(See also: Montevideo Maru, Questions)
On 7.30 Report, 6th October 2003, the ABC (Australia) discussed the story of one Japanese survivor of the ship ‘Montevideo Maru’, as recently published in "Japanese Merchant Ships at War" by H. Noma.
On this programme, no-one represented the pre-WWII European community of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. This was a community destroyed by the Fall of Rabaul, and the subsequent loss of most of its men. Were some on the ‘Montevideo Maru’? Many children of that community are still waiting for answers to the tragedy.
Now here, on this site, a few survivors of that community – and military garrison - speak about the ‘Montevideo Maru’ through primary source material that Anne McCosker collected mainly in the 1970s.
Extracts from MASKED EDEN, Chapter XIII:
The re-burial at Bita Paka of Bob Kennedy and a few of the other men butchered at Tol, was the only visible way pre-war residents of the Islands could remember and grieve for their lost relatives and friends.
The majority of European men, civilians and soldiers, caught by the Japanese were categorically said - by the Establishment - to have been drowned on the 1st July 1942 when the U.S.A submarine 'Sturgeon' torpedoed the 'Montevideo Maru’ off Luzon Island, the Philippines.
Lieut. David Selby, later Justice Selby, was to write concerning the 'Montevideo Maru', ' I know it is completely disbelieved by many of the old- time New Guineans.' Selby himself was 'sceptical'. To him ' It never rang quite true '. However 'at the same time, [he] have never heard anything which [he] could regard as convincing evidence that it is false’.1
Was the truth concerning the 'Montevideo Maru’ deliberately suppressed by an Establishment with much to hide? A suppression aided by the grateful support of individual men who had something to hide, Perhaps these individuals had only a sense of shame or guilt that they had escaped, or survived P.O.W. camps, while their friends, officers or men had not. Such feelings would, however, make men easy targets for deception. For other men fame and fortune might depend upon the 'Montevideo Maru,'
Was the truth lost through incompetence the same incompetence that had led to the Fall of Rabaul? Or were all those men drowned on 1st July 1942.
Two men who were at Ramale on 13th September 1945 when the P.O.W’s. and Bishop Scharmach were released were John Gilmore and B. Fairfax - Ross. Fairfax - Ross was to write 'Unfortunately I cannot shed any light as to the authenticity or otherwise of the Montevideo Maru... I think I came to accept that the ‘Montevideo Maru’ tragedy took place.'2
John Gilmore had written, 'don't think Fairfax will be of any use but its worth a try.'
John Gilmore was never to accept the ‘Montevideo Maru' story.
Officialdom will never admit they refused to let these people leave Rabaul and virtually gave them to the Japs. They were non combatant & largely ancient.... I suppose it was better for all [of] them to go at once than it be found out they were whittled away over a long period.
John Gilmore grew up in New Britain, in the AIB he worked behind the Japanese lines. He was in Rabaul immediately after the Japanese surrender. He was in close contact with New Guinean Islanders like Rombin. He was for a time after the war, Vice- President and his father President of the R.S.L. in Rabaul. He was aware from his close contact with Stan McCosker of events before and during the Fall of Rabaul. He was also aware how the Establishment had treated men like McCosker. His opinion, surely, has much authority.
Concerning events immediately after the release of prisoners from Ramale, Gilmore wrote:
I was with a party which "released" the mission people from Ramale camp behind Kokopo. Very soon after a gentleman named Creswick (one of the civilian survivors) showed, or actually gave me his diary which contained names of the 'Montevideo Maru’ passengers who were actually in prison with him in Rabaul only a year previously & they gradually were taken away on working parties not to return. The last only left just before he was transferred to Ramale.
I copied the names right away before the diary was confiscated by the officer in charge of the A.N.G.A.U. Aust N.G. Admin Unit. The list of names was verified by a Catholic priest who was also in Rabaul prison for some time. I was based on HMAS 1327 anchored at Malaguna.Immediately on return the list was handed to the captain who had it transmitted to R.A.N. HQ Intell. They would of course have the message but will never admit to it let alone, anyone sighting it. There was a bit more to the story but of no consequence.
On the afternoon of Ramale Day, the Anglican priest Father Benson and a Catholic priest took Gilmore ' to Rabaul boob [jail]... to find the mysteriously missing Bushell's coffee Jar with the names in it’.
