Tribute to Lorna Johnston: John Schindler

I feel it a great honor to be asked to write this tribute to Lorna Johnston. I am writing this as both a Producer of the documentary The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru,and also on a personal basis.

I met Lorna in a professional role initially when we interviewed her in regard to the terrible loss of over 1,000 Australian men and boys when the Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru was sunk in 1942 in the South China Sea. Lorna knew many of these poor souls personally as they were all stationed in Rabaul together. When Rabaul fell Lorna together with the other Australian nurses travelled as prisoners to Japan in the hold of another Japanese “hell ship” the Naruto Maru which was not torpedoed.

I feel blessed to have met Lorna and her colleagues who came from the same mold. There are not many of them left now. Lorna was from a generation that we are losing fast. They were unique Australians: the salt of the earth those folk and we will never see the likes of them again.

Lorna had a great sense of humour and she would have managed to harness and share this typically Australian larrikin style humour with her fellow nurses during the time they suffered whilst incarcerated. Lorna told me also that, in the coldest winter in Japan for 100 years, the Australian nurses managed to keep warm by making clothing from the curtains they managed to steal from the Yokahama Police Station. Now that may not sound like a big deal but I’m sure that in those times if the nurses had been caught they could have been easily executed.

Lorna and her fellow nurses in Japan managed to survive because they were made of powerful stuff. Lorna told me they never thought once they would not make it home even when they were so starved that they had to resort to eating the rice based glue they were forced to work with. They had to remove the arsenic pellets first though and they also risked their lives to crawl under the barbed wire to steal mouldy food left as gifts for the Japanese dead by relatives in a cemetery adjoining their place of imprisonment.

It is truly amazing that, after surviving all this starvation and suffering, Lorna reached the age of 98.

Lorna once told me her family in Australia frequently tried to get her to move to Australia. Apparently the grandchildren said to Lorna “but Grandma you have to move to Australiaa: you are an Australian icon”. Quite frankly I sincerely believe that Lorna will forever remain an Australian icon. Long after we are gone Lorna’s story will be told.

She was the epitome of everything that is good about Australian women. Lorna was a true lady and very modest.

It’s not surprising she became a nurse because she had all the attributes needed to sincerely care for other people.

Lorna was always very kind to me and my relationship moved from that of Producer to friend and I feel blessed that I was able to meet such a wonderful woman.

Lorna had all the attributes that give Australians every right to feel proud of our Nationality. Our nation has lost a great Australian.

Even though Lorna suffered so much as a prisoner of war in Japan she went back to Japan not long ago at the invitation of the Japanese Government and met the Japanese Foreign Minister. Lorna spoke of her affection for the current generation of young Japanese boys and girls whom she met. Apparently they treated her like a Queen.

Lorna Johnston was a Queen in my eyes too.

It was an honour and a great privilege to know Lorna and I will forever regard her as a dear friend. Rest In Peace Lorna.


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