water drain until the raid was over.

After this he saw that they were then being taken by barges (of the type Rabaulites have later seen in the tunnels, i.e. a landing type barge with an armoured elevated steering position at the rear) from this wharf to the vessel anchored two to three hundred metres further out in the harbour.

The loading of these POWs in this manner took the better part of a whole day. Later that afternoon there was an allied bombing run over the harbour and the undamaged POW vessel left before nightfall.

As these captive soldiers and civilians were being marched to the foreshore for carriage on the barges to be taken to the Montevideo Maru, one soldier smiled at Rudy and threw him a khaki army issue handkerchief, secreting it from the view of ever present Japanese guards.

As was then the requirement, soldiers’ names and serial numbers were written on issue uniforms and accoutrements in Indian (black) ink. Rudy, being unaware of the significance of this name and serial number retained this memento and thought little of it.

He kept it in a tin box along with Australian soldiers’ badges and other items which remained buried at Ratongor about twenty miles from Rabaul on the north coast road, during the period of his families captivity there. This would have occasioned severe punishment had his captors discovered the buried tin box.   

Continue reading "Rudy Buckley: Montevideo Maru witness" »


Remembering the Montevideo Maru tragedy

TODAY MARKS 69 years since the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, and the loss of 1,053 Australian Prisoners of War in the Pacific Ocean.

Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, said the 845 soldiers and 243 civilians were being taken from New Guinea to Japan and an uncertain fate.

“Japan invaded the islands of New Britain and New Hanover in early 1942.  A small, yet dedicated, force of Australian troops, known as Lark Force, was all that stood between the Japanese and victory.”

“After easily overcoming the small force, the Japanese took the soldiers prisoner.

“In late June 1942, the Japanese ordered the prisoners to board the Montevideo Maru, a prison ship, which would take them to Japan.”

“After leaving Rabaul heading for Japan, the ship was torpedoed by a United States submarine off the coast of The Philippines.  The ship sank and all 1,288 prisoners and civilians aboard perished.”

Senator Ronaldson said the Coalition and the Government have both committed $100,000 to the construction of a Memorial to the Montevideo Maru in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial.

“I hope that the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society can now raise the additional funds necessary to construct this Memorial in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in time for the 70th anniversary next year”.

“I have also written to Minister Snowdon asking him to look favourably upon a request for additional funds if they are required to expedite construction ahead of the 70th anniversary.”

Anyone who wishes to make a donation to the Montevideo Maru Memorial fund can do so by contacting the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society at PO Box 1743 Neutral Bay NSW 2089.


Magnificent artwork will aid memorial fund

BY ANDREA WILLIAMS

Artwork 1 
JULIANNE ROSS ALLCORN has created an artwork for a silent auction to be held at next Sunday’s commemorative luncheon of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society.

The artwork honours those people lost in the Japanese invasion of the New Guinea islands in 1942 and contributes to the fundraising for the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Photographed just prior to framing under glass in a beech frame, this original artwork shows the islands of Papua New Guinea with a Papua New Guinean face gazing out towards the viewer.

The known names of all those who died or who were killed in the islands and on the Montevideo Maru, and of those missing, have been painstakingly handwritten and appear as the currents of the sea.

With no definitive list to work from, missing names are represented by the following symbols:

Chinese: ceramic ginger jar
Norwegians: MV Herstein
Papua New Guineans: canoe, bush knife, kundu, Dukduk, bilum
Soldiers: slouch and tin hats; Wirraway aircraft
Missionaries: cross and rosary beads
Escape boats- lakatoi and MV Laurabada
Japanese: samurai sword

Artwork Detail In the corner is a miniature drawing of the American flag (waving in reverse).

A raised silhouette of the Montevideo Maru cut out of Japanese rice paper sits atop the creation.

Phone bids will be taken between 3.10pm and 3.20pm prior to the silent auction closing on Saturday 2 July 2011.

Bidders will need to pre-register their details by Friday 1 July 2011 on 0409 031 889.


Memorial will be in award winning precinct

BY DON HOOK

Dome & Bean Building THE RABAUL AND Montevideo Maru memorial is to be located in the award winning Eastern Precinct of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

On Saturday night, the AWM, which won five major awards, dominated the 2011 Australian Institute of Architecture (ACT) awards.

The redevelopment of the Eastern Precinct was described as “outstanding” and took top honours.

Jury chair, Shelley Penn, said it demonstrated architectural mastery and excellence at every level.

"It is important as an historic and symbolic place in the development of our nation and its culture,” she said. “The design is an enduring contribution to a precinct which embodies our respect for the spirit and attitude of the servicemen and women who made the supreme sacrifice."

Early this year the AWM offered the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society a prime site in the Eastern Precinct for its planned memorial.

The memorial will honour those who died in the Japanese invasion of the New Guinea islands, including the men who perished when the Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by an American submarine off the Philippines on 1 July 1942. All 1,053 Australian POWs and civilian internees on the ship lost their lives.

The Society has about $200,000 at present toward the $400,000 cost of the memorial which is due to be dedicated on 1 July next year - the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the ship. The balance is required later this year and the Society is about to step up its fundraising activities.

Relatives will be able to view the memorial site when they visit Canberra next month to attend a luncheon at the National Press Club and memorial service at the Royal Military College Chapel at Duntroon.


Relatives who endured still await a memorial

BY MALCOLM BROWN & TONY WRIGHT

Montevideo Maru-1 THE MEMORIAL NOTICE in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 November 1945, read: ''Presumed lost at sea.'' Gunner Lloyd Sibraa, last reported on the Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru, had not made contact with home.

The notice was inserted by Sibraa's mother, Mabel Sibraa, who clung to the hope that Lloyd, who had been in the 1st Independent Company in New Ireland had somehow made it. She kept the army informed of her address, lest Lloyd should have survived.

The Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by an American submarine on July 1, 1942, and sank with the loss of more than 1000 men.

Mabel Sibraa knew that if anyone could get out of it, Lloyd could. He had worked as a drover around Fords Bridge on the Darling River and had come to Sydney to enlist. But on July 1, 1947, five years after the sinking, another notice appeared in which she acknowledged Lloyd would not be coming home. His mother had written a poem:

At night when the shadows are falling
And I am all alone
There comes that longing Lloydie
If you could just come home.

Further notices in Sibraa's memory appeared in 1951 and 1953. In the 1960s, in the last years of Mabel Sibraa's life, a relative spoke to her about it, but it was too painful to discuss.

Betty Muller - then Betty Gascoigne - endured the same agonising wait. She was 21 when she last saw her father and brother.

It was Boxing Day 1941, when she, her mother and brother Stanley, 12, were evacuated to Australia by ship from Rabaul on New Britain, where the Gascoignes had lived since 1924.

A month later, the Japanese invaded New Britain. It was the beginning of an almost unbearable silence that would last years. Ivor, who had just started his first job as an office boy at the island's branch of Amalgamated Wireless, had begged to stay in Rabaul with his father, an auctioneer, and his mother reluctantly agreed.

''It was the most difficult decision my mother ever had to take,'' says Muller, now 91.

Read the full story in the Sydney Morning Herald here

For more information or to donate, go to memorial.org.au


TMAG receives gift of John May's medals

John & Medals THE DIRECTOR of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Bill Bleathman, said yesterday the museum was honoured to receive a Tasmanian World War II chaplain's collection of military medals.

John May's Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and several of his military service medals, which were recently purchased by a group of anonymous benefactors, were presented to TMAG by members of his family today.

"I am pleased the generosity of these benefactors has enabled TMAG to acquire these medals, whilst also allowing Mary May to raise funds towards a permanent memorial to commemorate the sinking of the Montevideo Maru," Mr Bleathman said.

The late John Lovatt May MBE [pictured] was born in Tasmania and educated in Penguin, Queenstown and Hobart before completing theological studies at the Australasian College of Theology. In 1940, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces as a chaplain and served with the 2/22nd Battalion which was sent to garrison Rabaul in New Guinea in 1941 .

When the Japanese invaded Rabaul in January 1942, John May was taken prisoner along with over 1 000 other Australian troops and civilians, many of whom subsequently embarked on the Montevideo Maru bound for Hainan in south China.

On 1 July 1942, the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed and sunk off the Philippines, and over 1,000 Australian troops and civilians perished in what remains as Australia's worst disaster at sea.

Although John May was not aboard the Montevideo Maru, he tended the men of the 2/22nd Battalion as soldiers and as prisoners. After the war, he was always concerned that efforts be made to recognise the terrible loss of both troops and civilians on the Montevideo Maru.

He was awarded the MBE in 1947 for his actions as a prisoner of war (POW) in maintaining morale of troops and POWs in World War ll.

