The Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Society was established in 2009 and integrated into the PNGAA in 2013. The society encourages students and adults to explore the significance of WWII in the Papua New Guinea islands and what the start of the Pacific War in 1942 meant for Australia, including its worst maritime disaster—the sinking of MS Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942.
If you have news for the members, please contact Andrea Williams on email@example.com
- PNG KUNDU, December 2021
Evacuation from Rabaul on the MV Macdhui
It is eighty years since the evacuation of the women and children from New Guinea during World War II, and Eunice Holden’s story gives a brief outline of her evacuation from the south coast of New Britain.
My husband Harry and I were at Tol Plantation with its owner, George Nase. Our two children, Neville and Marie, were at school in Queensland. Harry was in the timber business, shipping logs to Rabaul where they were loaded on ships to Australia and overseas markets. We learnt that the Japanese had come into the war and were moving quickly down through the islands to the north of us.
On our tele-radio, we had orders from the administration in Rabaul to prepare for evacuation to Australia, and a small coastal boat would pick us up in a few days at Tol. Also, other women and children along the coast received the same orders. We would be able to take with us only a few personal possessions, so I packed only what clothes were needed on the trip, and a little case of private things. It was very sad to leave all behind, things that Harry and I had worked hard for in our home, and I had come to love Tol and the people in the area.
We arrived in Rabaul and were taken to the office of Burns Philp and Co., and there issued our boarding passes, for the MV Macdhui, which was at the main wharf. My pass was No. 3748 passenger for Cairns. We sailed on 22 December 1941.
Following the declaration of war with Japan on 9 December 1941, the Macdhui, as with many other local merchant vessels was soon involved in government duties, conveying women and children from Papua, New Guinea, to Australia. There was excellent accommodation on the Macdhui for 138 first-class passengers in two-, three- and four-berth cabins. The main dining saloon, which could seat all the passengers, was decorated in shades of ivory with furnishings in blue; the music room decorations were predominately pale green and the smoke room was panelled in oak. A special dining saloon was provided for children.
It was not a tourist trip now. The ship was all blacked out, no lights allowed, portholes had black curtains over them. Usually these island boats were delightful ships to travel on—dancing, sports, and music played for dinner at night, but not this trip. It was a bit of a nightmare, as no-one knew what was over the next wave or in the air. A radio officer remarked that we were like a black ghost moving through the water. It was also reported that, indeed, a Japanese plane had flown over us.
When we arrived at Port Moresby, other ships carrying troops and supplies were tied up at the wharf and we had to anchor out till they finished unloading and sailed. We berthed, more women and children came aboard, and we left for Cairns in Queensland.
We arrived at the port of Cairns. ‘What can one say?’ at a time like this.
To the dear, faithful, wonderful Macdhui; her captain, her officers, and her crew who brought us safely to Australia—and home. I say ‘thank you’. She is now a rusty hulk in Port Moresby harbour, having been bombed by the Japanese. Au Revoir Macdhui …
A few of us were landed at Cairns. I was met by my father who said to me: ‘My God, girl, am I glad to see you. Your mother and I knew you were on that ship, but you are safe now.’ He asked after Harry, my husband, and I replied that like other men in New Guinea, the women and children came first, as the boats were loaded.
When we parted at Tol it was the last time that I, like many other women, was to see or hear of our husbands until the war was over.
Tol Plantation and Rabaul, which I loved very much, seemed so far, far away, but was still so very near. I will always have very happy memories of them all … but sad memories of Harry, and the husbands lost there, and the hundreds of men who suffered and perished with them.
We will never forget them. Never.
I received a letter from the Military after the war saying that my husband had been captured near SumSum, taken to Rabaul and later put on a prison ship, and that he had perished at sea.
From the Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
Advise that official records disclose that 1053 Australian Servicemen and civilians embarked on the Montevideo Maru June 1942 at Rabaul.
American records clearly state that the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed and sunk by the US Submarine Sturgeon off Lingayen Gulf on 1st July 1942.
Harry Holden is listed, Serial No. 136, age in 1942, 45 years, occupation: lumberman, Rabaul.
Originally painted black, MV Macdhui was painted white after a fire in June 1937
The wrecked ship in Port Moresby harbour
80th Anniversary 1942–2022
Please pencil this anniversary into your diaries and keep a look out early next year when we hope to be able to confirm special events in Canberra commemorating all those who died in 1942 in the New Guinea Islands and perished on the Montevideo Maru.
For further information please contact Andrea Williams—firstname.lastname@example.org—Mob: 0409 031 889
Places of Commemoration
Patrick Bourke has recently updated the list of war memorials, honour boards and plaques related to Rabaul, Tol Plantation, Gasmata, Montevideo Maru and Kavieng. Access this through the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial website.
Mornington Memorial Park Chair and Plaque
The Mornington Council has approved the placement of a chair and plaque in honour of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, who lost their lives with Lark Force soldiers and other civilians in the New Guinea islands in early 1942. Negotiations are continuing and we will have more about this in the next issue. Donations to fund the chair are welcome. Please contact email@example.com
WWII New Guinea Islands Education—Alert your local secondary school curriculum!
The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru group’s WWII New Guinea Islands Education Package has recently been updated on the website under the ‘Education’ tab at https://memorial.org.au/Education/index.htm
Included are lesson plans, background notes, worksheets, links, resources, templates and easy access to an electronic 15-minute version of the DVD, Some Came Home, all to be used in conjunction or separately to support this unit of work in the curriculum.
Activities can be completed by students, either as individuals or group work, over two or three periods. They can also be broken into stand-alone sections with a brief background overview. Developed by teachers, the project can be adapted to specific requirements, student needs and time constraints.
With thanks to Patrick Bourke, Karen McPherson, Andrea Williams and Nick Booth for assistance with research, presentation and website.
AWM’s Places of Pride website
Stories can be added to the Australian War Memorial’s ‘Places of Pride’ website in the section related to the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial at: https://placesofpride.awm.gov.au/memorials/238341
Recently, Patrick Bourke added the story of Thomas Henry Herket to the Places of Pride website, and he writes: ‘I am not aware of any other Australian who was a POW during WWI, a civilian internee during WWII and involved in two of Australia’s worst military disasters. He was certainly a hostage to fortune.’
