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Survival at Sea
January 1, 1970 @ 10:00 am
Presented by Catherine McCullagh
On Friday 14 May 1943, while the east coast of Australia lay in the darkness of the wartime blackout, a brightly lit vessel cruised north, a floating beacon against the blackened sea. The 2/3rd Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was 40 miles east of Brisbane, heading for New Guinea to take on casualties at Port Moresby. She carried a total of 332 passengers‚Äî76 crew and 256 medical staff, including 12 nurses. The Centaur was ablaze with floodlights which clearly showed the traditional red crosses of a hospital ship painted on her hull, deck and funnel. There was no doubt as to the nature of the target when, at 4.10 a.m. on the morning of 14 May, a torpedo hit the Centaur just forward of amidships. She sank in less than four minutes taking with her all but 63 of the ship‚Äôs passengers and crew. It would be 36 gruelling hours before the survivors were plucked from amidst the floating wreckage by a passing American warship. Ellen Savage, the only surviving nurse, would later be awarded the George Medal for her role in rallying the passengers over the long hours of darkness. The sinking of the Centaur would likewise become a rallying point in the bloody battle against the Japanese aggressor being fought in the jungles and swamps to Australia‚Äôs north.