Lark Force trek: Tol memorial: Frazer Harry

Over the Anzac Day period in April this year, a group trekked from Rabaul to the South Coast of East New Britain, following in the steps of many of the soldiers of 2/22 Battalion (Lark Force) who escaped the Japanese after their landing in Rabaul in 1942 during WWII.

In one of the great tragedies of that war, 160 members of the 2/22 Battalion, known as Lark Force, including members of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR) who had surrendered to the Japanese at Tol Plantation were tied together in groups of around 10 or 12, and either bayoneted or shot. They were left to die where they lay. This become known as the Tol Massacre.

Sometime soon after the war, a memorial was erected just back from the beach at Tol. This fell into disrepair and was overgrown and for some time its actual location unknown.

In 1987 a group of survivors of the 2/22 Battalion, along with 21 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 honoring those killed.

My father, Bill Harry, who escaped the Japanese, and came across the aftermath of the Tol Massacre several days after it occurred, was an organiser of this exercise (and I might add, at the age of 70, trekked for 9 days through the jungle with the youngsters!). The three other members of the 2/22 Battalion who made the trip were Bert Smith, Bruce Perkins and Cliff Marshall. The photo shows (L to R) Cliff Marshall, Charles Perkins, Bert Smith and Bill Harry.

Cliff Marshall survived the massacre. He received five bayonet wounds and was left for  dead. Bruce Perkins rescued him and cared for him for many weeks until they escaped in the  Laurabada with my father and 125 other troops and civilians.

We are lucky that today two local Rabaul young men, Alan Manning and Kori Chan, have, with local landowners, set up the Lark Force Wilderness Trek. I went through the area with them about 18 months ago, and saw first hand what a great experience it is, and was privileged to have got to know some of the locals.

The 2/22nd Battalion Lark Force Association of Victoria have decided to make a donation to the people of the area, partly in recognition of the connection between them, and the troops of Lark Force, and Australian in general, but also as thanks for their friendship and hospitality today.

It is envisioned that the donation be to the school children of two local schools: Karlai Vocational School and Spango Primary School. On a regular basis groups of young school children will work to preserve the memorial cairn, and the area around it. It will help preserve the connection, and be a reminder to the children about an important part of their own history.

A letter of appreciation will be presented to each school, from the 2/22 Battalion Lark Force Association. It is hoped that the donation will be an ongoing one, renewed each Anzac Day period.

The events surrounding the Japanese invasion of Rabaul, and the subsequent tragedy at Tol, among other happenings, are relatively little known to those without Rabaul/PNG connections. The memorial is not recognised as official by the Australian Government and therefore receives no funding from them.

Chris Diercke, who so sadly recently died, helped us to get this organised. As an ex-school principal and a great supporter of the people of the area (where he was born and bred himself) he would be pleased!

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