Thursday, July 02, 2009

Montevideo Maru tragedy remembered

Australia’s worst maritime tragedy, which intimately involves Papua New Guinea, was remembered in a stirring commemorative service and unveiling of a plaque at Subic Bay in the Phillipines on Wednesday.

This was the 67th anniversary of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru (pictured) off the Philippines coast on July 1, 1942.

Japanese hospital ship Montevideo Maru was carrying 845 troops from Australia’s Lark force and 208 civilians – 1,053 men – taken prisoner of war after Japan invaded Rabaul, East New Britain province, in Jan 1942.

The youngest was a boy of 15.

“There were fathers and sons, civilians and troops, missionaries and traders, businessmen and administrators,” Australia’s Ambassador to the Phillipines Rod Smith, who presided at the Montevideo Maru memorial service at Subic Bay, said.

“They had all been captured and interned by the Japanese in Rabaul.

“They all died.

“The youngest, the 15-year old, was Ivan Gascoigne, recorded as a clerk, the son of Cyril Gascoigne, who also died.

“The sinking of the Montevideo Maru at 2.40 am on Wednesday July 1, 942 was Australia’s greatest disaster at sea, then and now.”

The unmarked Japanese ship left occupied Rabaul on June 22, 1942, but nine days later on July 1, American submarine USS Sturgeon torpedoed it off Luzon in the Philippines.

The saddest thing is that the wreck has never been found to this day, and both Australia and PNG do not know the names of those killed, as the official nominal (katakana) roll – which might give a clue to the identities of those on board – has not been located

 “To the best of our knowledge, she carried 1,053 prisoners from the Australian Territory of New Guinea, one as young as 15,” Mr Smith said.

 “It remains one of our country’s worst disasters.

“This memorial to the Hell Ships of World War 2 now includes a commemorative plaque to mark the tragedy of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru 67 years ago today.

“The plaque has been placed here as a result of the generosity of a number of private organisations - the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles/PNG Volunteer Rifles Ex-Members Association, the Lark Force Association, the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia and the Greenbank Returned Services League Club in Brisbane.

“This tragedy is not forgotten.

“The families are not forgotten.

“These men are not forgotten.”

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