John Edward Stanley lost in hospital ship Centaur

October 13, 2009

Forgive me for taking the liberty of sending this but I was hoping you could help me find a starting point in
searching for any information of my brother. Suddenly, at the age of forty, and virtually a few days before my
father died, I found out I had a brother who was lost on the "Centaur". He belonged to the 2/12 Field Ambulance.
I am not very experienced on the internet but I have located his service number and that is all. He was twenty two and as the "Centaur" went down in 1943, I have to think he was posted to other areas and I would like to know if possible. I know that the 2/12 FA served in Ambon and Gull forces (?) but have no idea if he served with them or only in the northern territory and then onto the "Centaur. Are you able to give me any information on how I could possibly find out anything about his service?

John Edward Stanley Service number NX43521. 2/12 Field Ambulance. Date of birth 20 June 1920. This is a liberty I know expecting you to take the trouble and should you prefer to decline to answer I will understand.

Thanking you.
Kathleen Dahl


Trying to help is not a problem. As a starter here is your brother's Certificate of Service in WW2, and some detail about the 2/12 Field Ambulance.

Army Service badge

Service Australian Army
Date of Birth 20 June 1920
Place of Birth REDFERN, NSW
Date of Enlistment 23 August 1941
Locality on Enlistment DULWICH HILL, NSW
Place of Enlistment PADDINGTON, NSW
Date of Death 14 May 1943
Posting on Death 2/12 Field Ambulance

Click on AHS Centaur in the text below to get an account of her sinking.

Here is the sinking of Centaur from my site AHOY.

See "Dad was a crewman on Hospital Ship HS Leinster"

Australian Hospital Ship Centaur. Sunk by Japanese Submarine I-177, on the 12th. of May 1943
The Australian Hospital Ship Centaur built on the Clyde at Grennock in 1924, was converted early in 1943 to serve in that capacity. It was in the Indian Ocean in November of 1941 that the ship rescued survivors of the German Armed Merchant ship Kormoran, which had been sunk in the fight to the death with the Australian Light Cruiser HMAS Sydney.

When fitted out as a Hospital Ship she had red crosses painted on her sides, funnel and stern, from the air, a red cross was evident, horizontally on the after deck house.

The ship sailed out of Sydney on the 12th. of May 1943, bound for New Guinea to collect a load of wounded, thus no patients were on board, but equipment and stores of the 2/12 Field Ambulance were loaded in the holds.

Two days later, at approximately 0410 ( 4.10 AM ) when some 50 miles East North East of Brisbane, Centaur was torpedoed without any warning by Japanese Submarine I-177. The resulting death toll was appaling, only 64 survived from 332 people on board, the worst Merchant Ship tragedy on the Australian coast during WW2.

Sister Ellen Savage the only Nursing Sister to survive Centaur sinking
Sister Ellen Savage the only Nursing Sister to survive Centaur sinking
Sister Ellen Savage was the only Nursing Sister from the 12 on board to survive, they spent 35 hours drifting on rafts before being found by a RAAF Anson aircraft, who homed the US Destroyer Mugford to their rescue. Ellen Savage although badly wounded herself, assisted other survivors to have her heroism later rewarded with a George Medal.

It was many years later before the Japanese Government admitted that Lieutenant Commander Hajime Nakagawa as the CO of I-177 had been responsible for this dastardly act, he had been found guilty as a War Criminal for having opened fire on survivors of the British Chivalry, a ship his Boat had sunk in the Indian Ocean. He was sentenced to four years in Sugumo prison.

At this time, the Deputy Prime Minister of England, Clement Attlee cabled the following message to the Australian Government:

"My colleagues and I are greatly shocked at the sinking of the Hospital Ship Centaur. Please accept our deep sympathy with Australia in this tragic loss."

Map showing position of Centaur when sunk
Map showing position of Centaur when sunk
Wreck of Centaur reported found. Or was it?
On the 13th. of May 1995, a Press Release by the Australian Government announced the wreck of Centaur had been found by the RAN. A Melbourne diver Don Dennis, claimed to have found the wreck at 170 metres about 9/10 miles off the Northern tip of Moreton Island Queensland, had dived on it and taken a video of the wreck. He later claimed to have shown the video to a Captain Foley, a Naval Historian who had published a book about Centaur and her ordeal, and also to have shown this tape to the former President of the Queensland Maritime Museum, both of whom have very recently denied ever seeing such a tape.

