2 May 2024

An Anzac Day tribute to Stuart Swanton (1927)

Community
An Anzac Day tribute to Stuart Swanton (1927)
An Anzac Day tribute to Stuart Swanton (1927)
Keep up to date
Get notifications on upcoming news, events and publications
Stuart Mill Swanton and his three brothers all attended Carey Baptist Grammar School in its early days. Stuart was a Foundation Scholar: one of the 68 boys who attended the School on its opening day on 13 February 1923.

He graduated from Carey in December 1927 and joined a company that was later to become Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). A devout Christian, Stuart was a prominent member of the Brien Lane Gospel Hall in Melbourne, where he was renowned for his work amongst the less fortunate. In addition, he was a gifted musician and composed several hymns. As a proficient violist, he was a member of the Swanton Family Orchestra with his brothers and parents.

Loading...
The Swanton Family Orchestra, c. 1930s
The Swanton Family Orchestra, c. 1930s
Loading...
Stuart at the piano, 1940
Stuart at the piano, 1940

Following the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, the call to serve his country grew louder, and in 1940, Stuart enlisted in the Australian Army. After training at Shepparton, Bonegilla and Darwin and being promoted to Corporal, he was sent with the 2nd/21st Gull Force Battalion to the Indonesian island of Ambon on 17 December 1941, 10 days after the infamous Japanese aircraft attack on Pearl Harbour that triggered war in the Pacific. Of his arrival in Ambon, Stuart romantically wrote:

I shall never forget that evening, for I had never known any scene to be so peaceful and beautiful. The tropical sunset was just as we had read of in books and the clouds were entwined among the mountains. With many other incidental touches of God’s handiwork, the whole setting was indescribable.

Six weeks later, and now a Sergeant, Stuart Swanton’s romanticism was shattered when the Japanese invaded Ambon. Fighting was furious, but the ill-fated Australian force, serving alongside 2600 Dutch Indonesian troops, was swiftly overwhelmed by far larger and better equipped Japanese units. Over 200 Gull Force men, 20% of the battalion, died in the three-day conflict, but Stuart Swanton survived and became a prisoner of war in February 1942.

During his subsequent three-and-a-half-year internment, Stuart maintained a secret diary, written in shorthand to avoid detection.

Sunday 23 April 1945
All day on transport party unloading drums and bombs. Night parties again but did not go in until midnight. [My brother] Basil’s birthday I have his photo in my cubicle and often look at his smiling face.
Loading...
Sergeant Stuart Swanton, c. 1940s
Sergeant Stuart Swanton, c. 1940s
Loading...
Sergeant Stuart Swanton, c. 1940s
Sergeant Stuart Swanton, c. 1940s

After the war, his diary was returned to Australia and subsequently lodged with the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The transcript was later used by Joan Beaumont to help compile her book Gull Force: survival and leadership in captivity, 1941 to 1945. It was also used as the basis of Russell Crowe’s first film Blood Oath.

Stuart assumed the role of Chaplain on Ambon following the death of the Battalion Padre in January 1943 and survivors of Ambon spoke highly of his amazing cheerfulness and outstanding Christian example.

Tragically, Ambon had one of the worst survival rates of any Prisoner of War camp in World War 2. Of the 1100 original men of Gull Force, only 363 survived the battle and the years of captivity. Sadly, Stuart Swanton was not one of them. He died of beriberi (a severe form of Thiamine deficiency) on 14 August 1945: eight days after the Hiroshima atomic bomb, five days after the Nagasaki bomb was dropped, and one day before the Japanese surrendered on 15 August – Victory in the Pacific Day.

He was buried in the Ambon War Cemetery and a memorial service was held for him at the Collins Street Baptist Church on 11 November (Remembrance Day) 1945. The words of his Commanding Officer were read at the service:

I was not only fond of Stuart, but greatly admired him too. He was so conscientious, thorough, brave and even. He kept himself fit in the earlier days, was a man of high principle, yet not without a quiet sense of humour. It seems unbelievable that we shall not see him again. But we can never forget the shining example of such men – far too many of whom have had to make the Supreme Sacrifice.

Loading...
The grave of Sergeant Stuart Mill Swanton, c. 1940s
The grave of Sergeant Stuart Mill Swanton, c. 1940s

In his words of remembrance at the memorial service, Bill Glass said of Stuart:

In his comparatively short life, Stuart achieved more than most attain to in a long lifetime. He was an Endeavourer who kept to his pledge, who did numberless unseen and thoughtful kindness, and led many to a knowledge of the Christ he loved and served. Stuart Swanton is worthy of our remembrance as long as memory lasts. I will remember him as one of the most stalwart Christians I have known.

And in this, Carey Baptist Grammar School’s 2024 Anzac Service, we too remember Stuart Mill Swanton: a true Carey heir who died far too young at age 31.

Helen Wolff
Archivist, Community Engagement

Share

Follow us

LATEST NEWS
Our Eco-Warriors are rewilding Carey
Our Eco-Warriors are rewilding Carey
KEEPING UP WITH CAREY
Follow us on Instagram for regular updates about Carey life.
KEEPING UP WITH CAREY
© Carey Baptist Grammar School Limited
ABN 83 051 576 062CRICOS #00135G
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of this land and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We respect their Elders past and present and recognise the injustices endured by the First Nations peoples of this country.