“I am pleased that through this gift, John May’s medals will enable TMAG to continue to tell the stories of Tasmanians who have made such important contributions through their service to their country," Mr Bleathman said.


A Japanese triumph where Australia fails

BY KEITH JACKSON

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.


Revealed. The truth behind Australia’s worst disaster at sea.

At the National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour,  Sydney

Sunday 20 February |  3 pm -5 pm |  $25  |  Includes wine & cheese

Moments after midnight on 1 July 1942, the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed and sunk while carrying over 1,000 Australian soldiers and civilians who had been captured in Rabaul. All died in the worst maritime disaster in Australia's history. Why did it take until 2010 for the sacrifice to be publicly acknowledged? ROD MILLER, who has researched the subject for 16 years, relates this tragic story and its shocking aftermath.

Bookings  Phone 02 9298 3644          Email members@anmm.gov.au            Book online


New evidence on our greatest maritime loss

BY ROD MILLER

Rod Miller is the author of ‘Lost Women of Rabaul’, the inspiration for the recent ABC-TV drama ‘Sisters of War’.  For those interested in the latest Montevideo Maru research, Rod will give a public lecture at the National Maritime Museum, in Sydney's Darling Harbour, on Sunday 20 February, 3 - 5 pm.

IN 1941, WITH WAR against Japan threatening, the Menzies government dispatched Lark Force (nearly 1,500 men) to garrison Rabaul in what was then the Australian Protectorate of New Guinea.

On 1 July 1942, around 800 of these soldiers, along with 250 Australian civilian internees, died when the 7,000-ton Japanese vessel Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by the American submarine Sturgeon.

The currently-accepted historical explanation of what happened to the men of Rabaul can be summarised as:

The garrison of Rabaul was abandoned to their fate by the Australian government.  Those captured were removed on the Montevideo Maru on 22/6/42, later sunk by friendly fire.  Some of the Japanese crew saved themselves, but none of the prisoners. (Most of the surviving Japanese were later murdered by Philippine guerrillas.)  The Japanese POW Information Bureau [PWIB] did not respond to enquiries about the fate of the prisoners.  The Allies had intelligence which indicated the true story, but kept it secret.  The scale of the disaster, and the desire of the Australian government not to rake over their original military mistakes, led to later bureaucratic corner-cutting.

The terse news released post-war by the Australian government drove an unfortunate contagion of rumour and innuendo amongst the grieving families (often amplified by publications pushing massacre conspiracies).  Many people were unable to accept their loss.

The only official investigation was compiled by a lone Australian officer, Major Harold Williams, relying (officially) on only one source, the Japanese PWIB.  In 1946, this drove calls for a further inquiry in the Australian Parliament, but Prime Minister Chifley staunchly refused.  This fed suspicions of a cover-up.

Although today there is no doubt that more than 1,000 Australians died when the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed, there is still scope for researchers to add to the history.  Possibly, the Japanese were sending the Rabaul civilians to Hainan Island in China for exchange with Japanese citizens then held in Australia.  Also our National Archives reveal that individuals in the Australian government knew much more about the fate of the Rabaul men than was ever admitted in the official investigation process.

In 2009, Harumi Sakaguchi was the first historian in 68 years to view the single extant Japanese file on this tragedy.  It contains a memo noting that the Japanese advised International Red Cross delegate, Dr Fritz Paravicini, of the sinking in August 1942.....

Continue reading "New evidence on our greatest maritime loss" »


Release of war roll creates more confusion

BY KEITH JACKSON

IN A MOVE made without fanfare, not even an announcement, the Australian Army History Unit has published a direct translation of the Japanese roll that lists the names of soldiers and civilians captured in Rabaul and who died on the prison ship, Montevideo Maru.

We’ve got to thank reader Martin Hadlow for spotting the emergence of the list on the internet, probably last Wednesday.

But perhaps the Army should have consulted the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society before publishing the roll, which is a very significant historical document.

In an introduction on the website – which it says is “a memorial to the Australians lost” – the Army says the roll, originally compiled by Japanese occupation forces in Rabaul and translated after the war, contains the names of 845 Australian soldiers and 113 civilians (including 16 missionaries) together with a further ten names added by Australian Army staff in Tokyo after the war.

By my calculation, that’s 968 names: 855 servicemen, 113 civilians. But the published roll contains 984 names: 818 servicemen, 166 civilians. The Army’s going to have to clear up those discrepancies for starters.

The figures also do not include 30 crew members from the Norwegian freighter, Herstein, captured in Rabaul and aboard the Montevideo Maru when it sank. These men, who should be counted amongst the civilians, would bring the Army's numbers to 998 (Army calculation) or 1,014 (my calculation).  Must do better, Colonel!

The number of prisoners who died on the ship has been estimated at 1,053 for many years, but the new list – if the numbers can be sorted out – should become the definitive record.

It is remarkable that the confusion that has surrounded who exactly was on the ship should be perpetuated nearly 70 years later by an act designed to throw more light on this matter.

The Army History Unit says the roll, retrieved from the Army archives last year and subjected to a process of rigorous authentication, is “the first translation of a Japanese roll that was sent to Australia by Major H S Williams of the Recovered Personnel Division on 3 October 1945.

“Major Williams had been sent to Japan after the surrender as part of the Australian effort to find out exactly what had happened to Australians captured by the Japanese.

“The Japanese Navy provided a roll of POWs in Rabaul which had been made in Japanese by transliterating the sound of European names into Japanese characters. This process was carried out in reverse by Major Williams' team. This gave the Service number of military personnel and a reasonable spelling of the name.”

“Once in Australia, this roll was compared to lists of people known to have been in Rabaul at the time of the Japanese invasion to confirm details of number and spelling of names.”

But the Army still needs to clear up the latest confusion about the number of men on the ship, and exactly who they were.


Seeking a fundraiser for a truly great cause

BY KEITH JACKSON

Montevideo Maru Capetown,  1926 HERE’S A RATHER unusual request one of our Australian-based readers may be able to assist with.

A recent meeting of the executive committee of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, of which I’m President, agreed it needs to place more emphasis on fundraising for a memorial planned to be established at the Australian War Memorial in 2012.

While the Society is finishing 2010 with more than $160,000 in the bank, thanks to great efforts by its members and a generous federal government grant, a similar result will be required in 2011 and then another $100,000 in 2012 if the memorial is to be constructed.

The committee established the new position of Vice-President (Funding), and it was agreed the occupant will need to be appointed from outside the current committee.

I will be delighted to hear from people, preferably with fundraising experience, who are interested in this vital and rewarding position. You can email me here.

Most committee business is conducted by email as members are located all over Australia. The position will receive substantial support from experienced committee members in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society was established to ensure national recognition and commemoration of the tragedies that ensued after the Japanese invasion of the New Guinea Islands in early 1942, including Australia’s greatest maritime disaster, the sinking of the Montevideo Maru with the loss of more than 1,000 lives.


Revealed – the POW cards Menzies’ rejected

BY KEITH JACKSON

Angelbeek 
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.

Angelbeek 2 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.

Angganois 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.

Anker Now these critical documents have surfaced in Japan after much effort by diligent Japanese researchers.

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


Answer to war puzzle may be on the cards

BY NORMAN AISBETT

Lovell_Grace “I CAN’T UNDERSTAND IT,” says Grace Lovell, indignantly. “I want the government to get the cards, very much so.”

The plucky 89-year-old has just learned that Japanese record cards for more than 21,000 Australian soldiers taken prisoner during World War Two have surfaced in Tokyo.

And that Japan offered the same cards to Australia in October 1953 in a proposed, reciprocal exchange of information – only to have Australia refuse after two years of secret deliberations.

The offer has been revealed in official documents that only recently became accessible in the Australian National Archives.

Japan made an identical offer to the United States, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand and all agreed to the exchange.

“If these cards were available, they should have taken them,” adds Mrs Lovell, who was born in Victoria (Horsham) but has spent most of her adult life in Perth.

She hopes that a POW card for her late brother, Frank Vale, is among those stored in a government department in Tokyo and contains information that could end her decades of wondering about his precise fate.

Frank was 27 years old when he was one of 1053 captured Australians presumed drowned when a U.S. submarine sank a Japanese ship - the Montevideo Maru – taking them to Hainan in Japanese-occupied China in July 1942.

The submarine’s crew did not know the ship was carrying the 845 Australian soldiers and 208 civilians who had been captured in Rabaul, New Britain. None of them survived. It was Australia’s worst sea disaster.

Born in Ararat and one of five siblings (their father was a railwayman whose job moved the family a lot), Frank was an engineer in the army’s Lark Force.

Mostly comprised of Victorians, the small force had the hopeless task of trying to defend Rabaul, New Britain, with inadequate weaponry, no sea support and only small and antiquated air support against a massively superior Japanese force..

