Knowing where they are

April 26, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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For David Lesnie and Sandra Berman, this was a special Anzac Day weekend.

When the hospital ship Centaur was cruelly torpedoed in May 1943 by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Queensland, the stricken vessel sunk 2000m before settling on the ocean bed. Only 64 of the 332 aboard survived.

Back from the war...but one day there would be no return for Dick Sender

For Sydney toddlers Sandra Barripp and David Lesnie, the effect the news had on their families was to prove to be one of their earliest memories. Barripp’s family lost Major Isador Sender, a doctor on the ill-fated hospital ship  and Lesnie’s family lost AIF Warrant Officer Norman Lesnie.

Although authorities were reasonably sure where the sinking took place, the wreck of the Centaur was found only in December last year giving this year’s Anzac Day new meaning now that the actual spot where there family members died is known…50 miles east-noth-east of Brisbane. The site has been protected by the Federal Government’s Shipwreck Act and will remain a memorial to this who lost their lives.

The vessel bore distrinctive hospital markings but nevertheless was attacked by the submarine. Its commander was never convicted of war crimes in spite of strong protests by the Australian government. He was however, convicted on firing on British survivors of another vessel his submarine had destroyed.

Dr Dick Sender was born in Leeds, U.K. in 1905. The picture below shows Dr Sender during a homecoming from the war in 1942. Sender’s son David’s wife, Christine said: “The photo appeared in the papers and the caption read ‘There were many happy reunions in Sydney last week when a number of wounded officers and men of the Australian Infantry returned. Here is Major I.H. Sender being greeted by his wife and ten months old son David.”

Norman Lesnie’s nephew David recentley addressed NAJEX  for Anzac Day…

J-Wire publishes his speech in full…

Firstly can I thank the President and Organising committee of NAJEX for including the tribute to the Centaur, an Australian Hospital Ship that was sunk in 1943 as part of its ANZAC SERVICE today.

Norman Lesnie 2nd left

The Centaur was a Hospital ship protected under the Conventions of War but on the 14th May 1943, notwithstanding her clear identification she was sunk by a large (not mini) Japanese submarine, going down in 3 minutes with 268 lives lost and 64 survivors rescued by the USS MUGFORD which arrived 36 hours later.

The memory of the CENTAUR has been kept alive by the Centaur Association who maintain active contact with families involved and affected and they hold, amongst other activities an annual remembrance ceremony each May at the Concord Hospital which I attend with Joyce Feller, she being the late Norman Lesnie’ sister.  Sadly Joyce could not be present today.

Strictly speaking we are celebrating the recent locating of the ship which sank 67 years ago, which tells you that we are still keen to revisit the relevant past and remind ourselves of the sort of sacrifices Australians made for their fellow citizen in times of war.

It was the success David Mearns, a marine scientist and deep water search and recovery expert in finding the long lost HMAS SYDNEY that inspired the search for the Centaur, whose general location was generally known.

It is ironic that the survivors of the German  auxiliary Cruiser Kormoran, which sunk the HMAS Sydney and was herself sunk in that same encounter, were rescued by the Centaur!!!

The impact of finding the ship has been a great fillip for the Association, and has united many families including the Sender family who are here today from Melbourne remembering the late Dr Dick Sender.

Bearing in mind the ship was found 56km East of Moreton Island near Brisbane it’s clear how close to home this act of war was.

But goodwill re-establishes itself quickly, and notwithstanding having lost their son to the Japanese, my Grandparents visited Japan in about 1950 as tourists.

My Grandfather Harry Lesnie was 6ft 1 in and 18 stone and was not likely to blend into the local crowd!!

So why do we celebrate or commemorate these events when we may not have even known the participants.

Maybe it’s as historians, or sentimentalists, or patriots, or members of family.

Realistically it is the knowledge that ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’ and we should never underestimate or forget our forbears who went there and for whom we as free citizens remain eternally grateful          —

Lest we forget!

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