Thomas Henry Herket
When Tom Herket enlisted in Sydney in August 1915, he would not have known that he would be one of the 5,500 Australian war casualties from a 24-hour battle on the Western Front during WWI (considered the most tragic event in Australian history) and one of over 1,000 Australians who would be killed in Australia’s worst maritime disaster which occurred during WWII.
Thomas Henry Herket enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 10 August 1915 at Sydney. He was attached to the 2nd Battalion, 11th Reinforcement. His age was stated as twenty-one years and one month however he was more likely eighteen years of age. Tom’s occupation was listed as a driver (chauffeur). He was born in Auckland, New Zealand.
By mid-1916 Herket was attached to the 53rd Battalion, which took part in the Battle of Fromelles on 19–20 July 1916. Almost 2,000 Australian soldiers were killed or died from their wounds. Around 400 Australian soldiers were taken prisoner by the Germans. Tom Herket was one of these POWs. Australian Red Cross records stated that he had a gunshot wound in his right foot and left ring finger.
Tom Herket returned to Australia on 5 January 1919 and, after many operations on his right ankle, he was medically discharged from the AIF on 14 June 1920.
Tom was able to find some work as an accountant on several NSW pastoral properties. In 1939 he applied to the Department of Treasury to work as an agricultural inspector for the Australian Government in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. Australian WWI Veterans with an honourable discharge were given preference for these government positions, and his appointment was then confirmed.
Tom was one of many Australian WWI Veterans who worked in Rabaul and the New Guinea islands between the two world wars. When Japan entered the war in early December 1941 most of the expatriate women and children in Rabaul and the New Guinea islands were evacuated to Australia. However, the Australian men were instructed to remain in Rabaul and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.
The Australian Government knew that the small army garrison at Rabaul, Lark Force, would not have been able to withstand any significant Japanese armed forces that wanted to take Rabaul and the New Guinea islands. This was stated in a cable that the Australian Government sent to Washington on 12 December 1941 where the Lark Force at Rabaul were referred to as ‘hostages to fortune’.
So, when Japan invaded Rabaul on 23 January 1942 Rabaul quickly fell to the enemy armed forces and most of the Australians in Rabaul and the New Guinea islands soon became POWs and civilian internees, many of whom lost their lives.
The Japanese prisoner of war records state that Tom Herket was captured at Kokopo, which is not far from Rabaul on the New Guinea island of New Britain. These records also show that he was one of the fifty-three WWI veterans who became an internee in Rabaul, and died on the Japanese prisoner transport ship MS Montevideo Maru when it was sunk by the American submarine, USS Sturgeon, off the coast of the Philippines on 1 July 1942. A list of names is on the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society’s website at https://memorial.org.au/Electronic/WW1.htm
None of the prisoners survived the sinking of the MS Montevideo Maru. So ended the life of Tom Herket—a POW during WWI and a civilian internee during WWII.
Thomas Herket’s name is on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s WWII Commonwealth Civilian War Dead list for the MS Montevideo Maru. This list of names of Australian civilians who died on the MS Montevideo Maru is also in the Book of Remembrance, Vol. 7, in St George’s Chapel, which is near the western door of Westminster Abbey, London.
On 1 July 2012 the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial was unveiled by the Australian Governor General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce, AC, CVO, and her speech is on the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society’s website at https://memorial.org.au/About/BryceSpeech.htm
Also, on the seventieth anniversary of the sinking of the MS Montevideo Maru the National Archives of Australia released the lists of the men who died on the Japanese ship. These lists were from the prisoner of war records that the Japanese Government gave to the Australian Government earlier in the year.
This is an excerpt from the full article which is at
- PNG KUNDU, September 2021
Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Memorial
It has been reported that the Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Memorial at the Australian War Memorial was removed to storage on 19 May 2021 to accommodate the construction of the CEW Bean Building Extension and new Research Centre at the AWM. The PNGAA will be working with the Australian War Memorial and other stakeholders to consider an appropriate future location for the Memorial.
AWM Director, Mr Matt Anderson, wrote to Max Uechtritz, then President of the PNGAA and Andrea Williams, Chair—Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Group:
I am writing to provide you with an update on the impact of our current Development Project on the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial in which your organisation is a key stakeholder.
The AWM’s Development Project is now well progressed and we have identified that it will be necessary to remove the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial sculpture to storage on 19 May to accommodate the construction of the CEW Bean Building Extension and new Research Centre at the AWM.
The sculpture will remain in storage until the AWM has had time to consider the most suitable location. Once we have considered suitable location options my staff will work with a nominee to ensure the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia’s (PNGAA) view on these necessary changes to the siting of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial are heard and taken into consideration in our planning. The AWM has also been in contact with the artist of the memorial, Mr James Parrett, to discuss the necessity of the sculpture’s removal to storage and the selection of a new site on the AWM’s grounds.
Members look forward to the return of the Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Memorial in due course.
Shrine of Remembrance Service, Victoria
The Shrine of Remembrance in Victoria held a Last Post Service on 4 July 2021 commemorating the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.
On 4 July 2021 the Shrine chose to remember the sinking of the Montevideo Maru with all prisoners on board killed. Margaret Curtis read the Ode.
Montevideo Maru Secrets—How are we related?
Recent Facebook posts highlight again that the sinking of the MS Montevideo Maru and the non-discussion by immediate family about it due to the enormous grief it caused, also resulted in families not knowing about each other. This isn’t the first time the Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Group has been instrumental in connecting families.
Recently Steve Berry wrote that his cousin, Garth Geldard, was with the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles and later died with the MS Montevideo Maru. Laurie Geldard replied saying Garth was his uncle and asking how they were related. He continues:
Despite Garth’s name appearing on the ship’s list, he was not on the Montevideo Maru. He died in the Tol Plantation massacre. My father and his step-father, civilian timber workers, were at Tol on the night of the massacre. They decided not to inform my grandmother of how he died and also didn’t tell the military authorities as they both had a very low opinion of the military’s handling of the entire Rabaul episode. When the list was released after the war, with Garth’s name on, they left it at that. He was not the only soldier to be murdered and have his name on the list.
