Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial News

Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial News

What’s On?

75th Anniversary 2017

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru group is planning services in Rabaul, PNG, on 22 June 2017 and at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT on 1 July 2017.  Further information will be on the website and facebook shortly and in the March 2017 Memorial News.

Congratulations to Lionel Percy Veale OAM who was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List – For service to the community of the Gold Coast.

An article on Lionel Veale NX41042  MID OAM was in the Catholic Leader 28 June 2016: http://catholicleader.com.au/people/war-veteran-took-on-top-secret-missions-but-never-hid-catholic-faith    

The 2016 History Teachers of Australia Association National Conference, Sydney, 28-30 September 2016.  

Our enormous thanks to Patrick Bourke, Karen McPherson (Trinity Christian School, Canberra), Pat Johnson, Andrea Williams and (Jo Mills, Karen’s sister) for ensuring the involvement of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru /PNGAA group at the History Teachers’ Association of Australia National Conference at Sydney Grammar was a great success! Photo of display table attached. Karen kindly stepped in to replace Natalie Baker who submitted the title details for the presentation: ‘Sinking the Southern Cross: Uncle Sam, the Rising Sun, and the Montevideo Maru’ ‘Sinking the Southern Cross: Uncle Sam, the Rising Sun, and the Montevideo Maru’ ‘Sinking the Southern Cross:  Uncle Sam, the Rising Sun and the Montevideo Maru’.

After the fall of Pearl Harbour in 1941 the Australian mandated territory of Rabaul, New Guinea, was overwhelmed by a Japanese invasion. Five months later 1,053 Australian soldiers and civilians were herded onto an unmarked Prisoner of War vessel. Tragically, all of them would perish when the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by an unsuspecting allied submarine. The sinking of the Montevideo Maru remains Australia’s worst maritime disaster, and its sinking became a clandestine secret buried by the Australian government. Consequently, most Australians have never heard of the Montevideo Maru, or what happened to the Australians at Rabaul during WWII: the massacres, the civilian women and children who became refugees, and the extraordinary stories of escape via the tropical jungle. The Australians in Rabaul became ‘hostages to fortune’; their lives sacrificed for Australia’s defence. The Australian Government was shaken and our national security was dramatically exposed. In 2017 we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Montevideo Maru tragedy, which provides a unique opportunity to ensure Australian stories from the War in the Pacific reach our classrooms. This session will provide educators with teaching resources and knowledge to ensure this significant chapter of Australian history does not remain forgotten.

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru/PNGAA are also grateful to author and teacher, Sue Lawson, who generously donated a copy of her book ‘Finding Darcy’ as a prize at the conference.  This was won by Danielle Madsen of the St Francis Xavier College, Canberra.

Patrick Bourke had collated information kits to be distributed from the stand. These included:

  1. A welcome letter;
  2. The teaching document at www.memorial.org.au/Education/Rabaul.pdf ( including a copy of the 15 minute DVD, Some Came Home)
  3. Background notes about the speakers on the DVD, Some Came Home;  
  4. WWI and WWII connections – list of WWI men who are listed as dying on the Montevideo Maru
  5. Lorna Johnston’s ( nee Whyte ) visit to Japan in 2011, http://www.powresearch.jp/en/activities/report/201111ausmeeting2.html;
  6. Governor General’s commemorative address at the dedication of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial in 2012 , https://www.awm.gov.au/talks-speeches/rabaul-and-montevideo-maru-memorial-address-2012 ;
  7. Links to the creative arts :  The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/rabaul_montevideo_maru_memorial/
  8. Portrait of Tom Herket, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/ART96812/
  9. Lyrics to the Midnight Oil song, In The Valley, written by Peter Garrett, http://www.midnight-oil.info/discography/song/In-The-Valley
  10. The young adult novel, Finding Darcy, written by Sue Lawson, http://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Finding-Darcy-9781742030234
  11. Poem by Patrick Bourke, Drowning In The Sunshine which appeared in the book ‘When Anzac Day Comes Around’.

The three day conference had an impressive variety of speakers including Toni Hurley speaking on Frank Hurley and another by Ben Pratten & Catriona Bryce on the National Library Digital classroom and Trove. 

Karen McPherson’s presentation was a great success with many teachers delighted to discover information they had not heard about before.  Her presentation involved much research to ensure its relevance with the curriculum.  It will be placed on the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial website.

