Warrant Officer James Fitzgerald KELLY

Service No: 882
Born: Brisbane QLD, 1 August 1904
Enlisted in the RAAF: 19 March 1926 (at RAAF Station Point Cook VIC)
Unit: No. 24 Squadron, Rabaul, New Britain
Died: Prisoner of War (Presumed Drowned): off the Philippines Coast, 1 July 1942, Aged 37 Years
Buried: Unrecovered
CWGC Additional Information: Son of Thomas and Mary Agnes Kelly; husband of Jean Margaret Florence Kelly, of Morningside, Queensland.
Roll of Honour: Brisbane QLD
Remembered: Panel 35, Rabaul Memorial, PNG
Remembered: Panel 102, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT

(1) Warrant Officer Kelly likely drowned when the Japanese transport ship Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by the submarine USS Sturgeon off the coast of the Philippines on 1 July 1942. The loss of the Montevideo Maru with over 850 Australian Army prisoners of war and 200 civilian internees from the New Britain area is Australia’s greatest maritime disaster in term of the loss of life. Warrant Officer Kelly was the only RAAF member on board.

From a series of evacuations from the Rabaul area, there were now only three members of No. 24 Squadron about whose safety there was doubt. Warrant Officer Kelly (882), a service photographer, was in hospital at the time of the withdrawal and was too ill to be moved. He remained behind and, with other patients and the gallant members of the hospital staff who stayed to care for them, was taken prisoner. Flying Officer Lempriere (1), the Squadron’s Intelligence Officer, had risked being left behind to ensure that the signals office and its contents were destroyed. He reached Put Put after the main party had left and was captured) some time later off Gasmata while trying to escape in a launch. The third man who had not escaped was Corporal Smalpage, a signaller who voluntarily returned from the Warangoi River to endeavour to find a box of secret documents believed to have been left behind. He was not reported again and was later listed as missing.

(1) Flying Officer Geoffrey Raoul Lempriere (262789) was discharged from the RAAF on 22 February 1946.

Extract from Gillison, D.N. (Douglas Napier) (254475) Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1962 – Page 362 (This extract refers to events that occurred in the Rabaul area during late January and early February 1942).


Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-line Record A9301, 882


Wall, Donald (NX36620), Heroes at Sea, D Wall, Mona Vale NSW 2103, 1991

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