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Photo on the piano helped resolve a mystery


Photo-on-Piano AS A BOY, John Schindler was fascinated by a photo his mother Alice kept on her piano.

The photo of the dapper young man still takes pride of place on the piano, even though Alice died seven years ago.

And the photo led to Mr Schindler, 64, solving a mystery of what happened to some of the 1053 men killed in Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

The Montevideo Maru, a Japanese prisoner-of-war ship, was torpedoed on 1 July 1942, off the coast of the Philippines with the loss of 845 Australian troops and 208 civilians.

Mr Schindler, growing up in Artarmon, listened to his mother’s stories about the man in the photo, her close friend John Wilson Day, who she had met in 1941.

Alice & Molly Mr Day was a horseman from Perth who had become friends with Alice and her sister Molly, before Alice and her husband Gunther were married in 1943.  [Photo: Molly and Alice in 1942]

“We know that John was captured in New Britain in 1942 and that he ended up on the Montevideo Maru,” Mr Schindler said.

“Mum was always upset and frustrated because she didn’t know what had happened to him. He was the bloke who never came back.”

Mr Schindler, now living in Queensland, became a radio announcer before he began making documentaries 20 years ago.

For his mother’s sake, he took it upon himself to find out what happened to John Wilson Day.

“I found out about another ship, the Naruto Maru, that had Australian officers and nurses on board from Rabaul who made it to Japan,” he said.

“So I tracked down people who were still alive to tell the story. I found an Australian officer, Captain Lex Fraser, who had made it through and he led to the start of my interviews.

“I told him I wished I’d met him when Mum was still alive.”

In Mr Schindler’s documentary, The Tragedy of Montevideo Maru, depicts what happened to the vessel.

In the evening of 30 June 1942, the ship came around the top of the Philippines, headed for China.

“An American submarine, the Sturgeon - looking for Japanese ships in enemy territory - chased it. The submarine couldn’t keep up with the Montevideo Maru but when it slowed down for an escort into Hainan (a Chinese island) it was torpedoed and sank in eight minutes.”

Mr Schindler tracked down the only survivor, a Japanese sailor now in his 90s, who escaped on a lifeboat.

“It was terribly sad to hear his story, especially because the men were singing Old Lang Syne in their final moments, which was very poignant,” Mr Schindler said.

“I’m at peace now that I’ve made the documentary and I know a lot of people have closure. It was just unfortunate Mum died before I even started making it. But it is a fantastic tribute to her.”

*Katrina Adamski is a journalist with Sydney’s North Shore Times, in which this article first appeared

The DVD The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru is available from the Montevideo Maru Memorial Trust, PO Box 1743, Neutral Bay NSW 2089 for $40 (including post & packing). It includes the two part series and much additional material. Or contact the Trust here.


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John Schindler

Mr Sakaguchi is correct. Mr Yamaji is 88 years old and not in his 90's. This mistake should not be attributed to Ms Adamski, however, as she stated his age based on my mistake in the documentary when I said Mr.Yamaji was in his 90's.
It would be wonderful if another survivor could be located.

Harumi Sakaguchi

Katrina Adamski is incorrect on two scores about the Japanese survivor.

Firstly, Mr Yamaji is 88 years old. Secondly, no research has been done to determine if there is any other survivor than Mr. Yamaji, who may still be alive today.

Mr Yamaji himself is keenly aware of this.

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