Many family members of those presumed lost with the Montevideo Maru have, like Mrs Lovell, lacked confidence in the officially-accepted version of events. Some doubt the Australians ever made it on board.

The president of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, Keith Jackson AM,  said yesterday the POW cards in Japan could end the doubt if, as he understood, they contain details of prisoner transfers from camp to camp.

 “This would establish whether men had died with the ship, or on land; and precisely who was on board the ship when it sank – their names,” he said.

Mr Jackson met recently with the Minister for Veterans Affairs, Warren Snowdon, and won an assurance that Mr Snowdon would look into the matter of the POW cards and a lingering mystery surrounding the Montevideo Maru’s “nominal roll” of all who were on board.

The roll was given to an Australian army investigator in Tokyo immediately after the 1939-45 war but was lost after being brought to Australia.

Mrs Lovell, who receives regular newsletters from the society, and studies them closely, is pleased with the late flurry of action on the matter.

“It’s a little confusing, all this information coming out now, so long after … 68 years I think,” she said.

“But I think they owe it to those men to see what’s on the cards.

“Many people have died in between times without knowing for sure what happened.

“It’s still a bit of an open book, so if these cards have all the names and the details of where and when the men were being taken, that could finalise it.”

The newly available, national archive documents show that cards were created and kept by Japan’s Prisoner of War information Bureau.

And, that Australia declined the Japanese offer because the Department of the Army and Department of External Affairs questioned the “value and reliability” of any of the records of Australian POWs that might have become available.

A  March 18, 1955 Department of Army memorandum noted there had  already been about five years of post-war information gathering on Australian and Allied POW servicemen and civilians. Any attempt to re-open investigations would be unnecessary and possibly “confusing and misleading”.

“How could they know that there was nothing new that until they had seen the POW cards?” said one respected Japanese researcher, Mr Harumi Sakaguchi, yesterday.

The national president of the Ex-Prisoners-of-War Association of Australia, Cyril Gilbert, said from Brisbane said he was “very surprised” to hear that Australia rejected the offer of the POW cards.

“If all the other Allied countries approved, Australia should have approved,” said Mr Gilbert, 90, and a former army sergeant, who was captured in Singapore in February 1942 and later suffered badly on the Burma-Thailand railroad.

He said the cards were important for ex-POWs and their families and for the Australian historical record.

Returned Services League (RSL) national secretary, Derek Robson said he would have thought the cards automatically fell under an existing Australia-Japan relationship with the Australian War Memorial for exchange of research information.

Canberra should “absolutely” request possession of the cards or copies of them, he said.


Allied prisoners' list found in Kyoto temple

BY KEITH JACKSON

A NOMINAL ROLL of 48,000 Allied servicemen who died in camps and elsewhere after being captured by the Japanese forces in World War II has been found in Kyoto, Japan.

The roll recording the deaths of foreign POWs was prepared by the former War Ministry and was never made public except for names provided to bereaved families who requested them.

Members of an organisation said to be the POW Research Group, composed of scholars and others gathering source materials on POWs, found the records preserved in a war dead memorial in a corner of the Ryozen Kan-non temple's premises in the East Ward of Kyoto City.

“(The records) are important materials to shed light on the last of the POWs on whom there are many issues yet to be understood," Japanese researchers said.

The nominal roll is in six volumes of files bound by a black leather cover. Some 7,630 Australian servicemen are included.

The records are in English in respect of name, unit, date of death, cause of death, place of death and burial condition (interment or cremation).

The nominal roll is well-preserved. The section on the deaths of servicemen includes "shot to death", "malaria" and "dysentery". Servicemen who died when transport ships were sunk are described as "went missing during voyage". More than 1,000 Australian servicemen and civilians died in one of these incidents alone, when the Montevideo Maru carrying prisoners from Rabaul, was sunk in the South China Sea.

In the section for place of death, there are rows of place names within and outside Japan where camps existed. In addition to mining sites within Japan where POWs were used as forced labour, names such as Kanchanaburi and Chonkai in Thailand are noted for servicemen who were forcibly deployed for excessively hard labour on the Burma-Thai railway.

‘According to the Ryozenkan-non, how the nominal roll was obtained is not clear, with no record left at the temple,” the Asahi Shimbun reported.

“It is presumed that in 1958, when a memorial of the unknown soldiers was erected within the temple, in memory of he military servicemen of various countries who lost their lives in the Pacific War, the roll was dedicated to the temple.”

"I heard a story that at that time a woman office worker made the record by typing from the original register,” said one temple worker.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Social Welfare, the former War Ministry's PW Information Bureau, immediately after the war, prepared a record of deaths of foreign PWs as source material for submission to the Allies.

"While is not possible to elucidate the process, one is virtually certain that the roll is a product of reproduction from the original register carried over by the Ministry,” said an official

The original register remains in the Ministry's storage but the state of preservation is bad, and deterioration is advancing. For the reason of protection of private information, the record is treated as "out of access to the public" except for a small party such as bereaved families.

Source: Asahi Shimbun, 31 July 2010. Translation by Harumi Sakaguchi,18 August 2010


The splendid Holman Collection goes on sale

Highland Warrior FOUR SPLENDID works of art from the man who designed the Papua New Guinea crest, Hal Holman OL OAM, have been made available in a limited series of four numbered prints featuring selected images of PNG subjects.

And you can purchase them through PNG Attitude and assist the cause of establishing a memorial to one of Australia’s greatest tragedies that directly affected PNG>

Haldane Sinclair Holman has been associated with PNG for nearly 70 years and still visits frequently. Last year he received the Order of Logohu to add to the Order of Australia with which he’d been previously honoured.

Greater Bird of Paradise Now pushing 90, Hal was a World War II commando in PNG and returned after the war as senior government artist.

Many of his paintings and sculptures are to be found in Port Moresby, including busts of PNG's six Prime Ministers that grace the grounds of Parliament House and a bronze of Queen Elizabeth II at Government House in Konedobu.

Hal’s sculptures can also be seen in the Botanical Gardens and on the Supreme Court building. His largest work is the five metre high stainless steel Bird of Paradise that dominates Sir John Guise Drive in Waigani.

Hal’s passion for PNG can be seen in his Bird of Paradise and his impressions of the heroic features of the indigenous people. His paintings and drawings are in private collections and in galleries throughout the world.

Blue Bird of Paradise Now PNG Attitude offers four works of art for sale to readers at $50 each or $150 a set of four, with proceeds going to build the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial in Canberra.

The price of each of the originals runs into thousands of dollars, but these quality prints are indistinguishable from them. They’re A2 size and printed on 200 gsm art board. They are supplied unframed and dispatched in mailing tubes post free.

Striped Angel FishContact benelong@bigpond.net.au for details of how you can purchase all or any of these prints.

Print 1 – Central Highlander

Print 2 - Greater Bird of Paradise

Print 3 – Blue Bird of Paradise

Print 4 – Striped Angel FishSignature


Relatives applaud decision to fund memorial

BY KEITH JACKSON

VETERANS OF THE New Guinea campaign in World War II and relatives of the men who died in New Britain and in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru have expressed delight and excitement at the Australian Opposition’s decision to provide funds for a memorial being planned for Canberra.

The 1942 sinking of the Montevideo Maru – carrying over 1,000 Australian troops and civilians captured by the Japanese in Rabaul, then the capital of New Guinea – remains Australia’s the worst tragedy at sea.

Today Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, and Shadow Veteran's Affairs Minister, Louise Markus, committed $100,000 in the 2011-12 Federal budget to help build the memorial.

“This is a generous offer by the Coalition and it will go a long way to making sure a permanent memorial is built at the Australian War Memorial,” said Keith Jackson, President of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society.

“For nearly 70 years, the relatives of the men who died believed Australia had given up on them and that the nation did not care.

“The sinking of this hellship was a terrible event that most Australians had not heard of.

“In June this year, the Federal Labor Government granted $100,000 to the memorial and the statement that the Coalition will match this if elected to office is great news.

“Also in June, for the first time, Parliament expressed regret and sorrow at the loss.

“After all these years, the relatives and the few remaining veterans who escaped from Rabaul, are overwhelmed that the nation has given them the recognition they have been waiting for.

“They are really feeling a sense of resolution and closure.”

Australians go to the polls at a general election in nine days time. The two main parties - Labor and Liberal/National - are running neck and neck.


70 years after – and memories of Trawool

Seventy years ago the 2/22nd Battalion formed at Trawool in Victoria. NORM FURNESS was there and describes those months before the troops were sent to garrison Rabaul. Over half of them died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru

2-22-lark-force 1 JULY 1940. At the St Kilda Road Army Barracks, Melbourne, Victoria, the decision was made to form the 8th Division of the Australian Infantry Force (AIF).

