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Push for recognition of Montevideo Maru disaster


Next week Professor Kim Beazley, Australian ambassador-designate to the US and former leader of the Opposition, will meet with Veterans' Affairs Minister, Alan Griffin, to discuss how the Australian government can better recognise the Montevideo Maru tragedy.

Professor Beazley and the chairman of the Montevidea Maru Memorial Committee, Keith Jackson, will present a submission seeking permanent national recognition for those who died in the form of a memorial in Canberra and the declaration of the sinking site as an official war grave

Torso Radio Australia’s CAMPBELL COONEY spoke with CHRIS DIERCKE [left] from the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee, who says there were  an estimated at 845 to 850 soldiers and approximately 208 civilians on the ship at the time it sank.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Were there any survivors?

DIERCKE: There were no survivors at all. There were some Japanese survivors. Those numbers vary as well, but no allied POW survivors.

COONEY: Why no major recognition? I grew up in Australia all my life and I've heard about this in the past year or so, but it certainly wasn't something that I grew up with?

DIERCKE: That's a very, very good question. If we go back to the Chifley government in 1945, the then government and the opposition both agreed they would not hold a post-war inquiry into the fall of Rabaul, one of the focuses of which is the Montevideo Maru incident.

Also there were no POW survivors and no witnesses until very recently, when there was a Japanese sailor who was on board the Montevideo Maru. No one really had an accurate account of what happened. No one knew. Even the story of Lark Force hasn't come through very well either.

COONEY: From reading a little bit of the detail about this and the way Rabaul fell, there was a certain level of embarrassment on the part of the Australian government?

DIERCKE: Well Lark Force was sent up to Rabaul in 1941 and, around December '41, the war cabinet in Australia issued a written statement in a memo to say that there will be no resupply, there'll be no reinforcement and there'll be no withdrawal, they are hostages to fortune.

So I guess that would be rather embarrassing if that became public notice because the bulk of the military personnel onboard the Montevideo Maru came from the Lark Force who were subsequently captured by the Japanese in and around Rabaul. The other military people belonged to the PNGVR, Papua New Guinea Voluntary Rifles, and also members of the First Independent Company who were on New Ireland.

COONEY: You've got some big guns working for you now to try and get some recognition on this. You don't get much bigger, no pun intended about the size of the man of course, when Kim Beazley is working with you on this one. That's got to be a coup on your part?

DIERCKE: It's fantastic that Kim has chosen to be the patron of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee. One of Kim's uncles perished on the Montevideo Maru. His name was Syd Beazley. He was with the Methodist missionaries in and around Rabaul at the time. So Kim's got a personal link there. Yes, and he's certainly supported us really well in this.

COONEY: Have you got any early indications from the Australian government that they will be receptive to what you're asking?"

DIERCKE: Well, so far this year on July 1 in Subic Bay the Australian ambassador, Rob Smith, attended a memorial there to the Hell Ships Memorial, part of which is now the Montevideo Maru story. The committee has also put in a submission to the Veterans' Affairs Minister in Canberra, and the chairman of our committee, Keith Jackson and Kim Beazley are to meet with Alan Griffin next week. So I think they're all very, very positive signs. Extremely positive.

COONEY: We do know, you mentioned a war grave site as part of this, we do know where the Montevideo Maru lies? That's a known fact?

DIERCKE: The American submarine which sunk the Montevideo Maru, the USS Sturgeon, has given its locations in degrees and minutes to the exact sinking spot, yes.


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Sean O'Connell

I'm looking for information on the NGVR and I found your email address on pngvr.com. My great-uncle Tony O'Connell NG2368 was a rifleman in 1942. He signed on in Bulolo, Wau TNG 28 Jan 1942.

He served with the NGVR, KANGA Force and then the ANGAU before being discharged as medically unfit 30 Nov 1943. This I obtained from his army record.

Tony passed away in 1981 and was never married so his story hasn't been told and I would like to find out more. Could you suggest where I might find any info on Tony and the NGVR.

Sean O'Connell
Christchurch, New Zealand

Phil Manley

Many thanks for your internet column. Of course I read the 'Post Courier' and all that but I find your website really good.

I live in Brisbane but was in PNG in the seventies.

You might be interested to know there was a fair bit of coverage of the sinking of the MVM on radio here during the week.

Enviroment minister Peter Garret said his grandfather was on board the MVM at the time.

Extract from 4BC website: "Last night I watched the documentary produced by Foxtel – The Sinking of the Montevideo Maru. I was so moved by it that I watched it again this morning.

"It’s been brilliantly put together. It features very believable young Aussie blokes – the sorts of blokes that would be in your local cricket team or who’d come around to fix your leaky pipes. Great, archetypal Aussie blokes and their sweethearts...." Etc

Anyway. many thanks, and I look forward to more stuff from you.

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