Lost At Sea: War Veterans Tribute On Mona Vale Headland Formally Dedicated
A dedicated memorial to commemorate the 1800 service men and women who lost their lives at sea while being transported to Japan and islands in the South West Pacific during World War II has been formally dedicated at Mona Vale’s headland (Robert Dunn Reserve). The plinth has a seat alongside it so visitors may sit and reflect on all those lost and all those who serve still.
The memorial is the direct result of Pittwater legend, and one of the last remaining Australian WWII prisoners of war, Walter 'Wal' Williams.
Mr Williams had lobbied for years for a dedicated memorial to those who lost their lives at sea and had had numerous conversations with the local Pittwater MP Rob Stokes and been working with the Council, the NSW Government and Pittwater RSL on the location and design of the memorial.
Once he heard earlier this year that the memorial would be unveiled this within months he seemed to relax, and soon after ‘Wal’ Williams passed away, on June 4th this year at the RSL ANZAC Village at Narrabeen.
Wal was awarded an OAM on 14th June 2021 for his services to the Veteran Community.
'Wal'. Photo: A J Guesdon.
Following the fall of Singapore in 1942, Mr Williams was among the tens of thousands of Allied soldiers, nurses and civilians taken prisoner by the Japanese. Mr Williams was interned at the notorious Changi prison camp before working along the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway.
While Mr Williams was being transported to Japan in 1944, onboard the Rakuyō Maru, an American submarine fired a torpedo at the Japanese prison ship, unaware of the Allied prisoners onboard.
After treading water for 24 hours and surviving overhead aerial attack, Mr Williams was among a small number of survivors pulled from the water and transported to labour camps in Japan. Mr Williams later survived the Allied firebombings of Tokyo and Yokohama, before finally returning home to Australia in October 1945 – on his 23rd birthday.
Mayor Michael Regan said it’s incredibly important to honour these men and women and the sacrifices they made for our country.
“Wal was nothing short of a hero and sadly he will not see the completed memorial, but his legacy will live on.
“I was honoured to have the opportunity to meet Wal and his 99 incredible years on this earth have been inspirational.
“The memorial will be a contemplative space and acknowledges the 1,800 Australian Prisoners of War, Nurses and Civilian Internees who lost their lives at sea in the Pacific between 1942 and 1945, during World War II” Mayor Regan said.
Local Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes said Wal was an inspirational veteran who never sought any special admiration or attention for himself. Rather he was passionate about ensuring those who have served our country, and particularly those who did not survive, are never forgotten.
“Wal was a thoroughly decent, brave and courteous man who represents an amazing generation of Australians.
“Wal has an incredible personal story of sacrifice, courage and resilience – however he never sought any focus or attention on himself. It was always about others and making sure our veterans are never forgotten.
“With this year commemorating the 80th anniversary of the tragic sinking of another Japanese prison ship, the Montevideo Maru, this memorial is a really important way to honour Wal, his wishes, and all those he served with.” Mr Stokes said.
The north facing memorial incorporates a park bench and sandstone plinth and acknowledgement plaque set on a sandstone surround.
The plaque includes a QR code providing more information on the story and history behind the memorial.
The memorial was unveiled by Minister for Infrastructure, Rob Stokes and Minister for Veterans, David Elliott on Friday October 14th.
As part of the dedication ceremony Mona Vale SLSC provided a surf boat crew which scattered multiple bunches of white Dahlias into the ocean around them. They all then raised their oars for a minute in tribute. Back on the headland this was followed by the Ode of Remembrance, the Last Post and the Reveille.
The dedication ceremony, held on Friday October 14th, was led by Deborah Carter, President of the Pittwater RSL Sub-Branch and attended by Ray James OAM (NSW RSL State President) and Pauline James OAM (State Coordinator of RSL Auxiliaries), The Hon. Bronwyn Bishop AO (Affiliate Member of Avalon RSL Sub-Branch), Bob Lunnon, President Northern Beaches RSL District Council, Sandy Howard representing 2/19 Btn., Jason Manning, CEO Pittwater RSL Club Ltd., Leigh Arnold, President Pittwater RSL Club Ltd., Neil Williams, son of the late Wal Williams OAM, Neil’s wife, Doris, Wal’s two grandsons, Robert and Nicholas, and Nicholas’ wife Thea, Michelle Fraser, Author of Wal’s Memoirs, Chaplain Wes Brown (RFS Chaplain), Eliza Barrell (RN at RSL War Vets Village who looked after Wal) and Alex Barrell (NSW Marine Rescue Deputy Commissioner), Cr. Rory Amon, Northern Beaches Council (Affiliate Member of Pittwater RSL Sub-Branch). Apologies from Andrea Williams, Montevideo Association, who was represented by Rod Miller and Kylie Adams-Collier (whose Grandfather was on the Montevideo Maru). Adelaide Channon was Bugler.
The project was made possible thanks to funding assistance from the NSW Government and Northern Beaches Council.
Wal's Profile from a few years ago runs below this Issue so you may hear his story in his own words, along with the Tribute given by the Hon. Rob Stokes, MP for Pittwater, earlier in 2022.