Victoria was to raise a new Infantry Brigade – the 23rd - with two Victorian Battalions, the 2/21st and the 2/22nd, and one Battalion to come from Tasmania, the 2/40th. Thus began our involvement.

The next move was that Lt Colonel Howard Carr was appointed Commanding Officer of the 2/22nd and he would recruit some men from his Militia Battalion, the 46th from Brighton, and he would get some new enlistments to form an advance party to go to Trawool, these days an hour and a half’s drive north of Melbourne.

11 July 1940. The advance party of four officers and 67 other ranks arrived at Trawool to prepare a camp for the hundreds of recruits who would soon be arriving.

15 July 1940. A draft of 259 other ranks and two officers arrived by train, and three more officers arrived by car. It so happened I was one of the 259 other ranks and it was a trip I will never forget.

We were wakened in the early dark hours of the morning by a booming voice shouting "Right, out of your bed, you’re on the move so pack your gear. Pronto". We couldn't see the person, but I can remember his voice! I later found out his name was Bill Bowring, an officer from Mildura.

Ever after that he was known as ‘Bull’ Bowring. He later transferred to the 2/29th Battalion and served in Malaya.

Well, we packed up, had breakfast and loaded on to a train. The trip took hours and most of us had no idea where we were heading. We got shunted onto side tracks and it just so happened that hotels were close by, and some stations had a bar! So, naturally most had a drink or two as well as the numerous stray dogs that adopted us.

Finally, we and the dogs arrived at Trawool. There was no station so we had to throw our luggage out and then jump or fall out of the train. Captain Alan Cameron, one of the advance party, had a guard of honour to greet us. One look at the new troops was enough and he quickly dismissed the guards. What a day. I might add I was only 18 years of age.

16 July 1940. Next morning at parade the riot act was read in no uncertain terms, stressing we were in the Army now and orders were to be obeyed. Next on the agenda was a dog round up. It was hilarious.

18 July 1940. Another draft of four officers and 180 other ranks arrived from Balcome by train. Much more orderly and no dogs!

19 July 1940. The first battalion parade was held and from then we started to settle in. We found Trawool in July pretty cold, and wet underfoot, and we lived in tents, each accommodating eight soldiers.

July - September 1940. Throughout this period, other small groups of men arrived from places like Bendigo and various showgrounds around Victoria. A big plus one day was the arrival of the Battalion Band. It so happened they were all Salvation Army musicians.

It was just what we needed - a bugler to wake us up, music to march to, plus a little Salvation Army training for our souls didn’t go amiss. We soon started to get fit, some for the first time in their lives.

We went on route marches, had plenty of physical training, learnt drills, undertook weapons training, ran up hills, guard duty and all the other training connected to an Infantry Battalion. At this time we all thought we’d soon be on the way to the Middle East war zone. How wrong we were.

Trawool_Symbol One company formed the numbers “2/22” in rocks on the hillside and painted them white [right]. Now, 70 years later, the Farrer family still look after them.

24 September 1940. Just as the weather at Trawool started to improve, orders came that we were to go to a new camp at Bonegilla near Albury. No trains this time. We were going to route march all the way, some 130 miles [225 km].

Late September - 4 October 1940. We footslogged along the sides of the Hume Highway, which in those days was only one lane each way. We spent some nights out in the open, under tent flys. Others nights were at showgrounds. Most enjoyed it and we got a good reception at each town we passed through.

We were getting fit. An added bonus was that our Band, which didn't march, came out to meet us about a mile out of town where we formed up in threes, fixed bayonets, sloped arms and in we marched. ‘Magnificent’ was the only word to describe us. At one point on the march we were ‘attacked’ by the RAAF - one lonely Gipsy Moth plane.

4 October 1940. We finally arrived at Bonegilla, which had brand new huts waiting for us. Training soon began for desert warfare. No jungle training. We had more troops join us, but sadly some of the originals were boarded out due to medical conditions that the route march showed up.

The rest of our story has been told many times, as have the sacrifices made by many of our Battalion, supportive Lark Force units and many civilians at Rabaul. For we ended up in New Guinea’s tropics, not the Western Desert.

Trawool. We enjoyed our stay here and I always remember the local pub – if there wre eight people in this bar it was packed.

We trust that in the years to come, Trawool will remain on the calendar - the last Sunday in July - as there are now only a few 2/22nd boys still alive.

We must thank the Farrer family for their contributions, looking after the memorial stone and surrounds, and also getting other locals involved, including Chris and Coral Robben, on whose land our stone stands.

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society is seeking members. Email for details here.


Tragedy depicted in a new & hopeful light

Christine Arnott Artist CHRISTINE ARNOTT writes about what inspired her to paint this interpretation of the Montevideo Maru tragedy

MY MOTHER, especially in her later years, found consolation that her brother, Neil Smith, and her brother in law, Harry Harvey, were together with Arthur Gullidge and others from the 2/22nd Battalion Band, when the Montevideo Maru sank.

In my mother’s mind’s eye, Neil and Harry were resting with their comrades.

My uncles enlisted as bandsmen and stretcher bearers, they did not carry firearms. They joined up to assist their fellow Australians in any way that they could, taking into account their own religious views as members of the Salvation Army.

My father had been required to stay in Australia to work at the Commonwealth Aircraft Factory, so was at home when his relatives and his mates went off to war.

He used to say he'd lost most of his mates when the Montevideo Maru went down. And, when he remembered them, which was frequent, he spoke of them being “all together" on the ship. I know he was comforted by that thought.

My mother got very emotional whenever she heard the song, 'We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz'. She had vivid memories of the Band playing this song as the troops had their final parade through the streets of Melbourne before sailing for Rabaul.

To me, this music symbolises the attitude of those men: enthusiastic but unprepared for the horrors they would face when they reached their destination. This innocence and purity of intent has influenced my painting.

I attended the memorial session at Parliament House on 21 June 2010. This was a moving and proud moment for me. However, I was concerned when it was mentioned that the wreck of the Montevideo Maru may be disturbed.

After returning to my accommodation, I had a restless night. The thought of anyone disturbing the ship was very distressing to me.

As I was lying in bed, I envisaged the ship at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by nature in a pristine tropical environment.

The spirit of the men who perished would be at peace, and it would be at one with their environment.

I knew I had to paint this image, to express my vision of where the men are. They are At Peace Now - together in Death as they were in Life.

_______________________

Keith Jackson writes: Chris’s painting, At Peace Now, offers a peaceful and beautiful interpretation of the outcomes of a black and tragic story.

The policy of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society is that the ship should not be explored or disturbed in any way. Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin and others, including the veterans who were mates of the men on the Montevideo Maru, share the Society’s view on this matter. We know where the ship lies; we need know no more.

The Society’s aim is to have this site declared as an official war grave and it is currently working on this project with the Federal Government. Declaring the site as a war grave will protect the wreck from interference. Although, since the vessel lies at a depth of about 4,200 metres, any intrusion is unlikely.



Remembrance society seeks new members

2-22-lark-force THE RABAUL and Montevideo Maru Society is seeking more members as it moves to construct a memorial to commemorate the loss of life following the Japanese invasion of the New Guinea Islands in January 1942.

The Australian War Memorial has granted in principle approval for a Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial to be established in its grounds, and the Society aims that this be completed in 2012, to mark the seventieth anniversary of the invasion and th sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

The ship held more than 1,000 military and civilian prisoners of war who had been in Rabaul and its sinking in the South China Sea was Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

The Society is targeting an amount of $400,000 to be raised over two years, but may need as much as $500,000 for the memorial.

The Commonwealth Government has already committed $100,000 to the project and the Society is about to begin corporate fundraising.

This is a huge challenge for a small, voluntary organisation, but the Society ahs some good friends.

For example, it spends nothing on administration. In 2009 the chief executive of Jackson Wells Pty Ltd, John Wells, offered to adopt the Society as a pro bono client, and Jackson Wells provides substantial support as a result of this commitment.

Now the Society is opening its doors to people who wish to participate in ensuring the continuing commemoration of the tragic events associated with the Japanese invasion of the New Guinea Islands in 1942, and their aftermath.

Ordinary membership is $50, which includes a free subscription to the Society’s monthly Memorial Newsletter.

For more information contact Keith Jackson here.

Photo: Elements of the 2/22nd Battalion, most of whom died in the defence of Rabaul and sinking of the Montevideo Maru, march through Rabaul


Govt to give $100,000 for Maru memorial

AUSTRALIA’S MINISTER for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, Alan Griffin, delivered an historic statement in Parliament yesterday honouring the men lost in the Montevideo Maru tragedy, Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

“On behalf of the Australian Government I would like to express our sincere sorrow for the tragedy of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, where 1,053 Australians lost their lives,” Mr Griffin said.

