EMERGING from the fog of war is the story of one of the worst maritime disasters involving Australian prisoners in World War II.
Ahead of tomorrow’s unveiling of a new monument to the Australians killed aboard the unmarked Japanese prison ship the Montevideo Maru, family members of those killed have called for the tragedy to be better enshrined in Australian history.
With more than 1000 Australian soldiers and civilians on board, the ship was sunk by an American submarine off the Philippines on July 1, 1942.
Those who perished were Australian soldiers taken prisoner of war in the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands, alongside civilian internees from the Australian Administration, including businessmen, bankers, missionaries and merchant seamen.
Ballarat woman Julia Richardson will be on hand as Governor-General Quentin Bryce unveils the monument in Canberra, established to tell a story that has been all but overlooked for 70 years.
“My father, Walter James Ryan, was in Rabaul from 1932 working for the large trading company Burns Philp,” she said.
“He was due to come back to Australia for a furlough but the person who was to due to relieve him was prevented from sailing so he was eventually taken prisoner by the Japanese in Rabaul as they took New Guinea.”
With two children in safety in Australia, Mrs Richardson’s mother Frances was concerned for her husband but continued to send telegrams until 1945, some three years after the ship was sunk. His death certificate lists Mr Ryan as missing, presumed dead.
“Usually when someone dies there is a body and closure, but my mother had none of that and lived her life fighting for the government to recognise these internees who died,” she said.
The men who died included relatives of prominent Australians, including an uncle of Ambassador to the United States Kim Beazley, the grandfather of Education Minister Peter Garrett and the brother of one-time Prime Minister Sir Earl Page.
“The main thing all the people affected have felt is that there was no recognition of this debacle,” she said.
“Even in the War Memorial now, you go from Pearl Harbour to the Battle of the Coral Sea and all we can ever think of is that this has been swept under the carpet.”
Alongside her children and brother Peter Ryan, Mrs Richardson said she will proudly remember the fallen when the new monument to the Montevideo Maru is unveiled tomorrow.