80th Anniversary Events
The sinking of Montevideo Maru and Fall of New Guinea Islands will be commemorated on 1 July 2022 in Canberra.
There will be an 80th Anniversary Commemorative Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial and a Dinner following the Last Post Service at 4:40 pm at the AWM, which will highlight George William Spensley and the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles.
Family and friends are all welcome—RSVPs needed by 8 June 2022.
Rabaul & Montevideo Maru website
Please note that the website address is changing to:
Montevideo Maru Memorial Ceremony
The Papua New Guinea Rifles Ex-Members Association will be holding their annual Montevideo Maru Memorial Ceremony at the Brisbane Cenotaph at
10 am, Friday 1 July 2022. Email Phil Ainsworth on email@example.com for further information.
Bridge Naming Ceremony
A PNGVR event to name the Frank Holland MBE Bridge at Boundary Road, Wacol (Brisbane), was held on Saturday 19 February 2022, followed by a morning tea at the Everyman’s Hut at the NGVR/PNGVR Museum Precinct, Wacol.
Frank and his new wife, Mabel, had gone to Papua New Guinea on their honeymoon and, on reaching Rabaul, decided to stay and look for work. Frank began working in the timber industry with Pacific Timbers Pty Ltd at Put Put.
He received his MBE for his actions after the Japanese landings in New Britain in 1942. Frank Holland was instrumental in bringing about the evacuation of troops from New Britain after the enemy had taken Rabaul. He enabled several parties of troops (and some civilians) on the island to reach points from which they could be evacuated.
Peter Stone writes in the foreword of El Tigre:
In taking these parties of troops through this difficult and almost impenetrable terrain, he displayed great leadership, great fortitude and ingenuity. He even led one party through the hostile Mokolkol country where his party was attacked. In all these episodes he displayed skill and bravery.
Frank crossed the island from North to South, bringing back with him 23 survivors who had made their way down the South Coast of New Britain after the debacle at Rabaul. They then moved in stages down the North Coast and left the Witu Islands on the Lakatoi eventually arriving in Cairns in March 1942. Frank then joined the Army, was posted to Z Special Unit and served overseas in Timor behind Japanese lines and then in Borneo. Lt. Frank Holland MBE enlisted in PNGVR when it was formed in Rabaul in 1951 and for a period was OC B Coy.
A summary of his actions is told in Harim Tok Tok, Vol. 130.
Jamboree Council hosted the function and those attending included several members from the Council and the neighbouring Council (commences just across the road), members of the Holland family and a number of Association members.
A story board has been erected on one side of the bridge and the ceremony was held there. Councillor Sarah Hutton welcomed all those present, particularly the Holland family and went on to speak on the importance of the bridge connecting Boundary Road and the importance to the community of the Association Museum.
Association Patron, Maj Gen John Pearn AO RFD, responded, giving a brief praise of Lt Frank Holland and then Councillor Hutton requested Maj Gen Pearn and Assn Vice President, Bob Collins, to unveil the bridge name and story board. (Association President Phil Ainsworth was absent at a funeral in Central QLD.)
The story board reads:
Erected in memory of Lieutenant Frank Holland for his distinguished service to Australia and Papua New Guinea in World War II including his rescuing of survivors of Lark Force and civilians after the occupation of Rabaul on 23rd January 1942 (for which he was awarded the MBE) and serving in Z Special Force behind enemy lines in Timor and Borneo.
After World War II he assisted in the reconstruction of the Gazelle Peninsular, provided witness testimony at the Tol Massacre War Crimes Trial and was a founding member of the Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles in Rabaul.
The National Servicemen’s Heritage Precinct was opened at 907 Boundary Road, Richlands, on part of the former Army Camp in February 2006. This precinct also houses the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles & Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles Ex-Members Association and its museum, to which Frank was a valued member and major contributor of documents and memorabilia.
Information from Harim Tok Tok, Volume 133, April 2022 and El Tigre by Frank Holland MBE, edited by Peter Stone.
