Japanese researcher helps solve 70 year mystery
25 June 2012
AN INDEFATIGABLE JAPANESE RESEARCHER, who prefers not to be publicly identified, has been able to confirm the authenticity of the list of men who died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru prison ship on 1 July 1942.
The men – troops and civilians - were being transported from Rabaul to Hainan, China, when the vessel was torpedoed by a US submarine off the Philippines. All the prisoners and many Japanese sailors and marines died in the incident.
Australia’s worst maritime disaster will be marked at a ceremony in Canberra on Sunday when the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial [detail from invitation at right] is to be dedicated by Australian governor-general Quentin Bryce exactly 70 years after the ship was sunk.
The Japanese researcher, who once worked in Papua New Guinea, has been a most tenacious and assiduous student of the history of the sinking and has devoted years of research to determining the authenticity of records used to identify who exactly was on board the ship.
Earlier this month, he informed Australian authorities that the list of men on the ship, first assembled by Australian Army Major Harold Williams in Japan late 1945 was largely correct.
However he has also identified additional information, covering both civilians and troops.
The National Archives of Australia will unveil the document at a public viewing in Canberra tomorrow.
The researcher and I have been corresponding on this matter for some years, and – through email - I have been privileged to share his journey of discovery through its twists and turns, breakthroughs and setbacks, including the tragic death of leading Australian researcher Chris Diercke two years ago.
Despite having nailed the list down with admirable precision, the Japanese researcher is now extending his study to PNG, which is where some of our readers may be able to help. He has told me:
“One of my most important findings is that there was a complete nominal roll of the men (servicemen and civilians) sent by the Central Army Records Office (2nd Echelon) to the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages in Waigani, NCD [Papua New Guinea] in 1966."
If you may be able to help locate this record, you can get in touch with me at PNG Attitude.
I am sure that the list is correct with the details that the Japanese government received from the Japanese troops in Rabaul.
However, I am sure that in Rabaul after the Montevideo Maru was sunk the Japanese added names to the list, of people they had killed elsewhere before they sent the list to Japan.
I have evidence of two names. However the following extract is interesting. This is from the story of Nelson Tokiel which was published in the Post-Courier on 29 January, 1971.
"Two weeks later, under cover of darkness the two escaped and reached Dadung (Tokiel's village) where, after five days, word came that all the people were to go to Rabaul to work.
"Both Tokiel and Tohian knew the consequence of being caught by the Japanese a second time and decided to obey the order.
"In Rabaul they were put to work as labourers digging tunnels.
"They learned that Harold Page the secretary to the then Administrator and about 20 other Europeans were imprisoned in a tunnel and only occasionally, under heavy guard, allowed out to wash themselves.
"One night the European group was loaded on a Japanese vessel and the labourers were hustled on to others in a convoy of 14 - seven warships and seven cargo boats.
"My friend Tohian and I were separated. I felt lost, bereft and very much alone.
"The convoy sailed for Salamaua but landed at Buna where the leading vessel carrying Page and the other Europeans was bombed.
"The weeks were spent between Gona and Kokoda carrying cargo and clearing tracks for the Japanese advance. By now many of the labourers and carriers were dying because of ill health."
Max Hayes writes: "Nelson Tokiel and Henry Tohian are two of whom I would trust with my life in the days when I knew them.
"They were on the first officer's training course at Bomana Police College 1960-64 when they graduated as Sub Inspectors and both served under me, though older than me, as my junior commissioned officers mostly at Rabaul."
Harold Page's name is on the Montevideo Maru list.
We do not know the names of the other Europeans.
I leave this to your own conclusions.
Posted by: George Oakes | 27 June 2012 at 11:17 AM
Keith, this is a magnificent, nay, champion effort, approaching that of the intentions of those whose lives were lost in protection of benefits we all now enjoy.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 27 June 2012 at 01:41 AM
ABC report today
Montevideo Maru disaster list on show
A list of more than 1,000 prisoners of war and civilians who perished in Australia's worst maritime disaster has been unveiled at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra.
The Japanese ship Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by American submarine USS Sturgeon off the coast of the Philippines on July 1, 1942.
Earlier this year the government of Japan provided the National Archives with a collection of prisoner of war records, including cards and booklets.
The list was among the documents, and confirms those who were lost in World War II and specifically this disaster.
It is very fragile and will only be on display for one week.
The information will be available on a new website being launched next weekend.
Posted by: Peter | 26 June 2012 at 01:14 PM