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Army February 4, 2010
By Sgt Andrew Hetherington
A MEMORIAL plaque joined sol-
diers' slouch hats and boots on the
wreck of the Australian Hospital
Ship (AHS) Centaur, more than 2000
metres below the surface of the South
The Seahorse Spirit was contracted
by the Australian and Queensland gov-
ernments to find the Centaur.
Maj Arthur Dugdale, Army Special
Projects, was one of the privileged few
to be aboard the ship during the search,
the only ADF member and on the project
He recalled what he saw after the
remote controlled submarine made sev-
eral passes over the wreck site.
"There was great excitement and
relief on board as we continued to view
the video, where we also saw hospital
beds, coats and shoes," Maj Dugdale
After the survey of the ship was com-
plete, on January 12 the plaque was laid
on the wreck, which was followed by a
"During the placing of the plaque
tension was high as a lot could have
gone wrong, but once that was done the
pictures became quite moving," he says.
"We had in effect placed a headstone
for 268 lost women and men whose rest-
ing place we had found.
"The service that followed reminded
all of us aboard that our search had been
borne of a need not only to locate, but
also to remember."
Maj Dugdale says during the service
he spent time reflecting on those who
had lost their lives in the tragedy.
"My thoughts weren't particularly
pleasant, imagining how so many sol-
diers had died," he says.
"Clearly by their words to me later,
many of the crew were also moved and
the service was a good way to cap our
work, which came to feel like a grand
As the ship sank in such deep water,
it was remarkable how little of the
wreckage was strewn around the site.
Almost everything above deck,
including the superstructure was still
attached to the hull and debris rested
in an area of no further than 25 meters
from the wreck.
To prepare for the three-and-a-
In the early hours of May 14, 1943, the
2/3 Australian Hospital Ship, Centaur,
was steaming her way north from
Sydney. She was carrying 2/12 Field
Ambulance to Cairns and then onto to
Papua New Guinea. She was to bring
battle casualties back to Australia. The
ship was brightly lit, her white hull
emblazoned with a broad green banner
and several red crosses that proclaimed
her as a vessel of mercy. It was dark
as the Centaur chugged along at about
11 knots. Of the 332 men and women
on board, only 10 needed to be awake,
the rest were off duty and resting. The
Japanese submarine 1-177, under the
command of Leut-Cmdr Nakagawa sank
the Centaur about 0400hr. The tragedy
killed 268 people. Many died in the
initial explosion, some died trying to
escape the inferno, others while trying
to launch lifeboats and rafts. Some were
trapped on board and went down with
THE FINAL VOYAGE
half week sonar and video search, eight
months of preparation went into research-
ing a probable site.
"This involved creating a search area
small enough to be practicable and cost
effective, which was eventually conduct-
ed in roughly an area of 400 square km,"
Maj Dugdale says.
"The closest estimate to the ship's
location came from the Centaur's nav-
igator Gordon Rippon. He had said it
was actually within one nautical mile of
exactly where the Seahorse Spirit found
it." Maj Dugdale will continue to work
on the project, where he will organise a
national memorial service to be held in
Brisbane in March and a commemorative
activity on May 14.
For more information visit http://www.army.gov.
au/AHS_Centaur.asp or http://tmbevans.fatcow.
com/ or call 1800 019 955
Time to remember: Maj Arthur Dugdale lays a wreath over the wreck site of AHS Centaur (above). Images
of the Centaur deep in the ocean (inset).
Photos by Bruce Long and Maj Arthur Dugdale
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