The unmarked Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru was sunk by an American submarine off the Philippines on July 1, 1942 and more than 1,000 Australian soldiers and civilians perished. It remains Australia’s worst – and least known – maritime disaster. 

Seventy five years on, hundreds of relatives will converge on Canberra to attend a commemorative service and dinner. 

The service will be held at the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial, Australian War Memorial, on Saturday, July 1 2017 at 1pm.   Keynote speaker at the service will be Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson AO. 

Keynote speaker at the 75th Anniversary Dinner on 1 July 2017 will be Mr Gordon Ramsay MLA, ACT Attorney General and ACT Minister for Veterans and Seniors.

This follows a five day tour of Rabaul and East New Britain, PNG, last week by a party of 30 Australians culminating in a 75th Anniversary Dusk Service at the Rabaul 1942-1945 Memorial.  The dusk service was held on 22 June 2017, the 75th anniversary of the men boarding the Montevideo Maru and leaving Rabaul. 

Australian High Commissioner to PNG, Bruce Davis AM, gave a thoughtful and sensitive tribute, acknowledging the various aspects of this tragedy.

Australian country singer Kylie Adams-Collier gave a moving performance of her soon to be released song ‘Montevideo Maru’.  Adams-Collier will perform this again at the 75th anniversary service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on 1 July 2017.

Andrea Williams, President of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia, said:

‘75 years ago today the Australians who embarked on the Montevideo Maru had no idea they would be making history…that their names would be listed in the worst maritime disaster the Australian nation has known, the only hellship with no allied survivors; a disaster which was unknown for three and half years… It is important to acknowledge the sacrifice and remember these men so present and future generations of Australians are aware of the contribution made towards making our nation what it is today.’

The Australian soldiers were taken prisoners of war (POWs) in the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands on January 23, 1942. They were members of the 2/22nd Infantry Battalion and ancillary units, the 1st Independent Company, and the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles.

The civilian internees were officers of the then Australian Administration, businessmen, bankers, planters, missionaries and merchant seaman. They included relatives of some well-known Australians – Kim Beazley’s uncle was a builder with the Methodist Mission; Peter Garrett’s grandfather was a planter; and one time Prime Minister Sir Earl Page lost a brother who was the senior government official in Rabaul.

Over 50 of the victims had fought in WW1, 47 of whom were civilian internees.

Australian boys over 16 remained in Rabaul but in a few cases younger boys stayed. One 11 year old was executed in Rabaul with his parents.

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

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

The PNGAA has recently published a book ‘When the War Came: New Guinea Islands 1942’. It comprises personal stories of those who faced WWII on Australian territory and our greatest maritime disaster – the sinking of Montevideo Maru.

(Please offer this media release to your local newspaper and radio/tv station, or for further information refer to Andrea Williams M: 0409 031 889 E: admin@memorial.org.au or Phil Ainsworth M: 0418730348 E: p.ainsworth@kingco.com.au. )


Leave a Reply