Sunday History Photo / Person

Submitted: Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 03:14
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At 4 am on 14 May 1943 the brightly-lit Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was torpedoed and sunk off Stradbroke Island. In this renegade act, 268 lives were lost with the Centaur, more than from any other Japanese torpedo attack in Australian waters during the war.

Sister Ellen Savage was asleep in her bunk when the Centaur collapsed around her:

Merle Morton and Ellen Savage were awakened by two terrific explosions and practically thrown out of bed ...she registered mentally that it was a torpedo explosion ... In that instant the ship was in flames ... they ran into Colonel Manson, their commanding officer, in full dress even to his cap and 'Mae West' life-jacket, who kindly said 'That's right girlies, jump for it now.' The first words Nurse Savage was to say 'Will I have time to go back for my great-coat?' as they were only in pyjamas. He said 'No' and with that climbed they deck and jumped ... the ship was commencing to go down. It all happened in three minutes.
The suction of the sinking Centaur dragged Sister Savage down into a whirlpool of moving metal and wood. Her ribs, nose and palate were broken, her ear drums perforated and she sustained multiple bruises. Then she was propelled to the surface in the middle of an oil slick.
Sister Savage found her way to a raft that was part of the Centaur's wheel-house. During the 36 hours on this makeshift raft, Sister Savage gave whatever medical care she could to survivors despite being badly injured herself.
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Seaman Martin Pash remembered that the Centaur “just went straight down. There was no noise or anything – a lot of people calling out, the nurses and all … The deck boy brought Sister Savage on. She had a fractured jaw. You wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with her but she suffered very badly. She had broken ribs and [was] bruised and one of the fellas gave her his overcoat to put over her.”

On the raft Seaman Morris was crammed up next to the badly burned Private Walder. Morris recalls Walder's death:

He'd died next to me and his burns just stuck on my arm ... And I said to Sister Savage who was practically opposite me, I said: 'I think this young chap's dead'. And she said: 'Are you sure'. And I said: 'Well, I'm pretty sure'. As she felt over she said: 'He's passed on'. So I took his identification disc off him and his name was John Walder, New South Wales army man. I gave his identification disc to Sister Savage and she said: 'Will you answer the Rosary?'. And I said: 'Yes, I'll do my best'.
She said the Rosary and I answered it and we buried him at sea.

Despite her own injuries, 30-year-old Sister Ellen Savage nursed the wounded and boosted the morale of the others. The other eleven nurses all drowned. After a day and a half adrift on life rafts, the 64 survivors were spotted by an RAAF Anson and recovered by the destroyer USS Mugford.
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On the afternoon of Saturday 15 May, 32 hours after the Centaur had slipped to the bottom, the Naval Officer in Charge Brisbane, Captain E P Thomas, received a message from the USS Mugford. The American destroyer was picking up survivors from the hospital ship Centaur 40 miles east of Cape Moreton. It was the first Australia knew of the nation's worst loss from submarine attack during the war.
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Sister Savage’s courage was recognised by the award of the George Medal.

Sister Ellen Savage, Australian Army Nursing Service, was awarded the George Medal for courage during the sinking of the hospital ship Centaur off Stradbroke Island, Queensland, on 13 May 1943.
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Reply By: Fred G NSW - Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 09:55

Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 09:55
Doug, another great Aussie story of courage and mateship, to come out of another terrible war attrocity.

The Govt. Promo poster says it all................But we couldn't use it these days, could we ???

Now that the wreck of the Centaur has been located, many more Australian families will be able to visit their long passed love ones final resting place.

To quote the Naval Ode....

"They have no grave but the cruel sea, no flowers lay at their head. Their resting place is a rusting hulk, afast on the ocean bed. R.I.P."

Fred.
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Reply By: Member - barry F (NSW) - Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 18:36

Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 18:36
Thanks Doug for another great post in your Sunday History Photo / Person.

Again, the of number of hits indicate how popular these regular posts are & I for one certainly look forward to them. Keep up the good work. Cheers
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Reply By: Bob of KAOS - Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 20:34

Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 20:34
Many thanks Doug

Bob
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Reply By: Member - John (Vic) - Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 20:55

Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 20:55
Good one Doug and very timely given the recent re discovery of the Centaur.

Hope you going OK mate?

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Reply By: Isuzumu - Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 21:08

Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 21:08
Thanks Doug, really nice article something I did not know of the Centaur.
Cheers Bruce
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Reply By: OREJAP - Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 21:21

Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 at 21:21
Well done Doug,thanks for the article. I think it sad that all my school years & being on God's earth for a mere 60 I have never been told about this horrific tragedy. It's ironical that the same company Mitsubishi who made the Betty Bombers that bombed Australia are selling us goods, especially motor vehicles.
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Reply By: Member - Lionel A (WA) - Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 07:21

Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 07:21
Hi Doug, even though the war was before my time, I have a general dislike for the Japanese because of their disregard for the conventions of war.

At the time of day and time of year, I assume it would have been dark and the sub just saw a target not a hospital ship....well I hope that was the case.

Have met a handful of Japanese people over the years and found them to be genuinely polite, respectful and gentle.

Very confusing, especialy if your trying to dislike them.....lol.


Cheers......Linel.
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Follow Up By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 11:16

Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 11:16
Lionel
I think at that time of the morning they spotted a target, Although they had been known to have straffed Hospitals, I try and see things on both sides, to us Westerners that is/was a low act, in Japanese culture and beliefs it may not have been seen as cowardly, There were cases of Jap Hospital ships being hit by mistake as well, so one cannot blame todays Japanese for what happened in WW2 the same as you and I are not responsible for the Atom Bomb , of which I now see as a weapon that killed many but saved many, .

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Follow Up By: Alloy c/t - Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 11:32

Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 11:32
Only the victorious get to write the history books , each and every country in war commits what are percieved as "crimes" at a later date.
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Follow Up By: Member - John (Vic) - Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 11:35

Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 11:35
Wasn't the Centaur painted and lit up in accordance with International convention at the time of the sinking??

Thats what made it a war crime, attacking and sinking a clearly marked hospital ship.

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Follow Up By: Alloy c/t - Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 12:05

Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 12:05
John [vic] ,By the same rules of engagement and international convention the fire bombing of Dresden in Germany and the bombing of Hiroshima / Nagasaki can be construed as war crimes.
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Follow Up By: Member - John (Vic) - Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 12:15

Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 12:15
Two wrongs don't make a right is the old saying.

I'm not justifying the actions of either side in a terrible conflict that occurred 60 odd years ago on this forum.

I'm only commenting of the facts of the Centaur incident which is the post in question.

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Follow Up By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 12:16

Monday, Feb 01, 2010 at 12:16
OK......OK Gentlemen, leave it at that but read this link .

READ LINK

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