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HOWARD, John Leslie


Number VX46854

Battalion 2/22nd Infantry Battalion

Place of Birth. Warragul 5 November 1909

Next of Kin Margaret Howard, his mother. His father was James Howard

Date and place of enlistment

11 June 1940 at Caulfield

Location on enlistment Leongatha

Occupation hotel manager, tailor and mercer.

Date and place of death 1 July 1942 in the South China Sea aged 32

Location of grave or memorial

His name is on the Rabaul Memorial, the Leongatha Memorial, a family grave at the Leongatha Cemetery and the memorial at Leongatha Secondary College (formerly Leongatha High)

Relationship to Woorayl Shire

Jack lived in Leongatha and was very much part of the community including the captain-coach of the Leongatha Football team which were premiers in 1940 in the Central Gippsland League. He was a tailor and ran a men�s wear shop in Bair St. When his family took over The Commercial Hotel (McCartin�s) he was a hotel manager.

Military History

Jack was placed in the 2/22nd Battalion and trained at Mt Martha before going to Trawool near Seymour. The battalion then marched on foot from Trawool to Bonegilla near Albury for further training. Fred was in A Company with many other men from Leongatha and district and his commanding officer was Major Bill Owen.

Soldiers of the 2/22nd Battalion were given a few days leave to see their families and friends before returning to Bonegilla and going away to the war. The men travelled to Sydney by rail then headed north by sea. The battalion sailed to into Rabaul on Anzac Day 1941.

The men continued training waiting to see what would happen next. Would the Japanese attack? Bombing started in late 1941 and the situation became very serious. The undermanned force was in serious trouble. The Japanese landed with a large force and quickly over ran Rabaul on 23 January 1942. Jack was captured and imprisoned in Rabaul. The prisoners were badly treated. They were forced out to work and given little to eat.

The overcrowded conditions at the camp and the lack of sanitation led to increased disease. The men�s health declined rapidly.

The Japanese decided to move over 1000 enlisted POWs and civilian detainees. Fred and the other men were woken in the barracks before dawn on 22 June and assembled on the parade ground.

The men assembling that morning were in very poor condition. The soldiers, including the sick, were marched out. Some had to be supported by their mates or were carried on makeshift stretchers. There were in all 1057 men. They were loaded onto the Montevideo Maru and forced down into the holds. They must have thought they were in a hell ship. The plan was for the ship to go to Hainan Island in the South China Sea. Lack of fresh air and filthy conditions would certainly have caused many to die in the Montevideo Maru�s holds. Sadly, this plan never came to fruition. The Montevideo Maru was sunk by the USS Sturgeon at 02.29. While some of the Japanese crew survived by launching three life boats, it is believed all of the prisoners drowned in the holds. The Japanese vessel had no markings to show it was carrying POWs. This was the worst maritime disaster in Australian history.

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