|Last Post film
Australian War Memorial
|Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
|14 May 2018
Second World War, 1939-1945
Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
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The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX48127) Private Athol Richard Povey, 2/12th Field Ambulance (Centaur), Second World War.
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 Sharon Bown, the story for this day was on (NX48127) Private Athol Richard Povey, 2/12th Field Ambulance (Centaur), Second World War.Film order form
NX48127 Private Athol Richard Povey, 2/12th Field Ambulance (Centaur)
Died at Sea 14 May 1943
Story delivered 14 May 2018
Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Athol Richard Povey.
Athol Povey was born in the Sydney suburb of Erskinneville on 31 January 1922, the fifth of seven children born to Wilfred and Kate Povey. He grew up on a property called “Rockily” at Anembo, just south of Captain’s Flat in New South Wales. He attended school at the Anembo school, a five kilometre walk from the farm that he undertook with his siblings.
After leaving home at the age of 17, he went to Queensland to work for a few years, before briefly returning to spend time with his family before enlisting.
In September 1941, at the age of 19, Povey enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force. He joined the Australian Army Medical Corps and began training, and gained valuable experience at hospitals in Sydney and Tamworth.
Towards the end of the year Povey was posted as a reinforcement to the 2/12th Field Ambulance, joining his unit in Darwin on New Year’s Eve 1941.
While training in the Northern Territory, the 2/12th provided medical support for the 23rd Brigade. It participated in the construction of five small medical hospitals, and assisted sappers and pioneer assault units, thus earning the nickname “2/12th Pioneers”.
After the Pacific War began, members of the 2/12th were attached to Gull Force and Sparrow Force, and were sent to defend the islands of Ambon and Timor.
Povey, however, spent some time in Darwin with the 2/4th Pioneer Battalion before rejoining the 2/12th, which had to be reinforced and rebuilt after the death or capture of so many who had served with Gull Force and Sparrow Force.
In May 1943, the unit was ready to deploy overseas. The 195 members of the 2/12th boarded the hospital ship Centaur, headed for Port Moresby via Cairns.
Shortly after 4 am on 14 May, while most people were asleep, a torpedo 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 onboard who had survived the explosion or 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 aboard, there were only 64 survivors, including 15 members of the 2/12th. The survivors were at sea for a day and half before they were rescued. The ship's crew and medical staff suffered heavily, as did the 2/12th Field Ambulance –178 men, from a total of 193, had died. It was the nurses though, who suffered the worst. Of the 12 nurses on board only one, Sister Nell Savage, survived.
Among the dead was Private Athol Povey, who was just 21 years old.
News of the attack on a clearly marked hospital ship made front pages throughout the world, and resulted in public outrage. Protests were made to Japan and efforts were made to discover those responsible.
Following the war, a number of searches failed to reveal Centaur's location. It wasn’t until 20 December 2009 that a search led by David Mearns discovered Centaur’s wreck off the southern tip of Moreton Island. Now protected by the Historic Shipwrecks Act the Centaur is a memorial to the lives lost.
Today, the sinking of the Centaur is symbolically presented in the mosaic dedicated to the women’s services in the Hall of Memory here at the Australian War Memorial.
Alfred Povey’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 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 Athol Richard Povey, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Editor, Military History Section
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX48127) Private Athol Richard Povey, 2/12th Field Ambulance (Centaur), Second World War. (video)