Last Post – Sergeant Richard Leslie ‘Dick’ Spunner by Frazer Harry
On the day of the ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, to mark the 75th Anniversary of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, after the event, that evening the Last Post Ceremony was held in the Commemorative Courtyard. Each night the Last Post Ceremony tells the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour which lists more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations over more than a century. Those who attended on that particular evening would have heard the story of Sergeant Richard “Dick” Spunner, of the 2/22 Battalion, AIF – a man who died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.
This story touched on Dick’s family, his schooling, and eventual job as a teacher in Melbourne. It went on to tell of his signing-up with the AIF, his eventual posting with the 2/22 Btn in Rabaul, PNG, his capture by the Japanese, and boarding of the Montevideo Maru from Rabaul Harbour, the ship on which he was to perish with so many others.
Dick was also a great mate of my father, Pte C.O. (Bill) Harry. Dick and Bill were both in the same Headquarters Section of the Intelligence Unit within the 2/22 Battalion. Co-incidentally, in the in the recently published book “When the War Came: New Guinea Islands 1942” in the chapter on my father, I had included a story about Dick Spunner. I never knew Dick, but my father often spoke of the mates he lost, and Dick sort of came alive in a way through those stories as not just another name, but as a man with colour, family, friends, achievements, a sense of fun, and a man who enjoyed life and drew others to him. When I realised that this Last Post ceremony, just through chance, included a focus on Dick, representing all those others who lost their lives, for me it was a little bit of synchronicity. I stood there and said a little hello and thanks to Dick, and my dad.
Dad made it home, had a successful career, a wife and family, and lived and experienced so much before dying in 2011 aged 94. Dick never had that chance, never had the rest of his life.
For those who might be interested, the following is an extract from “When the War Came: New Guinea Islands 1942”, which tells a brief story of the Dick Spunner my father knew.
“Most of dad’s mates in the war never made it home. Of the Intelligence Section Battalion Headquarters, he was the only one who survived. Some were massacred at Tol, after capture or surrender, and some were on the Montevideo Maru. One of his great mates, Ivor James, made it onto the Laurabada with dad, only to succumb to a combination of dysentery and malaria, dying on board. Only a few months earlier, dad had been Ivor’s best man at his wedding.
Dick Spunner was another mate – a solid bloke, with a big round face and glasses. Dad would tell the story of how Dick’s father, worried that his short, stocky and short-sighted son would get picked-on, decided that he needed to learn how to box. Dick learnt not only to box extremely well, but as he was so light on his feet, and moved so well, he was a bit of a master on the dance floor too! During leave one time, to liven things up the Americans decided to stage a boxing match, with a huge, fat American cook, with a crushing right hook, as their man. The Australians put up Dick Spunner, and of course the Yanks thought they had it won before the bout even started. Dad was Dick’s ‘second’ (the man in Dick’s corner), and saw first-hand how the American fighter suddenly realised Dick could box, midway through the first round! Dad would tell this story so well, about how the Yank muttered to Dick in the clinches, trying to convince Dick to allow him a few free hits, so he’d look good to his fellow Americans (Dick wasn’t silly enough to fall for that one!), until Dick eventually ‘let him have it’, putting a beautiful combination into the Yank fighter’s mid-section – leading to the American ‘losing control of his bodily functions, from both ends’, as dad so delicately put it, right in the middle of the ring! The Yanks lost all their money, the Australians made a pile, and this was a story dad told years later with a great laugh, and sparkle in his eyes, remembering his closest mate – who later lost his life on the Montevideo Maru.
Dad remembered the good stuff, the great stories, and the fun they all had – and he had a real knack in telling these stories. We felt we got to know a little of these men through those stories, their personalities came alive. But so often, after the big belly laugh, there would be the quiet rider to the story, that this or that fellow never came home.”