Gilmore was also to write that ‘J.K. (Keith) McCarthy would have been a bet but he died a short time back’.3
Keith McCarthy however, left a non comment. In his Patrol into Yesterday he wrote:
Colonel Scanlan did in fact survive his captivity in Japan but Gregory (the District Officer) was lost, as was almost every private soldier, N.C.O and civilian who were taken prisoners at Rabaul.
Not a word of the 'Montevideo Maru'.
He did add though that ' The Japanese were waging total war. Frightful evidence as to their brutality had come out with Frank Holland's party, brought by two soldiers, Alf Robinson and Driver W.D. Collins.4
And Stan McCosker? Gilmore wrote ' Yes Stan knew about the MM affair. ' He agreed with John Gilmore.
It was not surprising that to most remaining New Guinea Old Timers, the Australian Government’s statements and actions regarding the deaths of so many of their friends was viewed with contempt. Rumours of treachery in high places circulated among the few pre-war Rabaul citizens scattered throughout the South Pacific and the known war-time history of the Administration, especially in the day's before the Fall of Rabaul, gave added credibility to these tales.
Immediately the war ended many people and organizations, including the Executive Committee of the Pacific Territories Association and the Editor of the P.I.M., pressed the Australian Government for an enquiry into circumstances surrounding the capture of Rabaul by the Japanese and the abandonment of the civilians. The Australian Government resisted all such pressure.5
If it had been acknowledged by the Australian Government and New Guinea Administration that the men had been deliberately murdered - especially the civilians who could so easily have been sent to safety - the outcry and fury would surely have been such that the Australian Government would have been forced to hold a Court of Inquiry. What would such an Inquiry have discovered? Who knows what people - important people in their day - might then have been forced to resign from senior positions.
In July 1946 the Pacific Island Monthly under the heading, AUSTRALIAN
GOVERNMENT WILL NOT INQUIRE INTO RABAUL, reported a 'sorry tale’:
Sacrifice of 300 Civilians by Officialdom to be Ignored. From ‘Canberra, June 28’.
The Australian Prime Minister ( Mr. Chifley) told the House of Representatives today there would be no inquiry into the fall of Rabaul and other island bases in 1942.
Mr. Chifley made the blunt announcement after members of the Country and Liberal Parties had spent five hours putting the case of former New Guinea residents for an investigation, and, after the Labour members blocked a move to table secret documents on Rabaul..
The Prime Minister said " I see nothing at all in raking over dead ashes. I think that opinion is held by men in higher positions than mine. I believe inquiries into old issues are justified only when some one has evidently been guilty of corruption or treason.
"If an inquiry was ordered into Rabaul or Ambon there wouid be demands for inquiries.... and everywhere else.... The names of men who served their country would be besmirched. I do not propose to be a party to supporting any inquiries into what might have been military mistakes.
"No matter what motion is moved by the Opposition, so far as I am concerned there will not be any of my party supporting them. There will be no inquiries of any kind at all".
Mr .H.L. Anthony led the demand for Inquiries into the fall of Rabaul, Ambon and Timor...
Mr. Anthony produced in the House a thick sheaf of letters from organisations who wanted an inquiry into the fall of Ambon and Rabaul.
When the Minister of Postwar ReconstructIon (Mr. Dedman) laughed, Mr, Anthony said " This might be a very brave joke for the Minister, but the bereaved parents of these people who didn't come back are not amused".
Mr. Anthony went on "At Rabaul, not only the army of about 1400 men, but also 300 civilians were sacrificed. I have good reason to believe there were cables exchanged between the Acting Administrator of New Guinea, Mr H.H. Page, and the Government, asking that these civilians be evacuated.
But the civilians were not evacuated even though there were ships in the harbour. Their lives were sacrificed by incompetence or negligence."
Mr. Anthony demanded that the Government produce copies of the cables sent by the late Mr Page....
All of Mr. Anthony's proposals were quashed when the Labour members combined in a division to defeat the amendment by 33 votes to 20.6
Thus was the Fall of Rabaul dismissed. Thus was the Fall of Rabaul dismissed by the representatives of a sovereign Government that had received a Mandate from the League of Nations to protect all the races of New Guinea. And thus all questions concerning the treatment of civilians and soldiers captured by the Japanese were smoothly dismissed. As Mr. Anthony said " The 300 Rabaul civilians were accounted for. But most of them were accounted for as dead."
