Sinking of the Centaur

Private Frederick Spec Anderson (NAA photo)

Private Frederick Spec Anderson (NAA photo)

NEWS of the recent discovery of the wreck of the Wollongbar II brings to mind the sinking, two weeks later, of the Hospital Ship Centaur off Moreton Bay, Queensland.

With a loss of 268 lives, the sinking of the Centaur by a Japanese submarine off Brisbane ranks as the Australian Navy's greatest wartime disaster in the Pacific.

Among those lost were three Kempsey members of the Australian Army Medical Corps, and Doctor Bernard Hindmarsh of Macksville, a captain in the Medical Corps.

Frederick William Charles ('Spec') Anderson was born in Adelong, NSW, the youngest of six sons and one daughter of Frederick and Esther Anderson.

The family moved to Kempsey just after the First World War when Frederick Senior was made Licensing Inspector there.

The AHS Centaur was off Moreton Island, Queensland, about 4am on Friday May 14, 1943, when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine

During his time in Kempsey, Spec took an interest in sport, particularly boxing, moving to Sydney around 1922.

He married Ursula Finnigan there in 1926 and was employed as a Railway porter at the time of his enlistment in July 1940.

In November 1940, Spec Anderson was allocated to the 2/12th Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps.

Private Bill Bailey (MRHS photo)

Private Bill Bailey (MRHS photo)

William Henry Bailey was born in Birmingham, England, on December 18, 1912.

After the death of his father in World War I, his mother Ethel remarried an Australian soldier, Lance-Corporal Herbert McNamara in England on December 23, 1917.

The family migrated to Australia after Herbert's demobilisation and settled in Lismore. They moved to Kempsey in 1928 where 'Bill', as he was known, joined the Kempsey Ambulance Service in 1931 as a driver-mechanic.

Bill enlisted in the Army on September 7, 1940, and was posted to the 2/12th Field Ambulance.

Private A Roy Kemp (MRHS photo)

Private A Roy Kemp (MRHS photo)

Alvan Roy ('Roy') Kemp was born in Kempsey on March 19, 1922, the second son of Alvan and Elsie (nee Washington) Kemp.

The family moved to Murwillumbah in 1928, then to Tweed Heads. Roy's mother passed away there in the late 1930s and the two boys went to live with their aunt at Macksville, and later Kempsey.

Roy Kemp enlisted on September 17, 1941, and was also posted to the 2/12th Field Ambulance.

Spec Anderson, Bill Bailey and Roy Kemp were initially posted to Darwin in the Northern Territory, however in 1943 the 2/12th Field Ambulance was entrained to Sydney to board the Centaur Hospital ship which was going to take them to Port Moresby for service in New Guinea.

Captain Bernard Hindmarsh (ancestry.com photo)

Captain Bernard Hindmarsh (ancestry.com photo)

Bernard Francis Hindmarsh was born in Woollahra in 1899 and came to Macksville to practice medicine in 1925.

As well as being everybody's family doctor he was a good townsman - patron of the surf club, the football club, twice president of the Show committee, and one of the founders of the original Macksville Golf Club.

Dr Hindmarsh enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps on September 14, 1942.

Promoted to captain, he boarded the AHS Centaur in Sydney on May 13, 1943, with Anderson, Bailey and Kemp and the rest of the 2/12th Field Ambulance.

The AHS Centaur was off Moreton Island, Queensland, about 4am on Friday May 14, 1943, when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, later identified as I-177, which had earlier sank the British freighter Limerick.

The torpedo ignited the fuel tank of the Centaur and it sank within three minutes.

The Centaur was attacked even though it was a clearly marked and illuminated hospital ship.

The wreck was located in 2009, 30 nautical miles off Moreton Island, and is now a protected memorial to the lives that were lost.

Also making the news