Lorna Whyte and the Hay Water Tower
Lorna Johnston, née Whyte, has recently been immortalised with her image being placed on the Hay Water Tower, along with other service men and women who left their Riverina town on Hay Plains when the call to arms was made in World War II.
Portraits of the five service men and women on the Water Tower art design includes portraits by Melbourne artist, Matt Adante, of local people who served in the Second World War and chosen for their connection to Hay and their stories.
The towers are located near the famous Sandy Point Beach. The Water Tower Art is the latest edition to the Silo Art Trail that has proved such an attraction for regional Australia.
Lorna Whyte was born in Hay on 19 April 1915, the youngest of eight children. She attended Hay War Memorial High School before training as a nurse at Corowa Hospital.
In 1941 she joined the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and was one of six nurses chosen to go to Rabaul, New Britain, the peacetime capital of this Australian Mandated Territory.
Travelling aboard Wahini with the 2/22nd Battalion AIF, which formed much of Lark Force, the women arrived Rabaul on 25 April 1941 to spend the year at the 2/10th Australian General Hospital treating soldiers suffering from tropical diseases.
Following the bombing of Rabaul on 4 January 1942, and almost daily after, the Japanese began their ground invasion of Australian territory on 23 January 1942.
Lorna became a prisoner-of-war, initially under the protection of the Catholic Mission at Kokopo for the first few months, but eventually travelling to Japan on Naruto Maru in July 1942 where she spent the rest of the war years. Lorna said:
We evacuated (from Rabaul to Kokopo) with only our uniform, shoes, stockings and a veil. We had one set of underclothing each—nun’s underwear but that didn’t matter! And they also gave us a sheet each which we made into clothing … So that was what we left Rabaul with to go to icy Japan.
For many years nobody was aware that these women were still alive and incarcerated in Japan. They were found by accident when General MacArthur’s troops were on their march into Tokyo in August 1945.
In 2011, Lorna aged 96, returned to Japan with her daughter, Patricia, to take part in a Japanese organised prisoners-of-war program and to receive an official apology from the Japanese Government. Despite the apology coming so late, the amazingly gracious and eloquent Lorna showed not a shred of bitterness towards the Japanese. Lorna (Whyte) Johnston died peacefully in Auckland Hospital surrounded by her family on 30 September 2013, aged 98 years.
The DVD, Sisters of War, was inspired by the true story of Lorna Johnston née Whyte and Sr Berenice Twohill.
A book, Lost Women of Rabaul, by Rod Miller, will be released in July 2022 and will include the stories of these women.
Mornington Peninsula Memorials
A memorial bench and story board will be located in Mornington and District Memorial Gardens. In 2021, following an initiative by Gillian Nikakis and with a submission from the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Group of the PNGAA, the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council approved a wooden bench seat with galvanised metal, and a story board to be located at the Mornington and District Memorial Gardens, 22 Empire Street, Mornington VIC 3931.
There are other memorial seats in these gardens, including one with a plaque for the 2/22nd Battalion. It was felt that the wider story, including the sinking of the Montevideo Maru and the actions of the local civilian militia group, could also be told. The RSL also provided their support. These memorials provide a special place of remembrance and reflection.
The PNGAA committee felt that a story board, placed near the seat, would better explain this story than a plaque attached to the seat. Again, the Mornington Shire Council, agreed. The frame will be of aluminium construction with digital print text. The warranty on the products is five years and the Shire will maintain the sign and seat once installed. Once the installation is completed, there will be a small ceremony. The bench and story board are being paid for by Rabaul & Montevideo Maru Group funds.
Montevideo Maru Mural
A mural of the Montevideo Maru has been commissioned by Stanhope RSL. They engaged artist Tim Bowtell to paint it on a shop wall across the road from the Stanhope War Memorial. The Stanhope RSL Sub-branch was awarded a Commonwealth Government ‘Saluting Their Service’ grant of $8,800 to paint the mural, which they hope will inform the public of the history of such a tragic event.
