Kavanagh James

Name   James Lydiate Kavanagh     Rank: Gunner

Number VX129383

Unit Light Heavy Battery, Royal Australian Artillery, Lark Force

Place of Birth. Leongatha 7 February 1922

Next of Kin Theresa Isabel Kavanagh, his mother.

He was the son of John Edward and Theresa Isabell Kavanagh, of Leongatha, Victoria  

Date and place of enlistment

3 March 1941 at Royal Park

Location on enlistment  

Leongatha South  

Occupation. Farm labourer

Date and place of death 1 July 1942 South China Sea

Location of grave or memorial

His name is on the Memorial at Rabaul, on the Leongatha Memorial and on the honour board at Leongatha South School.

Relationship to Woorayl Shire

He was from Leongatha South. He had attended Leongatha South School and worked for Barny Maxwell

Military History

After basic training Jimmy’s artillery regiment was sent to Rabaul in late 1941. 

The Light Heavy Battery at Rabaul was known as the Praed Point Battery. This battery consisted of two 6-inch coastal defence guns and was built and manned in 1941 as part of the fortification of Rabaul.

 After arriving in Rabaul the men continued training waiting to see what would happen next. Bombing started in late 1941 and the situation became very serious. The battery was destroyed in air attacks on 22 January 1942 as a prelude to Japanese invasion on 23 January 1942.

Jimmy is believed to have surrendered after the L Heavy Battery ran out of ammunition and he was 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. Jimmy 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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