William Daniel Oakes was born in Garston on 24th August 1905, the son of Daniel, a marine engineer, and his wife Lucy Jane who lived at 31 Chesterton Street L19. They later moved to 11 Stanley Street L19 (now demolished).He was known in the family as Willie, but seems to have been known to others throughout his life as Dan. Though his family was Church of England, as a youngster he joined a Wesleyan Scout Troop, a decision which was to lead to him going to the far side of the world and dying aged just 36 in tragic circumstances.
Dan Oakes was thoroughly absorbed by scouting, becoming a scoutmaster when he was 19, and he became a committed Methodist, preaching locally and fervently desiring to become a minister of the church. Working as an apprentice blacksmith his chances of entering the ministry seemed exceedingly slim but fate was to intervene. The Rev. D C Hughes, Australian Methodist minister, came to England seeking candidates to train for the ministry in New South Wales. Dan Oakes was accepted and along with eleven other young men he sailed from Tilbury on 7th September 1928. He was never to see his family or his native land again.
After a year as a ‘missioner’ in Braidwood, a small outback town, he spent three years at a Methodist training college before being appointed superintendent of nine churches in the coastal area of Milton. On 3rd March 1933 he married Maron Lillian Johnson and within a month had set sail for New Guinea to serve as a missionary on the island of Ulu. Their first son, George Daniel, was born in January 1934. Dan Oakes worked hard to develop the school and medical facilities under his charge. He wrote to his Garston friend, Frank Mason, telling him that the grandfather of two of his pupils had been ’practising’ cannibals. His success led to him being given a larger area of responsibility at Pinikidu on the large island of New Ireland. His efforts to help the native population knew no limits and he laboured to ensure the building of a new church, being concrete a rare construction at the time, and provide what medical facilities he could.
With the world situation deteriorating in July 1941 Oakes’ wife and children moved to Sydney and they were never to see him again. The Japanese occupied New Ireland early in 1942 and Dan Oakes, along with over a thousand Australian civilians and prisoners of war was put on the ship Montevideo Maru which set sail for southern China on 22nd June 1942. On 1st July the ship was sighted by the American submarine USS Sturgeon. Unaware that the ship was carrying captives of the Japanese the Sturgeon attacked with torpedoes and the Montevideo Maru was sunk resulting in the death of 1,054 people, mostly captives, including Dan Oakes.
Very sadly for the Oakes family, Dan’s brother was killed during the war serving with Bomber Command and his sister died of a stroke, possibly caused by the news of her brother’s death.
The Oakes' family home at the time of Dan's birth.
I first came across the story of Dan Oakes in the book Over The Top (From Under The Bridge) by Frank Mason (a childhood friend of Oakes) [Countyvise 1990] in which he sets out biographies of ten men whose origins lay in Garston and its Methodist chapel. Dan Oakes' son, George, produced a detailed biography on line . Details of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru can be found on Wikipedia.
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