“I especially acknowledge the suffering of their families and friends.  They endured many long and painful years waiting for news of their loved ones and they deserve our sympathy.

“I’m pleased to announce the Australian Government has pledged $100,000 to assist the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society to build a national memorial in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial.

Australia will always remember the service and sacrifice of those who perished on the Montevideo Maru,” Mr Griffin said.

On 22 June 1942, 1,053 Australian prisoners of war and civilians, who had been captured and held by the Japanese at Rabaul, boarded the Montevideo Maru.

Unaware that the vessel was carrying allied prisoners, on 1 July 1942 the submarine USS Sturgeon fired torpedoes, sinking the ship and killing all those imprisoned on board and most of the crew.

“It was more than three years after the sinking that the families of those lost on the Montevideo Maru learnt of the tragedy, confirming their greatest fears,” Mr Griffin said.

The Red Cross made inquiries throughout the war, but it was not until October 1945 that a nominal roll of those on board was uncovered. This was mysteriously lost soon after the war, and is currently the object of an intensive records' search by the Australian Army.


The day a nation acknowledged its gratitude

BY KEITH JACKSON

TODAY IS A big day for many hundreds of people who have a connection with the Japanese invasion of the New Guinea Islands in January 1942 and the subsequent sinking of the prison ship, the Montevideo Maru.

Because today, for the first time, the Australian parliament will formally acknowledge the tragic sequence of events on behalf of the nation.

About 350 veterans and relatives gather in Canberra this afternoon as parliament honours military personnel and civilians who died as a result of the New Guinea Islands conflict in World War II.

It will be a fine but cold winter’s day in the national capital, but the atmosphere inside parliament will warm, welcoming and infused with a sense of excitement and joy.

Many people, especially the relatives of those who died, have waited a long time for this day – and for the recognition it will convey from a grateful nation.

At about 3.30 pm, Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Minister, Alan Griffin, will get to his feet in the House of Representatives to make a major ministerial statement. Some surprises are expected.

Later, a historic private members’ motion will be debated a bit after 7 pm. The same resolution will pass through the Senate later in the evening.

In between, about 400 people will gather in parliament’s Queens Terrace Gallery for a ministerial reception.

Rabaul fell to the Japanese forces on 24 January 1942 and the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed off the Philippines, with the loss of over 1,000 lives, on 1 July 1942 in what ermains as Australia's greatest disaster at sea.

The resolution will attest that the Parliament of Australia:

Expresses the gratitude of the Australian nation to the service personnel and civilians in Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands for their services in the defence of Australia during World War II.

Expresses its regret and sorrow for the sacrifices that were made in the defence of Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands and in the subsequent sinking of the Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942.

Conveys its condolences to the relatives and loved ones of the people who died in this conflict.

Conveys its thanks to the relatives for their forbearance and efforts in ensuring that the nation remembers the sacrifices made.

The formal proceedings will be webcast live on the internet as they occur. Live broadcasts of Parliament can be linked to at http://webcast.aph.gov.au/livebroadcasting

Keith is President of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, established to ensure national recognition of the fall of Rabaul and Australia’s greatest maritime disaster, a shocking tragedy of war. Contact the Society here to receive copies of its free monthly newsletter


Huge turn-out for historic MvM resolution

BY KEITH JACKSON

SOME 350 FRIENDS of Montevideo Maru will gather in Canberra next Monday as the Australian Parliament honours military personnel and civilians who died as a result of the New Guinea Islands conflict in World War II.

Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Minister, Alan Griffin, will make a major Ministerial Statement on the matter and a historic private members’ motion will be debated in the evening. The same resolution will pass through the Senate.

This is the first time the Australian Parliament has formally acknowledged the sacrifices made in the 68 years since the fall of Rabaul on 24 January 1942 and the consequent sinking of the Montevideo Maru with the loss of over 1,000 lives on 1 July 1942.

The resolution will agree that the Parliament of Australia:

Expresses the gratitude of the Australian nation to the service personnel and civilians in Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands for their services in the defence of Australia during World War II.

Expresses its regret and sorrow for the sacrifices that were made in the defence of Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands and in the subsequent sinking of the Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942.

Conveys its condolences to the relatives and loved ones of the people who died in this conflict.

Conveys its thanks to the relatives for their forbearance and efforts in ensuring that the nation remembers the sacrifices made.

A number of Lark Force veterans will be present including:

Lorna Whyte - an army nurse in Rabaul during World War II and a POW in Japan

Fred Kollmorgen (94) - the sole survivor of the 2/22nd (Salvation Army) Band. Fred escaped down the south coast of New Britain.

Stan Cooper (93) - Officer with Royal Australian Artillery Heavy Battery. After months in Rabaul as a POW in 1942, he was taken on the Naruto Maru which left Rabaul two weeks after the Montevideo Maru. He spent the next three years in Zentsuji POW camp in Japan.

Lionel Veale (91) - 1st Independent Company, Kavieng. Was sent to Vila to train the Free French Forces and later became a Coastwatcher.

David Harper (90) - David was with the 1st Independent Company on New Ireland and initially escaped to Rabaul on the Induna Star. He then caught a ship to Buka and went on to the Solomon Islands.

Norm Furness (88) - President of the Lark Force Association. Norm escaped from Rabaul down the south coast of New Britain and then joined the Laurabada in its rescue mission of late March 1942.

The principal public debate on the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru matter will take the form of a Ministerial Statement in the House of Representatives by Alan Griffin, which will be responded to by Louise Markus, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs.

Following the Ministerial Statement, guests will make their way to a reception hosted by Mr Griffin in the Queens Terrace Gallery.

During private members' business from about 9 pm Monday evening, the motion will be debated and resolved in recognition of the tragedy, honouring those who lost their lives and thanking their relatives.

The formal proceedings will be webcast live on the internet as they occur. Live broadcasts of Parliament can be linked to at http://webcast.aph.gov.au/livebroadcasting

SCHEDULE:   3.00 pm – Guests arrive at Parliament House.   3.30 pm – Ministerial statement followed by response from Shadow Minister in House of Representatives [WEBCAST].   4.30 pm - Reception hosted by Mr Griffin in the Queens Terrace Gallery.    9.00 pm – Private members’ motion in House of Representatives [WEBCAST].   TBA – Senate passes the resolution.

[Keith is President of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, established to ensure national recognition of the fall of Rabaul and Australia’s greatest maritime disaster, a shocking tragedy of war. Contact the Society here to receive copies of its free monthly newsletter.]


Australian Parl't will honour Maru victims

BY KEITH JACKSON

MORE THAN 100 people have already registered for a special event at Parliament House in Canberra to honour those who died in the fall of Rabaul and in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

The Australian Parliament is set to debate an historic motion on Rabaul and the Montevideo Maru on Monday 21 June.

Former servicemen, relatives and friends are invited to Canberra to witness the debate and attend a function hosted by Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Minister Alan Griffin and Environment Minister and Patron of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, Peter Garrett.

The resolution will cover:

the gratitude of the Australian nation to the military personnel and civilians in Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands for their services in the defence of Australia during World War II

regret and sorrow for the sacrifices that were made in the defence of Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands after the invasion of 23 January 1942 and in the subsequent sinking of the Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942

condolences to the relatives of the people who died in this conflict

thanks to the relatives for their forbearance and efforts in ensuring that the nation remembers the sacrifices made

The list of speakers includes Catherine King (ALP Vic), Louise Markus (Lib NSW), Bruce Scott (Nat Qld), John Murphy (ALP NSW), Steven Ciobo (Lib Qld) and Bob Katter (Ind Qld).

A similar motion is expected be moved in the Senate by Senator Anne McEwen (ALP SA).

Eligible people who wish to attend these events need to register with Andrea Williams here.

This is a wonderful opportunity for the Australian Parliament to expatiate a lot of the grief and misunderstanding built up over the years since the men of the Montevideo Maru were lost in what was a terrible disaster for Australia.

It will be a significant action by our Parliament: one that the few remaining men of Lark Force and the relatives of those who died, many of them now in their eighties and nineties, have been waiting for and will treasure.

They will travel to Canberra to witness it and be part of it. They will sit in the gallery and know the sacrifice is honoured by the Parliament of their nation.”

In another development, the Director of the Australian War Memorial, Maj Gen (ret) Steve Gower has advised the Society that his Council has given in-principle approval for a Rabaul and Montevideo Maru monument to be constructed in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial.

Footnote: The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society was established to ensure national recognition of Australia’s greatest maritime disaster, a tragedy of war that cost well over 1,000 lives and affected many thousands more. You can join the Society here. Membership is currently free.

Photo on the piano helped resolve a mystery

BY KATRINA ADAMSKI*

Photo-on-Piano AS A BOY, John Schindler was fascinated by a photo his mother Alice kept on her piano.

