Born: 9th September, 1914 – Singleton, New South Wales
Died: 4th February, 1942 – Tol Plantation. Age 27.
Occupation – 1942: Private – A.I.F. 2/10 Fd. Amb., Australian Army Medical Corps
The photo of the 24 members of the 2/10 Field Ambulance Detachment came into my position by a series of fateful events. This photo was taken at Rabaul in July 1941; we don’t know how many copies were made, but thank heavens some of these men sent copies home to their families.
My mother often mentioned her two cousins who both died in terrible circumstances as Prisoners of the Japanese. One died in Singapore and one in New Guinea, his name was Ronald Cantwell (NX46687). I became more interested in the fate of these two men when I commenced Family History Research.
Two years ago I attended a fund raising luncheon for a local hospital and met another lady also interested in Genealogy, we exchanged family names and she mentioned that her father’s best mate was a Cantwell, that they died together on the Tol Plantation and that he had previously worked as a wardsman at Royal Newcastle Hospital.
I was speechless and had goose bumps all over my arms, as I asked “Was his name Ronald?” and of course the answer was yes. Norma Tonks, daughter of Thomas Webb (NX45161), was a bit surprised at my lack of knowledge of the terrible massacre at the Tol Plantation on 4th February 1942 and I can only guess that the gruesome details were withheld from the ladies in my family.
Norma immediately set about rectifying my lack of knowledge by supplying the photo, numerous websites and the book “Medical Soldiers”, printed in Newcastle and the cover illustrated by a Newcastle artist. Of the 24 soldiers in the photo 13 were executed and 4 drowned on the Montevideo Maru.
The Commander of this Detachment was a Newcastle doctor and many of the members came from Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and the North Coast area of NSW. Because of this connection with Newcastle I decided to research all the soldiers in the photo as Fort Scratchley, where I volunteer, is currently conducting its own Nominal Roll.
Through the sad loss of our relatives, a fond and solid friendship has developed and Norma and I will be flying together to New Britain to attend the 70th Anniversary Commemorations in Rabaul this Anzac Day 2012, the first members of our families to visit the Bita Paka Cemetery.
If anyone has any knowledge of our two soldiers or seen their names mentioned in letters sent home from Rabaul, we would be very grateful if you would contact us through the Montevideo Maru Association.
About the author:
Mary Tarrant is a cousin to Ronald Cantwell, who lost his life at the Tol Plantation on 4th February, 1942. She is also the daughter of L/Bdr Arthur Balks, member of the Fort Scratchley Battery that repelled the Japanese submarine I-21 in an attack on Newcastle in the early hours of 8th June, 1942.
Information and photograph kindly provided by Mary Tarrant