My grandmother and grandfather split sometime in the early 1920s and separated from the Geldard family, eventually moving to Rabaul and surrounds on plantations and with a sawmill before the war.
My mother, grandmother and Rex, a younger half-brother of my father, were evacuated from Rabaul just before Christmas Day 1941, leaving my father, step-grandfather (both civilians) and Garth behind. My grandmother, her husband and Rex returned to Rabaul after the war. Rex was the last to leave in the mid-1980s, retiring to Cairns.
No. 1 Independent Company—80th Anniversary
2021 marks the 80th Anniversary of the formation of the Australian Commando during the Second World War where they mainly performed reconnaissance and long-range patrol roles during Australia’s campaigns in New Guinea and Borneo, although other units such as M and Z Special Units performed more clandestine roles.
No. 1 Independent Company was raised at Wilsons Promontory in May 1941.
All members who joined Independent Companies were twice volunteers, once for the AIF and again for special duty. All volunteers had been interviewed personally to establish motivation and aptitude.
During all training, great emphasis was placed on physical fitness and endurance. Those who fell by the wayside … found transport waiting when they arrived back at camp to return them immediately to their previous units.
All ranks were trained in demolitions and sabotage, night movement and operations, infantry minor tactics with emphasis on patrolling and the setting of ambushes, as well as scouting, weapon training and the ability to operate as individuals or in small parties.
Personal initiative was encouraged.
Rhonda Forrest’s book, Elizabeth’s Star, has been inspired by the events of Rabaul and the Montevideo Maru.
In 1941, Queensland drover, Michael McTavish leaves behind his young daughter Gracie and joins the 2/22 AIF, his destination—Rabaul, New Guinea, a small town surrounded by impenetrable jungles and steep jagged mountains, its shores lined by tranquil bays and active volcanos.
Joanie has also arrived in New Guinea, with a chance to manage a trading store with her father, Reg, too exciting an opportunity to pass up. As the tendrils of war creep closer to the islands north of Australia, some who call Rabaul home are given an opportunity to return to Australian shores. Others have no option but to stay.
Based on actual events, Elizabeth’s Star begins the story of Michael and Joanie, unfolding the lives of their families and friends, while following the life of Gracie, a little girl left behind when her father went to war. The compelling historical authenticity is based on research and familial connections to this era.
This book is part of a trilogy and has been inspired by the events of Lark Force and the Montevideo Maru. The author writes that her grandfather, James McGowan, was on the Montevideo Maru and her mother, nearly ninety-three, has shared photos and stories with her, adding to the extensive research undertaken over the last ten years. This is not James’s story—the characters are fictional. By writing these books she hopes to educate readers about the events surrounding the war years in Rabaul.
ISBN: 0994535686, 9780994535689
Published by Valeena Press, August 2021
Softback, historical fiction.
Available from: https://www.rhondaforrest.com/books, online stores and Kindle editions available from Amazon.
2021 Last Post Ceremony, Australian War Memorial, Canberra
The Last Post Ceremony on 1 July 2021 commemorating the sinking of the Montevideo Maru acknowledged the service of Lance Corporal Andrew Craig Baird VX24605 who was with the 2/22nd AIB. Andrew Craig Baird’s name is located at panel 48 in the Commemorative area at the Australian War Memorial.
COVID-19 threw travel plans into disarray and many who had planned to attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial were unable to be there due to lockdowns. This included the family of George William Spensley. In discussion between the AWM and Gillian Nikakis, it was decided to postpone the tribute to Bill Spensley until 2022.
Thankfully, some of our Canberra-based members were able to attend and we especially thank John Copland who was able to represent and lay a wreath for the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia/Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Group. John Reeves also laid a wreath for the Rabaul Historical Society.
PNGAA greatly appreciated Alexandra McCosker taking a special selection of photos to share with Memorial News and PNG Kundu.
The light drizzle of rain did not dampen the spirit of the day and many attended to reflect and honour the lives of those lost. You may listen to Andrew Baird’s story at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41on–4SWJ4.
One of the wreaths at the ceremony
David Williams, President of the HMAS Wagga Association, recently included an interesting article about the Montevideo Maru in ‘Wagga Whispers’, which is sent to ex-crew and members of the HMAS Wagga Association.
Recently Rita Albiez donated some photos to the PNGAA Collection of the Lark Force 40th Anniversary visit to Rabaul in January 1982. Besides official functions the visitors were entertained by Rabaul residents and shown around the town.
George Milne, Frank Sleeman, Paul Metzler, Rita Albiez, Lex Fraser on a tank outside the New Guinea Club
Rabaul Under Japanese Occupation
On 23 January 1942, just forty-six days after Pearl Harbor when the Japanese Navy had taken all before it, the bastion town of the South Pacific, Rabaul, fell to the Japanese invasion force, the Nankai Shitai, with 5,000 ground troops. Pandemonium reigned after the Commanding Officer of Lark Force, Colonel JJ Scanlan, issued the ignominious order ‘Every man for himself!’ The consequences were dire!
Of the 1,485 Lark Force troops and the 275 European civilians of Rabaul—a total of 1,760—only 422 (24%) survived. Thus, 1,338 (76%) were casualties. This was the greatest Australian military disaster of the war against Japan in World War II. The losses elsewhere were: Buna-Gona 967, Malaya 700 and Kokoda 625 and the sinking of the Japanese POW ship Montevideo Maru resulted in 1,053 deaths—of whom 208 (20%) were non-combatant civilians—Australia’s greatest maritime disaster.
Once my family learned the fate of my brother Bob—lost on the Montevideo Maru in 1942—I had always wondered how the prisoners fared during the five months before they were transported. It was not until August 2008 that I obtained a first-hand account of that time and events!
