Australia under attack: “Avenge the nurses!”
At 4 am on 14 May 1943 the brightly-lit Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was torpedoed and sunk off Stradbroke Island. In this renegade act, 268 lives were lost with the Centaur, more than from any other Japanese torpedo attack in Australian waters during the war.
Seaman Martin Pash remembered that the Centaur “just went straight down. There was no noise or anything – a lot of people calling out, the nurses and all … The deck boy brought Sister Savage on. She had a fractured jaw. You wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with her but she suffered very badly. She had broken ribs and [was] bruised and one of the fellas gave her his overcoat to put over her.”
Despite her own injuries, 30-year-old Sister Ellen Savage nursed the wounded and boosted the morale of the others. The other eleven nurses all drowned. After a day and a half adrift on life rafts, the 64 survivors were spotted by an RAAF Anson and recovered by the destroyer USS Mugford.
Sister Savage’s courage was recognised by the award of the George Medal.
George Medal recommendation
Sister Ellen Savage, Australian Army Nursing Service, was awarded the George Medal for courage during the sinking of the hospital ship Centaur off Stradbroke Island, Queensland, on 13 May 1943.