Ken Magowan in front of some of the photos he has salvaged during his time researching the invasion of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in 1942.
Ken Magowan in front of some of the photos he has salvaged during his time researching the invasion of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in 1942.

War families to be recognised

KEN MacGowan and John Bell have waited for more than 55 years for the Australian Government to acknowledge the true tragedy of what happened in Rabaul, New Guinea in 1942.

The two Whitsunday residents have lived with memories and the affects of the fall of Rabaul and the subsequent sinking of the Montevideo Maru, which is Australia's greatest maritime disaster.

Ken's father, William who was working for the Australian Government in New Guinea during the war, was forced to escape Rabaul in dire circumstances after it was invaded by the Japanese on January 23, 1942.

Less than a month earlier three-year-old Ken, his two brothers, sister and mother were separated from their father when they were evacuated and sent back to Australia.

Ken's father and other Australian men were left to fend for themselves in the face of a Japanese bombing campaign and subsequent invasion.

John Bell of Mandalay lost his father and an uncle during the war in New Guinea.

His uncle was a Prisoner of War on the Montevideo Maru when it was sunk by an American submarine.

More than 1000 Australian lives were lost when the ship was sunk.

On June 21 this year, both men will travel to Canberra to hear the parliament debate an historic motion to honour those who died in the fall of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.

The resolution will express the government's gratitude from the nation to the military personnel and civilians in Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands for their services in the defence of Australia during World War II.

The government will also express sorrow and regret for the sacrifices made by those people and pass condolences to the relatives of the people who died in the conflict.

Both Ken and John and hundreds of other people around Australia have waited for this day for over 50 years.

They have both spent many years ensuring the memories of those who served and died in Rabaul are not forgotten.

“It really was a huge part of our Australian history,” Ken said.

“It is highly significant that we are now being acknowledged by our federal government.”

John, who has written a book about Rabaul, said he was looking forward to being part of the historic moment on June 21.

“I am looking forward to the Australian Government finally giving recognition to the thousand lives lost.

“Their story has been kept quiet for a long time.”


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