A story in our local newspaper by Max Hayes (a member of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia) told of the retrieval of a handkerchief with a name and number, VX 19523 B O’Neil, noted on it. This handkerchief had been tossed aside by a prisoner as he was being loaded onto the Montevideo Maru and picked up by a twelve-year-old indigenous local, Rudy Buckley, which put paid to occasional theories that the men were not lost on the Montevideo Maru, but had been slaughtered.
I obtained Rudy’s phone number (in Kingston, Queensland) and, while vacationing in Coolangatta, travelled by bus and rail to meet him. He was kind enough to pick me up at the Loganlea rail station and take me to his home to have a talk. As background, Rudy had had thirty years working in electrical maintenance with the Department of Civil Aviation, both in New Guinea and after he and his family relocated to Queensland, Australia.
Rudy told me that he had kept O’Neil’s handkerchief for many years as a souvenir until he drew attention to it at a Montevideo Maru commemoration in Brisbane where the handkerchief was then displayed. I checked the names of prisoners listed on the Montevideo Maru, and confirmed that Cpl O’Neil’s name was on it, as are the names of my brother and his mates in the Engineers. Rudy’s comments, which I have briefly paraphrased, follow:
During the Japanese occupation of Rabaul, there were always approximately 100 Japanese ships of all kinds, including aircraft carriers and battleships, in Simpson Harbour. This included the period following the Japanese defeat in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 when the invasion fleet which had been headed for Port Moresby returned, badly damaged, to Rabaul.
Rudy confirmed he had watched the prisoners on their death march to the harbour, and being barged out to the ill-fated Montevideo Maru. I then asked him about life under Japanese occupation, which I believe is the only account of that time.
The Japanese had been bombing Rabaul, including the hospital, regularly before the invasion, but not doing too much damage to the airstrip, obviously destined for their future use.
The Japanese landed on 23 January 1942 from the north of Simpson Harbour and on the other side, cutting off Praed Point where two massive 6” gun barrels pointed menacingly towards the sea (like Singapore!) These heavy-duty coastal battery guns never fired a shot as the raid of 20 January totally demolished them, in contrast to the anti-aircraft guns on Frisbee Ridge, which shot down the Japanese plane on Australian Mandated Territory with a Japanese Betty Bomber crashing near the tip of Mother (Mt Kombiu). A landing in that location would have denied many of our soldiers any prospect of responding effectively to the ‘Every man for himself!’ order.
The Japanese soldiers were extremely cruel and not averse to killing anyone on the spot, including civilians, who gave them trouble. In fact, Rudy’s forty-two-year-old father, a mechanic, was killed with many blows from a tyre lever when he was slow in repairing an engine.
Prior to their shipment on the Montevideo Maru, the Australian prisoners were used largely in loading and unloading ships in the harbour.
Rudy had eventually married Mary, whose father was Japanese. He had been deported, along with German nationals, to the Cowra enemy detention centre in New South Wales. Countless other prisoners, including Koreans, British and Indians, had been imported as slaves and were used to dig all the tunnels into the mountains and volcanoes around Rabaul. They were also used to clear all available fields to establish the growing of rice, tapioca, sweet potatoes and other vegetables to fulfil the enormous task of feeding variably between 60,000 and 100,000 Japanese troops.
All natives had been relocated to the Chinese quarter and outer areas. There were no shops: Rudy’s family—his mother, two brothers and two sisters—survived by selling and bartering rice, fish and craft products with the Japanese in exchange for tinned food and other goods. The Japanese had ships producing food from whaling and fishing expeditions.
Generally, the Japanese did not worry children and natives and even had a system for feeding them. They also organised a school to teach the children the Japanese language, but this did not last long because the school was destroyed in a bombing raid.
From 1944 Rabaul was routinely attacked by Allied bombers, usually from 10 am to midday with occasional raids at night to keep the Japanese ‘on their toes’. Apparently, they tried to bomb the Matupi (Tavurvur) volcano to cause an eruption, without success.
During Japanese rule, approximately forty-two US, New Zealand and Australian airmen who had been shot down were captured and executed by sword; Rudy witnessed some of this from a Japanese truck. In 1949, he met up with members of the War Graves Commission visiting Rabaul and was able to direct them to the site of the burial.
It is not impossible that one of these executed air-men was my twin brother, Flight Sgt Tom Burrowes, of the RAAF’s 100 Squadron. As mentioned elsewhere, Tom went down on his first mission to Rabaul in a Beaufort bomber from Goodenough Island.
Rudy had also seen the prisoner, John Murphy, one of the Coastwatcher party leaders captured at Gasmata. Murphy was court-martialed after the war for allegedly disclosing the positions of other parties in enemy occupied New Britain, but was exonerated.
There was great elation for all of the surviving indigenous population when the war ended. Apart from the prisoners, there had been only four Europeans in Rabaul since the departure of the Montevideo Maru.
It is worth adding that I have also spoken to Lex Fraser (since deceased), who had been the only surviving officer of the 1 Independent Company prisoners held in Rabaul for five months before being transported to Japan on the Naruto Maru. He told me of the unspeakable conditions in the prison quarters, with poor accommodation, no clothing replacement, meagre food and water, unattainable medical and latrine facilities.
It is perhaps also worth briefly noting that, after capturing Rabaul, the Japanese quickly established a massive military base to support their navy, air force and infantry. At its height, the Rabaul base and its surrounding encampment served 100,000 soldiers and thousands of other personnel. Because aerial bombardment was the main threat to the island’s remote location, the Japanese used their own personnel, but also much slave labour (local people, as well as British, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Korean prisoners, many captured at Singapore) to build an estimated 300 to 500 kilometres of tunnels into the volcanic soil around the Gazelle Peninsula, and the caldera wall surrounding Rabaul Harbour where a number of facilities—such as hospital complexes, barracks, storehouses and command centre—were installed.
It was because of its importance to their military operations in the South Pacific that my own coast-watching party had been deployed to report Japanese movements to and from Rabaul.
James Burrowes, OAM
Editor’s Note: This story is an edited extract from Jim Burrowes’ The Last Coast Watcher. This may be viewed at the following website: https://thelastcoastwatcher.wordpress.com/
Police stand guard at Bitapaka with the Lark Force banner
One of the two guns at Praed Point ‘guarding’ the entrance to Simpson Harbour. Photo taken postwar.
