The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX73359) Private Alan Thomas Adams, Australian Army Service Corps, att’d 2/12th Field Ambulance, Second World War.

Place Approximate locations: At sea, Nearest landform, At sea (Australia)
Accession Number AWM2017.1.134
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 14 May 2017
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (NX73359) Private Alan Thomas Adams, Australian Army Service Corps, att’d 2/12th Field Ambulance, Second World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

NX73359 Private Alan Thomas Adams, Australian Army Service Corps, att’d 2/12th Field Ambulance
KIA 14 May 1943

Story delivered 14th May 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Alan Thomas Adams.

Alan Adams was born in St Peters, Sydney, on 4 April 1913 to Albert and Florence Adams. He grew up and attended school in Newtown. By the outbreak of the Second World War, he was working as a storeman and packer and living with his parents.

Adams enlisted in the militia on 12 May 1941, becoming a driver with the Army Service Corps, and was attached to the 2nd Division Supply Column. He was mobilised for full-time service with the Australian Imperial Force on 28 November 1941.

Initially, full-time service did not agree with Adams, and he went absent without leave on several occasions, but he had settled by early February 1942. Later that month Adams was sent to Darwin, where he was attached as a driver to the 2/12th Field Ambulance. At this time, Adams’ new unit had begun rebuilding after losing 90 of its members, killed or captured by the Japanese following the taking of Ambon and Timor.

Adams arrived in Darwin only weeks after the city and environs had been heavily damaged following Japanese air raids. Further attacks followed, but Adams would have seen a strengthening of the defences as Australian, American, British, and Dutch forces were committed to the area.

The 2/12th Field Ambulance spent the remainder of 1942 in the Darwin area, rebuilding and continuing to support the 23rd Brigade. The unit was relieved by the 2/13th Field Ambulance in January 1943 and was posted to the Wollongong area. In May, the 2/12th Field Ambulance was making ready to deploy to Port Moresby and was taken to Sydney – where on 11 May, the men embarked aboard the hospital ship Centaur.

Built in the early 1920s on the River Clyde in Scotland as a merchant vessel, in early 1943 Centaur was converted to a hospital ship. It had a fully equipped operating theatre and dental surgery, and could carry 252 patients. Centaur was also clearly marked as a hospital ship. Around its freshly painted white hull a wide green band ran, broken in several places by large red crosses. At night, the vessel was brightly illuminated by powerful spotlights.

Centaur only completed two voyages with patients before beginning its ill-fated third and final voyage. In the early afternoon of 12 May the hospital ship steamed from Sydney for Cairns. Shortly after 4 am on the 14th, while most people were asleep, a torpedo fired by a Japanese submarine struck Centaur’s port side, hitting the oil fuel tank, which ignited in a massive explosion. The bridge superstructure collapsed and the funnel crashed onto the deck. Everything was covered with burning oil and a fire quickly began to roar across the ship.

Water rushed in through the gaping hole in her side. Many of those on board who had survived the explosion and fire were trapped as the ship started to go down bow first, and then broke in two. In just three minutes Centaur was gone. Of the 332 people on board, only 64 survived. The survivors were at sea for a day and half before they were rescued.

Adams, aged 30, was among the dead. Of the 200 men of the 2/12th Field Ambulance, only 14 survived. The unit had been all but annihilated for a second time. However, the 2/12th Field Ambulance was rebuilt for a third time and went on to serve in Borneo in 1945. Here the men were involved in the care and evacuation of prisoners of war and internees at Kuching.
Adams’ name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private Alan Thomas Adams, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section

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