Investigations in 1945
In September 1945, Australian Army officer Major Harold S Williams was sent to Tokyo
to investigate POW matters. In a meeting the day after his arrival (28 September)
with Huryo Joho Kyoku (Prisoner of War Information Bureau – PWIB), Williams received
access to Japanese files which showed that the Montevideo Maru had been
carrying Australian prisoners when it was sunk, and included a mimeographed 48-page
nominal list in Katakana (Japanese phonetic script) of personnel on board. According
to a report he sent back to Australia shortly after, on 6 January 1943 the Japanese
Navy Department informed the PWIB of the sinking and forwarded the nominal list,
which detailed 848 POWs and 208 civilians on board the Montevideo Maru.
According to Williams, this list was ‘the only roll received from the Naval Commander
of the Rabaul Base’ [MP727/1, GP25/293 ]. However, it is difficult to determine
whether the original list was compiled by Japanese naval authorities at Rabaul or
by Osaka Shosen Kaisha, the ship's owner.
Search for the original nominal list
Williams already had a list of missing personnel from Rabaul. Using this, while
in Japan, he transliterated names on the list from Katakana back into English, and
completed it after he returned to Australia. Some consider that the process of double
translation may or should have raised doubts about the English translation’s accuracy.
However, it was on the basis of this list that next of kin were identified and informed
of deaths on the Montevideo Maru.
The current locations of both the original copy of the Katakana roll and the English
translation are unclear, and that one or both have been lost has been suggested.
Army official Brigadier David Mulhall told a parliamentary committee in November
2009 that 'the Katakana roll, which we believe to be the most reliable record of
who was on the Montevideo Maru when it was sunk, ... has been searched
for, for many years now'.
Origins of this nominal list
In early 2012, the government of Japan transferred to Australia a number of original
records relating to Australian POWs.
Included was a document in two parts, one section typed in English, the other handwritten
in a combination of Japanese scripts – Katakana (phonetic), Kanji and Hirakana.
The list in Japanese scripts is titled 'A Name List of Prisoners of War and Internees
who were lost on the Montevideo Maru'. In it are details of 1053 Australians and
others (178 non-commissioned officers, 667 soldiers and 208 civilians) who died
on the Montevideo Maru.
The English list contains the prisoners of war only. It details the name, rank and
unit. Some also have their service number. This suggests that this part of the record
was compiled by Major Williams, as the Japanese are unlikely to have had access
to this information.
The Japanese list is on PWIB stationery, and details the prisoners of war as well
as the civilian internees. The expert's translation of this document revealed that
there are 209 civilians on the list, not 208 as stated at the front of the list,
and which has been the figure historically quoted until now. This does not mean
that another civilian has been discovered, only that the number historically used
was never accurate.
Expert historical opinion considers that the lists recovered, translated and sent
to Australia by Major Williams in 1945 are likely to have contained the same information
as those transferred to Australia in 2012. On this basis, they are likely to be
the most complete existing records of those on board the Montevideo Maru.
However, as the Minister for Defence Personnel, the Hon Alan Griffin, stated in
Parliament on 24 June 2010, 'there is no absolutely confirmed roll'.