THE STATE OF THE SOCIETY SPEECH FOR THE LUNCHEON – 30 JUNE 2012
Phil Ainsworth, President, Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen…
It has been a relatively short journey since late 2008 when a small group of interested people assembled to assist bereaved families, who had tried so long to receive public recognition for the sacrifice of their men in Rabaul, the surrounding New Guinea islands and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru and receive public condolences for which they deserved, to where we are here today.
Firstly, I would like to place these tragic 1942 events in perspective, the 1,400 deaths represent a casualty rate of 82% of the 1,700 Australian men present at the time of the invasion. The number captured is about 6% of all Australian POW’s taken in all theatres of the war, and their deaths comprise about 15% of all Australian POW’s who died during capture. As a maritime disaster, the sinking of the Montevideo Maru with over 1,000 Australians aboard compares in number with HMAS Sydney, when 645 were lost and the hospital ship Centaur with 258.
The initiator, leader, driver and foundation President of the Group was Keith Jackson, who is not here today, but to whom so much is owed. Keith’s company, Jackson Wells, was also a major sponsor for the administration of the Group during this period.
The Group selected a number of objectives and work commenced:
1. A Montevideo Maru plaque was dedicated at the Subic Bay Philippines Hellships Memorial on 1st July 2009 with about 12 members present. The Australian Ambassador to the Philippines was in attendance.
2. A comprehensive submission was prepared and presented to the Australian Government in November 2009 advocating the correction of the outstanding issues. The report was accepted in its entirety.
3. On the 21st June 2010, both houses of Federal Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, passed resolutions recognising and honouring the sacrifice and loss or our men and offering condolences to their families. Over 350 attended these ceremonies.
4. The Federal Government made a grant of $100,000 to start the funding for a National Memorial.
5. Research work commenced here and in Japan seeking the elusive missing nominal roll.
6. Work proceeded on having the site of the wreck declared a war grave. Unfortunately little progress will be made until the governments of Australia and the Philippines ratify the 2001 UNESCO Convention which affords protection on vessels in international waters. No one has any idea when this is likely to occur.
7. An advisory group was established with the AWM in January 2010 to apply for a site and plan for a significant national memorial to commemorate the sacrifice and loss of our men.
8. In conjunction with the above activities, advertising and promoting the Society’s work towards finding the families of the lost men and growing the Society proceeded, and the success of this may be measured by the attendance here today and tomorrow.
Keith stood down as President early 2011 due to ill health. Please show by acclamation our appreciation for Keith’s outstanding work. On behalf of us all, thank you Keith.
When Keith departed, a major change in the structure was necessary. Somehow I ended up as President with Andrea Williams being the Sydney representative and editor of the monthly newsletter and with Don Hook in the growing and important position of public officer and Canberra representative. Kerry Sibraa agreed to remain Vice-president while Richard Saunders of Irish & Saunders accepted the honorary position of Treasurer. I thank Liz Thurston, Marge Curtis, Lindsay Cox and Frazer Harry for committing themselves to the Executive Committee. Importantly, the Society’s programme of activities and objectives remained unchanged.
During 2011 a permanent exhibition, explaining the Japanese invasion in the New Guinea Islands, the Tol Massacre and the sinking to the Montevideo Maru, was established in the Australian War Memorial.
A submission to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority was made to have historical information with resource references about these matters included in the national school curriculum, to ensure future generations of Australia would be aware of the dark events of 1942. So far the acknowledgement has been meagre; however, recent discussions may prove to be to the Society’s advantage in this regard.
On Saturday 2nd July 2011 the 69th Anniversary, a commemorative luncheon at the National Press Club, attended by 165 members was held followed by a memorial service at the Duntroon Chapel the next day, when a similar number of people attended.
The planning and fund raising for the national memorial continued throughout the year, the result of which you will see tomorrow at the Dedication Service. Thus the original objectives will have been attained within a three and half year span, a considerable achievement, only possible with the hard work of the committee and persistent and confident support of members. I thank you all for making these things happen.
