70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Sinking of the ‘Montevideo Maru’

This is my public address to the gathering at the 70th anniversary commemoration of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru held at the Montevideo Maru Memorial at Simpsons Harbour, Rabaul on ANZAC Day (25 April) 2012.

Address by ex-Sergeant Jim Burrowes, ‘M’ Special Unit.

Me speaking with Papuans and Simpson Harbour in the background. Photo: Marg Curtis, 2/22nd Battalion ‘Lark Force’ Association

Honoured guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, and children.

I am pleased to meet you all, including my fellow Coastwatcher Matt Foley, to commemorate the disastrous loss of the Montevideo Maru, with all 1,053 POWs aboard, 70 years ago.

In doing so, I would ask that we also remember the other casualties of the Japanese invasion of Rabaul, including the 160 Tol massacre victims, the 450 escapees who endured untold miseries and sickness before rescue on the Lakatoi and Laurabada (and of whom barely 10% were fit enough to return to active service), the gallant members of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, the three Turner brothers and the 200 innocent Rabaul civilians, the capture of whom brings back unbelievable memories of the obscene slave trade.

May we also remember the wonderful contribution of the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy angels’ – the New Guinea nationals – who continue this day to gently and responsibly contribute so much to the community.

I have been very comforted to hear from many of you your stories of our loved ones now gone, to learn that we are not alone in our grief and anger, which we have now shared and thus with some abatement.

It has been YOU, the relatives of those on board the Montevideo Maru who are the real victims of the disaster; your loved ones are the casualties. One prefers not to imagine the final terror and panic of those last ten minutes of the sinking, but at least there is some solace in that they were saved from three and a half years of abject slavery in the coal mines of Hainan.

Your losses were compounded by the complete abandonment of any responsibility by the Australian Government, which declared the Rabaul contingent as hostages to fight to the end, the infamous ‘every man for himself’ order, and not one pinnace nor PBY Catalina sent to New Britain to rescue any escapees awaiting at the shores.

My older brother was one of the POWs on the Montevideo Maru. My twin brother went down in his Beaufort bomber’s first raid out of Goodenough Island to bomb Rabaul in December 1943, and coincidentally I was also destined to serve as a signaller Coastwatcher in the Baining Mountains overlooking Rabaul.

I now ask that you stand for the Ode and a minute’s silence during which we will hear the haunting Last Post.

They shall grow not old, as we who are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them

Lest we forget!

Thank you.