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Montevideo Maru Mural launch - a great day for Stanhope

A large crowd was in attendance for the official opening of the Montevideo Maru mural in Monash St Stanhope on Saturday.

While the mural had been completed by artist Tim Bowtell a year ago, there is now a commemorative plaque and a series of information boards to accompany it. These were unveiled by RSL Secretary George Gemmill, who has been a driving force behind the project. Many community members have been involved in the project in what has been a great Stanhope community effort.

The Montevideo Maru was a Japanese ship transporting prisoners of war from Rabaul, on the island of New Britain, which is part of Papua New Guinea to Hainan Island. Most of the prisoners were from the Australian 22nd Infantry Battalion. They had been in the force which had unsuccessfully tried to repel the Japanese invasion of New Britain. Many of the men in the battalion had their roots in the Goulburn Valley, including several with a Stanhope connection.

Unfortunately, the ship was sunk by the US submarine “Sturgeon”, thinking it was a legitimate target. There was nothing to indicate that the ship was carrying prisoners of war. Over 1000 Australians died in the sinking, making it the worst maritime disaster in Australian history. Most of the men who were locked below deck never had a chance. Some of those who did get into the water and were clinging to wreckage sang “Auld Lang Syne” as the ship sank.

Families of those who were lost were unaware of the disaster until the end of the war. They knew their sons had been taken prisoner but had assumed that many of them would have survived to come home. What a shattering blow it must have been to learn their sons had died, after holding out hope for three years.

As one of the speakers said on Saturday, the unveiling of the memorial was a bittersweet moment, given that the loss of the Montevideo Maru had been such a tragedy. However, it was also important to remember those who were lost and provide some solace for all those families who were directly affected. Families and local RSL clubs had the opportunity to place wreaths of remembrance beneath the mural.

The event was capably hosted by the President of the Stanhope RSL, Philip Chapman. George Gemmill Secretary gave a summary of the sinking of the ship and named some of the local families who were connected with those on board the ship who lost their lives. 22 of the Brunswick Salvation Army Band were included in these numbers.

He also thanked members of the Stanhope & District Development Committee for the assistance given by their members, in particular the great amount of support from Glenda Cowie and Christine Dicketts. Salvation Army member from Kyabram, Captain Jacky Targett, led the prayer and Linton Targett played the last post. The Preston Salvation Army Band, who were invited because of their close connection with this tragedy, delighted the large crowd. Lindsay Cox, Salvation Army Museum manager, was guest speaker for the day. Many families and RSL branches laid floral tributes in memory.

Following the ceremony, the very large crowd moved into the Community Hall to enjoy a light luncheon. There was plenty of talk as well as an opportunity to view displays of memorabilia. Many people are now visiting Stanhope to view the memorial. Their understanding of this poignant story will be greatly enhanced by the new plaque and information boards. The organising committee expressed thanks to all who contributed to making the day the success that it was, and also to the Campaspe Shire for the sponsorship.