Officialdom just shrugged its shoulders, said it was sorry, but the men had all been killed by an allied submarine. They had all been on board the ‘Montevideo Maru', over a thousand of them on a small freighter, and all were drowned when that freighter was sunk by an American submarine off the Philippines. The Australian Government could not be blamed. No Government official or military commander could be held responsible.
Stan McCosker, having seen so much individual corruption during the war, believed that deceit had been, and still was rife in Rabaul, Melbourne and Canberra. He, like many others, decided that the Government and military establishments in Australia needed the 'Montevideo Maru' as much as the Japanese Government.
What of that 'un-ironed and un-ready' old school tie ?
The Administrator, Sir Walter McNicoll, whose behaviour in the months leading up to 23 January 1942 has never been investigated, was still involved in New Guinea affairs after the war. He died on Boxing Day 1947.
Harold Page, Government Secretary and Deputy Administrator was dead. Harold Page's brother, Rt, Hon. Sir Earle Fage, member of the the Australian War Cabinet 1942-3, member of the Australian Advisory War Council 1943-5, was extremely active in Australian political and academic circles until his death in 1961.
Colonel Scanlan was to become Deputy Governor of Hobart Gaol after he returned from captivity in Japan. He died in the early 1960's. Captain Gray, of course, died in Japanese captivity in 1942.
Major-General Morris was in command of ANGAU until 1946.
Lt. J.C. Archer, one of two N.G.V.R officers who survived the war as a P.0.W in Japan, was from 1956, Administrator of Northern Territory. He had been a civil servant in pre-war Rabaul.
Padre John May left Australia soon after he returned from captivity in Japan, to Oxford, England.
Other men such as Co1. Carr, Commander of the 2/22nd Battalion, who escaped from New Britain in 1942, seem to have vanished from the public arena.7
With no Royal Commission, or Inquiry, most Australians soon forget the little they had ever learnt about the Fall of Rabaul and its tragic epilogue. The pre- war resident's of New Guinea - those few riot lost - did not, and were never to forget. They watched, listened, asked questions and grieved.
John Gilmore did not forget. Apart from knowledge of events on the 13th September 1945, he knew that
a couple of the crew of the sunken 'Montevideo Maru' were picked up by a 'party' of a sister unit somewhere in Borneo who knew nothing of prisoners on their ship, it was returning in ballast to Japan.
Gilmore also was to write:
‘Mac ' Hamilton did tell me that the Capt. of the sub that sunk the MM said he went to periscope depth, had a quick look saw a few crew in the water then dived and took off full speed as there were other ships in the area that were hostile. Not a lot of people only a few which he presumed were crew.
John Gilmore's suspicions were further aroused in the months after he returned to Rabaul. One day by chance he was driving along Tunnel Hill Road as the army were clearing the surrounding bush. About thirty bodies had just been discovered with their hands tied together. Gilmore was not allowed to investigate. Other graves, he knew, had been found in Rabaul and the surrounding district.
Then early one morning he as Vice- President of the local R.S.L. went to the cemetery to check that everything was in order for a funeral later that day. He found a new, unmarked grave. No one would tell him who was buried there. John decided it must be a body found and quickly buried. And so it continued.
Of those people who lived through the horrors of Japanese occupation in Rabaul from 1942 to 1945 and the author had direct communication with, Lulu Miller and Sister Flavia O'Sullivan were certain the men were not on the 'Montevideo Maru'. The third was George McKechnie. The author finds his written words on the subJect unsatisfactory and disturbing in their lack of much definite knowledge.
Lulu Miller was to say " there were very few men on that ship"8 (the ‘Montevideo Maru’.) She, after all, said she knew when one man, Harold Page himself, had disappeared while he was still in Rabaul. Lulu was also to tell the wife of a very prominent Rabaul business-man that she had known when this lady's husband had disappeared.
