Sangster Thomas

Name   Thomas Sangster  Rank: Staff Quarter- master Sergeant

Number   VX43436

Battalion 2/22nd Infantry Battalion

Place of Birth Warragul   4 May 1900 but this is incorrect

Next of Kin Stella Sangster, his wife. The son of George and Ellen Sangster 

Date and place of enlistment 15 July 1940 at Caulfield

Location on enlistment   Leongatha 

Occupation A manager at the Vaccum Oil Company Leongatha

Date and place of death

1 July 1942 aged 42 in the South China Sea

Location of grave or memorial

His name is on the Rabaul Memorial and the Leongatha Memorial

Relationship to Woorayl Shire

Tommy lived in Leongatha with his family and was a well-known community member. He was the chairman of the water board and secretary of the Leongatha Football Club as well as serving on many other committees.

Military History

Tommy was a member of the 22nd Militia Battalion before the war and on enlisting in the AIF he was placed in the 2/22nd Battalion. They 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. Tommy was a quarter master sergeant 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 embarked from Sydney and sailed into Rabaul harbour on Anzac Day 1941.

The soldiers 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. Tommy 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. Tommy 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 on 1 July. 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.

Tommy was survived by his wife Stella, daughters Beryl and Thelma  and sons Tommy and Kevin.

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