Patrick Bourke’s research connecting those WWI men who died on the Montevideo Maru in WWII was a great opener on the stand.  Points included for discussion:

–       explaining the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, Australia’s greatest maritime disaster – and asking if attendees knew the connection between this story of WWII and Australia’s first involvement with WWI in PNG.

–       Highlighting the significance of Rabaul, with the first Australian action on Australian territory linking WWI/the Anzac Centenary with WWII directly relates with the Year 9/10 curriculum. 

–       Other focal areas for discussion included the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial at the AWM, Canberra – a good spot for lunch with students!  One of the planning outcomes for the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial was that it could be tactile, and this is important to teachers too. 

–        that the AWM in Canberra, the Melbourne Shrine and the PNGVR Museum at Wacol (Brisbane) all have displays related to the New Guinea Islands WWII invasion and the Montevideo Maru. 

–       In handing out the presentation kits, speakers clarified that with a 15 minute DVD and classroom worksheets included, it should be relatively easy to include this subject in one or two lessons. 

–       Finally, in asking what school they represented, it was suggested that there might be a nearby relative who might attend the school on special commemorative days such as Anzac Day…we could check our lists and let them know if they decide to follow up with us.

–       Feedback was requested with the kits

75th Anniversary Book  The editors are delighted with the broad range of entries for this book.  Keep a watch on Facebook and in the March 2017 issue of Una Voce/Memorial News for announcement of launch.

Project Team Manager – Gayle Thwaites: Email – stories@memorial.org.au or Mobile: 0477 000 771

PNGAA President – Andrea Williams: Email – president@pngaa.net

Information at: http://memorial.org.au/About/Activities/75Anniversary.htm

Stay up to date with the project via Facebook at www.facebook.com/RabaulandMontevideoMaruSociety


2016 Annual Commemoration, Canberra:  A link to the Last Post Ceremony on 1 July 2016 is at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/AWM2016.2.183/

Civilian internee listed on Rose Garden War Memorial, Dubbo

There are several known war memorials. Probably the most interesting and practicable war memorial in Australia is the North Star Soldiers Memorial Bore and Water Supply. W T Cracknell who is recorded as dying on the Montevideo Maru has his name listed here. Cracknell was in the 1st Independent Company and was working in the North Star area of NSW when he enlisted in the Australian Army. The website is at https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/north-star-soldiers-memorial-bore-and-water-supply.

In the House of Representatives, Australian Parliament House, on Friday 5 October 1945, the Member for East Sydney and the Minister for Transport and External Territories, Mr Ward, announced that 1,053 persons had been identified as dying on the MS Montevideo Maru. He concluded his statement with the words: “These servicemen and civilians, who died in such a tragic manner, have undoubtedly given their lives in the defence of Australia just as surely as those who died face to face with the enemy. To their next of kin the Commonwealth Government extends its deepest sympathy. ”     (Source: Hansard (Australian Parliament House) House of Representatives, Friday, 5 October 1945. Page 6619. The War).


In view of this statement the name of the late Rev John W Poole, a Methodist missionary who has been listed as dying on the MS Montevideo Maru, (an ex-student of Dubbo High School) has his name inscribed on the war memorial at Dubbo. Refer: https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/content/dubbo-memorial-drive-and-rose-garden The Rev John W Poole’s name is on the Rose Garden War Memorial in Victoria Park, Dubbo. Rev Poole is listed as dying on the Montevideo Maru. This is the first time I have seen a name of a civilian internee on a war memorial in Australia. Frederick Sadler’s name (in the 1st Independent Company), who also died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, is on this war memorial as well as G W Benham (another ex-student of Dubbo High). Gregory W Benham DSC was not in Lark Force or the 1st Independent Company but he was a Coastwatcher who went behind enemy lines in the New Guinea Islands during 1942. He was captured on New Ireland and executed on or around 1 September 1942. Prior to the war Benham was a patrol officer in PNG. His name and Rev Poole’s name is also on a very impressive WWII Honour Roll in the Wesley Uniting Church in Dubbo.  This honour roll is on the above website.

Patrick Bourke

Do you know of a memorial where someone who was on the Montevideo Maru or who died as a result of the Japanese invasion of Rabaul is commemorated?

Visiting North Head, Manly, I was delighted to see one of the plaques in the Memorial Walk dedicated to WS Turner, POW on the Montevideo Maru. If you know where other plaques or tributes are please post!

Andrea Williams

New book:

Double Diamonds: Australian commandos in the Pacific War, 1941-45 by Karl James

Paperback | Aug 2016 | University of New South Wales Press | 9781742234922 | 232pp | 220x240mm Includes photos

During the Second World War, in the mountains and jungles of Timor, Bougainville and New Guinea, Australian commando units fought arduous campaigns against the Japanese. 