Sister Flavia O'Sullivan, 'a girl at Ramale, was the mission morale booster, spent time in solitary for making fun of the nips', as Gilmore recalled, was to write:
Regarding the "Montevideo Maru" there were three stories; one that it was torpedoed off Manila (which it was) with all our men on board. This for various reasons proved to be false. A second rumour, the story in Bishop Scharmach's book ( which I typed and corrected for him) "This Crowd Beats Us All" was that the men were taken to Keravat and systematically executed there. This story originated in the so-called fact that watches of some of the missing men were found on the evacuated decomposed bodies. But Japanese would never bury a body with a watch on it.
The third rumour which to me seems to be the most probable is that they all went aboard the ship, were decimated as they went on, the ship was 2 hrs out to sea and returned empty. Conclusion is that they were systematically executed at sea as our missionaries on the 'Ashikadu Maru'.9
Bishop Scharmach of the Sacred Heart Mission, in his book This Crowd Beats Us All stated he did not believe the ' Montevideo Maru' existed. Perhaps he meant this in the sense that the 'Montevideo Maru' was not carrying all those men. This was perhaps what the United States Navy also meant when it said that no ship like the 'Montevideo Maru' i.e. one carrying over a 1,000 allied P.0.Ws, was ever sunk by an American submarine.
What was the attitude and actions of the four European civilian men who survived the Japanese occupation of Rabaul; Gordon Thomas, George McKechnie, Devin Creswell and Jim Ellis?
Gordon Thomas, the oldest of the four, was also after 1945 the most talkative and communicative. His version of events was to dominate most future interpretations of the 'Montevideo Maru' subject. As John Gilmore wrote ' Yes Gordon Thomas had the key to everything and being a journalist he must have observed, yet never did he say a word, I know the army tried.'
In 1945 Gordon Thomas wrote a story for the Pacific Islands Monthly in which he gave a vivid description of meeting many of the men of Rabaul in May 1942. One wonders how such a visit was possible, allowing for the known behaviour of the Japanese.10 The Webb Report records that this visit was 'short'.11 Perhaps strangely, for the ex-editor of the Rabaul Times, Gordon Thomas never published a book on his unique war time experiences. [His book remains in typescript: editor’s note].
The PIM. also published in November 1945, what if totally true, was an amazing feat. This was the nominal roll of all the men seen by Thomas, Ellis, Creswell and perhaps McKechnie, during that visit in May to the main Rabaul P.0.W. camp. It was also a nominal roll of all the men said to have been in the Rabaul area before the invasion. This list would have required a vast and intimate knowledge of the inhabitants of Rabaul in those confused days before 23 January 1942 - as well as a first class memory.
Many questions can be asked about these lists. A few will suffice.
How could the men have known for example that Tom Spencer left Rabaul a couple of days before the invasion? His name is not on that list Thomas is said to have given the authorities in September 1945. And how could the men have been sure of who was where on all the various outlying plantations and islands?
George McKechnie, another of the four men civilians to survive the Japanese occupation was to write that the men
left Rabaul on the 26th June 1943 (sic) on the Montevideo Maru, they numbered upwards of a thousand all told, actual figures were impossible to come by, in addition to these there were a considerable number of Japanese troops who were being
re-allocated for one reason or another. Later to this we heard a rumour that the Montevideo Maru ha(d) been torpedoed by an American submarine off Luzon in the Philippines on or about the 11th July. According to all reports there were no survivors.
If these dates conflict with published information I can only add that our only source of information was the local grapevine which was far from reliable.
Only four of us were ever in the hands of the Army and we managed to maintain a rather uncertain contact by means of friendly natives whom Gordon Thomas knew well.12
The date '26th June' - rather than 22nd was also written by McKechnie on his AUSTRALIAN WAR CRIMES COMMISSION QUESTIONNAIRE.13 This date also appears in the first reports from Rabaul after the four men were released.14
The third man, Creswell, was to give Gilmore his diary, stating ' a naval man was always a naval man.'
And what of the fourth man, Jim Ellis?
‘Jim Ellis knew all ', Gilmore believed, 'he was the executioners’ driver & is even waxing rich in the country of his choice.'
This country? ' Japan ' [Fairfax-Ross] was told.
