Evacuate! Be ready in four hours: Dick & Robyn Dunbar-Reid

The first time that my parents heard of the impending invasion of New Guinea by Japanese forces was on Boxing Day, 1941.

At that time we were at Korandindi Plantation on the Mavulu River in the North Bainings.

To the surprise of my parents, a Government trawler anchored in the river and a Government official disembarked. He informed us that the invasion of Rabaul by Japanese was imminent and that we were to pack four suitcases with essential items and were to be ready to leave on the trawler in four hours! What a shock.

On arrival in Rabaul, we were taken to Kurakakaul Plantation where we were to live until evacuation could be arranged.

On 44 January the Japanese began bombing Rabaul from their naval fleet which was standing out in St Georges Channel. Many people were killed and wounded, including my elder brother Don who sustained a large cut to his leg when he was knocked down by panicking people running to an air raid shelter.

Eventually, evacuation was arranged for my mother and we two children on the MV Malaita on 8 January 1942.

My father decided to stay on to help defend Rabaul. When this proved to be impossible, he fled Rabaul via Vunakanau and the North Bainings. He finally arrived in Australia four months later.

In the meantime, the Malaita duly left Rabaul and sailed south through the Pacific Islands, picking up refugees, mainly missionaries and arrived in Australia six weeks later.

We, the passengers on the Malaita, were very lucky to survive as Japanese dive bombers followed the ship for the first seven days out of Rabaul. The Japanese did not bomb the ship as we had 70 Japanese internees on board and the pilots were aware of them being there.

Now for an almost unbelievable “small world” story.

Some years after the end of the war, my father was attending a function at the Imperial Services Club in King Street, Sydney. Also present was a veteran of the American Texas Rangers Regiment who had landed on the western tip of New Britain and proceeded up the north coast to strengthen the blockage of the Japanese in Rabaul.

The two men began reminiscing about their wartime experiences. The American stated that they had reached a small river about 100 miles from Rabaul, where they were confronted by a Japanese force who were dug in behind stacked logs on the other side of the river. The American stated that they could have screwed the neck of the person who had cut down the trees which provided such good cover for the Japanese. After some discussion it was realized that the incident had occurred on the banks of the Mavulu River and that my father had, in fact cut those trees down and had them ready for pick-up when we were evacuated in 1941!


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