Japan’s entry into the Second World War was not a surprise: as 1941 progressed, Australian newspaper reports of the war in Europe were accompanied more and more by commentary on the possibility of war with Japan. But the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Singapore, and the speed with which Singapore had fallen, shocked Australians.
The most momentous happening in Australia’s history took place this week when a declaration of war was made on Japan … The war has been brought right to our doors and a new phase of the world-wide conflict entered upon.
Extract from ‘At War With Japan.’, Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser, 11 December 1941
For the close-knit Stewart and Duncan families in Beaufort, the war in the Pacific had an immediate impact.
Much as her mother had done in 1914, Rene farewelled her husband just weeks after their wedding. On 15 December 1941 Corporal Ron Palmer left Beaufort to commence full-time garrison duty with the Provost Squadron of the 2nd Australian Motor Division. It would have been some comfort to Rene that Ron was stationed initially in Victoria and not deployed overseas.
Allan Duncan Stewart, Jane’s nephew, was captured by the Japanese at Rabaul, New Guinea, on 23 January 1942. Allan served with the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, and was part of the Lark Force garrison that defended Rabaul. He was held as a Prisoner of War at Rabaul, and forced to labour for the Japanese under harsh conditions.
On 22 June 1942 Allan was one of over a thousand Prisoners of War placed on board the Imperial Japanese Navy ship, Montevideo Maru, for transport to Hainan island. On 1 July the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed and sunk by the American submarine, Sturgeon. The Montevideo Maru sank in less than fifteen minutes. All Prisoners of War were reported drowned.
It is likely that the Stewarts spent the rest of the war thinking Allan was a Prisoner of War, and waiting for news of his release. Perhaps they used Andy Duncan’s survival as a POW in the First World War to give them hope, but this would have been tempered by newspaper reports of Japanese atrocities after the fall of Rabaul.
Another relation, Raymond Lowe, was killed in action during the Fall of Singapore on 11 February 1942. Almost exactly ten years earlier, Andy Duncan had been a pall-bearer at the funeral of Raymond’s sister, Madge.
1941 ‘PACIFIC PEACE HANGS IN THE BALANCE, AND— How Strong is Japan?.’, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), 1 November, p. 10. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142145363
1941 ‘STOPPING JAPAN.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 6 December, p. 6. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47172430
1941 ‘At War With Japan.’, Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser (NSW : 1898 – 1958), 11 December, p. 3. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134125330
1942 ‘125 SOLDIERS MASSACRED BY JAPANESE.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 10 April, p. 3. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8241340
Fall of Rabaul: Overview. 2012. Fall of Rabaul: Overview. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ww2australia.gov.au/japadvance/rabaul.html
Fall of Singapore – Kokoda Historical. 2015. [ONLINE] Available at: http://kokodahistorical.com.au/history/fall-of-singapore
‘Montevideo Maru list of prisoners of war and civilian internees on board,’ Montevideo Maru – homepage . 2015. [ONLINE] Available at: http://montevideomaru.naa.gov.au.
Montevideo Maru – sinking of the Montevideo Maru, 1 July 1942. Australian War Memorial. 2015.
NAA: B2458, V21960, VX83702, V087380, PALMER, RONALD ANDREW. National Archives of Australia.
NAA: B883, NGX499, STEWART, ALLAN DUNCAN. National Archives of Australia.
NAA: B883, VX32343, LOWE, RAYMOND. National Archives of Australia.
The Montevideo Maru. 2003. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.montevideomaru.info
Featured image: Japanese landing near Vulcan, Rabaul. Australian War Memorial collection ART27632.