Saturday 22 April 2023
The War Memorial lists the final resting place of NX52913 Private Neill Ross Callaghan, my great
uncle, as being “Known unto God.”
As of this morning, his resting place is also known to my family, at last.
Uncle Neill lays alongside his mates from 2/22nd Battalion, on the lower decks of the SS Montevideo
Maru, which we now know is 4,000 metres beneath Philippine waters, 110 km north west of Luzon.
The discovery of the SS Montevideo Maru shipwreck, sunk on 1 July 1942, is welcome news. It brings
closure to many Australian families who lost loved ones almost 81 years ago.
Neill was my great-uncle on my mother’s side. In 1942, Neill was one of the 76 Australian officers, 6
nurses and 1,314 regulars attempting to defend Rabaul from 5,000 infantry of the Imperial Japanese
He survived the battle and was taken prisoner on the Japanese transport ship, only to be torpedoed,
in the fog of war, by USS Sturgeon, who were oblivious to its passengers. The ship sank in 15
minutes, and there were no known Australian survivors.
Neill left behind his young wife, Nell, who also lost her brother, James Walker, who was also aboard
the Montevideo. Nell was twice bereaved by two men she loved dearly, at such a young age. It’s
hard to imagine her grief.
His disappearance with that great ship has always disturbed my family. Some time before the family
heard official news of the sinking of the great transport ship in 1942, my grandfather had a vivid
dream about Neill, that woke him in a cold sweat. That he’d held out his hand as a brother, and said,
“Reg, I’m not coming home.”
Worse, there was a persistent rumour that Neill had died in Rabaul, used in bayonet practice by the
invading army. Thanks to the work of the National Archives of Australia, we know he was on the
My grandfather, Reginald, never got over the loss of his brother. I know that pain lingers in families across Australia, which includes my friend the Hon. Kim Beazley. I hope today’s news of the finding of SS Montevideo Maru would have brought many a degree of peace.
We thank the Silentworld Foundation, Fugro, and the Australian Defence Force for their efforts in
locating our lost servicemen.
I note, with gratitude, the words of John Mullen, its director, who has driven the project to locate
the ship and the remains of our soldiers, and our kinsmen.
“I am proud to be the citizen of a country that never forgets or stops looking for those lost in the
course of duty, no matter how many years may pass.”
I share that pride, and the deep sorrow, that thousands of Australian families will be feeling today.
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