I now speak of the future direction of the Society. The Society was established to achieve a number of objectives, all of which have, for practical purposes, been achieved . When this weekend’s activities are finalised and accounts reconciled, there will remain a legacy of cash for an ongoing Society to operate or for other purposes should its members, you, so decide.
The executive have given this some thought over the past few months and, subject to an AGM to be held later in the year, it has been agreed there remains a role for the Society, but its activities will alter according with the agreed new objectives.
Proposed new objectives could be:
1 Continue to grow our family, Society, by actively connecting with the other unrepresented families;
2 Organise and sponsor seminars appropriate to the work of the Society. For example , a suggestion is a seminar to discuss and understand the painstaking work which went into the authentication of the NAA Montevideo Maru list and invite our Honorary Member and private researcher, Harumi Sakaguchi, to Australia as a keynote speaker;
3 Continue to run annual and regular functions for members to network and stay in touch, perhaps on a regional basis so members may meet without the travel it requires for all to come to Canberra;
4 Perhaps the funding of a scholarship for a researcher to undertake Society or related projects;
5 Funding of scholarships for children of direct relatives of victims or for Papua New Guineans who live in the areas affected by the wartime events.
And, I am sure there are many more if we put our mind to it.
None the less, the change in direction and scope of the objectives set will influence the extent and intensity of the involvement of members and executives. This in turn will suggest the likely structure which will best suit . The Society could continue with the present structure with amended objectives. Another way would be to amalgamate with a kindred organisation such as the PNGAA. This will not happen tomorrow, but change will occur and relatively soon.
The initial target of $400,000 was achieved just before Christmas 2011 and this allowed the committee to proceed with confidence. Donations have been categorised with government grants making up 52% of the total followed by 31% from private companies, non-profit organisations and wealthy individuals and 17% from members. One hundred thousand dollars each from the Australian and Papua New Guinean Governments and $10,000 from the Queensland State Government makes up the larger proportion. On behalf of the members I thank all who donated and ask you to show by acclamation our appreciation.
Another but usually unheralded part of donations include sponsorships and or in kind donations. It is a difficult area to assess. However, using a percentage of the cash total raised, between 40 and 60%, which other non-profit public organisations incur, and having knowledge of the variety and amount of this is received by the Society , the value of in kind type of donation to the Society is between $250,000 and $600,000 Organisations and individuals who have assisted in this way include:
• Australian War Memorial,
• National Archives of Australia,
• The Salvation Army,
• Jackson Wells, Sydney,
• King & Co Property Consultants , Brisbane,
• Committee members,
• Harumi Sakaguchi and assisting researchers,
• Temora Aviation Museum,
• Historical Aviation Restoration Society and
• Society members.
Thus, if the cash donation from all sources is $400,000, the total capital donated to the Society since inception for all its activities would range between $650,000 and one million dollars – breathtaking, is it not?
Functions such as today’s luncheon and tomorrow’s dedication service just do not happen, much work is involved, particularly when the numbers have escalated to what we see here today and, perhaps an even greater number tomorrow, weather permitting.
Many people have assisted in many ways including all members of the committee and others in the Society, however, you can take it from me, we would not be here today without the efforts of two, Andrea Williams, our Secretary and Editor and Don Hook, our official officer and Canberra representative – Andrea and Don, please come up on the stage and receive the acclamation you deserve.
An unseen support, only few in the Society are aware are the researchers and background people who network and combine their efforts to achieve wonderful things. The Society has a policy to carry out independent research to seek and authenticate documentation – for instance the Society was made aware of the recently received ‘Montevideo Maru List’ by a researcher in Japan, the document the National Archives of Australia (NAA) unveiled this week. When approached and advised of the 70th Anniversary commemorations of the Society, NAA generously fast tracked it’s procedures to ensure the translation and hopefully the authentication of it was available in time. Upon request NAA provided an early electronic copy of the document for independent translation and authentication. I thank David Fricker and his staff for this. Margaret Chalker the acting Director General of NAA is with us today, Margaret, thank you.
