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Memorial to worst maritime disaster to be unveiled


ON 1 JULY 1942, nearly 70 years ago, the Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru was sunk by an American submarine off the Philippines and more than 1,000 Australian soldiers and civilians perished.

Next week, hundreds of relatives and friends of the men who died will converge on Canberra to attend the dedication of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial on Sunday 1 July.

The service at the Australian War Memorial will be attended by Governor-General Quentin Bryce and ver 500 other guests.

The Australian soldiers were taken prisoners of war in Rabaul in the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of the New Guinea Islands in January 1942.

The POWs were variously members of the 2/22nd Infantry Battalion, 1st Independent Company, New Guinea Volunteer Rifles along with civilian internees - officers of the Australian Administration, businessmen, bankers, planters, missionaries and merchant seaman.

Their number included relatives of some well known Australians: Kim Beazley's uncle (a builder with the Methodist Mission); Peter Garrett's grandfather (a planter); former Senate President Kerry Sibraa’s cousin; and one time Prime Minister Sir Earl Page’s brother, who was the senior government official in Rabaul.

Women and children had been evacuated to Australia in the weeks preceding the Japanese invasion and it was not until 1945 when the war ended that they learned whether their husbands and fathers were alive or dead.

About 400 Australians did manage to escape and many more died trying to do so. Some were captured and summarily executed; others died from illness and starvation, or drowned crossing fast flowing rivers.

Apart from the dedication service at the Australian War Memorial, there will a luncheon at the Lakeside Hotel on Saturday 30 June and a concert that evening by the Salvation Army's Melbourne Staff Band.


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