Parliament marks maritime tragedy

“ON BEHALF of the Australian Government and the Australian Parliament, I would like to express our sincere regret and sorrow for the tragedy that occurred with the sinking of the Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942,” Veterans' Affairs Minister Alan Griffin said last Monday.

Whitsunday resident John Bell has been waiting a lifetime for these words.

“It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to be recognised at last,” he said.

“The war was a very difficult period for many Australians.”

Mr Bell was among 330 guests invited to Parliament House in Canberra last Monday for the acknowledgement of Australia's greatest maritime tragedy.

His uncle Bob Bell was among 1053 prisoners of war listed on the manifest of the Japanese freighter, which sailed from Rabaul, New Guinea in 1942, carrying POWs to Japan.

But the vessel never reached Japan.

The submarine USS Sturgeon torpedoed the Montevideo Maru, sinking it off the Philippines.

All of the prisoners were locked in the holds and went down with the ship, as did most of the Japanese crew and guards.

In parliament last Monday, in the presence of families, friends and loved ones of those affected by the tragedy, Mr Griffin read a statement recognising the disaster.

“As we stand here today I would like to formally mark the great loss of the Montevideo Maru and honour those who died,” Mr Griffin said.

“The Australian Government will continue to work with them, the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society and others interested in this tragedy to ensure the Montevideo Maru remains a part of our living history.”

The Federal Government will contribute $100,000 towards the construction of a memorial that will be established inside the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

For the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, this will be the final step in acknowledging those who were killed onboard the Montevideo Maru.

“Once this is done with, to me it is finished,” said Mr Bell, a member of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society.

“That's all we can do.”

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