The photo of the dapper young man still takes pride of place on the piano, even though Alice died seven years ago.

And the photo led to Mr Schindler, 64, solving a mystery of what happened to some of the 1053 men killed in Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

The Montevideo Maru, a Japanese prisoner-of-war ship, was torpedoed on 1 July 1942, off the coast of the Philippines with the loss of 845 Australian troops and 208 civilians.

Mr Schindler, growing up in Artarmon, listened to his mother’s stories about the man in the photo, her close friend John Wilson Day, who she had met in 1941.

Alice & Molly Mr Day was a horseman from Perth who had become friends with Alice and her sister Molly, before Alice and her husband Gunther were married in 1943.  [Photo: Molly and Alice in 1942]

“We know that John was captured in New Britain in 1942 and that he ended up on the Montevideo Maru,” Mr Schindler said.

“Mum was always upset and frustrated because she didn’t know what had happened to him. He was the bloke who never came back.”

Mr Schindler, now living in Queensland, became a radio announcer before he began making documentaries 20 years ago.

For his mother’s sake, he took it upon himself to find out what happened to John Wilson Day.

“I found out about another ship, the Naruto Maru, that had Australian officers and nurses on board from Rabaul who made it to Japan,” he said.

“So I tracked down people who were still alive to tell the story. I found an Australian officer, Captain Lex Fraser, who had made it through and he led to the start of my interviews.

“I told him I wished I’d met him when Mum was still alive.”

In Mr Schindler’s documentary, The Tragedy of Montevideo Maru, depicts what happened to the vessel.

In the evening of 30 June 1942, the ship came around the top of the Philippines, headed for China.

“An American submarine, the Sturgeon - looking for Japanese ships in enemy territory - chased it. The submarine couldn’t keep up with the Montevideo Maru but when it slowed down for an escort into Hainan (a Chinese island) it was torpedoed and sank in eight minutes.”

Mr Schindler tracked down the only survivor, a Japanese sailor now in his 90s, who escaped on a lifeboat.

“It was terribly sad to hear his story, especially because the men were singing Old Lang Syne in their final moments, which was very poignant,” Mr Schindler said.

“I’m at peace now that I’ve made the documentary and I know a lot of people have closure. It was just unfortunate Mum died before I even started making it. But it is a fantastic tribute to her.”

*Katrina Adamski is a journalist with Sydney’s North Shore Times, in which this article first appeared

The DVD The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru is available from the Montevideo Maru Memorial Trust, PO Box 1743, Neutral Bay NSW 2089 for $40 (including post & packing). It includes the two part series and much additional material. Or contact the Trust here.


Menzies’ government knocked back POW offer

BY KEITH JACKSON

IN A SENSATIONAL development, it has come to light that in 1953 the Federal government refused a Japanese offer to provide documents that might have led to the disclosure of the identities 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 1053 men (although there could have been more) who died in Australia’s worst maritime disaster when the Japanese ‘hellship’ Montevideo Maru was sunk by the US submarine Sturgeon off the Philippines..

Eight years after the war, on 15 October 1953, ten Allied governments including Australia, received a communication from Japan, known as a note verbale, seeking a reciprocal program to exchange prisoner of war name cards (meimeihyou) 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.

The Australian Embassy in Japan said that all the information Australia had on Japanese POWs and casualties had already been sent to Japan and concluded with these extraordinary words: “No useful purpose would be served by a further exchange of information... [The] Australian government does not wish to receive the records concerned..."

Australia was the only one of the ten countries involved, including New Zealand, not to exchange records.

A sombre Japanese Ministry for Foreign Affairs responded on 28 January 1955, just ten days later, that “if the Australian government does not desire to exchange the PW name card relating to Australians, we recognize that we have fulfilled our obligation...."

End of story. Until now, when these critical documents have surfaced in Japan after much effort by a diligent Japanese researcher.

The unearthing of the documents raises fascinating questions. Why did Australia opt out of the document exchange program? Was our government thoroughly convinced it had acquired all the data on the missing men during its occupation of Japan? And why, as the original Japanese roll had disappeared after it was brought back to Australia, did the Menzies’ government knock back an opportunity to confirm the names of the prisoners on the ship?

The uncovering of these documents suggests there may still be more relevant papers locked away in the official archives of Australia and Japan.

This amazing twist in the Montevideo Maru saga comes at a time when there is a renewed focus on trying to determine exactly who was aboard the ship when it was sunk on 1 July 1942.

As more that is discovered about this mystery, the more it seems to deepen.


Montevideo Trust seeks Canberra memorial

BY KEITH JACKSON

MS Montevideo Maru
CANBERRA
: I’m here for the second time in two months on business related to national recognition of the double tragedy of the fall of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

As Australia’s new high commissioner to PNG, Ian Kemish, remarked to me in an email just a few minutes ago, “These were two important events; very much worth the memory.”

And this could be no better time to bring you this wonderful impression of the Montevideo Maru.

In the glory days of shipping, maritime postcards were legion – providing somewhat romanticised views of the main ships of the line.

A couple of weeks ago we provided an impression of what we thought was the Montevideo Maru - which turned out to be a successor ship of the same name.

But this one is the genuine article, for which we thank collector James Hook and computer expert Vim Sharma.

The postcard was originally published by Osaka Shosen Kaisha, the shipping company that owned the ill-fated vessel.

Later today, a group from the Montevideo Maru Memorial Trust will meet with Australian War Memorial director, Major General Steve Gower.

The purpose is to see what can be done to accord proper recognition to the soldiers and civilians who died as a result of the Japanese invasion of Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands in 1942, including the estimated 1,053 who died on the Montevideo Maru.

We’ll also be meeting with our legal adviser, Bernard Collaery, to incorporate the Trust in the Australian Capital Territory.

The pursuit of proper official recognition of this worst Australian maritime disaster is well and truly on.


Archive display features loss of Montevideo Maru

BY DONALD HOOK

THE WW2 SINKING of the Montevideo Maru with the loss of 1,053 Allied prisoners is featured in a major display at the National Archives in Canberra.

The display, Memory of a Nation, traces events and decisions that have shaped Australia and the lives of its people.

The Montevideo Maru, en route from Rabaul to Hainan, was torpedoed off the Philippines on 1 July 1942 by the American submarine Sturgeon.

The display includes an extract from the nominal roll of prisoners, a plan of the ship, details from the submarine’s log and a photograph of a memorial service in Rabaul on the fourth anniversary of the sinking.

There’s also a Territory of New Guinea ‘Form of Information of Death’ relating to Ernest Charles Bye, 60, a master mariner, who’d been in Rabaul for 18 months before the Japanese invasion.

The informant, his daughter Joan, a schoolteacher in Queensland, stated on 6 April 1946 that her father had been lost when the Montevideo Maru was sunk.

A ‘Military Service & Casualty Form’ lists Gunner John Eshott Carr, who turned 20 just before the ship left Rabaul, as “missing”. In late 1945 this was changed to “believed dead”.

The display will run until 30 May. Admission is free.


Image of Montevideo Maru II comes to light

BY KEITH JACKSON

@Frisco_Pos

IT IS THE Montevideo Maru as you’ve never seen it before.

This is a wonderful composition and is almost certainly of a motor vessel built around 1956 as the successor to the first Montevideo Maru.

The negative came to light on eBay and was purchased by James Hook, a ministerial adviser with the Northern Territory government. Palm Photographics of Darwin went to work on the negative and came up with this stunning image.

James has identified the bridge in the background as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The first Montevideo Maru was a passenger vessel. This successor is a freighter.


Peter Garrett is new Montevideo Maru patron

Garrett_Peter AUSTRALIA's Environment Minister Peter Garrett is to be the new Patron of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee.

In February, he will take over the role from Prof Kim Beazley, recently appointed as Australia’s ambassador to the United States.

The Committee was established a year ago to ensure greater national recognition for events surrounding the fall of Rabaul in 1942 and Australia’s greatest maritime disaster, the sinking of the Montevideo Maru with the loss of 1,053 troops and civilians.

Peter Garrett’s grandfather, Tom Vernon Garrett, was a prisoner on the Montevideo Maru.

Tom, a planter, was born in London UK and served in World War I with the 6th Light Horse Regiment. He lived at Varzin Plantation on New Britain and was 54 when he died.

“My grandfather’s death was mentioned in passing at family events, but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties, when I saw an article concerning the incident, that my understanding was filled in,” Mr Garrett said.

“It’s time to fill a huge gap in our history,” Mr Garrett said.

“By giving recognition to one of the most significant and tragic events of World War II, we can honor those who lost their lives and provide a much needed commemoration of this extraordinary event.”

“The sinking of the Montevideo Maru was one of the most significant events of World War II but is still relatively little known. It is an important part of Australia’s history and, given my family connection, I was pleased to become Patron of the committee.”

