First civilians arrive back in Rabaul: Gladys Baker

This December 2011 marks the 70th anniversary since evacuations prior to WWII. It was to be five years before those evacuated were able to return to rebuild new homes and new lives.

Gladys Baker was one of those civilians. In a letter dated 24 November 1946 to Rhoda Coote she writes:

Well, my dear, here I am at was once a home—it was rather heartbreaking to come ashore and see the wreckage but that was partly lessened by the efforts of old Kataka and Airuga—they had tried to make a garden. But let me tell you about the last few days in Rabaul: it was so hot and oppressive with dust everywhere—mozzies very bad and sandflies even worse. On Friday afternoon I was told a ship going to Witu would sail at daylight Sunday. I then rushed around like a lunatic only to find most of my cargo was in No 6 Hatch on the Reynella and they couldn’t unload No 6 Hatch until the ship was moved up to the temporary wharf…

We left Rabaul and went to Put Put—spent the day there and I had two meals with Frank and Jack Gilmore (jnr). Needless to say I just couldn’t sleep when I found we were near Langu—at 2am we were directly off the home anchorage—could see the fires my boys had lighted on the foreshore. I just stayed on the Bridge. At 5.30 am we came into the anchorage and dear old Kataka came out per canoe to greet me. He burst out crying and just said “Oh Sinabada—u kam bak finis” [sic]. Needless to say I blubbered too.

Believe Harold Coldham was disgusted because I shook hands with Kataka. I felt like kissing the dear old chap, he looked so old and thin and he had done so much for me. He hid my Lalique bowl and figure and also a crystal decanter in the bush. The bowl is cracked a little from bomb blast but he saved it for me.

The Kombi lot did all the damage to my home and stole everything so those swine have a hell of a lot to pay back even if I use a gun to get even.

We have lived on Pidgeons—fowls and a few tins and fruit salad ever since we arrived as we are cooking on the open fire out behind the trade store—so can’t make bread or use the oven until I get the flue for the stove which is in Rabaul. Water has been our main worry as the Production Control Board failed to put the tank I purchased and 10 drums to hold water on the ship—so the first day we had a bucket of water begged from the ship—the second my boys found a tiny spring and since then we have had a few buckets a day. We bathe in the sea. Today it rained so I rigged up a tent fly to catch water—also stood in the rain and had a soap bath out in the open (my shorts and shirt still on) washed my hair—but the rain didn’t last even though it is still blowing a NW gale.

Now—shame on me—on Wednesday I went down with a hellish dose of fever. Tried to keep going and finally had to give in—but I am [again] still on the job.

The natives here are in a bad way re health especially the kiddies—several cases of whooping cough, hundreds of huge TUs, a lot of VD. I’ve started my hospital and have given many hours work so far but I can’t cope with the work so I’ve written to Bruce Sinclair requesting a medical patrol to help me clear up the worst of the cases.

I forgot to mention the plantation. It’s been cleaned once but even now there are bush trees higher than the palms with a tangled mass of vine overall—a real mess. It makes me very depressed and I wonder if ever I will get it cleaned up. Tomorrow I have 80 working on cleaning up, building etc to enable me to get on to copra production in the near future … [but] even if I could persuade them to work for me for six months I couldn’t afford to keep them unless I employed more to cut a hell of a lot of copra.

I have had potatoes, fruit, eggs, crayfish and fowls brought in—in fact almost everything I mention I’d like—so I feel honoured as I hear Mr Hann couldn’t even buy a pineapple. I intend writing and telling Mr Parker what I think of BPs Rabaul. The labour do not work and are really useless—they are like the Army QM. If one asks for something, even before you finish speaking they just say “We haven’t got it” and at times one can see it on the shelf.

Well dear I am very weary so must away to bed,

Fond love from – Glad

Note: Sadly, Gladys died 4-5 weeks after writing this letter and was buried in the front garden of her home at Langu Plantation, Witu Islands.

L-R:  Harold Colpham, Capt Jim Duncan, Tex Roberts, Mrs Greenwood, Mrs Una Adams, Pat Stanfield, Mrs Grose, Drummond Thompson, Jack Allan, Oscar Rondahl, Jimmy Joyce, Gladys Baker, Vic Pennefather
With thanks to Peter Coote


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