Warwick author reveals Centaur truths

‘Sea Monsters: Savage Submarine Commanders of World War Two’, by Tony Matthews, is now available for purchase. Pictures: SUPPLIED

By Jess Baker

Former Warwick resident and renowned author Tony Matthews has released his latest historical book, ‘Sea Monsters: Savage Submarine Commanders of World War Two’.

The new book tells the story of the several hundred people who were on board the Australian hospital ship Centaur when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1943, through the eyes of the few who survived.

It also includes a chapter on the life of Hajime Nakagawa, the submarine commander who sank the vessel, resulting in the deaths of 268 people.

In research for the book, Tony interviewed almost every survivor who was alive in 1993, which he said brought “a deep level of pathos and emotion to the whole tragic narrative”.

“This book, for the first time, tells the poignant story of the sinking of the Centaur from the perspective of the survivors and also from those who cared for the survivors once they had been landed in Brisbane,” Tony said.

“I also interviewed a man named Bill Records, one of the crew of the USS Mugford, the ship that rescued the survivors. Bill was able to provide colourful and clear details of the rescue mission.”

Tony said he was compelled to write about the “worst maritime disaster in Australian waters” as he had a personal interest in the event.

His wife, Lensie Matthews, is closely related to Warwick local Private Percy Clegg, who was tragically killed when Centaur was torpedoed.

Lensie said Percy had taken leave from work to see his family, including wife Marjorie and son Keith, before the voyage.

“His brother, Leslie, known as ‘Les’, lived at the family property, Sunnyside, Pratten,” Lensie said.

“Cars were scarce in those days, in fact many of them had been requisitioned for war use and fuel was being strictly rationed so Percy had ridden his bicycle all the way from Warwick to Pratten, a distance of about twenty miles, in order to say goodbye to his brother and ageing mother.”

Tony said that although thousands of books had been written about the Second World War, ‘Sea Monsters’ was unique as it was explored the personalities of characters and the violent and inhumane nature of their actions.

“It is important that we remember and extol courage and self-sacrifice, for in those actions we see the nobility which exists within humanity, but it is equally important to remember and to condemn the actions of those who brought shame upon themselves and those who served with them,” Tony said.

“Books such as ‘Sea Monsters’ record events for posterity, and that is important because posterity is the vehicle we use to apply judgement to an age.”

Tony said he was conscious of writing a balanced book that exposed the “evil acts” of the submarine commanders and their crews as well as the stories of the “heroes” who helped others.

‘Sea Monsters: Savage Submarine Commanders of World War Two’ is now available at most book stores and online through Booktopia.

It and other titles by Tony Matthews can also be found on the publisher’s website at www.bigskypublishing.com.au.