80th Anniversary of the sinking of AHS Centaur

The Hon Matt Keogh MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

80 years ago today, Australian Hospital Ship (AHS) Centaur was sunk by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Queensland.

When Centaur departed Sydney on 12 May 1943, there were more than 300 people on board – sadly only 64 survived the sinking.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh said this attack resulted in the nation’s worst loss of life from an enemy submarine attack during the Second World War.

“The sinking of AHS Centaur was an unspeakable attack on an unarmed ship working to assist those injured during the war, and today we pause and pay tribute to all those who were on board at the time of the attack,” Minister Keogh said.

The explosion was so large and unexpected, it took just three minutes for her to sink and the crew had no time to send an SOS message.

The survivors used anything they could find to make rafts out of debris. They then waited for up to 35 agonising hours before being rescued.

Sister Ellen Savage was the only one of twelve nurses to survive the sinking. Even though she suffered major injuries herself, she concealed them to focus on treating the wounded and keeping their spirits up until they were finally rescued.

“Sister Savage showed great heroism in the hours after the sinking of Centaur. Her bravery in the face of such adversity resulted in her being awarded the George Medal.” Minister Keogh said. 

The Australian War Memorial will today host members of the 2/3 AHS Centaur Association at the Last Post Ceremony, where the story of Field Ambulance medic Private Clement Edward Lynne will be told. The Memorial’s Centaur collection features personal watches, flares, life jacket lights and medical equipment salvaged by the survivors.

To read more about the sinking of AHS Centaur during the Second World War, visit DVA’s Anzac Portal

Media contacts

Stephanie Mathews (Minister Keogh’s Office): 0407 034 485
DVA Media: media.team@dva.gov.au

Authorised by The Hon Matt Keogh MP.

Editor’s note: For veterans and families this day may be an emotional time and lead to feelings of distress. You are encouraged to include the contact information for Open Arms Veterans and Families Counselling in your stories. Open Arms is available 24/7 on 1800 011 046 or visit OpenArms.gov.au.

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling provides 24/7 free confidential crisis support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families on 1800 011 046 or the Open Arms website. Safe Zone Support provides anonymous counselling on 1800 142 072. Defence All-Hours Support Line provides support for ADF personnel on 1800 628 036 or the Defence Health Portal. Defence Member and Family Helpline provides support for Defence families on 1800 624 608