A happy wartime memory of Kabakaul: Frazer Harry

There is something attractive about the idea of enjoying a cold beer at the end of a hot tropical day, particularly if it’s with a group of great mates, with a view of palm trees, and calm water softly lapping on the beach in front as the sun prepares to set.

In 1941, a small group of Australian soldiers of the 2/22 Battalion was camped at Kabakaul, on the grassy foreshore, just to the side and back from the stone pier. They were members of the Intelligence section, and were doing “compass and chain” surveying of the area, in the months before the Japanese landing at Rabaul in January 1942. My father, Bill Harry, was one of the soldiers, and used to enjoy telling this story about his time at Kabakaul.

The area at Kabakaul where they were camped was part of a coconut plantation at that time, and the plantation owners allowed the soldiers to take over a small grassy area to set up camp. The main plantation house was just 50 meters or so to the west, or Kokopo side, of the area where the men bivouacked. The plantation owners were the Coopers: part of the well-known Coopers brewing family from South Australia. Apparently there was a son in South Australia who, while not necessarily the “black sheep” of the family, decided some years before the war that he wanted to get away from the family business, and the city routine, to seek adventure. He came to PNG, wound up in Rabaul, liked the area and lifestyle, and, probably with some financial support from the family back home, went into running plantations. And only naturally, he made sure there was a good supply of Coopers Beer shipped to him on a regular basis.

The group of soldiers got to know the family, and it soon became the daily norm that as the men finished up their days surveying, and relaxed back at camp, a houseboy would walk across from the plantation house with a serving tray, carrying several long-neck bottles of cold Coopers Beer: one bottle per man. You can imagine the situation: these men must have thought they were on to a pretty good sort of a lurk here! At this stage my father, Bill, was a teetotaller. The other 6 or so men, however, were most definitely not. They decided there was no point in confusing matters by trying to explain that Bill didn’t drink, and so it continued that there would be the usual 7 bottles brought over each evening. This meant that each evening one lucky fellow had the luxury of a second bottle! I’m sure they all kept a close eye on when their turn was coming for that extra beer, and Bill must have been a very popular member of that group!

And I don’t think they would have tried to change dad’s drinking habits in a hurry!

After the war Bill slightly relaxed his attitude to alcohol, and while never a big drinker by any means, he enjoyed the odd beer, especially at the end of a hot day. Of course, his favourite drop was Coopers. However, of that small group of men camped at Kabakaul over that period in 1941, Bill was the only one to survive the war.    

None of the others made it home. I’d occasionally wonder about how dad dealt with memories like this, and there was obviously a great sense of sadness and loss he’d feel, which would never leave him. But stories like this one, which the rest of our family and friends would refer to as “The Coopers Beer Story”, were always told with a great smile and a laugh from dad, and that sparkle in his eyes! Dad died a couple of years ago now, but whenever I see a Coopers Beer it reminds me of this story, and dad, and that group of happy, carefree young men having a great time together at Kabakaul.

Intelligence Section Battalion Headquarters, 1941 in Australia
Back row: L/Cpl Frank Kirkpatrick, Pte Bill Harry, Pte Ern Gribble
Front row: Cpl Willis Crocker, Pte Allan Ferguson, Pte Don Walker, Sgt Richard (Dick) spinner


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