- PNG KUNDU, June 2021
The New Guinea Volunteer Rifles
Courageous civilian volunteers formed the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR) in Rabaul, at the outbreak of WWII in Europe in 1939. They comprised planters, administration officers, merchants, traders, miners, schooner masters and various other members of the New Guinea community—all with an intimate knowledge of the territory and its inhabitants and who wanted to protect their homes and their families. In 1941 a group of equally courageous Chinese men formed their own unit, the Auxiliary Ambulance Detachment. It was these men who, together, led the defence of New Guinea in the Pacific War. Indigenous New Guineans were not sought by the NGVR. This was a policy decision taken by the Administrator. The Territorial Government had a responsibility to protect the people of New Guinea; using them as soldiers would be a last resort.
Initially raised as a militia unit the NGVR was activated for fulltime service following the Japanese landings in early 1942. On 22 January 1942 the NGVR, with an AIF group, formed A Company and were located on Vulcan Island beach in the most exposed position. At 2.30am the grating of Japanese barges was heard on the beach. Dressed in black singlets and shorts the Japanese were not easy to see but, as George McLennan recalls in Ian Downs’ book, The New Guinea Volunteer Rifles: ‘… came over in such numbers …’
NGVR personnel then helped rescue survivors of Lark Force from Rabaul in February and March 1942. Between January and May 1942 the 500 men of the NGVR were the only armed force in the path between the Japanese forces and Port Moresby until the arrival of Kanga Force at Wau.
Many of these men were barred from the Australian regular army due to physical disability, nationality requirements or had exceeded the age limit. They developed tactics and initiatives that became examples for professional commando units.
Many of these men played an extremely important role in the crucial years of the war. Many stayed on as coastwatchers or gravitated to Special Duties under the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), the Far Eastern Liaison Office and ‘Z’ and ‘M’ Special Units.
Anzac Day, 2021—Rabaul
Susie McGrade reports: Volcano eruptions, earthquakes, flooding, COVID, riots, the Rabaul Historical Society continues with its annual Anzac Dawn Service in memory of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice … followed by the traditional Gunfire Breakfast at the Rabaul Yacht Club and the bottle of Bundaberg rum. No two-up occurred but, since it was a Sunday, a few extra libations and good old yarns continued through the day.
I am so proud of the old guard that keep turning up. Especially grateful to Rory Stewart for the early set up and the cleaning of the Rabaul Cenotaph, and grass cutting of the surrounds; and to David Flinn as MC and the Rabaul Hotel team who light the bamboo flames down Mango Avenue and, of course, the eternal flame. Also, special thanks to Father Matte from St Francis Xavier who officiated, and Albert Konie for the keynote address on ‘The Role of the Commonwealth’, as well as the guitar players and singers; Willie Flinn who read the poem, Chris Flinn, Johnson Lyons, Ryan Kuckey who were on flag duty and Lilly Blake on the PA; and to the staff of the Rabaul Yacht Club who put on the gunfire breakfast. Thank you to all. Always a big effort by a small group —not always perfectly actioned, but very important nevertheless.
Dawn Ceremony at Rabaul Cenotaph (Courtesy Russell Deka)
Barney Cain Remembers …
The following is an extract from an article written by Claire Hunter and first published by the Australian War Memorial on 2 November 2020. It is the heartbreaking story of an incredibly neglected event in Australian and PNG history, the Fall of Rabaul—and the heartwarming tale of an Escape from Rabaul through the eyes of survivor Barney Cain.
‘Feet, do your duty’—Centenarian Barney Cain escaped from the Japanese when they successfully attacked Rabaul in January 1942.
Born in Rye, Victoria, on 6 June 1920 Barney joined the Army on his twentieth birthday. In April 1941, he was sent to Rabaul on the north coast of New Britain as part of Lark Force where he served as a gunner with the 17th Anti-Tank Battery.
The 1,400-strong Lark Force was under-resourced and under-prepared, and could only offer token resistance.
When Barney Cain heard Japanese bombers flying over Rabaul, he thought he was going to die.
When the Japanese landed at Rabaul on 23 January 1942, the small Australian garrison was quickly overwhelmed and, within a few hours, most of its troops, including six army nurses, [together with seven Australian Government nurses, four Australian mission nurses and one Australian plantation owner] were captured. Whilst more than 800 members of Lark Force were taken prisoner by the Japanese, about 400 troops, including Barney, evaded capture.
Barney was one of the lucky ones. Having just rejoined his unit after being discharged from hospital the week before, he escaped to the south side of the island. Barney recalls:
By that time we were running from the Japanese and you had one thing on your mind—feet, do your duty. I was a driver for a lieutenant who was in charge of one of the troops.
We were down near the Vulcan, a volcano that went up in 1937, when the Japanese landed. They landed in the dark, just down from us, at about 3 o’clock in the morning, and when it just came daylight, he said to me, ‘You’d better take the ute up to the top.’ It was steep and slippery, and we didn’t know what had happened up there, so I went up there to have a look, but he never turned up.
Eventually, some of the New Guinean Volunteer Rifles came up the hill, and I asked them where the anti-tank blokes were. They said, ‘There’s no one there,’ so eventually we put them on a truck and we landed at what we called the Upper Drome.
That’s where everybody was heading, and there was an officer there, Mad Mick, screaming out. He was the 2/22nd major, and he was yelling, ‘It’s all over, it’s every man for himself,’ which was great news to us; we’d had orders—you fight to the last, there’s no surrender, and all this.
Barney spent the next three and a half months evading the Japanese, crossing rivers, and trekking through the rugged mountains and jungles of New Britain in a desperate attempt to escape. In the ensuing days, groups from the 2/22nd Battalion, ranging from company-strength down to pairs and individuals, desperately tried to escape along New Britain’s north and south coasts. Some found small boats and got away under their own auspices, while others were picked up by larger vessels operating from New Guinea.
We were strafed and everything trying to get out, I finished up at Tol Plantation, and I was there when the Japs landed there too.
One hundred and sixty Australians would be massacred at Tol, their bodies left in the jungle.