Peter Garrett AM MP was elected the Labor Member for the electorate of Kingsford Smith at the 2004 federal election and was appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts following the election of the Rudd Labor Government in November 2007.

He is a passionate advocate and campaigner on a range of Australian and global issues, particularly related to the arts and the environment.

Performing He came to public prominence as a member and lead singer of the Australian band, Midnight Oil. In this role, he wrote the lyrics of a popular song, In The Valley, which drew its power from the Montevideo Maru sinking and other tragic events that had affected his family.

My grandfather went down with the Montevideo
The rising sun sent him floating to his rest

Peter Garrett will take up his position as Patron of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee on 1 February 2010.

See also John Huxley's piece in today's Sydney Morning Herald here.

And you can view a clip of In The Valley on YouTube here....


The Montevideo Maru issue has a powerful connection with PNG, and especially with Rabaul and the New Guinea islands. MvM Newsletter is a free monthly publication that reports on developments, research, history and on the activities of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee. Subscribe now by contacting Keith Jackson here.



Speer MBE is inaugural life member of MvM group

The Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee rarely meets face-to-face.

With members scattered throughout the world – Norway, Dubai, Japan, as well as Australia - it conducts the vast bulk of its business online.

Despite that, it’s been a big first year for the group, with the Montevideo Maru soaring into public consciousness in Australia; the Federal government becoming engaged in the issue after decades of official neglect; and the formation of a thriving organisation (over 160 members and growing daily).

Albert Speer, Esq MBE On Wednesday - at the committee’s second meeting in Sydney – Albert Speer MBE was awarded inaugural life membership of the committee.

As committee member Rod Miller said, “He really is a man of New Guinea.”

Albert was born in Roslyn NSW in 1922 and needed his mother’s permission to join the army in 1942 aged 17 to serve in World War II.

He became a medic in PNG and served at a number of locations including Milne Bay and Wau.

After the war, he stayed on with the post war administration as a medical assistant.

His role with the Department of Public Health took him to Kerema, Popondetta, Lae, Tari, Koroba, Rabaul and Goroka as well as Moresby.

Most famously, he was involved with medical support after the Mount Lamington volcano erupted, and, in the movie New Guinea Patrol, was part of the team that was in the field for seventy days with a patrol line half a mile long.

When he retired in 1979, Albert had served in PNG for 37 years.

He became interested in the Montevideo Maru during his posting in Rabaul and started intensive research into the tragedy around 1997.

Speer_Award 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.

Now, as the search for the nominal roll warms up, and as the new committee engages itself in a range of matters related to the national recognition of the tragedy, the awards acknowledges the great contribution that Albert made through his unyielding effort.


Inspector Huggins cracks the MvM plaque

The Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee’s recent submission to the Federal Government mentioned that there is a small memorial plaque at the Brisbane General Post Office commemorating three Rabaul-based wireless technicians of the Postmaster-General’s Department who died on Montevideo Maru: Wilfred Leonard Duus of Brisbane; Hedley Turnbull of Laidley; and TM Plunkett. COLIN HUGGINS sallied forth in search of the plaque, and reported on the adventure.

The plaque - to find it....

John Holland, Brisbane PNGVR historian, did give me a pretty good clue about where to look, but initially I couldn’t find it, so around and around that building I went - almost into the restricted zone!

I ventured into the private mail boxes - all the time thinking, someone is going to pat me on the shoulder and ask what on earth I’m doing. Seems to prove that security isn't all it is beefed up to be. If anyone looks like a possible terrorist, I fit the bill.

However I had my story ready for them if patted on the shoulder - the 44 page Montevideo Maru submission to the Government.

Just as I was about to give up, I found it.

P.M.G’s

DEPARTMENT

CIVILIAN EMPLOYEES

TAKEN PRISONERS OF WAR

WHILST ON DUTY

DIED IN ENEMY HANDS

WORLD WAR II – 1939-1945

DUUS W.L

PLUNKETT T.M.

TURNBULL H.F

The plaque is located on the right hand side of the building as you walk through to St Stephen's Cathedral - at the back of the front pillar.

I saw the very old paper seller at the front. He knew of the plaque, but had no idea what it represented. So I did my best to inform him. I spoke to a few other people, too.

So, hopefully, when they read something in the newspapers of the Montevideo Maru disaster, they will know what it is all about.


Greater recognition for Montevideo Maru

BY JOHN HUXLEY, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Relatives of more than 1000 Australian troops and civilians who lost their lives in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in 1942 have had a breakthrough in their campaign for greater understanding of the tragedy.

The Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Alan Griffin, told the Herald yesterday: ''I think we all agree now that the detail and the significance of the event have not received appropriate recognition in the past.''

He said the Government would investigate the possibility of declaring the site of the sinking, off the Philippines, an official war grave, and assist family and friends in raising funds for a memorial in Canberra.

His statement followed a meeting with a delegation from the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee led by its chairman, Keith Jackson, and Kim Beazley, ambassador designate to the US, whose uncle died on the ship.

Mr Jackson welcomed the Government's support, but said provision of a memorial - probably in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial - would cost between $500,000 and $1 million.

''It will require public fund-raising on a massive scale, which the Government will support.''

Mr Jackson said the meeting had been productive and had achieved breakthroughs in several other areas.

The War Memorial will include a permanent Montevideo Maru display in its revamped World War II galleries. The Government will renew the search for Japanese papers bearing the names of those who died on the ship.

''It will also be represented on and support the formation of a working party to ensure the story of the invasion of Rabaul and the sinking of the ship becomes a more recognised part of Australian history.''

The Montevideo Maru, which was being used by the Japanese to move civilians and prisoners of war, was sunk by mistake by the submarine USS Sturgeon. It remains the worst maritime disaster in Australia's history.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 2009

Two related stories in The Catholic Weekly:
Unravelling the riddle of the Montevideo Maru, by Alan Gill
Ex-POW Sister: call on Diggers' deaths, by Brian Davies



Beazley & I meet Vets Minister in Canberra today

Kim Beazley and I will meet Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin in Canberra this afternoon to discuss whether the federal government is prepared to take steps for greater recognition of the tragedy of the fall of Rabaul and the subsequent sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

We will be discussing a submission which asks the government to agree to three main proposals:

(1) To construct a memorial, inscribed with the names of the dead, in Canberra to commemorate the sacrifice of those who died defending Rabaul and the islands.

(2) To initiate action to have the site of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru declared an official war grave.

(3) To appoint an official group including Friends of Montevideo Maru to develop strategies to ensure that the fall of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru remain an enduring part of Australia’s history.

The Ministerial discussion will be Mr Beazley’s last official act on behalf of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee before he takes up his role as Australia’s Ambassador to the United States in February.

After receiving the submission, Mr Griffin said he looked forward to meeting with Kim Beazley and me to discuss it.

Readers may recall Mr Griffin’s landmark speech in parliament last June which - while largely unreported in the media - paid tribute to the men who died on the Montevideo Maru and to their families, and asked Australians to remember the tragedy.

It was one of the most significant speeches to be made in parliament on this matter and indicated Mr Griffin’s understanding of the issues, something that has rarely been the case with previous ministers.

I hope this bodes well for the future of the submission.

Read the submission to the federal government here.


Push for recognition of Montevideo Maru disaster

PACIFIC BEAT, RADIO AUSTRALIA

Next week Professor Kim Beazley, Australian ambassador-designate to the US and former leader of the Opposition, will meet with Veterans' Affairs Minister, Alan Griffin, to discuss how the Australian government can better recognise the Montevideo Maru tragedy.

Professor Beazley and the chairman of the Montevidea Maru Memorial Committee, Keith Jackson, will present a submission seeking permanent national recognition for those who died in the form of a memorial in Canberra and the declaration of the sinking site as an official war grave

Torso Radio Australia’s CAMPBELL COONEY spoke with CHRIS DIERCKE [left] from the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee, who says there were  an estimated at 845 to 850 soldiers and approximately 208 civilians on the ship at the time it sank.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Were there any survivors?

DIERCKE: There were no survivors at all. There were some Japanese survivors. Those numbers vary as well, but no allied POW survivors.

COONEY: Why no major recognition? I grew up in Australia all my life and I've heard about this in the past year or so, but it certainly wasn't something that I grew up with?

DIERCKE: That's a very, very good question. If we go back to the Chifley government in 1945, the then government and the opposition both agreed they would not hold a post-war inquiry into the fall of Rabaul, one of the focuses of which is the Montevideo Maru incident.

Also there were no POW survivors and no witnesses until very recently, when there was a Japanese sailor who was on board the Montevideo Maru. No one really had an accurate account of what happened. No one knew. Even the story of Lark Force hasn't come through very well either.

