Ship's wartime sinking marked by school namesake

Centaur Primary School was named after a World War II hospital ship sunk by a Japanese torpedo 80 years ago. Pascal Adolphe reports.

A boy standing in front of old war photos in a memorial garden A boy standing in front of old war photos in a memorial garden
Image: Kohen Allen, great-grandson of a seaman who died in the sinking of the Centaur. His school remembers the loss each year at the Point Danger memorial to the Centaur.

When Centaur Primary School was established, the shipwreck that inspired its name had yet to be found.

The World War II hospital ship carrying Australian doctors, nurses and wounded soldiers was torpedoed on May 14, 1943, by a Japanese submarine off the coast of the NSW and Queensland border. Only 64 of the 332 people on board survived.

In 1994 when a new school was being built at Banora Point – near the site off Point Danger believed to be the ship’s resting place – the naming committee found that Centaur Primary School was a significant name that provided a connection to the area on the Far North Coast of NSW.

The shipwreck was found 15 years later in 2009, 200 nautical miles north-east of Point Danger off Port Moreton Island in south-east Queensland.

By then the school was well established, and a memorial had been built at Point Danger where students and staff from Centaur Primary School come together annually to commemorate Centaur Day and remember those who died in the World War II tragedy.

This year is the 80th anniversary of the sinking of 2/3rd Australian Hospital Ship Centaur and the school today held its annual commemorative ceremony, laying wreaths and playing ‘The Last Post’.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the sinking of the unarmed hospital ship and the courage and sacrifice of those on board showed “the best and worst of humanity”.

"It was a vessel of mercy sunk without mercy,” Mr Rudd said at a national memorial service.

Centaur Primary School principal Corrie Stephenson said the annual ceremony was started by foundation principal Maryann Goggins, and her staff, to maintain the memory and connection to the Centaur.

“The school leaders who have followed Mrs Goggins continued to nurture and develop an appreciation and understanding of the significance of their namesake and the ultimate sacrifice made by the victims of this tragedy,” he said.

Mr Stephenson said it was an honour to have a direct association with the Centaur, with Year 5 student Kohen Allen the great-grandson of seaman Private Clifford George Montgomery who lost his life on the Centaur.

Over the years the school has created many memorials to the Centaur, such as the 268 trees planted around its perimeter – one for each life lost.

A red cross made from pavers in a school garden can be seen from above by planes, while the school flagpole is designed to symbolise the mast of a ship.

The school’s sporting houses – Savage, Moss, Lawson, and Colefax – are named after those who lost their lives on the Centaur.

The Hindmarsh and Moran Medals for academic achievement are named after Dr John Hindmarsh and John Moran, who perished in the tragedy. Their descendants each year present the awards on Centaur Day and the annual presentation day.

For more information on the Centaur go to the Australian War Memorial website and the Centaur Association.

  • 175 years
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