“Drifting About”

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The documents from the “Index to statements, miscellaneous memorandum ” Rakuyo Maru ” interrogation” provide a gloomy picture of the experiences of the British and Australian POWs who were aboard the doomed Rokuyo Maru, a passenger vessel headed to Formosa which was torpedoed on 12 September 1944 (“Rakuyo Maru”). 1,317 Australian and British prisoners went into the water. Only 60 British and 92 Australians were recovered, by three submarines which had returned to the area (“Japanese Left Prisoners To Drown 600 A.I.F. Men Missing From Transport,” 1944).

The document, “”Rakuyo Maru” interrogation,” along with first person accounts, such as those that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, 18 November 1944, provide window into this tragedy. Page after page of the report on individuals who went into the water describe men going delirious, dying from exhaustion, becoming blind and helpless, or who simply slipped off the oil-coated rafts at night. Men consumed saltwater in their thirst, going mad by hastening their own dehydration. Many simply swam off, were seen going under, or took their own lives in their desperation (“Rakuyo Maru”).

An anonymous North Queenslander described how, by the beginning of the third day, many men had become delirious, seeing things such as a “creek of freshwater” which they often attempted to leave their rafts in order to reach (“Survivors’ Stories of Heroism and Tragedy”). These delusions help us understand better the large number of men reported as delirious and drifting from the rafts, or delirious and drifting alone. The Queenslander described efforts to save these men, but coated in oil it was difficult to hold on to them or manage to get them into the rafts without great personal risk.

Men attempted to stay together, but at night many drifted away and were separated from the others. Many of those individuals’ fates remains unknown, but in all likelihood they would have succumbed to exposure or thirst. Many men are reported to have been drifting alone, or having a raft that drifted away or was carried away by “the tide.” A New South Wales survivor recalled that the rafts, slick with oil from the downed ship, were hard to hang onto or board, and that many men slipped out of them, some unable to regain them again (“Drifted About,” 1944). This helps account for the dozens of men who were reported as having “disappeared from the raft at night.”


Works Referenced:

The Sydney Morning Herald. 1944. “Japanese Left Prisoners To Drown 600 A.I.F. Men Missing From Transport,” November 18.

The Sydney Morning Herald. 1944. “Drifted About,” November 18.

The Sydney Morning Herald. 1944. “Survivors’ Stories of Heroism and Tragedy,” November 18.

“‘Index to Statements, Miscellaneous Memorandum ’ Rakuyo Maru ‘ Interrogation’: NAA: B3856, 144/1/128 Attachment 6.” 2015. Accessed November 24. http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=527618.

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