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Abandoned and Sacrificed The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru

History, especially history relating to war, retrospectively, almost mysteriously becomes dressed in fine feathers, lauding the bravery of the men and their commanders who went to war, conquering the foe and returning home to the gratitude of the Nation.

But as the years roll along, many of the issues and decisions made, which were buried deep to protect the reputations of the men at the top, the leaders and decision makers, become open to public inspection.

In this case, the case of the Montevideo Maru, the evidence of gross miscarriage was buried very deep indeed only to see the light in 2012, after the families of the young men sent to New Britain and knowingly sacrificed, campaigned and petitioned for more than 60 years to get to the truth of what happened and why, was made public.

Lark Force, made up of mainly young boys and men, predominantly from Tasmania, many of whom where brothers or friends, were sent to New Britain, in theory to become a defence against the possible invasion of the Japanese. They were untrained for the conditions they were to encounter, thought the posting was only for a short period of time, and were woeful ill-equipped to defend anything at all.

Nearly every member of Lark Force, along with a majority of nurses, missionaries, Chinese, locals and support staff perished on this Island, some at the hands of the Japanese, some of disease: more than 1000 prisoners and internees incarcerated on the Montevideo Maru, a Japanese prisoner of war ship that was sunk by an American submarine, perished.

Politics in Australia at the time was an unstable platform from which to be fighting a war, as the Prime Minister of the day kept changing from Menzies to Curtain and then to Menzies. Both men failed to understand the situation in the Pacific until it was almost far too late in all respects. As an ally of Britain the focus was on the Middle East, France and Germany and the Japanese threat was something that was underestimated by Churchill and the Australian Government of the day.

Kathryn Spurling has over many years, researched and uncovered this heartbreaking tragedy, one that should never have occurred, as well as the deceit used to preserve the reputation of Sir Robert Menzies, the man who has distinction of being the longest serving Prime Minister in Australia.

The story is one long tragedy, from the day the ill equipped troops set foot on New Britain in 1941, until June 2010 when the Australian Governments Minister of Veterans Affairs, formally recognised the tragedy and offered the families an apology. In 2012 the missing nominal roll was found and a national memorial, located in grounds of the Australian War Memorial was dedicated to the 1,053 troops and civilians who died on the Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942.

Spurling has handled the subject matter with graciousness, and with considerable feeling for the families involved, who shared their stories, and whom were left for generations, not knowing what happened to their sons, sisters, daughters, husbands and fathers.

A powerful story with no holds barred it is one that should be understood and studied in depth as it not only highlights the great courage of the men and women who were sent and served not only in New Britain but also Timor, New Ireland and Ambon, but also the great egos and political subterfuge in play which sent so very many young men and women to a sure death!

Lest we forget!


Author Kathryn Spurling
Publisher New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781742579092
Distributor New Holland Publishers
Released April 2017