Beazley and I will meet Vets Minister on MvM
Witness: a terrible role in a tragic WW2 event

Time for recognition: release of MvM submission

Bayside Bulletin Today, Remembrance Day, PNG Attitude publicly releases the submission that will be the subject of a meeting in Canberra next Tuesday between Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin and the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee, represented by Kim Beazley and me.

You can read the submission in its entirety here.

It is a document that blends history with clear proposals of how the Australian government can better recognise the tragedy of the fall of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in 1942 – events that led to the deaths of some 1500 people, 1053 of them on the ship.

The submission also provides a voice for the victims’ relatives. See Annex II.  For me, reading this is  always an emotional experience.

Time for Recognition was prepared under my general editorship and reviewed by eminent historian, Emeritus Prof Hank Nelson.

The story it relates is one that has for very many years been steeped in controversy and mythology, but the submission seeks to tell it correctly for the historical record.

The submission begins by looking briefly at Australia’s emergence as the colonial power in the New Guinea islands after World War I and traverses the years of Australian settlement leading to World War II.

In February 1941, with Germany active in the South Pacific and Japan a looming threat, Australia despatched 1400 AIF troops to Rabaul which, as Lark Force, linked up with the local militia, the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. The view of the Australian War Cabinet was that this garrison could do no more than briefly delay any Japanese advance.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, the Japanese ordered its 5300 strong South Seas Force to take Rabaul. Australian women and children were evacuated around Christmas and the first bombs fell on the town a week later.

The Australian War Cabinet was determined that Lark Force and civilian administrators would remain to defend Rabaul. A decision to evacuate unnecessary civilian personnel came too late to be put into effect.

Soon after midnight on Friday 23 January, the Japanese invaded Rabaul. Less than 12 hours later Australian military commander Colonel John 'Joe' Scanlan ordered “every man for himself” as Lark Force was overwhelmed. So Rabaul fell.

While about 450 people escaped through New Britain, most troops and civilians surrendered. There was a massacre of 160 of them at Tol and Waitavalo plantations. Most of the rest were interned at camps in Rabaul.

In June 1942, 845 prisoners of war from Lark Force and 208 interned civilian men were marched from their camps to board the Montevideo Maru moored in Rabaul harbour.

The ship was to take the prisoners to Hainan Island in south-east China but, early on the morning of 1 July 1942, it was torpedoed 110 kilometres north-west of Cape Bojeador in the Philippines. It sank in 11 minutes and all 1053 prisoners perished. This was, and it remains, Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

The doubts about who died at sea, who died on land and how they died linger to this day. Many relatives feel no sense of certainty and no feeling of closure. They believe there has been no appropriate national recognition. Most feel that successive Australian governments have taken their sacrifice for granted and that they have been let down.

In late 1941, the Australian government did realise the dangers of stranding an under-strength and under-supported garrison in Rabaul but it conscientiously believed this measure was justified in the defence of the Australian mainland.

Given this truth, it can be argued that this wartime decision and the terrible consequences it wrought, obligates the Australian nation to these people and, for so long as the matter remains inadequately resolved, to their relatives.

The submission proposes that this condition be remedied: since it discredits the sacrifices that were made in the defence of Australia and ignores the residual pain of relatives.

The document proposes a straightforward approach as to how the continuing anguish of the relatives can be satisfactorily and permanently resolved.

I hope you enjoy reading Time for Recognition. It tells an epic story of Australia and New Guinea.

Lest we forget.

Graphic: Throughout Australia, Friends of Montevideo Maru are keeping the memories alive. This feature was organised for her local newspaper, the Bayside Bulletin, by Carole Worthy. Left click on the image for a larger version.

Comments

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Robert Chester

Today we had a beautiful Remembrance Day Ceremony here in Subic Bay at the Hellships Monument, and afterwards we went to the Museum.

The Australian Ambassador was here to tour the Museum after the Ceremony.

Barbara Knowles

Thank you for your excellent regular updates. We will be thinking of you next week and hope the Canberra meeting goes well.

I have promoted tonight's documentary widely in Brisbane - managed to have a notice inserted into several local Salvation Army newsletters and I think we now have quite a large number of folks keen to watch tonight.

I have been surprised to find so many in The Salvation Army who knew of Arthur Gullidge, but had never heard of the MvM. Several people thought it was a ship that "sank off Perth"!

It just emphasises how important the work of "getting this story more firmly into our national consciousness" is.

Keep up the good work.

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