First reactions acclaim epic MvM documentary
Meri bilong Rabaul: a courageous PNG pioneer

The Montevideo Maru commemorative envelope

BY REV NEVILLE THRELFALL

CoverDetail The first day cover commemorating the departure of the Montevideo Maru from Rabaul in 1942, produced to mark the 30th anniversary of the sailing and referred to in PNG Attitude recently, brought back memories of the work involved in its production and of the accompanying memorial service held on the shores of Rabaul Harbour on 22 June 1972.

Four people played a part in this: Bishop Saimon Gaius of the United Church in PNG and the Solomon Islands; Rev Harry Voyce of New Zealand, a former Methodist missionary on Bougainville; Keith Sanders, an Australian printer working at the United Church's Trinity Press in Rabaul; and myself.

The process began early in 1972 when Bishop Gaius urged that a commemorative service be arranged for the twelve Methodist missionaries on the prison ship.

He had known them all before the war, as a student and then a young pastor, and greatly admired and respected them. Now he felt that the United Church, which had evolved from the work they had done, should honour their memory and tell their story.

The task was handed to me, as regional secretary for the Synod of the New Guinea Islands and personal assistant to the Bishop. The scope of the commemoration soon broadened to include all the prisoners who had perished when the ship was sunk.

Contact was made with the Lark Force Association in Australia, and Bert Smith came to Rabaul to take part in the service.

I gathered material and photographs of the twelve missionaries and contacted their widows, all of whom were still living in 1972.

This reached the ears of Rev Harry Voyce, a dedicated philatelist and collector of postal history. He suggested that a commemorative envelope should be issued for the occasion with a special postmark.

Negotiations with Posts and Telegraphs followed, which had strict rules to be complied with. Permission was granted for us to prepare the design of a postmark dated 22-6-72, to be used on that date only and applied to our envelopes by Rabaul postal staff.

Cover Keith Sanders produced excellent designs for the envelopes and postmark. The envelopes were printed at Trinity Press, along with leaflets included within them. In the leaflets, amongst other information, I related the story of the Montevideo Maru, and provided photos and notes about the twelve missionaries.

The service on 22 June 1972 drew a large gathering. It was not held at the old Coal Wharf site where the ship departed because there was not enough room. An open space at the foot of Atarr Street was chosen instead.

In addition to Bert Smith, Australian visitors included the Hon Kim Beazley MHR, whose brother Sydney Beazley, a builder and technical instructor, was one of the missionary prisoners on the ship. It was a very impressive occasion, and Bishop Gaius was delighted, feeling that his initial suggestion had produced something even beyond his hopes.

(By the way, first day covers and leaflets are still available from me, for $2.75 including postage within Australia. My address is 18 Mawson Drive, Killarney Vale NSW 2261. Mint 55c stamps will be accepted as payment.)

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