Barney remembers the moment the Japanese arrived as if it was yesterday:
There were a lot of troops there, all in these small parties, and a Major Bill Owen was organising to get everyone over to the other side of the river. The natives were going to ferry us across in canoes, and around the corner came these barges.
Someone said, ‘They’ve come to rescue us,’ but I had a pair of binoculars, and I won’t tell you what I said first.
I said, ‘No, they’re Japanese,’ … They started firing—I think they were mortars—and it scattered the natives, so they abandoned us, and took off in the canoes.
Men were captured as they tried to escape from the plantation, others were captured when they were unable to cross the rivers in the area, and at least one group surrendered. The prisoners of war were tied together in groups of two or three. They were asked in sign language by the Japanese if they preferred to be shot or bayoneted and were then taken into the jungle where they were shot, bayoneted or burnt alive.
Barney’s party had managed to escape when the Japanese arrived.
‘There were about sixteen in my party, and half of them took off, and headed up river,’ he said.
Using canoes, the men made it across the river, and were walking across an open area when they saw two barges leaving from the other side of Wide Bay.
There were only about eight of us left by then, and one of the other blokes said, ‘They’re taking prisoners back to Rabaul,’ and then—boom, boom, again—they shot at us.
They were not taking prisoners back; they were heading over to our side, but then they swung off, and headed off further up the bay, so we took off up into the hills and stayed there overnight.
The next day, we came out, and we headed off, but we never saw a Jap or anything. We made sure we didn’t.
The Japs were patrolling in that area, and any noises we heard, we got out of the road, and headed up in to the hills. They could have been Jap troops, or not, but they’d been into the village there, and the village didn’t want to have one bit to do with us.
The men pushed on to a village where the villagers sheltered them for the night, and eventually made it to Pal Mal Mal at Jacquinot Bay.
Father Ted Harris, a Roman Catholic priest who ran the Mal Mal Catholic Mission, did everything he could to help the Australian troops who stumbled in from the jungle, giving them food, shelter and medicine as they hid from the Japanese at the Drwina and Wunung Plantations.
By April 1942, 156 Australian soldiers and civilians had escaped to the Pal Mal Mal area after fleeing Rabaul. They were eventually rescued and evacuated to Port Moresby on board HMAS Laurabada.
The Japs had started to build up in front of us at Gasmata, so we were blocked; we couldn’t go any further, and we couldn’t go back – we were stuck there,’ Barney said.
And that’s where they were trying to get in touch with Moresby. They had a wireless, but they couldn’t reach Moresby with it.
Some of the other blokes had got off on the north side of the island, but we were stuck on the south side.
Two Australians—I think they were officers—and two natives volunteered, and came across in a yacht and found us, or found the Pal Mal Mal area.
There were quite a few of us, and they sent back word of how many troops were there, and they sent the Laurabada to come and pick us up.
His body wracked with malaria and dysentery, Barney walked from Drina River back to Pal Mal Mal to board the Laurabada.
I reckon I had at most a fortnight to live, but I made it back to Pal Mal Mal, and we got on that boat, and we landed in Moresby.
We got on the Macdhui, which was a boat that used to do the island trade [to go to Townsville], and I had a pair of shorts on, and that was all I had. I had no boots, and we got on, and—dong, dong, dong, dong—everybody started heading for the dining room.
It was the bell for dressing for dinner, but we’d been three months in the jungle in the same clothes all the time, or what was left of them. We hadn’t had a feed in months, and they plonked a loaf of bread on the table for the steward to open. When they came back, we asked if we could have another loaf of bread to eat, and the steward said, ‘You’re lucky, there’s roast turkey tonight.’
Barney will never forget those who helped him during his three and a half months evading the Japanese in the mountains and jungles of New Britain. Father Harris, the man who had helped so many at Pal Mal Mal, was later taken by the Japanese and executed at sea. His body was dumped overboard and eventually washed up on the shore. The Japanese would not allow the locals to bury his body which eventually washed out to sea. A memorial, provided by grateful survivors of the 2/22nd Battalion, was erected on the beach after the war with the simple inscription: ‘I was sick and you visited me.’
- PNG KUNDU, March 2021
79th Anniversary of the Tol Massacre
On 4 February 2021 we remembered the 79th anniversary of the Tol Massacre. The following is drawn from a tribute by Max Uechtritz:
160 Australian prisoners were bayoneted, beheaded, shot or burned alive by Japanese troops—on what was then Australian territory. So horrific was the Tol Massacre on the island of New Britain that the Australian government suppressed details for forty-seven years.
Few Australians know of the carnage at neighbouring Tol and Waitavalo plantations—nor that it came soon after one of the most shameful episodes of our war when 1,400 diggers and civilians were abandoned as ‘hostages to fortune’ ahead of the Japanese invasion of Rabaul on 23 January 1942.
[Those at Tol had] endured an epic trek through dense jungle battling malaria, dysentery, tropical ulcers, leeches, exhaustion, malnutrition and crocodile-infested rivers. Hoping to escape on small boats or to be rescued, instead five barge-loads of Japanese troops arrived to meet them on the beach. There was no option for the starving, exhausted, virtually unarmed Australians but to surrender.
At first it seemed they would be treated as normal prisoners of war. Then an order to execute the prisoners was given. Red Cross brassards were ripped off medics. Men were trussed together in small groups with fishing line or ropes and taken into the jungle and slaughtered.
They stood or sat listening to their mates’ death cries—awaiting their own fate by blade or bullet. The few survivors told of grinning Japanese soldiers emerging from the bush wiping blood from their bayonets and beckoning their next targets.
Some victims—asked if they wanted to be shot or bayoneted—chose the gun only to be stabbed. Two wounded men found alive in Waitavalo Plantation homestead had been smeared in pig grease to be burned alive in the house.
Six men survived. Private Billy Cook of the 2/12 Field Ambulance survived eleven bayonet wounds. Many were just boys—the average age of Lark Force soldiers was eighteen and a half.
