Lest We Forget – by CAITLIN NASH

Lest We Forget – by CAITLIN NASH


The impenetrable darkness sets upon the Pacific Ocean.  It is the 22nd of June, 1942. Deep beneath the waves, an American submarine, the USS Sturgeon, lines up its oblivious target. The crew waits for the signal from Lieut William Wright. Finally, it comes …

A single, deadly torpedo is released, slicing through the water towards the unsuspecting Japanese troop carrier. It made its mark, forcing a huge hole in the stern of the ship. While the eighteen Japanese crew members clambered into lifeboats, the Australian human cargo was left for dead in the hull of the sinking ship. A Japanese soldier, numbed by the sounds of war, death and terror, watches the ship sink in merely six minutes. His blood chills, at the sound of the trapped 1,053 Australian mates defiantly singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, a memory that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Within the terror, a lone man enjoys his last breaths and silently remembers his wife, two sons and beautiful life and the tranquillity of Papua New Guinea.

Clive was the superintendent of Keravat agricultural station—a government based experimental station through which he introduced the growing of coffee and other crops to the area. He lived an ideal and peaceful life with his wife, Grace, and two young sons who liked to amuse themselves playing in the extensive gardens with the native house boys. Life was wonderful, until the invasion of the Japanese.

In January 1942, the Japanese swarmed on Rabaul. Most of the women and children had been evacuated to Australia, but there was no evacuation for the civilian men as room was reserved for the precious cargo of copra. These men enlisted, but with no organisation, equipment or training, had no choice but to stand guard over their beautiful paradise. A small, ill equipped Australian force, the 22nd Battalion, was sent as a delay for the invading Japanese army. Massively outnumbered, they fought and were forced to retreat through the untamed jungle, each man for himself.

As the Japanese enveloped the island, Clive eluded capture for several months. He used the crops and stores of Keravat to hide and feed the retreating soldiers directing them through the impenetrable jungle south toward safety.

Late one afternoon, Clive was captured at Keravat. He was interned as a civilian prisoner of war at Malaguna Road concentration camp. Here he suffered many unspeakable hardships, beatings and hunger. Ironically, he would become known as one of the ‘luckiest prisoners’ after a fellow Australian implied that he had hidden the Commonwealth Bank’s gold bullion on Keravat soil.

Clive and a bank worker were taken to Keravat by the Japanese. They were tortured cruelly for four days in the nearby jungle. Even enduring unimaginable torture, dehydration and starvation, they protested their innocence.

Forced to dig their own graves, kneel at the edge, with the cold steel end of a gun at their backs, they believed this was surely the end. At the last moment, they were saved, reprieved by the guilt of the man who laid false witness against them.

They were taken back to Malaguna Road, saved, only to be taken aboard the unmarked troop carrier named the Montevideo Maru. A combination of soldiers, civilians, priests and even members of the local Salvation Army were crowded below, like stock, in the hull of the ship.

I am the great-granddaughter of Eric Clive Green, who risked his life to help defend Australia the best way that he could. Like Clive, many of the Australian citizens enlisted in Rabaul, however the paperwork was lost in the ensuing Japanese invasion. Their families had to wait four years to discover their fate. Despite their bravery, loyalty and sense of mateship they have never been formally recognised.

The Montevideo Maru, sunk by the USS Sturgeon, is still today the largest loss of Australian life at sea—1053 people lost their lives, 400 more than the HMAS Sydney and twice as many as the entire Vietnam War. We stand here today in a democratic country with freedom of speech, thanks to the Australian men and women who selflessly gave their lives and even today continue to fight for our way of life. 


Worked for Burns Philp in Popondetta and Port Moresby from 1980 through 1987

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