The new Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Warren Snowdon, has expressed enthusiasm for pursuing the whereabouts of the nominal roll that may reveal the names of the men who were on the Montevideo Maru.

The precise identities of the prisoners, and the exact number on the ship, is one of the last great mysteries of World War II. The location of the roll would be a significant Australian historical discovery as well as bringing certainty to the relatives of men who went missing nearly 70 years ago.

The original Japanese roll went missing after it was brought to Melbourne in late 1945 but a direct transcript is thought to have been found in Army Archives and is having its authenticity verified.

At the same time researchers in Japan and Australia have identified the whereabouts of nearly 22,000 cards (21,479 for prisoners of war and 441 for civilians) containing details of Australian POWs. The cards were originally offered to the Australian Government in 1953 but rejected for reasons that remain unclear.

Mr Snowdon has been asked to use the offices of the Commonwealth Government to request Japanese authorities for copies of the cards, which seem likely to contain new information about people who were taken prisoner in the New Guinea Islands, including the men on the Montevideo Maru. The estimated 1,053 lives lost in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru accounted for one in eight of the 8,031 Australian prisoners who died in Japanese hands. It was Australia’s greatest loss of life at sea and in a single action.

Memorial News No 20 November 2010