Barry Secombe, Leigh, Alber and Gary Forbes. Photo: ANDREW PERRYMAN

LAST week, The Bendigo District RSL through the Soldiers Memorial Institute Military Museum marked the life and sacrifice of Cyril John Johnson, and acknowledged the donation of a special memento.

Mr Johnson was born in Maldon and grew up in Laanecoorie.

He was a gifted sportsman, playing cricket, football and running.

Mr Johnson won the 1938 Best and Fairest cup for the South Bendigo Football Club and also trialled with Carlton.

At the outbreak of World War II, Cyril enlisted in the army and was posted to the 1 Company Australian Army Service Corps, part of the 8th Division.

He was sent to Malaya to defend the country from the Japanese.

During his time in Malaya he played Australian Rules football with his unit and took part in a game against the air force, which he documented in a letter to his family.

The match was played at the Sultan of Johor’s recreation grounds.

After the match Mr Johnson had his mates, unit members and a number of dignitaries including the Sultan and his wife and Major General Gordon Bennett (Commanding Officer of the 8th Division), sign a Pith helmet.

The helmet was sent home to his father.

Earlier this year, Mr Johnson’s nephew, Barry Secombe donated the helmet to the museum in memory of Mr Johnson.

Members of the museum have spent more than 100 hours identifying the signatures on the helmet.

At the fall of Singapore in 1942, Mr Johnson and many of his comrades of the 8th Division were captured by the Japanese.

He was sent to work on the Thai-Burma railway.

In 1944, a POW ship with thousands of prisoners on board, including Mr Johnson, was sent from Singapore towards Japan.

The ship’s name was the Rakuyo Maru.

On September 12 the ship was sunk by an American submarine and many POW’s were lost at sea.

Cyril Johnson was among those lost.

The loss had a profound impact on the Johnson family that has resonated to this day.

In conjunction with the Secombe family and the Forbes family, the museum now holds a number of items that belonged to Cyril Johnson which are proudly on display in his memory.

Yesterday was the 75th Anniversary of loss of Cyril Johnson and many other Allied prisoners of war on the Rakuyo Maru.