While there is insufficient time to mention everyone, I do need to mention our independent Japanese Researcher, Mr Harumi Sakaguchi, an extremely modest retired United Nations public servant who was UNDP resident coordinator in Papua New Guinea from 2000 to 2004. Mr Sakaguchi has been an independent researcher specialising in the Australian and Japanese experience during and after the Pacific War. Educated in the United States, he is a proficient speaker and writer of English. Coincidentally, Mr Sakaguchi comes from Takasake, Gunma Prefecture, where the late Captain Kasahara of the Montevideo Maru was born He researches documents to assist bereaved families from war, such as the’ Montevideo Maru List’, to reconcile with their loss through knowledge about their lost ones, and for Japanese families, endeavouring to have the remains of soldiers returned home. For instance, his main research area is the Cowra outbreak during the war.
Mr Harumi Sakaguchi confirmed the authenticity of the ‘Montevideo Maru List’ presented to the Australian Government earlier this year. He said it could well be titled ‘The Montevideo Maru List – recorded data considered identical to that which Major Harold Williams found in the mimeographed ‘Katakana Roll’ he discovered at the Prisoners of War Information Bureau in Tokyo on or about 28 September 1945.’ The title is important – it is not a copy of Williams’ list, it is as described in its title.
Mr Sakaguchi will prepare a detailed description of how he arrived at his conclusion and when that is available the Society will publish his findings in its newsletter ‘Memorial News’. This will ensure there is no misunderstanding of its significance. Mr Sakaguchi is presently working on the discrepancies of names between those in the document, Major Harold Williams ‘ list and other extant lists.
The Society has recognised Mr Sakaguchi’s significant contribution to its members by offering him the award of Honorary Member, which he has accepted. Please show your appreciation for his service to the Society by acclamation.
We must remember the other Prisoner of War (POW) documents recently gifted by the Japanese Government, which are still to be processed by NAA. Australia must in the spirit of reconciliation and reciprocation, search for and give the Japanese Government documents held in our records about the Japanese war dead, particularly those many thousands who perished in Papua New Guinea.
Other nationalities were involved in the area of conflict that our Society is interested. For instance the protagonists, the Japanese, have recently taken steps to invite those who were prisoners in Japan during WW2 to revisit Japan and receive an official apology. I understand this has been well received by those involved, including Lorna Johnston who went to Japan last November. There are victims from innocent countries such as Papua New Guinea and Norway the former when their country was overrun and the later who were caught when their ship was destroyed , taken prisoners and went down with the Montevideo Maru. There were also the 600 British POWs shipped from Singapore of whom only 18 survived, the Indian POWs who were used in their thousands for forced labour and suffered hugely and then there were the Chinese forced labour battalions.
The Norwegian families are aware of the dedication of our national memorial and wished they could have attended. The Gustafson family sent a message saying they would have liked to have been here for the dedication. There is one family member here today, Mr John Moller, please stand so we can see you.
When countries go to war, many people are hurt and these are in the main, civilians. Australia and Norwegians lost civilians internees in the Montevideo Maru and so too Japanese merchant seamen were lost. Imagine the thousands of Papua New Guinean civilians who were killed and or affected by the war. As our families reconcile their war time losses some 67 years after the war, we should also consider the reconciliation which must be still occurring in Japan where so many of their men were buried in unknown graves. Together, we must contemplate the tragedy of war and resolve it must never happen again.
The Society is viable but requires new objectives and a reorganisation to maintain its momentum. After the accounts have been reconciled and the future of the Society consolidated, an Annual General Meeting will be held to set the direction for the future. As your President, my personal commitment is complete and I will be stepping down. This will provide an opportunity for a new executive and ideas, to allow the Society to progress to the next stage. Although the Society’s history is short, its success in achieving its objectives has been spectacular – thank you members and friends for your wonderful support.