Bill Harry, a member of the 2/22nd Battalion, was instrumental in having the Tol Memorial erected in 1987 at Tol in New Britain. Bill’s role prior to the Japanese invasion on 23 January 1942 was to survey the surrounding area. He became familiar with the jungle inland from Rabaul and, following the Japanese occupation, spent the next few months in the bush, sometimes by himself, sometimes in a small group, dodging the enemy and helping out as many stragglers as he could find. He eventually made it off New Britain on the Laurabada.
Bill Harry came across the aftermath of the Tol Massacre several days after it occurred.
In 1987 a group of survivors of the 2/22 Battalion, along with twenty-one then current members of the 3rd Brigade Australian Army, based at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, conducted an exercise called ‘Rabaul Walkabout’. It was in part a training exercise, following the escape route taken by many of the soldiers who eventually made it to Tol (and beyond if lucky). At Tol, a new memorial cairn was erected, beside the airstrip, with a bronze plaque honouring those killed. Bill, aged seventy, was an organiser of this exercise and trekked for nine days through the jungle with the youngsters!
(l-r) Cliff Marshall, Charles Perkins, Bert Smith and Bill Harry (Photo: Frazer Harry).
Annual Service Honouring the 2/22nd Australian Infantry Battalion & Lark Force, 17 January 2021
The 2/22nd Australian Infantry Battalion was raised in July 1940 for service in the Second World War. In 1941 they deployed to Rabaul, New Britain, where they combined with several other units to form Lark Force. They were responsible for protecting the vulnerable airbases at Lakunai and Vunakanau, New Britain.
The Annual Service was held on 17 January 2021 in the Shrine of Remembrance Sanctuary in Melbourne to honour the sacrifice of the 2/22nd Australian Infantry Battalion and Lark Force. Only a very small number could attend due to Covid restrictions. The event was live streamed by the Melbourne Shrine to others who could not attend.
Guests were welcomed by Colonel John Coulson, OAM, RFD, ED, the event was MC’d by Laurie Luxmore (son of battalion member, Laurie Luxmore Snr), and the address given by Frazer Harry (son of battalion member, Bill Harry). In attendance, and playing, were members of the Brunswick and Preston Salvation Army Bands, in memory of the Salvation Army band attached to the 2/22 during the war.
After the address, the Royal Hymn was played, followed by the laying of wreaths, flowers and poppies. Col John Coulson recited the Ode, and the Last Post and Reveille were played by trumpeter Mr Jason Stewart. The event closed with the Australian National Anthem. It was, as usual, a moving and emotional service, particularly as family and friends who have attended this event over the years, but have passed away, were remembered. Unfortunately, Andy Bishop, the only known surviving member of the battalion, was unable to make it to the service. In the end everyone was just thankful that, with all the disruptions over the past few months, they were able to hold any sort of event at all. Max Clarke said that a group met at Bendigo RSL to watch the service.
Frazer Harry’s Address at the Annual Service
The 2/22nd Battalion was formed on 1 July 1940, as part of the 23rd Brigade, attached to the 8th Division, AIF. The battalion’s personnel were drawn from the state of Victoria—around a third from rural Victoria but the bulk from the suburbs of Melbourne.
My father, Bill Harry, was among the number. Training took place at Traawool, near Seymour, then Bonegilla just outside Wodonga. The 900 or so members of the 2/22 formed the nucleus of ‘Lark Force’ joined by a detachment from the 2/10th Field Ambulance, a battery from the 4th Anti-Tank Regiment, Fortress Engineers and Signallers and a twenty-nine-member Salvation Army Band. In 1941 Lark Force were shipped to Rabaul on the island of New Britain in what is now known as Papua New Guinea. There, they were also joined by a detachment from the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles and No. 24 Squadron RAAF. Their role was as a garrison force to defend Rabaul and the adjacent region from any possible Japanese threat.
The events that unfolded were tragic. In early January 1942 the Japanese started bombing Rabaul in advance of an invasion. By 22 January, No. 24 Squadron had only three aircraft remaining, so was withdrawn to the mainland. There was no naval, further military or other support provided by the Australian Government. Lark Force was insufficiently equipped with weapons and ammunition. Often the ammunition they were provided with was faulty, or not designed for the weapons they had. There was no planning by the army for possible lines of retreat for military personnel should they be overwhelmed, no supply dumps, no real communication with local villages outside Rabaul should their help be required. Lark Force were effectively ‘Hostages to Fortune’, directed to remain and fight even though the outcome was obvious.
In the early hours of 23 January 1942, the Japanese landed. Estimates put the Japanese force numbering up to 20,000 men, against the roughly 1,400 of Lark Force. They stood no hope. After several hours of fighting, Lark Force command sent out the message, ‘Every man for himself’. It was a shambles.
Some men died in the invasion. Several days later the Japanese massacred about 150 Australian troops at Tol and later Gasmata—many of these were soldiers who had surrendered. They were tied together in small groups, led into the scrub and bayonetted. Others died of malaria or dysentery while on the run in the jungle. Some died in spasmodic skirmishes with the Japanese up and down the island. The majority were captured and held as prisoners of war in Rabaul.
Six months after the Japanese invasion, over 1,000 prisoners held in Rabaul, the majority being men from the 2/22nd, were taken from the prison camps and put aboard the Montevideo Maru, an unmarked Japanese prison ship. They were never heard from again, it later emerging that the ship was torpedoed near Hainan Island, with no prisoners surviving. This remains Australia’s greatest single maritime tragedy, and largest single loss of its countrymen held in captivity by any country in any war.
Incredibly, around 300 of the original 1,400 men of Lark Force made it off New Britain, most via the north or south coasts, and back to Australia. Much of this was due to the heroic efforts of men such as Patrol Officer Keith McCarthy, local timber merchant Frank Holland and plantation manager, Rod Marsland. Their stories are legendary.
The men of the 2/22nd who survived retained a great bond after the war, never forgetting their mates who didn’t come home. For most of them, this annual service at the Shrine was the most important day of the year. Annual Battalion reunions at Traawool occurred too, although it was sad to see numbers dwindle over the years. We fondly remember, from these later years, men like Fred Kollmorgen (who was one of only two members of the Salvation Army Band who survived the war), Pip Appel, Russ Law, Bert Smith, Laurie Luxmore, Fred Field, Ted Best, Nipper Webster, Jock Woods, Deric Pitts, Jack Moyle and others, and their wives and families.
