Are the Montevideo Maru Lists of Prisoners Correct?
Margaret Henderson's father's name, Rev. Tom Simpson is on the Montevideo Maru civilian list. Tom Simpson was a close friend of my father Rev. Dan Oakes when they worked together in New Ireland. My father somehow became a prisoner in Rabaul where he worked closely with the Rev. John May, Chaplain for Lark Force in the Rabaul camp. Margaret and I questioned John May if he had met Tom Simpson and he said he had never seen Tom Simpson at the Rabaul camp. Margaret has since learnt that her father was killed in Kavieng. Bob Edward's father, Murray Edwards, who was a Patrol Officer in Kavieng was a close friend of Lex Fraser of the 1st Independent Company in Kavieng. When Lex came to the Rabaul camp as a prisoner he looked for Murray Edwards and could not find him. Bob has since learnt that Murray was publicly executed in New Ireland. Murray's name is also on the Montevideo Maru list, in fact, Tom and Murray's names are on all the Montevideo Maru civilian lists from 1945 on. Why?
As we know the Japs killed civilians on the Kavieng wharf in early 1944 when they thought the Americans were going to land. They killed all the civilians they were holding in the camp by taking them to the wharf blindfolded, then taking them individually to the edge of the wharf, garroting them and letting their bodies fall into a barge. They then took the barge out to sea behind an island, added weights to the bodies then threw them overboard. There were about 30 people killed. The Americans did not land at that stage. The Japs then came up with the idea that the prisoners were on another ship which was sunk by the allies. Everyone who was involved with the killings was sworn to secrecy. The Japs nearly got away with this coverup however several years later, an Australian investigating the deaths, who spoke Japanese, was able to find a young crewman from the barge and questioned him thoroughly. He broke and spilt the beans on what had happened. The persons who ordered the killings were punished at the War Crime trials and the leader, Admiral Tamura was hung. I now think that a similar coverup could have occurred much earlier in Rabaul. I believe that the Japanese in Rabaul after they heard that the Montevideo Maru had been sunk with prisoners on board, decided to add names of civilians who had been killed by them, to the Montevideo Maru list which was actually prepared from a check list of prisoners in the Rabaul camp probably prepared a few weeks before the Montevideo Maru sailed from Rabaul. Those known to them at the time were added. This moved the responsibility for their deaths to the American submarine. Most of the Japanese killings of civilians probably took place before the Montevideo Maru sailed. These lists were then sent to Japan, perhaps, on the ship that took the officers and nurses.This would certainly fit in with the fact that Tom Simpson's and Murray Edward's names are on the Montevideo Maru list. I am sure we will never find an accurate list. I am sure the lists that were sent to Japan listing the prisoners who were on the Montevideo Maru had already been tampered with. I am also sure we should not accept the present lists of prisoners for the Montevideo Maru. I feel there were some civilian prisoners on the Montevideo Maru but far fewer than the lists we have show.
I realise that my views could be wrong but I cannot see any other reason for including names on the Montevideo Maru lists when the people were not on board. I have mentioned 2 names, I know of others where the children of those lost do not believe their fathers were on the Montevideo Maru and some of them have proof of this. How extensive was the Japanese cover up, we will never know. It could apply to Defence force lists as well. We have no proof of the accuracy of the Montevideo Maru lists, and even if prisoners boarded the Montevideo Maru in Rabaul we have no proof that they were still on board when it was sunk. In the Singapore area, the Japs often got rid of prisoners overboard while the ship was travelling. The surviving crew members - I know there were 3 in the 1950's - refused to speak of what happened - why? Then, more recently, there was only one left - he could say what he liked. One of his stories was of a destroyer trying to pick up survivors. Would this happen with an enemy submarine lurking around - I doubt it. How true were his other stories?
How come all 10 Methodist missionaries who died were on the Montevideo Maru list? Very interesting. I now know that at least 3 of them were not on the Montevideo Maru. I believe the Japs knew that district service staff (kiaps) and missionaries were respected by the indigenous people and therefore it was best to get rid of them if they were going to run the country. At least three kiaps from New Ireland were executed.
I have said little about the defence force lists regarding the Montevideo Maru. I understand at Bitapaka and the Australian War Memorial there is no list of service people who died on the Montevideo Maru. Those that died are shown in such terms as 'Missing, presumed dead'. It should be noted that in Rabaul 1942, by Douglas Aplin, which was published by 2/22nd Battalion, AIF, Lark Force Association, 1980, the list of the missing defence people is headed as follows, The Rabaul Memorial. The Names of Those who have No Known Grave. In other words, they are not saying who was on the Montevideo Maru.
I believe we should be concentrating on lists of names of those that died. We know they died, but often we do not know how they died. We can get accurate lists for their deaths but not accurate lists of how they died. I have prepared a list of all the European civilians that died from the New Guinea Islands. It may not be completely accurate at this stage, but I am sure it is much more accurate than the Montevideo Maru lists.
The Memorial proposed for Canberra should be called The New Guinea Islands Memorial. The words Montevideo Maru should not appear except in a subsidiary statement saying, The People died on the Montevideo Maru, at Tol Plantation, on Kavieng Wharf and in towns, plantations, mission stations and elsewhere.
© George Oakes 2011
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