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THE loss of 1053 Australians
aboard the Japanese mer-
chant ship Montevideo
Maru on July 1, 1942, was com-
memorated by more than 350
people at Parliament House,
Canberra, on June 21.
The Lark Force soldiers, and
civilians, captured at Rabaul were
being taken to Hainan Island in the
South China Sea when the ship was
sunk by the US submarine Sturgeon
off the Philippines.
It was the largest loss of
Australian life in a single incident
in World War II and, because the
Japanese provided no information
on POWs in their hands, remained
unknown in Australia until the end
of the war.
Following the Japanese surren-
der, the Army sent a team to Tokyo
to enquire into the fate of Australian
POWs. The team located a Japanese
roll of personnel embarked on the
Montevideo Maru. This was trans-
lated and a list sent to Australia in
October 1945 which became the
basis for informing the next of kin
Former coastal artillery officer
and lieutenant, Stan Cooper, 93,
from Tasmania, said captured offic-
ers left Rabaul for Japan on the
Naruto Maru two weeks after the
"When all the officers got up
to Japan we used our memories to
work out who was lost, and 94 from
my unit is what I made out," he said.
"I made a note of the names, but
I don't know who died on the ship
and who died before in the battle
and the massacre at Tol plantation.
"I remember one chap was
wounded in the massacre and
escaped and was dead scared the
Japs would find out he was a wit-
ness to it."
Lark Force, based around the
2/22 Bn, arrived in Rabaul, New
Britain, in April 1941 to protect the
airfield and seaplane anchorage, to
provide a forward air observation
post and to make the enemy fight
for this line.
The force was ill-equipped
and when the Japanese landed on
January 23, 1942, their many-times-
stronger force was able to drive the
Australians out within a day.
Mr Cooper was keen to add
there was no general surrender at
Rabaul like in Singapore. "We were
captured in small groups all over the
Mr Cooper said he was pleased
the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru
incidents had finally been recog-
nised in Parliament but questioned
The 7300t transport vessel Montevideo
Maru, built in Nagasaki in 1926, left
Rabaul on June 22, 1942.
It carried 849 Australian soldiers and
204 civilians, all intended for use as
About 20 Japanese sailors survived
the event, but only two eventually
arrived in Manila -- the remainder,
including the captain, were killed by
Among those lost were 22 Salvation
Army bandsmen, the majority from
Brunswick Citadel band.
Among the civilians on board were
environment minister Peter Garrett's
grandfather, Tom Garrett, a World War
I Light Horse veteran, and methodist
minister Syd Beazley, uncle of former
Defence Minister Kim Beazley.
Long wait for
Sixty-eight years ago, 1053 Australians lost their lives aboard the
Montevideo Maru. Last month a commemoration ceremony was
held at Parliament House Canberra, Sgt Dave Morley reports.
Catching up: President of the Lark Force Association Norm
Furness, left, with sole survivor of 2/22nd Salvation Army Band Fred
Kollmorgen at the Montevideo Maru commermoration at Parliament
Remembering: Former Lieutenant and POW Stan Cooper at the commemoration
for 1053 Australians aboard the Montevideo Maru. Photos by AB Melanie Schinkel
how many years too late it was. "It's
a shame so many didn't live to see
it," he said.
Former corporal Norm Furness,
88, who joined the 57/60th Militia Bn
in 1938 and transferred into the AIF's
2/22 Bn in June 1940, said he lost
three mates on the Montevideo Maru.
Mr Furness evaded capture
and made his way down the coast,
eventually making his way back
to Cairns on the 350-ton Lakatoi.
He said he and his mates went to
Witu plantation, owned by a former
World War I nurse, Gladys Baker,
who gave them their first good feed
in nine weeks and aided their escape
"There were more than 200 of us
sitting back-to-back on board and it
took us a week to get to Cairns," he
said. "We heard Jap planes some-
times, but the weather was dull and
overcast so they didn't spot us."
Mrs Baker was awarded the
MBE in 1945 for assisting in pilot-
ing the Lakatoi through uncharted
waters and nursing wounded dig-
gers on the trip back to Cairns.
Mr Furness said the formal rec-
ognition in Parliament of Rabaul
and the Montevideo Maru was long
"My main disappointment
was so many members of parlia-
ment walked out before it started, I
thought that was a bit poor," he said.
Donations to the Rabaul and Montevideo
Maru Society for the construction of a
memorial at the AWM can be made to:
'Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee'
at PO Box 1743, Neutral Bay NSW 2089. Or
make a direct deposit to the society's bank
account BSB 082-401 account no 16-083-
2367, including your name.
Army July 8, 2010
Casualty: A postcard of the Montevideo Maru. The
ship was sunk by a US submarine in 1942.
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