As far as can be established there is only one remaining 2/22nd battalion member still alive—Andy Bishop. Unfortunately, last year we lost battalion member, Norm Furness—a wonderful man and good friend, who did so much to keep the Battalion Association going.
We thank the Victorian RSL and the Melbourne Shrine for allowing us to pay tribute here.
Today, we remember the men of the 2/22nd Battalion, Lark Force.
Remembering Frederick Sadler
Following some research Patrick Bourke has sent us this photo of the plaque for the late Frederick Sadler of the 1st Independent Company who is listed as dying on the MS Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942. His grave is privately commemorated on a plaque with the grave of his mother, Martha Sadler, in the Old Dubbo Cemetery.
Whilst there are nineteen Commonwealth War Graves in the Old Dubbo Cemetery, WWI and WWII servicemen, Fredrick Sadler is not included because he died overseas and has no grave in Dubbo (or elsewhere).
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates him by having his name on the Rabaul Memorial in the grounds of the Bitapaka War Cemetery, PNG. Also, his name is on the AWM’s Roll of Honour in Canberra.
Commemorating Seventy-Five Years
The Bega District News of 27 October 2020 commemorated seventy-five years following the end of World War II in September 1945, with an article reporting on the servicemen who had returned home and those who would never return. An excerpt regarding those from Rabaul says:
Mrs A Alcock, of Bemboka, has been notified by the Minister for the Army that her son, Tom, is officially listed as missing believed dead. Tom was one of a group of five Bega and district boys who enlisted together and became attached to the ill-starred 2/22 battalion, which was captured at Rabaul, and now it seems that he has shared the fate of three of his mates from Bega in the lost Japanese prison ship, Montevideo Maru.
The only survivor of the five mates is ex-gunner Max Hazelgrove who had a miraculous escape after being shot and bayoneted by the Japanese at Tol. The anti-aircraft unit to which the boys were attached was credited with having brought down the first enemy plane on Australian territory.’
Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial, AWM, Canberra
A recent photo of the Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Memorial at the Australian War Memorial, was sent to Margaret Henderson from Sharon Munn.
The sea-themed memorial sculpture was made to commemorate Australian civilians and servicemen who were killed in the defence of Rabaul and Kavieng, including the Tol and Waitavalo massacres, and the horrendous loss of life that ensued from the invasion of the New Guinea Islands in 1942 and the sinking of the MS Montevideo Maru.
The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Group also remembers the mighty incredible escapes of the few who survived the Japanese occupation and those who endured the Pacific war years in the New Guinea islands.
In 2017, on the 75th anniversary, the PNGAA produced a book of personal stories, titled When the War Came: New Guinea Islands 1942. This social history tells the stories of those who faced WWII on Australian territory—stories of evacuation, escape, massacres, prisoners of war and our greatest maritime disaster, the tragedy of the Montevideo Maru.
Places of Pride—the National Register of War Memorials
This is an Australian War Memorial initiative to record the location and photo of every publicly accessible war memorial in Australia.
Memorials conceived and erected across Australia have been pivotal in allowing communities and families to grieve and pay their respects. They provided a way for towns to express their loss through remembrance and became a focal point for civic pride in the courage, loyalty and the sacrifice of their local servicemen and women. This sentiment continues to this day with memorials across Australia bearing testament to conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
At the heart of Places of Pride is an interactive map allowing you to explore, connect and commemorate with war memorials spanning the length and breadth of Australia. War memorials are diverse and include public monuments such as obelisks, memorial gates, cenotaphs, stones, statues, trees; as well as rolls of honour and honour boards and community buildings and areas such as parks, halls, swimming pools, and hospitals. With your help, Places of Pride aims to represent memorials in all their diversity. Community organisations and individuals are invited to contribute memorials to the Places of Pride map, as well as to share information and stories and upload photographs.
The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial is listed here at https://placesofpride.awm.gov.au/memorials/238341
Also the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles plaque, mentioned in the Places of Pride website, commemorating those lost on the Montevideo Maru is located in the galleries beneath the Shrine of Remembrance at Anzac Square, Brisbane.
The Missing Name
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has on its website lists of civilians from Commonwealth countries who died during WWII due to the war. These civilians also have their names inscribed in the Books of Remembrance in Westminster Abbey, London.
During 2020 I became aware of a list of Australian civilians who died on the MS Montevideo Maru that was published in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) on 23 November 1945. It was reported in this SMH article that the Minister for External Territories, Mr Ward, said that this information had been obtained from a translation of the nominal roll of the vessel (MS Montevideo Maru) recently discovered in Tokyo.
I checked the names of these Australian civilians with the names on the CWGC’s website. I found 165 names on the CWGC’s list for the MS Montevideo Maru. Other names were found on the CWGC’s list for the Rabaul Memorial in the grounds of the Bitapaka War Cemetery in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as these men were in the New Guinea Police Force or the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. Also, one of the names on the SMH list was found on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in England because the man was in the Naval Reserves and another man’s name was found on the Northern Territory Memorial in Australia as he was in the merchant navy.
However, one name was missing—the Reverend Thomas Nevison Simpson. With the assistance of his daughter, Mrs Margaret Henderson, I supplied the CWGC with a copy of the SMH article; the National Archives of Australia’s Montevideo Maru website, which includes the Reverend Simpson’s name; a copy of the telegram from the Australian Government confirming Reverend Simpson’s death on the Montevideo Maru; extracts from Margaret’s book, Yours sincerely, Tom: a Lost Child of the Empire; a copy of his entry in the Australian War Memorial’s Commemorative Roll; his name on the Kavieng War Memorial in PNG; and a copy of his death certificate from the PNG Government. With this information, the CWGC decided that the late Reverend Thomas Nevison Simpson’s name will be added to their WWII Commonwealth Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour.
Rev. Thomas and Mrs Simpson with the mission boat on the wharf on New Hanover Island, before WWII