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Carment, David Maxwell (Max) (1918–2007)

by David Carment

David Carment, painted by his son, Tom Carment, 1994

David Carment, painted by his son, Tom Carment, 1994

Max Carment, one of the last Australian survivors of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in Borneo, has died at the age of 88. He was held first in Changi in Singapore before being moved to Sandakan. Later he was one of a group of officers moved to Kuching, which probably saved his life.

Nearly 2500 Allied service men died at Sandakan or on the marches towards the end of the war when the Japanese tried to move the still-living evidence of their harsh treatment away from the approaching Allies; hundreds of POWs also died in Kuching.

Carment suffered malaria, dysentery and malnutrition before his final release and was extraordinarily lucky to survive at all. He also witnessed appalling atrocities, yet even amid the horror, he found goodness and beauty.

He wrote later: "My recollections of these difficult years are not all sad. I was privileged to be acquainted with some very fine individuals, to learn that intelligent men can live in harmony under the most difficult conditions, and to experience the best and worst of human nature. I still vividly recall some things — the plaintive notes of the Last Post played by a bugler at Sandakan echoing from the surrounding jungle. The wonderful tropical sunsets. The whole sweep of the sky being covered by millions of flying foxes on their annual migration, and moonlight so brilliant that it was possible to read by its light. I remember companionship and friendship in times of great stress. I remember laughter and sadness."

Many men came back from war too damaged to properly re-engage with work and family. Carment was not among them. He became a leading figure of the Sydney financial world and had a very happy home life, but he never lost the capacity to learn from setback and disappointment.

David Maxwell Carment was born in Neutral Bay. He had a sister, Marion, who was a year older. His great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather were Presbyterian ministers in the Scottish Highlands, who joined the Free Church of Scotland following the Great Disruption of 1843 when the Church of Scotland had split over the question of self-governance.

His grandfather, an actuary, migrated to Australia in 1871. His father, David, was for many years a naval architect at Cockatoo Island dockyard; his mother, Ida, was the daughter of a naval architect and shipbuilder in Glasgow.

His father and grandfather were keen yachtsmen and much of the young Carment's leisure time was spent sailing on a 34-foot sloop Athene, which his grandfather had built in 1906. He joined the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron as a teenager.

Carment was educated at Neutral Bay Public School and, briefly, at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore). After leaving school at 14, he worked in junior positions with the Perpetual Trustee Company. He sailed, played hockey, served in the militia and skied at Mount Kosciuszko. He became an articled clerk in an accounting firm and started his studies for chartered accountancy before the war began.

Carment joined the army in 1939 and was a lieutenant in the 2/15 Field Regiment of the 8th Division when he was taken prisoner after the fall of Singapore in February, 1942. Prisoners held in Changi were soon moved out to the camps as labour for Japanese construction projects. After time in Sadakan, Carment's good fortune was to be taken to Kuching when the Japanese tried to disorganise the lower ranks of the Allies by removing the officers. Of the 2434 Australian and British prisoners left in Sandakan, only six survived — 1787 Australians and 641 British perished in the camp or along the track on the "death" marches to Ranau, or at Ranau.

After the war, Carment qualified as a chartered accountant. In 1948 he met and married Diana Sulman, granddaughter of the architect and town planner Sir John Sulman, and they raised their family in Mosman.

His career blossomed — he became a partner and later senior partner in the accounting firm of Norton and Faviell — and he continued sailing, owning and successfully racing Athene II, Athene III and Athene IV. He was an omnivorous reader, particularly of biographies and histories. In his later years he also became an expert in tapestry. He had spent 10 years in the Citizen Military Forces after the war, reaching the rank of major, and was an active member of the Union Club, of which he became president. He and Diana travelled widely together, sometimes with children and grandchildren.

His main foible, perhaps, was that he was quite often impatient. Although he was very patient with his tapestries, he often found fast food outlets too slow.

In the early 1960s Carment became a company director, serving as a director, deputy chairman and chairman on many Australian and overseas management boards. The business world held his integrity, as well as his financial acuity, in high regard. He enjoyed voluntary work and was the treasurer of the NSW Society for Crippled Children and Sydney Hospital.

Carment's career and long life are the more remarkable because, largely due to his wartime experiences, he was often in ill health. He had a number of severe heart attacks and various other serious ailments yet did not finally retire until he was 72.

Carment is survived by his children, David, Annie and Tom, and their families. Diana died in 2005.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 July 2007
1

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Carment, 'Carment, David Maxwell (Max) (1918–2007)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/carment-david-maxwell-max-200/text201, accessed 21 September 2018.

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