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Rakuyo Maru survivor remembers the Second World War

Roy Cornford survived his share of adversity during the Second World War. Arriving in Singapore as a reinforcement with the 2/19th Battalion, Roy was fortunate to escape to the Indonesian island of Java about a week before Singapore fell. His freedom was short lived: only weeks later, in March 1942, Roy was captured by the Japanese. As a prisoner of war (POW) he was taken back to Singapore and went on to serve on the Thai–Burma railway. Having survived the railway, Roy was selected for transportation to Japan as a slave labourer.

In early September 1944, with hundreds of other Australian and British POWs, Roy sailed aboard the Japanese ship Rakuyo Maru, part of a convoy to Japan. Along the route the convoy was attacked by a ‘wolf pack’ of US submarines, including the USS Pampanito.

The Rakuyo Maru, carrying more than 1,300 POWs, was one of two unmarked POW ships in the convoy. Those on board the US submarines had no reason to suspect the ships were carrying prisoners of war. Roy was on the deck of the ship when it was hit by two torpedoes fired by the USS Sealion.

Roy survived the attack and he and other POWs were able to construct rafts out of the debris. Roy spent the next three days in the ocean, exposed to the elements and soaked in oil, with little hope of rescue.

On the fourth day, the Pampanito and three other submarines returned to the scene to pick up survivors. The four submarines rescued 159 survivors of the Rakuyo Maru; Roy and 72 others were pulled aboard the Pampanito.

The Pampanito and the Rakuyo Maru are inextricably connected by this experience. The connection is powerfully illustrated in a series of photographs of the rescue taken by one of the crew members of the Pampanito. Some of these photographs and a series of videos of Roy telling his remarkable story will feature in the DVA online Education and Community Awareness Portal, which will be launched in late 2014.

In February 2012, the Department was honoured to take Roy back to Singapore and Malaysia, as one of six veterans, on a commemorative mission to mark the 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore and the Malayan campaign.

Crew members from the USS Pampanito rescuing allied POW survivors of the sunken <em>Rakuyo Maru</em>.

Crew members from the USS Pampanito rescue allied POW survivors of the sunken Rakuyo Maru.

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