Several of the women whose husband's had disappeared were to visit Gordon Thomas. One, Iris Schmidt, was not only convinced her husband had been buried in Rabaul but was sure that on her visit to Thomas in Campbelltown, N.S.W. he had tried to poison her. An extraordinary story, perhaps? Iris Schmidt was to talk of her experiences in trying to find Ardie Schmidt's body. She was also able to relate in well known spiritualist terms seeing her husband in a vision, and being told by him where he was buried in Rabaul.15 Peggy Byron, the practical school teacher, whose fiancee was missing, presumed dead, did not laugh at Iris Schmidt's stories She herself, did not believe the men were on the ' Montevideo Maru '.
Some of the nurses who returned to Rabaul after their ordeal as prisoners in Japan did not believe the men were on that ship. Some of the children of the Methodist missionaries were never to believe their fathers had been on the 'Montevideo Maru'. Apart from an obviously 'gut feeling' - which many wives and relations of the lost men were always to have - some wives and children were told by New Guinean natives that the men had been seen alive in 1945.
Missionary and other civilian men still alive in 1945 fits in with the various impressions one gets from the Reports of Roberts, Fairfax- Ross, Bates, and others, of Europeans hiding and being helped by natives, in northern New Britain. It also fits in with George McKechnie comments to Lil Evensen.
At the end of the war, Evenson's name appeared in a list of ten civilians who, together with a few other men were supposed to have been the only ones left in Rabaul after the 'Montevideo Maru' sailed on 22 June 1942.
Lil Evensen had waited as she later wrote
for news of loved ones - five and a half years. During this long period, I read in the Pacific Island Monthly, that Albert had been executed; a letter to the Editor asking where he had acquired this information brought no reply, likewise one to the Minister for Territories ( Mr. E. Ward) in which I requested that he insist on the P.l.M Editor stating how he had obtained such information.
On May 20th '47, I was advised by Canberra, that my husband was now presumed dead on May 15th '44 but giving no reason for the date. I (Lil) cannot accept this at all, because our next door neighbour at Pondo ( Mr. George McKechnie) who was one of the four who came out alive ... told (Lil) when (they) met in June 1971, that Albert was taken into Rabaul and put in charge of our prisoners hospital, and that he was talking to Albert two months before hostilities ceased.
To complete Lil Evensen's story,
Albert was in receipt of a war pension of thirty shillings a fortnight for injuries received in the first world war ( which were the reason for his non acceptance in the second), but Canberra never ever sent me six pence of it during the 5 years, or even asked how I was living: after the war I told the R.S.L. in Geraldton who took the matter up with Canberra, with the results, they sent me a cheque for £130.
Well might the question be asked "Who cared"?16
Albert Evensen's name was never to appear on any list of men lost on the 'Montevideo Maru'. However, at least two men known not to have been on that ship have appeared on the lists. Allan Cameron and L.C. Thompson.
As regards Allan Cameron. The A.I.B. officer captured near Gasmata in November 1943, John Murphy, was found alive in Rabaul at the end of the war. Concerning John Murphy, John Gilmore was to write ‘John Murphy would have known a lot but his trial shut his mouth.'
John Murphy wrote a report for Army Headquarters. He gives a brief description of his capture by the Japanese near Gasmata on 1 November, 1943.
I only know that I was captured by naval units. I was not ill-treated and in fact, after reaching GASMATA was reasonably well- treated. I was only shortly interrogated and I had my wound dressed. I was sent by submarine on 3 Nov to RABAUL where I was handed over to prison conducted by Navy. The camp was small and contained 12/16 civilian internees:-
Allan Cameron - Eng Adm.17 [The first name on the list].
This was in November 1943.
Allan Cameron is also included in one of Gordon Thomas's lists, the list of men seen after the 'Montevideo Maru' was sunk. Allan Cameron is, however, placed on the "Montevideo Maru' in the official list published in 1945.
C.J. Thompson - medical assistant. In
REFORT on WAR CRIMES - PRAED POINT, NEW BRlTAIN. 14 May 1947 it is recorded ‘One other body has been identified as that of a civilian C.J. THOMPSON, who, if has been established was in RABAUL internment camp during July/Aug 42.18
Thompson's body was identifiable because he always wore a very distinctive belt with his name on it. That belt was found. C.J. Thompson, is however, placed on the 'Montevideo Maru' in the official list published in 1945. Thompson is also on one of Gordon Thomas's lists, the list of men 'seen in Rabaul camp in May 1945’.
