The Six Hospital Ships

The Australian Hospital Ships (AHS)

The Six Australian Hospital Ships Manunda, Wanganella, were Australian Registered and Crewed ships, Centaur was British Register the Tasman, Oranje and Maetsuycker were Dutch Registered and Crewed with Javanese (Indonesian) seamen. This created a serious problem when the native crews began to have second thoughts about this war business far from home, which they did not understand, nor want to know about anyway.

The Japanese occupation of their homeland took its toll, as time dragged on they became edgy, and finally ship by ship, they refused duty. When the explanation became evident and they realised they could not return home to family in Japanese occupied Java, most went on strike. “Dutch colony! Japanese colony! What’s the difference?” “Mau poelang” (“We want to go home”).

What they had done was tantamount to mutiny. Refusing a lawful order from the Captain. As each crew refused duty they were taken away by Police, sometimes 50 at a time, Javanese, Ambonese and Menandonese. Long Bay Gaol and every Police cell in the Sydney Metropolitan Area were soon full of Javanese seamen refusing duty.

The Dutch ship “Both” was fitted out at Glebe Island as a prison ship with armed guards. Eventually emergency wartime legislation was passed, making the penalty for refusing duty in time of war internment at Cowra POW camp for the duration. But that was only the beginning. (Act 1). “Sail or Gaol”

Act 2. Where to find replacement crews? Australian Naval Ratings (DEMS) and Australian Merchant Seamen signed "Articles of Agreement" with the Master of the ship, from the International Seamen’s Pool and Australian Shipping Offices. They were signed on in various capacities, these crews and the important contribution they made has been largely overlooked for without them, these Allied Troop ships and Hospital ships, could not have sailed at this very critical stage of the New Guinea and South west Pacific Campaign. Quite a few of the native crews remained on articles here in Australia, Bombay, England and Internationally.

In all areas KPM hospital ships Ophir, and Melchoir Treub in the Bombay area controlled by British Ministry of War Transport, Tasman, Maetsuycker and Oranje in Sydney under control of Australian Shipping Control Board (ASCB) and US Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, all making an invaluable contribution to the Allied War effort.