Time for recognition: release of MvM submission
First reactions acclaim epic MvM documentary

Witness: a terrible role in a tragic WW2 event

USS_Sturgeon BY JOHN HUXLEY

For more than 60 years Jack Atkinson, a former US submariner, has carried in his wallet a faded news clipping.

It is a constant reminder of his terrible role in a tragic event of World War II, the sinking of the Montevideo Maru off the Philippines in 1942 killing nearly 1200, including 1053 Australians.

Atkinson was a machinist on USS Sturgeon, which by mistake torpedoed the Montevideo Maru, a merchant ship being used by the Japanese to transport prisoners-of-war and civilians from New Britain.

''The captain thought that it was a troop ship,'' he said. ''He thought that's what it was.''

Minutes later he was one of several crew members invited to inspect the damage through the submarine's periscope. “We thought it was a troop ship… We saw people jumping over the sides,'' says Atkinson, 93, fighting back tears. ''I'm so sorry that it happened. But we didn't know about it... It was just a terrible thing.''

Atkinson, one of the few remaining observers of the encounter, is interviewed in the documentary The Tragedy of Montevideo Maru, to be shown on the History Channel tonight.

The screening coincides with a fresh initiative by family and friends to secure recognition and proper remembrance of those who died in the attack, who numbered more than twice the Australian casualties in the Vietnam War.

Next week a delegation led by Kim Beazley, ambassador-designate to the US, will press the Veterans' Affairs Minister, Alan Griffin, to provide comfort and closure for the bereaved.

''The Montevideo sinking is Australia's most devastating loss at sea, but is a quiet part of public consciousness of World War II history,'' said Beazley, whose uncle is believed to have died in the sinking. His Labor Party colleague Peter Garrett also lost an uncle.

For those who died, the delegation will seek permanent national recognition, in the form of a memorial in Canberra, the declaration of the site of the sinking as an official war grave, and further efforts to establish precisely who was on board the ship.

Despite the passage of time, the disaster and the disorganised evacuation of Rabaul that preceded it remained imprinted on family and friends of the dead, said Keith Jackson, chairman of the Montevideo Maru memorial committee.

''There has been a continuation of grief and frustration to this day … because of failure by previous Australian governments to appropriately recognise the tragedy and effectively respond to a profound need for closure.''

Source: Still haunted by song of doomed diggers by John Huxley, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 2009

Read the full story here

Photo: USS Sturgeon

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Stephen Webb, Media Officer, Uniting Church

One of our former Moderators, Malcolm Macleod, read John Huxley’s story in the SMH yesterday and phoned in to say you might be interested in knowing (if you don’t already) that there is a memorial for the Montevideo Maru at the Uniting Church’s Centre for Ministry at North Parramatta.

Apparently 12 members of the Methodist Church (now Uniting Church) died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

Bishop Simon Gaius came from Papua New Guinea to dedicate the bronze plaque at the entrance of George Brown Hall at the Centre for Ministry.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)