Mark Cummings was 23 when he died on board The Centaur.
Mark Cummings was 23 when he died on board The Centaur.

Memories of man's life cut short

ONE day in 1943, Bundaberg man Mark Cummings was enjoying lunch with his family – by lunchtime the next day his body was at the bottom of the sea, entombed in the torpedoed hospital ship Centaur.

Yesterday his sister, Glad Mackey, a sprightly 93-year-old who still lives in Bundaberg, relived her memories of the adventurous young man who joined the army as soon as war was declared in 1939.

After the war, Cummings Street in Bundaberg was named after the young soldier.

Mrs Mackey said it was sad her brother, who had served in Papua New Guinea and Timor and survived the bombing of Darwin, should be killed on a hospital ship.

The Centaur was torpedoed without warning by a Japanese submarine on May 14, 1943, and of the 332 people on board, 268 died.

The wreckage of the ship was found by a search team on Sunday morning, 2059m below the surface off Moreton Island.

“It was so very quick,” Mrs Mackey said yesterday.

“Mark was at home one lunchtime; by the next lunchtime they told me the ship had been torpedoed.”

At the time, the family was told the soldiers on board were mostly below decks when the torpedo hit, and never had a chance.

Mrs Mackey said the family moved to Bundaberg when Mark was about 12, and he attended the former Christian Brothers College in the city.

After school he obtained a carpentry apprenticeship at the Fairymead sugar mill, and later worked in Gympie.

Mrs Mackey said her brother was only 23 at the time of his death, and she was four years older.

“I remember him clearly,” she said yesterday.

“He was a private in a field ambulance unit at the time it happened.”

Mrs Mackey said she was happy the ship had been found, but she would not like it to be disturbed in any way.

There was already a memorial to the Centaur dead on Moreton Island, with a grove of trees planted.

Each tree bore the name of one of the victims of the Japanese attack.

But Mrs Mackey said if another ceremony was held to commemorate the finding of the ship’s wreckage, she would be keen to attend.

She said the finding of the wreckage helped her to feel the issue was finalised.

“I knew he was close, but now we know exactly where it is,” she said.

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