No wonder so few Old Timers of New Guinea believed a word the Establishment said.
What of all the Australian soldiers? What of all those men of the 2/22nd Battalion said to have been on the 'Montevideo Maru', what about them? As soon as one starts to investigate this subject, confusion and contradiction become apparent.
In latter lists of men missing the army numbers differed from those held by their families. For example, Warrant Officer 2, Frederick Arthur Mountford QP 2269 - Royal Australian Engineers, 1st Division Rabaul Fortress Coy. - becomes QX 64901. Mountford's mother was to write to a P.O.W. magazine in 1944 asking for information about her son.21
The attitude shown by those in authority to Mrs. Nottage perhaps sums up how the men of 2/22nd BattalIon and related military were treated. In a letter dated 18th August 1942 she asked for further information regarding her husband Captain Nottage. In this letter she writes that she had been advised on 20 March that her husband was well and with his unit. Captain Nottage was already a P.0.W. in Japanese hands.22
The name 'Andy Baird', cousin of Francie King, was to appear in a list given to the District Officer, Rabaul, and then passed on to New Guinea Headquarters, by the New Guinean Siribi of Lawo, Madang District. Baird and 30 other men were reported having been hiding for a short time with Vic Pratt and a few other Australian civilians on Pratt's plantation, Tobera, outside Kokopo.
The Pratt story contains much to question.
Victor Pratt and at least two other Europeans, A. A. Smith and W.R. Huntley were hiding from the Japanese for some months behind Kokopo. Huntley with other Europeans was seen by Dr. J. Schuy about the 31st July 42 passing Kokopo in a truck, captive of the Japanese. Dr, Schuy was later told Pratt and Smith were two of the other Europeans he had seen with Huntley.
Father W. O'Connell arrived at the Rabaul Internment Camp on 31 August 1942. He stated:
Fr. Neuhaus told me that two days before my arrival in Rabaul a party of six New Guinea residents had been moved from the Camp without their gear and had not returned. Later in the day the Japs had ordered the collection of their gear which, afterwards, Frs. Neuhaus and Hemig believed they saw buried.- I am not certain of the names of the six but know they were captured behind Kokopo about the end of 3 July 42. 1 think the names of three were Pratt, Huntley and Smith.
Some of the Pratt papers, but not his manuscript WAR FUGITIVES IN NEW-
BRITAIN JUNGLE were forwarded from HQ ANGAU Lae, to the 1st Adv. 2nd
Echelon Army Headquarters. Extracts, only extracts, of Huntley's diary were
also sent by Major-General Morris.
Morris was to write:
No copy of the MS is being submitted to that Unit as the little information useful ... is covered in much more detail by Mr.W.R. Huntley's diary, extract of which have already been submitted…of 19 November 1945.23
This was the same Major-General Morris who had treated Stan McCosker with such short-sightedness, or purpose, in 1945. That same Morris who would almost certainly have seen the Gaskin, McCosker, Targett REPORT.24 The same man who, if he had taken that REPORT seriously, was in the position to have organised the rescue of, perhaps, many men hiding in the rough country behind Kokopo.
The Pratt papers proved the accuracy of that REPORT. Had there been some skeleton plan, organised by planters and other men of New Britain, based on the Wastab's Blue Book Plan? There is a curious sentence in one New Guinean's statement, 'One night an aeroplane brought food to some Australian soldiers hiding in the Bainings'. Was this a group of Coast Watchers, or was it a group of soldiers of the 2/22nd Battalion?25
One can only hope there was more Intelligence interest shown in Huntley's diary than there was in the paybooks of Gunners Porter, Arthur and Prescott.
These three men were to hide from the Japanese for many months. The New Guinean Luluai, Toboka, stated that:
Porter handed their pay books to him for safe custody in case they were captured. The native successfully concealed the books until the cessation of hostilities when he handed them to the District Officer, Rabaul, who has stated that he forwarded them on to HQ 11 Div for action.
