As you walk along the pathway up and over King’s Headland, small plaques line either side of you. These are small memorials to members of the Australian armed forces who have served their country, giving the greatest sacrifice.
The walk takes you along the edge of the coastal cliffs with stunning views out to sea through mangrove trees and scrub. The sound of birds is more dominant than the traffic.
Eventually you reach Centaur Park and, if you feel like it, you may sit at one of the tables and contemplate the world before you.
In 1943, the hospital ship HMAS Centaur was making her second trip from Sydney to Port Moresby when a Japanese submarine let loose with a torpedo. Of the 332 people on board (nurses, doctors, crew, etc) only 64 survived and then they had to spend 36 hours in the water before being rescued.
The Centaur had been painted with the internationally agreed colour scheme, denoting that it was a non-combatant, hospital vessel but this did not deter the brave submarine commander who, clearly, didn’t care. The sinking was a breach of the Hague Convention and, therefore, a war crime. No-one has been tried for the outrage.
There is some sort of justice, however. The commander, Nakagawa, was tried for ordering the machine gunning of survivors of another torpedo attack his submarine achieved. This time it was a merchant vessel. Nakagawa was sentenced to four years in prison. Hardly what I’d call justice.
There are a number of theories as to why he ordered the torpedoing of the Centaur but, given the fact that he seemed to prefer sinking non-combatants to actual warships, I’d call it cowardice. Given the Japanese love of honour, I would also call it very dishonourable.
As you pull your gaze away from the open sea and the watery grave of so many Australian service people, the walk back down to King’s Beach may be into the sun. If so, the beach will shine in the late afternoon rays, the final few people highlighted against the wet sand. And you may think it was worth fighting for.
Speaking of the Second World War…I am presently re-reading Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve loved Vonnegut for most of my life and feel he is infinitely quotable. Anyway, this leapt from the page this morning:
Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.