Rev John May OBE, chaplain
to Lark Force in Rabaul at the time of the Japanese invasion in January
1942, died peacefully this morning in Hobart Private
After World War II, as a survivor, he became an important link between the relatives of the men who died and the events on the Gazelle Peninsula in the early months of Japanese occupation.
For many people, he was able to bring the last account of their loved one's life in captivity.
He was to write of those days:
After the first day or so the nurses were able to come down from the mission, under guard, morning and afternoon and spend most of the day at the hospital (Vunapope).
Before long the guard was given up and they came and went quite freely. We were afraid that they might be molested, either at the mission or as they went to and fro.
They told us that on three occasions at night some soldiers (Japanese) probably drunk, did try to get into the convent, but were kept out. They also told us that they complained to the authorities and the nuisance was stopped.
No one could adequately tell how much the nurses (Australian) did for morale. Their quiet competence in treating the sick, with only a meagre supply of the usual medicines, the mending and the other things they did--making two shirts for me from the BR cloth--their steady concern and cheerfulness, meant that we managed to keep up our spirits.
Each day we got two large loaves of bread and some other items. One rather tricky task was to cut the bread-- some 35 to 40 slices from each loaf, so that each person got one slice and there was not one left over.
There was of course a demand for tobacco. Our meagre supplies did not last long. The mission people were generous in sending us some of the cigars made at the mission. These we cut up and shared. We acquired also sticks of trade tobacco, Beaconsfield Twist which we washed, cut up with old razor blades, dried in the sun and rolled in any sort of paper we could find.
We had no reliable source of news.
If the Japanese were particularly pleased, they would make a big announcement,
April 1942, the last of the staff and patients were taken into Rabaul. The
nurses were kept at Vunapope. On 5 July they were brought to join the
officers aboard the vessel Naruto Maru,
and go to
The story of their subsequent privation and humiliation is yet another indictment of the behaviour of the Japanese towards the men and women who they took as prisoners.And in another letter he wrote to a bereaved family, the Oakes:
I was in Rabaul POW camp from 29 April to 22 June 1942, during which time I frequently saw and spoke to Mr Oakes. Early on the morning of Sunday 22 June, the whole camp was roused and all the civilians and military personnel (except officers and eight civilians) were later marched out of camp. I saw Mr Oakes march out with them.
The Japanese told us that they were being taken to a ship [which was the Montevideo Maru]. Later we heard that they had left Rabaul and the Japanese report was that the ship had reached its destination, a journey supposed to be covered in 4 or 5 days.
None of us saw the prisoners march on to the ship because the camp was not visible from the water, but there is not the least doubt in any of our minds but that the men sailed on that day.
While I was in
From a personal standpoint, may I add that there has been no doubt in my mind that all those fellows have gone. It has been a grievous shock, especially when there has been so long a period of anxiety and uncertainty preceding it.
I knew Dan (as we called him) and can speak of the great help he was in a number of ways to his comrades. His health was good and his spirits of the most cheerful.
Please accept my sincerest sympathy. This has been a distressing affair, but we can be glad in knowing that the end must have been swift and clean, and they are now at rest. God be with you and yours.
Soon after he returned from captivity in
He is survived by his wife,
Mary, and family members. Mary has asked that donations be made to the Montevideo Maru memorial fund instead of flowers at
The fund's bank details are: Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee. BSB 082-401 A/c No 16-083-2367 [NAB, Neutral Bay NSW]. Could you please drop an email to the Committee here if you do make a donation in this way.
“I have been talking about the forthcoming Montevideo Maru
broadcast with Stan Cooper. He and I are the only Tasmanians left who were from
Rabaul and ended up in Zentsuji POW camp in
“Otherwise there are only Lex Fraser in Ingham and Lorna
Our heroes may be fading, but let’s keep their light shining.