Federal Member for Nicholls, Damian Drum, said the mural focused on Australian prisoners of war, who died when the Japanese ship Montevideo Maru was sunk by an Allied submarine in 1942. In announcing the funding, Damian Drum said:
The sinking of the Montevideo Maru has been described as the worst maritime disaster in our history.’
George Gemmill, Stanhope Sub-Branch secretary, said he was blown away by the generosity of the community for donating so quickly that it helped get the project finished ahead of schedule. Mr Gemmill said the RSL plans to build a plaque at the Stanhope Memorial with information and stories on the sinking of Montevideo Maru and the Stanhope soldiers, Percy Clarence Crombie VX25551 and William (Bill) McLennan VX23813.
The Saluting Their Service program ensures Australia’s wartime history is preserved and those who have served during wars, conflicts and peace operations are appropriately remembered.
Lost Women of Rabaul
The inspirational true story behind the hit ABC-TV drama ‘Sisters of War’.
The publisher, Big Sky Publishing, writes:
- Travel with a group of captured Australian nurses into the dark heart of the ascendant Japanese Empire at the start of the Pacific War.
- Quiver with the nurses, abandoned by their own government, as they raise their hands in surrender to Japanese troops swathed in jungle camouflage.
- Witness the intrigues of international diplomacy and the fog of war as loyalties are tested, confidences betrayed and acts of defiance made at great personal risk.
- Retreat into the private world of the women’s diaries, where poetry, memory and hope could still be kept alive.
- Cower before the might of the US War Machine that incinerated Tokyo, with firestorms, hunger and the ever-present threat of Japanese ‘die-hards’ still holding complete power over the women.
- Thrill to the joy of liberation and the amazing priority given to the Lost Women, as they became the very first liberated prisoners to be airlifted to Australia … But why?
- Australian nurses captured and at the mercy of the rampaging Japanese Empire; how did they survive and what were the international secrets that determined their fate?
ISBN: 978-19226159-3-0; published by Big Sky Publishing, 360 pp, paperback; RRP $32.99
Due for release July 2022
Pre-order now at https://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/books/lost-women-of-rabaul/
Painting Brings Back Memories
I recently stumbled across this art work unexpectedly and was immediately drawn towards it by the familiar funnel known to
all with affiliations to PNG as the BP Line. I was to be even more taken aback to see it was the MV Neptuna obviously berthed in Sydney. This was the vessel that women and children were evacuated on in the wake of the Japanese Invasion of Rabaul in 1942.
My mother, Johanna Rundnagel, and my Grandmother Florence (Florey, as she was affectionally known), were on board being sent south to Australia. Her father Carl Wilhelm (Reiven Plantation) and her brother Ferdinand (Tay), were farewelling them on shore.
As the time of departure drew near my mother told me how she was instructed by her mother not to leave the vessel under any circumstances, but evacuate to join her sister in Sydney where she was nursing at the time.
How gut wrenching, unimaginable, in fact, could it have then been to then see and experience your mother proceeding to disembark and join her husband and son on shore.
All three were later interned by the Japanese for three years at Ramale Camp along with the missionaries from Vunapope. After all that time of not knowing, Gordon Thomas eventually got word to Mum and my aunt that the family were alive, although not without health issues.
In my own life, when faced with extreme adversity, I have drawn strength from this story.
Jillian von Leixner
Anzac Day Brisbane 2022
Twenty-one NGVR & PNGVR Association members marched in Brisbane on a rainy and windy day. All members were in good spirits enjoying the moment after two years of interruption. Four other members accompanied the parade in jeeps.
After the march a reunion was held in the nearby Stock Exchange Hotel with 45 members and friends in attendance.
All were pleased with the photo of the happy group, which appeared on the front page of the Courier Mail on 26 April. Due to the intensity of the weather, no or few bands marched, presumably to prevent water damage to instruments; there were none near us when we marched.