Mr E.V. Smith, Acting District Commissioner
It is exactly thirty years ago today that a ship left this harbour with well over one thousand Australian POWs on board. Nine days later that ship, the Montevideo Maru, was torpedoed by a submarine near the Philippines and sank within ten minutes. All the prisoners and almost all the guards and naval crew were drowned. Only three Japanese survivors finally reached Manila. The three survivors reported the sinking and an immediate search was ordered but due to the lapse in time no trace of either ship or men could be found.
The commemoration service held here this afternoon is a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the tragic circumstances of war. This service is a tribute to the 845 servicemen of the 2/22 Battalion and supporting companies who had been overwhelmed by the enemy around Rabaul. It is also a tribute to the 208 civilians. Eighty of these were servants of the then Territory of Papua New Guinea Administration and these men had been responsible for the development of New Guinea during the previous 20 years prior to the commencement of hostilities at the start of World War Two.
Amongst administration personnel who perished on the Montevideo Maru was Major Harold Page who was then the Government Secretary and the Deputy Administrator. Also on board were directors of Public Works and Agriculture, and the NG Treasurer Mr H Townsend. These able men with all their experience were lost to the post war administration and we were most saddened by their loss during the dreadful period of war.
Others, civilians, included business and professional men, managers and employees from almost every business in Rabaul and the islands. Planters and traders and 16 missionaries from the United, Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist churches perished.
A rumour that the whole story was a hoax designed to conceal a terrible war crime was thoroughly investigated after the war and was found to be based on statements that were either exaggerated or erroneous. Independent rolls combined or compiled from memory of prisoners who remained here in Rabaul tally almost exactly with the Japanese Naval Department list of prisoners taken aboard the Montevideo Maru. US Navy records confirm the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, giving her name, position and date in exact accord with the Japanese information.
This then is a brief background for visitors to our fair town about what the day means to us and what this service is about. As the acting DC of East New Britain and on behalf of the Administration of Papua New Guinea I wish to pay tribute to all the men of the Montevideo Maru. Thank you.
Transcript provided by George Oakes.
Image of Rabaul, 1945 AWM #096796 with permission of the Australian War Memorial.
Image of Rabaul, 1971 with permission of the National Library of Australia.