However, after the Government announcement, it was generally accepted that this site was the final resting place for the Centaur. Relatives of those who had died were relieved that the ship was at last found, and memorial services were carried out at sea over the position of the supposed wreck.

However it did seem strange that this wreck was but 10 miles off shore, whereas it had been reported the Hospital Ship was torpedoed 23 miles off the Queensland coast. The Australian TV programme "60 Minutes:" denies this wreck is Centaur. On Sunday the 18th. of May 2003, the TV show " 60 Minutes" went to air with a strong denial that this wreck is that of the Centaur.

Again Captain Foley and the former President of the Queensland Maritime Museum were interviewed on the programme, both agian denied ever having viewed the Dennis tape. He was accused of being both a liar and a confidence man, he had been given a three year suspended sentence for theft and deception in a case unrelated to the Centaur. Captain Foley pointed out the rounded type rudder of the ship purporting to be Centaur, whereas the Hospital Ship had a square rudder, both photographs and ship drawings proved this point quite conclusively.

Recent research found that the RAAF in 1995 had used the wreck of a smaller ship named Bombala, for bombing practice, and sank her in the position that was claimed to be the site of Centaur by Dennis. It does seem that a cruel hoax has been played out by Dennis, and that the authorities were only too ready to accept the claim that Centaur had been found, without properly checking the veracity of such a claim, and even declaring this site as a "War Grave."

So, 60 years on, the position of the wreck of the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, still remains a complete mystery, will the puzzle ever be solved?

Post Script.
Monday the 19th. of May 2003. Navy launches quest for Wreck.
Two minehunters will begin searching off the south Queensland coast today in an effort to cast new light on one of the worst atrocities of WW2, the sinking of the Hospital Ship Centaur. HMA Ships Yarra and Hawkesbury will scour the waters off North Stradbroke and Moreton Islands in a bid to settle doubts about where the sunken ship may lie.

So, let us hope this latest search may yield results that at last lay to rest the actual and final resting place of the unlucky Centaur.


Memorial Plaque at Centaur Park, Caloundra Queensland

Memorial Plaque at Centaur Park, Caloundra Queensland





Army Records at National Archives Ausralia:

What's in World War II Army service records?
The records created by the Army during WWII typically
comprise a set of forms:

  a.. attestation (enlistment) form - sets out personal
details such as age, next of kin and former occupation
  b.. service and casualty form (Form B103) - records
information about units and postings, injuries and
disciplinary charges
  c.. discharge form that summarises the person's service
- not included in all cases
  d.. head-and-shoulders photograph - may be included
  e.. other documents or correspondence - occasionally
Find and view a World War II service record online
Some online copies of World War II service records already

  1.. Go to NameSearch.
  2.. Enter the family name of the service person - make
sure it is the name used at enlistment.
  3.. Select 'World War II' from the dropdown menu.
  4.. Search.
  5.. Display the results of your search. If there are too
many, you can refine this search result, and then enter
the person's given names and/or service number.
  6.. Use the link to 'View digital copy'. You can also
print a copy of the record.
Purchase a copy
You can purchase an online copy or a colour print copy of
a World War II service record.

Online copy
If you order an online copy:

  a.. an image of each page of the record will be made
available for public viewing in our online collection
database, RecordSearch
  b.. we will notify you by email (if you have provided an
email address) when an online copy is available for
The cost of an online digital copy is:

  a.. AU$16.50 (including GST) for purchases within Australia
  b.. AU$15 (GST-free) for purchases made outside Australia
Colour print copy
If you order a colour print copy:

  a.. a colour print copy of the record will be mailed to
you in a presentation folder, and
  b.. at no additional cost, an online copy of the record
will be made available for public viewing in our online
collection database, RecordSearch.
The cost for a colour print copy is:

  a.. AU$25 (including GST) for purchases within Australia
  b.. AU$28 (GST-free) for purchases made outside Australia
To purchase an online copy or a colour print copy:
  a.. first locate the item using NameSearch (see above)
  b.. use the 'Request copy' button
  c.. complete your order using our secure eCommerce facility
View an original record
You can view a World War II service record in the National
Archives Canberra reading room.

There are still many WWII service records that require
clearance before they can be publicly viewed. If you wish
to view a service record, you will need to contact us at
least four weeks ahead of your visit. Please remember to
indicate whether the service person is living or deceased
when making your request.

Online: advance request to view records
Tel: 1300 886 881
Fax: 1300 886 882
Mail: National Reference Service, National Archives of
Australia, PO Box 7425, Canberra BC ACT 2610, Australia


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