80th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Montevideo Maru and the Fall of the New Guinea Islands
On 1 July 2022 the 80th Anniversary Commemorative Ceremony was held at the Stone of Remembrance at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
The catafalque party was provided by the Australian Federation Guard. Mr Brian Dawson AM, CSC, Assistant Director National Collection Australian War Memorial, welcomed 130 guests and provided background information about the sinking of Montevideo Maru, noting it remains Australia’s greatest maritime tragedy.
The 80th Anniversary Commemorative Address was provided by Colonel James Kidd DSM, CSM, representing the Chief of Army. Colonel Kidd had recently returned from three years as Defence Attaché at the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby. Colonel Kidd also had family living in PNG in earlier years. His tribute to those affected by those early days of WWII in the Pacific and his understanding of the significance of this event to the families involved was most appropriate and very warmly received.
Wreaths were laid by: The Honourable Richard Marles MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Acting Prime Minister, and Minister for Defence, representing the Prime Minister of Australia; His Excellency Mr John Ma’o Kali, High Commissioner for Papua New Guinea to Australia and Mrs Vavinenama Vere Kali; Mr Inge Wiktil, representing the Ambassador of Norway to Australia; Rear Admiral Brett Wolski AM, RAN, representing the Chief of the Defence Force; Mr Chris Pearsall, President of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia with Ms Andrea Williams, Chair of the Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Group, Papua New Guinea Association of Australia; Brigadier Phil Winter AM, CSC, ADC, (Retd), representing the National President of the Returned and Services League of Australia; Mr Michael White, representing the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles and Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles Ex-Members Association; Mr Frazer Harry, representing the 2/22nd Battalion Lark Force Association; Mr Patrick Bourke, representing 1 Independent Company; Dr Kathryn Spurling, representing the National President of the Australian War Widows Incorporated; Major Brett Gallagher, Chief Commissioner Salvation Army; The Honourable Dr Brendan Nelson AO, Chairman of the Council of the Australian War Memorial. Attending also were Captain Ryan Gaskin RAN, representing the Chief of the Navy and Group Captain Ian Goold CSC, representing Chief of Air Force. Award-winning songwriter and performer, Kylie Adams-Collier, transported the audience with a beautiful and special performance of her song ‘Montevideo Maru 1942’. Kylie is donating $5 to PNGAA from each ‘Little Stone’ album sold, available at HERE. https://kylieadams-collier.com/shop
Prayers were led by Chaplain Grant Ludlow of the Royal Australian Navy, and vocalist, Sergeant Jennifer Cooke, with the Band of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, led the hymn and national anthems. The bugler was musician Ryan Koroknai.
Michael White, representing the NGVR/PNGVR Ex-Members Association, read the Ode.
Andrea Williams provided a thank you to all who attended and who had made the service so special. She noted, with great appreciation, the tributes by the Australian, PNG and Norwegian Governments, the Defence Forces, the Australian War Memorial and all those who had travelled to be part of this significant commemorative anniversary. The support of the Australian War Memorial with this event was particularly appreciated.
Photographs taken by the AWM photographer are able to be viewed Here .
The Last Post Service
Held at the AWM on the evening of 1 July 2022, this service acknowledged the service of Corporal George William Spensley of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles and the sinking of Montevideo Maru. Wreaths were laid by his daughter, Gillian Nikakis, and his descendants.
Wreaths were also laid by Ross Johnson, representing the NGVR/PNGVR Ex-Members Association, Andrea Williams, representing the PNGAA and John Reeves, representing the Rabaul Historical Society.
You can still watch this service online through the AWM website or HERE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zKxf7sIPl4 (note that there is a 7-minute introduction with the flame which can be fast forwarded).
80th Anniversary Dinner
The evening, held at Rydges Hotel, Canberra on 1 July 2022, began with mingling and cocktails before guests moved to the Forrest Suite for a 2-course dinner. Special guests included the PNG High Commissioner to Australia, His Excellency John Ma’o Kali and his wife, Mrs Kali, as well as Emeritus Professor David Horner AM, Dip Mil Stud, MA (Hons), PhD, FASSA, who gave the keynote address with the topic: ‘The Fall of Rabaul, the Montevideo Maru Tragedy, and the Defence of PNG and Australia’. Mr Horner is an emeritus professor in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, where he was Professor of Australian Defence History for fifteen years. He is the author of 37 books and numerous articles on military history, strategy and defence. His books on command during the Kokoda battle and on Generals Blamey and Vasey deal particularly with the New Guinea Campaign. He has also written a book on the Pacific War.
Guests enjoyed hearing from His Excellency, Mr Kali, who spoke briefly at the start of the evening.
The Commemorative Address by David Horner AM covered the broader worldwide situation in the early years of WWII and how it affected the New Guinea islands and Australia. His address was outstanding. Numerous questions followed. The address will be available on the website HERE www.montevideo-maru.org under 80th Anniversary.
We were hoping that the new book Lost Women of Rabaul, by Rod Miller, published by Big Sky Publishing, would be available on the night, but we remembered Sr Berenice Twohill, Lorna Johnston née Whyte and their fellow prisoners, and the launch went ahead despite the book’s delay. Thank you for telling us a little about it, Rod. The book can be purchased through https://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/books/lost-women-of-rabaul/
Each table had a magnificent bouquet of flowers arranged by Elizabeth and Drina Thurston. Display tables were scattered around the room for guests to browse information related to the fall of the New Guinea Islands in early 1942. These included a magnificent album showcasing the historical 70th anniversary dedication of the Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Memorial at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, and other albums and photos. Ross and Pat Johnson had brought several historical posters, including a tribute to the NGVR history, and we thank them for the special items of knowledge shared that evening. We thank Rebecca Mills for the wonderful displays shared too—and delighted that her grandad and instigator of the Ballarat Montevideo Maru Memorial, Dr Les Drew, could be present. There are so many angles to this history! Max Clarke brought along the original painting done by Christine Arnott and used in the first flyer that Keith Jackson and the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society had back in 2009!
Guests were also asked to bring along a small black and white photo of their relative or friend who was connected with Rabaul, Kavieng, Tol, the New Guinea Islands and the Montevideo Maru in 1942. Information written on the back was to include name of person, service number (if appropriate), connection with the New Guinea islands, if they escaped—how, and the connection with the person attending this event. A collage of photos of these people was made up at the dinner over a coloured canvas photo of Rabaul. It was a poignant collage and a wonderful innovative tribute, with thanks to Gayle Thwaites who has also greatly assisted in sharing this story through our social media.
It was intended to pepper the evening with various quiz questions related to the 1942 events, however, the busy evening meant that the quiz questions were placed on the tables to create discussion—with answers overleaf when needed. I thank Rod Miller, Patrick Bourke and Scott and Margaret Henderson for their contribution to this. We will gradually include general knowledge questions in Memorial News from time to time, with answers in the following edition, so keep watching this space!
Many people helped to make this a hugely successful evening and I thank them all. It was special to have two other founding members of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society present—Elizabeth Thurston and Max Uechtritz. In addition to those mentioned there was the ‘behind the scenes’ support. To Phil Ainsworth, wonderful knowledge and support always, to Ally Martell—a huge thank you for the name tags and your assistance with media (a big relief!), Ross and Pat Johnson (‘what else can we do to help?’), to Bill Brown and Anthony Regan, and to committee members—Norma Dewick, Chris & Louise Pearsall, and Max & Helen Uechtritz—and to all who attended—thank you, all, for making it a tremendously memorable anniversary.