COONEY: From reading a little bit of the detail about this and the way Rabaul fell, there was a certain level of embarrassment on the part of the Australian government?

DIERCKE: Well Lark Force was sent up to Rabaul in 1941 and, around December '41, the war cabinet in Australia issued a written statement in a memo to say that there will be no resupply, there'll be no reinforcement and there'll be no withdrawal, they are hostages to fortune.

So I guess that would be rather embarrassing if that became public notice because the bulk of the military personnel onboard the Montevideo Maru came from the Lark Force who were subsequently captured by the Japanese in and around Rabaul. The other military people belonged to the PNGVR, Papua New Guinea Voluntary Rifles, and also members of the First Independent Company who were on New Ireland.

COONEY: You've got some big guns working for you now to try and get some recognition on this. You don't get much bigger, no pun intended about the size of the man of course, when Kim Beazley is working with you on this one. That's got to be a coup on your part?

DIERCKE: It's fantastic that Kim has chosen to be the patron of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee. One of Kim's uncles perished on the Montevideo Maru. His name was Syd Beazley. He was with the Methodist missionaries in and around Rabaul at the time. So Kim's got a personal link there. Yes, and he's certainly supported us really well in this.

COONEY: Have you got any early indications from the Australian government that they will be receptive to what you're asking?"

DIERCKE: Well, so far this year on July 1 in Subic Bay the Australian ambassador, Rob Smith, attended a memorial there to the Hell Ships Memorial, part of which is now the Montevideo Maru story. The committee has also put in a submission to the Veterans' Affairs Minister in Canberra, and the chairman of our committee, Keith Jackson and Kim Beazley are to meet with Alan Griffin next week. So I think they're all very, very positive signs. Extremely positive.

COONEY: We do know, you mentioned a war grave site as part of this, we do know where the Montevideo Maru lies? That's a known fact?

DIERCKE: The American submarine which sunk the Montevideo Maru, the USS Sturgeon, has given its locations in degrees and minutes to the exact sinking spot, yes.


First reactions acclaim epic MvM documentary

There was a special preview screening of The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru at Fox Studios in Sydney late this morning, and the initial audience reaction has been very enthusiastic indeed.

Andrea Williams, Una Voce editor and relative of two of the men who died on the ship, reports:

I have just returned from watching The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru. It is a powerful documentary, magically weaving together what happened in New Guinea and South-East Asia.

It gets the story of the Montevideo Maru out there – there will be no excuse for ignorance after this!

It is informative and impassioned, capturing the spirit of this enormous human tragedy … testament to this was that everyone continued to sit and absorb the impact of it for several minutes after it ended.

John Schindler is to be congratulated for his enormous achievement.

What a special Remembrance Day this is!

The documentary has its premiere screening on Foxtel’s History Channel tonight at 7.30 pm (AEDST) and at 6.30 pm in Queensland. Other State and Territory readers should check local TV guides.

PNG Attitude would like to get your feedback on the documentary. So after viewing it tonight, why don’t you email me here.


Witness: a terrible role in a tragic WW2 event

USS_Sturgeon BY JOHN HUXLEY

For more than 60 years Jack Atkinson, a former US submariner, has carried in his wallet a faded news clipping.

It is a constant reminder of his terrible role in a tragic event of World War II, the sinking of the Montevideo Maru off the Philippines in 1942 killing nearly 1200, including 1053 Australians.

Atkinson was a machinist on USS Sturgeon, which by mistake torpedoed the Montevideo Maru, a merchant ship being used by the Japanese to transport prisoners-of-war and civilians from New Britain.

''The captain thought that it was a troop ship,'' he said. ''He thought that's what it was.''

Minutes later he was one of several crew members invited to inspect the damage through the submarine's periscope. “We thought it was a troop ship… We saw people jumping over the sides,'' says Atkinson, 93, fighting back tears. ''I'm so sorry that it happened. But we didn't know about it... It was just a terrible thing.''

Atkinson, one of the few remaining observers of the encounter, is interviewed in the documentary The Tragedy of Montevideo Maru, to be shown on the History Channel tonight.

The screening coincides with a fresh initiative by family and friends to secure recognition and proper remembrance of those who died in the attack, who numbered more than twice the Australian casualties in the Vietnam War.

Next week a delegation led by Kim Beazley, ambassador-designate to the US, will press the Veterans' Affairs Minister, Alan Griffin, to provide comfort and closure for the bereaved.

''The Montevideo sinking is Australia's most devastating loss at sea, but is a quiet part of public consciousness of World War II history,'' said Beazley, whose uncle is believed to have died in the sinking. His Labor Party colleague Peter Garrett also lost an uncle.

For those who died, the delegation will seek permanent national recognition, in the form of a memorial in Canberra, the declaration of the site of the sinking as an official war grave, and further efforts to establish precisely who was on board the ship.

Despite the passage of time, the disaster and the disorganised evacuation of Rabaul that preceded it remained imprinted on family and friends of the dead, said Keith Jackson, chairman of the Montevideo Maru memorial committee.

''There has been a continuation of grief and frustration to this day … because of failure by previous Australian governments to appropriately recognise the tragedy and effectively respond to a profound need for closure.''

Source: Still haunted by song of doomed diggers by John Huxley, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 2009

Read the full story here

Photo: USS Sturgeon


Time for recognition: release of MvM submission

Bayside Bulletin Today, Remembrance Day, PNG Attitude publicly releases the submission that will be the subject of a meeting in Canberra next Tuesday between Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin and the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee, represented by Kim Beazley and me.

You can read the submission in its entirety here.

It is a document that blends history with clear proposals of how the Australian government can better recognise the tragedy of the fall of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in 1942 – events that led to the deaths of some 1500 people, 1053 of them on the ship.

The submission also provides a voice for the victims’ relatives. See Annex II.  For me, reading this is  always an emotional experience.

Time for Recognition was prepared under my general editorship and reviewed by eminent historian, Emeritus Prof Hank Nelson.

The story it relates is one that has for very many years been steeped in controversy and mythology, but the submission seeks to tell it correctly for the historical record.

The submission begins by looking briefly at Australia’s emergence as the colonial power in the New Guinea islands after World War I and traverses the years of Australian settlement leading to World War II.

In February 1941, with Germany active in the South Pacific and Japan a looming threat, Australia despatched 1400 AIF troops to Rabaul which, as Lark Force, linked up with the local militia, the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. The view of the Australian War Cabinet was that this garrison could do no more than briefly delay any Japanese advance.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, the Japanese ordered its 5300 strong South Seas Force to take Rabaul. Australian women and children were evacuated around Christmas and the first bombs fell on the town a week later.

The Australian War Cabinet was determined that Lark Force and civilian administrators would remain to defend Rabaul. A decision to evacuate unnecessary civilian personnel came too late to be put into effect.

Soon after midnight on Friday 23 January, the Japanese invaded Rabaul. Less than 12 hours later Australian military commander Colonel John 'Joe' Scanlan ordered “every man for himself” as Lark Force was overwhelmed. So Rabaul fell.

While about 450 people escaped through New Britain, most troops and civilians surrendered. There was a massacre of 160 of them at Tol and Waitavalo plantations. Most of the rest were interned at camps in Rabaul.

In June 1942, 845 prisoners of war from Lark Force and 208 interned civilian men were marched from their camps to board the Montevideo Maru moored in Rabaul harbour.

The ship was to take the prisoners to Hainan Island in south-east China but, early on the morning of 1 July 1942, it was torpedoed 110 kilometres north-west of Cape Bojeador in the Philippines. It sank in 11 minutes and all 1053 prisoners perished. This was, and it remains, Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

The doubts about who died at sea, who died on land and how they died linger to this day. Many relatives feel no sense of certainty and no feeling of closure. They believe there has been no appropriate national recognition. Most feel that successive Australian governments have taken their sacrifice for granted and that they have been let down.

In late 1941, the Australian government did realise the dangers of stranding an under-strength and under-supported garrison in Rabaul but it conscientiously believed this measure was justified in the defence of the Australian mainland.

Given this truth, it can be argued that this wartime decision and the terrible consequences it wrought, obligates the Australian nation to these people and, for so long as the matter remains inadequately resolved, to their relatives.

The submission proposes that this condition be remedied: since it discredits the sacrifices that were made in the defence of Australia and ignores the residual pain of relatives.

The document proposes a straightforward approach as to how the continuing anguish of the relatives can be satisfactorily and permanently resolved.

I hope you enjoy reading Time for Recognition. It tells an epic story of Australia and New Guinea.

Lest we forget.

Graphic: Throughout Australia, Friends of Montevideo Maru are keeping the memories alive. This feature was organised for her local newspaper, the Bayside Bulletin, by Carole Worthy. Left click on the image for a larger version.