On a calm, tropical afternoon in the South Atlantic Ocean in April 1942, a British tramp steamer, the SS Willesden, was shelled, torpedoed and sunk by a German raider, the KMS Thor. The Willesden was carrying 47 officers and crew, and a cargo of vital war supplies destined for Britain's 8th Army in North Africa. Five of Willesden's crew were killed in the attack. Among the survivors was Second Mate David Millar, who - along with his crewmen - was rescued by the Germans and interned on a succession of prison ships, before being handed over to the Japanese. Badly wounded, David spent the rest of the war as a POW in a camp at Fukushima, north of Tokyo. The Thor was also responsible for sinking two other steamers, the SS Kirkpool and SS Nankin. Their survivors, who included 38 women and children, were dispatched to the same POW camp. What is remarkable about this story, apart from its inherent drama, is that these civilian POWs - numbering more than 130 in all - were officially listed as `Missing at Sea': their presence in the camp remained a closely guarded secret. This meant that it was many months - in some cases, years - before the fog of mystery surrounding their disappearance lifted, and family and friends knew whether their loved ones were dead or alive. Lost at Sea: Found at Fukushima tells the little-known story of these survivors. It is a tale of honour between enemy naval commanders; of suffering, courage and endurance, as months of imprisonment turned to years; and of the powerful relationships that form when people are forced together in life-threatening circumstances. Greatly enhancing the poignancy of this story is the fact that David Millar was the author's father.
Andy Millar is a retired Navy Commander, having served 26 years in the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) and 14 years in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The David Millar who features in Lost at Sea was his father. Andy was born in the UK in 1939. His family emigrated to New Zealand after World War Two, upon his father’s return from enduring three years as a POW in Japan. Joining the RNZN in 1959, Andy trained as an officer at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, UK. Over the next 26 years he rose to the rank of Commander, before transferring to the RAN to take up a position with the Collins Class submarine project. A highlight of his career was a secondment to the Royal Malaysian Navy from 1966–68, during ‘The Confrontation’ with Indonesia. During this time, he commanded a Fast Patrol Boat of similar size and capability to the German E-boats that feature in Lost at Sea. Andy retired from the RAN in 1999 and now lives in Canberra.