No information was received by the 2nd Echelon organization from HQ 11 Div. or any other Army authority concerning the receipt of the pay books and it is thought that the importance of such information to the organization must have been overlooked and that the books may now be in possession of the appropriate District Account's Office….26
STATUTORY DECLARATION by John Stokie concerning his not being allowed to return to New Guinea at the end of WWII. He had been in contact with the Porter party. MASKED EDEN page 273, Note 27
The Harvey party was also known to have been captured after some time in hiding. Harvey had tried to contact Moresby by teleradio without success.28 Soon after being captured the party of five was executed This included Mrs Harvey and her young son.
It seems almost certain that any group of men captured out of Rabaul were either executed on the spot or taken to Rabaul and executed a short time later. The excuse given by the Japanese being these men were spies. Many men would have fallen into this category.
Men also were executed on working parties, out of Rabaul.29 Bodies were burnt at Tol. Others buried in tunnels later covered by earth. Around Matupi there were many hot springs. And how many bodies were officially discovered and recorded but not reported?
To any one reading the Official War Histories - even more so original documents - several facts should very quickly become clear. The first fact is that some men seem to have been killed twice. Who were all those civilians and soldiers murdered in the Tol area around Wide Bay and up the Mevelo River at the Patrol station at Kasileia? Bob Kennedy is buried at Bita Paka, partly because of Stan McCosker’s determination. Yet dozens of civilians were murdered at Tol.
Who were the men on the little schooners seen to have been bombed and sunk by enemy planes? Who were the men murdered by pro-Japanese natives, and reported to have been so murdered by men like Rombin?
There were, of course, only a definite number of Europeans in New Britain in 1942.
A second fact quickly becomes apparent when one checks various original documents with later published lists of names. Names have been confused, often appearing in two different lists. ( Lists show men on the 'Montevideo Maro' and with unknown graves. Some men are recorded as civilians and N.G.V. Riflemen.)30
A third fact - some men reported killed are not mentioned in any modern lists. Men such as Albert Evensen.
A fourth fact - even Gordon Thomas’s early lists have been ignored and/or confused.
It is possible too that several men escaped to Australia and for one reason or another decided not to inform anyone. Disappearance could have its advantages. Were they put on the 'Montevideo Maru'? It is also possible that personal vendettas and individual wars played their part in various ways during and after the Fall of Rabaul.
In the 1970’s Old Timers still living in Rabaul generally accepted the fact that many civilians and soldiers had been executed in Rabaul and the surrounding area. Often taken by
truck to Matupit and other places, most likely they were equipped with spades and were ordered to dig a trench, after which machine guns mowed them down. It would have been easy for the Japanese to throw the bodies in and cover the trench. That would be in keeping with their forces' procedure elsewhere.33
‘The Malay Hole' was one place Old Timers believed had been an execution ground. Several New Guineans are reported as having seen executions at this place although the Matupi area was generally forbidden to New Guineans and the Japanese army - by the Japanese Kempi Tai. [secret police]
The following letter raises another question. Did men from Rabaul reach Japan and die there as P.O.Ws ?
Gunner Ryan's sister-in-law was also to write asking about that photograph. Obviously Ryan's Commanding Officer was sufficiently convinced it was Ryan he felt able to involve Ryan's family.
There are so many curious aspects to the 'Montevideo Maru' story. Take the statement: the soldiers and civilians were on the 'Montevideo Maru', the officers and nurses were on another ship. Why was the C.O. of the NGVR Col. Field not with the two NGVR officers, Lt. Archer and Lt. Kilner? He is said to have been on the ‘Montevideo Maru.'
And why could P.O.Ws. on other Japanese ships survive torpedoing even when battened in batches, yet not only did not one P.O.W. survive the sinking of the 'Montevideo Maru' , but no bodies were seen in the water?35
Why was no official question asked regarding the the length of time the ship took to reach Japan? According to the reports, she was sunk off the Philippines on 1 July, having left Rabaul on 22 June. She was still over 1500 miles from Japan when nine days out from Rabaul. Yet the officers and nurses reached Japan on a 'dirty old freighter' nine days out from Rabaul. In this regard 26th June rather than 22nd, makes more sense as the date the 'Montevideo Maru' left Rabaul.