The story of these elite independent companies and commando squadrons, whose soldiers wore the distinctive double-diamond insignia, is told here for the first time. 

Through 130 powerful images from the Australian War Memorial’s unparalleled collection – some never published before – Double Diamonds captures the operational history of these units and the personal stories of the men who served in them, many of whom lost their lives or the friends who trained and fought alongside them.


Note: On page 36 of the book, Double Diamonds, there is a good photo of the MS Montevideo Maru with a caption and on the opposite page there is an excellent photo of Private John Day with notes. John Day is one of the 133 commandos from the 1st Independent Company listed as dying on the MS Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942.



James Burrowes OAM

The Australian Coastwatchers brought the tide of Japanese invasive successes to a shuddering halt, when two Coastwatchers reported the impending fleet of the Japanese invasion force with 5,500 troops which precipitated the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May 1942, and aborted the invasion of Port Moresby.

This repulse of the enemy was followed by the declaration of the U.S.  Admiral William F. (Bull) Halsey when he reported several months later that “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the South Pacific”.  

The hitherto untold historical and substantive story of the M Special Unit of the Allied Intelligence Bureau (the Coastwatchers) unfolds hereunder: 

In early 1941, ten months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Australian government set up the un-published “Malay Barrier” and deployed a series of “Bird” defence forces on the islands north of Australia – the Sparrow Force on Timor, Gull Force on Ambon and Lark Force at Rabaul.

Tragically, these under-manned and under-equipped forces were totally out-numbered by the superior Japanese invasion forces, as it swept south after Pearl Harbor.  Hence, these defences were futile disasters incurring huge losses of Australian troops. The first of these invasions occurred on January 22, 1942 just six weeks after Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese invaded and occupied Rabaul, killing and capturing 73% of the token Australian force left to defend it. Subsequently, 1,053 POWs were casualties on the unmarked prison ship Montevideo Maru sunk by a US submarine off Luzon in the Philippines, on the voyage to the Japanese-occupied Hainan Island.  It was Australia’s largest maritime disaster of the war.

Enemy landings, followed by occupation, then took place at Ambon a week later, followed by Timor a further fortnight on.

After occupying Rabaul, as explained by founder and commander of the Coastwatchers Eric Feldt in his historic book The Coast Watchers in late February 1942 “the Japanese despatched a force from Rabaul to occupy Lae and Salamaua… Buka Passage and the Shortland Islands…. Then, in May, they essayed to take Port Moresby from the sea, at the same time occupying Tulagi”.

Furthermore, Japan’s ongoing effort to strengthen the offensive positioning of their empire in the South Pacific meant that Port Moresby was a primary target. According to James P. Duffy in his book War at the end of the World, Port Moresby in New Guinea was the strategic goal of the MO Carrier Striking Force with 5,500 invasion troops, as it was codenamed by the Japanese, and it was intended to isolate Australia and New Zealand from their ally the United States, in preparation for the Japanese attack on Australia.

However, fortuitously, Duffy records, “an Australian Coastwatcher on the Solomon island of Bougainville provided the first news of Japanese movements when he sent his message on 2 May 1942 that a large force of enemy ships was sailing south towards Tulagi. A second, similar despatch was made later the same day by another Coastwatcher on New Georgia. Both Coastwatchers transmitted their sightings to headquarters at Port Moresby which relayed the message.”

Two days later, these warnings by Coastwatchers led to the invasion fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy being met, and vanquished, by naval and air forces from the United States and Australia in the Battle of the Coral Sea, which was fought during May 4-8, 1942. This was the first naval repulse of the Japanese following their series of conquests during their thrust from the northern to the southern hemisphere. As Duffy records “the most important result of this historic battle was that it averted the invasion of Port Moresby, with all it portended for the safety of Australia and the future of the war”. Moreover, he notes, “Never again would an enemy fleet attempt to invade that vital port city”.

Immediately following the defeat in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the battered and bruised Japanese invasion force limped back to Rabaul, thus saving Port Moresby from the ‘walk-in, capture and occupy’ fate that had been suffered at Rabaul, Timor and Ambon.

Immediately following the Coral Sea battle, the Japanese and the United States fought a six-month long battle of attrition for control of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, during which the Americans came perilously close to defeat at times, which would have left Australia isolated. But again, the Australian Coastwatchers played a vital role in a key victory: the ultimate American success at Guadalcanal. See “The role played by Australian Coastwatchers in the Battle for Guadalcanal” http://www.battleforaustralia.org/Theyalsoserved/Coastwatchers/Coastwatchers_Guadalcanal.html

Coastwatchers regularly sent two hour warnings of bombers with supporting fighter squadrons “headed your way” from their campsites in the enemy-held jungles of New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville and other surrounding islands to the US authorities on Guadalcanal, and the Australians at Port Moresby. The alerts thus saved countless lives and casualties of Allied personnel, with  planes ‘up in the sun’ ready to pounce, the Navy’s battleships on ‘battle stations’ and their land forces with their anti-aircraft weaponry ready and waiting for the Japanese attacks.

As a result of these warnings, the US forces at Guadalcanal particularly was able to defend hard-won territory, and enemy losses were of enormous strategic value.

The official acknowledgement by five-star US Admiral of the Fleet, William F. Halsey, was brief and poignant: “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the South Pacific.” A memorial recognising the role of the Coastwatchers stands in Honiara today.

In essence, if the Coastwatchers had not routinely signalled their warnings by Morse code, such as those mentioned above, the consequences would have been dire.

Firstly, the capture of Port Moresby by the Japanese would have virtually severed US support for Australia and, using Port Moresby as a base, Japanese bombers would have been able to bomb Cairns -525 miles, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton and Brisbane – 1,297 miles,  and block the eastern sea approaches to Darwin, only 1,126 miles away, thus ‘opening the gate’ for the invasion of Australia.

Secondly, as a collateral consequence, the Australians would not have been able to launch their Port Moresby offensive to thwart the Kokoda thrust by the Japanese. This protected a base of operations for the untrained forces fighting in New Guinea with those incredibly courageous young troops who fought on the Kokoda Track and who were ultimately successful in repelling the Japanese from their Buna, Gona, Lae and Sanananda occupations, which in turn was the first land-based repulse of the Japanese drive south, and also repelling the Japanese at Milne Bay. Subsequently, the combined forces of  the US and Australia drove the Japanese from their strongholds at Lae and Salamaua, then  Finchafen, Saidor, Madang, Aitape, Wewak,  Hollandia, Biak, Wadke and Morotai on the way to the triumphant US return to the Philippines and beyond.

And thirdly, the Allied Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur would have been constrained to defending the southern hemisphere disasters of Guadalcanal and Port Moresby, thus precluding him from redeploying his forces to prosecute his successful execution of the island-hopping campaign north of the Equator, to reach and occupy Tinian Island to launch the atom bombs to end the war with Japan.

Thus, the Australian Coastwatchers turned the tide – to destroy the aim of Japanese General Sadao Araki: “It is Japan’s mission to be supreme in Asia, the South Seas and eventually the four corners of the world.”

The role of Coastwatchers at critical points in the war was also acknowledged by Allied Commander-in-Chief General Douglas MacArthur who stated in a Foreword to Eric Feldt’s book “They are officially credited with being a crucial and decisive factor in the allied victories of Guadalcanal and Tulagi and later on in the operations of New Britain.”

Apart from their vital intelligence gathering role however, the Coastwatchers also rescued 75 prisoners of war, 321 downed Allied airmen, 280 sailors, 190 missionaries and civilians, and hundreds of local people and others who had risked their lives for the Allies. See “The role played by Australian Coastwatchers in the Battle for Guadalcanal”.http://www.battleforaustralia.org/Theyalsoserved/Coastwatchers/Coastwatchers_Guadalcanal.html

One of those rescued was US Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, whose PT 109 Patrol Torpedo boat was carved in two by a Japanese war-ship and destroyed in the Solomons waters. After the sinking, the Lieutenant and his crew reached Kolombangara Island where they were found by Coastwatcher Sub-Lieutenant Reg Evans who organised their rescue.

In 1959, a memorial lighthouse was erected at Madang, on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, to honour the Coastwatchers. The memorial plaque bears the names of 36 Coastwatchers killed behind enemy lines while risking their lives in the execution of their duties. The plaque also bears this inscription: “They watched and warned and died that we might live.”

Note: Ex AIF Sergeant James Burrowes (now age 93) served 4 years, including 2½ years as a signaller Coastwatcher in ‘M’ Special Unit of the Allied Intelligence Bureau, and 9 months with the US 7th Fleet Amphibious Landing Force, He spent 10 months in enemy-occupied territory over-looking Rabaul, and is the last signaller Coastwatcher survivor in Australia with the research to tell the story.

Member of the Australian Commando Association.

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