Or did the Japanese spend days off-loading and executing civilians and soldiers? Fred Lomas, a Lieutenant with the 2~22nd Battalion was according to Mac Hamilton
adamant that both soldiers and civilians were loaded onto the 'Montevideo Maru' by the Japs at Rabaul. He considers they may have been off loaded not onto New Britain or the Duke of Yorks Islands but an island North of New Ireland probably New Hanover, Australians were executed by the Japs on New Hanover but it is generally thought they were from Kavieng and other areas of New Ireland and surrounding islands.
The ‘Montevideo Maru' may have put them off at any other Pacific Island and they had several north of Manus and south of the Philippines.
Why was Lt. Lomas so adamant all the men, civilians and soldiers were on
board that ship. He was not there. Did he receive his information from Major
Ackeroyd a medical Major of the 2/22. Ackeroyd was taken prisoner on the North Coast of the Gazelle Peninsula, New Britain. As Mac Hamilton wrote:
He [Ackeroyd] said the officers were loaded on board the Montevideo Maru with the other prisoners but the officers were taken off and sent to Japan on another boat. He said he had the nominal roll of those on board and none were seen again.36
John Clark, ex RAAF Officer - son of Nobby Clark - a young man brought up in Rabaul, was told by New Guineans in 1946, that they did not see the men going onto the 'Montevideo Maru'. His wife Pat was to write many years later
Some time in 1948 while living in Rabaul, three native men from three different villages came to see me at different times and said "Masta Clark ‘e no go long ship". What actually happened, I asked, not letting on that I had heard this claim before.
Each native told me a similar story. The white men were taken to Matupi, made to dig trenches and then killed…
What the three natives told me was not a pretty story and I refrained from telling John [her husband] till some time later when we were back in Australia.39
How was it discovered, this loss of so many men?
Major H.S. Williams, the Australian Officer attached to Recovered Personnel
Division, Tokyo, was to write in his Report re Japanese steamer ‘Montevideo
Maru’ torpedoed off Luzon, 1st Julv 1942:
On 20th July 1942 the Navy Dept. reported the sinking of the 'Montevideo Maru' to the owners.
On 6th January 1943 the Navy Dept forwarded details of the sinking to the PW Information Bureau, together with a complete nominal roll of 845 PW and 208 civilians who were on board and presumed lost.
It is to be particularly noted that the later information was not communicated by the Information Bureau, and remained hidden in the files of the Bureau until discovered by the writer on 28th September 1945.
Further in this Report under the heading Enquiries made by Swiss Legation on behalf of Australian Government Williams states that after more than seven formal interventions the only definite reply the Legation was given by the Japanese was ‘ it seems that none of the persons referred to are in the hands of Japan and it is believed that all may have taken refuge in the hills '.
In another document dated 10th October, Major Williams states 'Someone at the Bureau (Japanese) had ascertained that some of the missionaries had been lost on the 'Montevideo Maru'…40
Was this the basis for the Japanese in Rabaul telling Bishop Scharmach about the 'Montevideo Maru'?
On the 3rd July l942 the document41 was typed.
WAR CRIMES - RABAUL see Masked Eden, P 279, note 41
The document of 3 July perhaps illustrates the whole 'Montevideo Maru' story.
1. Amongst the bodies found in July 1950 were the complete crew of a Catalina, said by the Japanese Commander at Rabaul to have been drowned when the destroyer they were being transferred to Japan on, was sunk. 2. Political pressure was placed on relevant people to be silent.
So was the 'Montevideo Maru' a refuge for men to hide behind Has the truth become grid-locked into lies?
Rabaul should never have fallen. No civilians should have been murdered.
It is understandable that most of those in power and authority in New Guinea - and Australia - in 1941 were not able to imagine the Japanese war machine, although there was plenty of evidence from Asia of Japanese methods. The sadistic depravity and deranged savagery of the Japanese belongs beyond most Europeans’ sickest nightmares. What is not acceptable even if understandable is the continual refusal to rationally discuss the subject, fifty years after World War II has ended.
Dr Alan Healy believes 'a defensive chauvinism instantly comes into play that defeats reason’42 as soon as one tries to rationally discuss New Guinea with most Australians. It certainly appears as soon as one tries to state facts as known to Old Timers - the very people who pioneered Australian New Guinea and suffered most from the Japanese psychotic mentality - regarding the 'Montevideo Maru'.
© copyright Anne McCosker 2003.