Merry Christmas be blowed: The lorry is calling for you in an hour: Pat Murray (neé Stanfield)

This long letter that Patricia Murray (neé Stanfield) wrote from Sydney in February 1942 to her older brother, Jim Stanfield, then serving with the RAF in Britain, recalls the hardships faced by very many established PNG families who were forced to flee their homes following Japan’s wartime attack. Not only was their evacuation often difficult, but families were then faced with having to establish a new life in Australia, where they might have few or no connections, or money. Here, the young Pat describes how she escaped New Ireland with her mother, Audrey Stanfield, and younger siblings Diana and John, who were both born in PNG. The family had no relatives in Australia. Pat returned to PNG after the war, moving back to Australia permanently in 1982. She is a longtime PNGAA member.

Flat 21, Windsor House,
Challis Ave, Potts Point, Sydney

Dear Jim

There’s so much to write about that I hardly know where to start. I do hope that long before you get this we’ll hear that you’re safe and well. Sir Donald Cameron told us on January 26 that you were reported missing. Poor old boy—we are waiting so anxiously for news and hoping you are well, even if you’re a prisoner.

You’ll have guessed that we were evacuated even before getting our radio (hope you did get it) to say our address was c/- Carpenters, Sydney. On our arrival in Sydney we were temporarily billeted at a hotel near King’s Cross, but have been in this flat about three weeks now. Today the kids went off to school for the first time—there’s a little school called St John’s Grammar in Darlinghurst Road. John looks so respectable in his grey suit you’d hardly recognise him. Di’s uniform is quite a nice colour—pretty nearly RAF blue, but the poor kid has to wear long black stockings and says she feels “like a box of chickens all cooped up!” She doesn’t like her suspenders. John, in braces, says he feels his trousers will drop off any moment as he’s not used to them feeling loose at the waist.

I haven’t taken on a job as I’m training to join the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force. I’m learning wireless telegraphy and started my training in the middle of January. Our class, the beginners, are the most promising class they’ve had yet, they have told us. We (my class) have now reached a stage where we can go for extra practice to lunch-hour classes in town. The hours are a bit of a nuisance to me—but are made to suit girls who are working all day. Sonia [McLean] is also doing this training. One keeps oneself till trained (the tuition is free) and trainees get paid 3/6d a day! With nothing coming in from Bolegila [their plantation] these days, the three-and-sixpences are more than ever a big consideration.

But I’ve told you nothing yet about our evacuation. Of course when it seemed certain that Japan would enter the war, we felt sure that women and kids would be sent South. I got leave from the office [in Kavieng] to go and live at home with Mum. I went back to town on the Sunday after the Pearl Harbour attack and went to work on Monday. On Monday evening we heard that definite orders had been issued for the evacuation of all women and children. On Wednesday, Mum and the kids came to town for a general settling of affairs and the four of us went home on Thursday night after a farewell party. All the women were invited to the Round Table and regaled with cocktails, savouries and complimentary speeches. Our lorry being still out of order, we’d borrowed Claude Chadderton’s for plantation work and still had it then. On the Friday all the town women plus the women from Lavongai and the islands, left Kavieng in the Navanora—Captain Mackellar in command. They had a terribly rough trip to Rabaul and were all seasick. Mrs Goad “threw out” her teeth! The rest of us proceeded by lorry to Namatanai—that is, all women and kids from Ashby’s place down. We left home on the Saturday morning—Di and John and I sat on top with our luggage and Snap and a new house boy, Tarmun, also asked to come. They’d never seen Namatanai, but saw quite enough of it before they’d finished.

Practically all the way down it rained. We on top were soaked through and Mum, who was in front, got pretty wet too. All the trucks on their way down called in at Lamerika and we all had a cup of tea and sandwiches with Claudie. We got to Namatanai at dusk. Old Joe Kenny nearly had a fit when he saw us all rolling in, as he wasn’t prepared for so many.

The weather was terrible as there was a strong nor’wester in full swing, and talk about rain! You know how it can rain. Well, it did. The Paulus (Catholic mission boat) was supposed to be at Uluputur for us, so we all set off for the west coast on Sunday morning—it was still raining and blowing and within a minute we were all soaked. I was sitting on a carved camphorwood chest, and on that ride I felt as if I’d be patterned with sailing boats, etc, for life!

At Uluputur there was no sign of our boat and the weather was terrible—the schooner simply couldn’t get there and was hiding out at the Duke of Yorks. We sat and waited for it. From 10am to 5pm we sat. There were 27 women, 13 kids and assorted husbands and other menfolk and the accommodation was one copra shed—empty but rather leaky—two very leaky old sak-sak places—and the Catholic Mission’s house, to which the Father invited anyone. But it is on the very top of a frightfully steep climb of well over a hundred feet, so most of us didn’t tackle it.

We had quite a lot of kaikai with us—sandwiches, biscuits and so on, and the Chinese who runs Uluputur plantation kept up an almost continuous supply of boiling water for tea, so we didn’t do too badly. The kids were marvellous—there wasn’t a single howl out of the whole 13—and none of them even quarrelled. Five were tiny babies, and even they didn’t cry.

At 5 pm it was obvious that we simply couldn’t leave that night even if the schooner did put in an appearance, which was highly unlikely. So off we started back to Namatanai, and the whole cavalcade arrived on Joe Kenny’s pub doorstep just at dark and the poor old blighter nearly had a fit! He thought he’d got rid of us. He’d no food ready and all the bedclothes had been taken off, and so on. I daresay everyone slept in someone else’s sheets that night but that’s a detail.

Next day we were all out of bed at 4 am and, dressed and breakfasted, set off again in the cold grey dawn for Uluputur. It was still raining so was very cold and grey. By the time we got to Uluputur the rain had stopped and it looked quite clear. But even before the next truck arrived, which was close behind us, the weather was as bad as ever again. By 8 am it had obviously set in for the day (at least) and the Paulus was hardly likely to venture out. So we went back to Namatanai again, and this time Kenny more or less expected us. He just said to his cook ‘Cookim bello kai kai belong all.’ [sic] [Cook lunch for everyone.]

And then the ADO, who had been in touch with Rabaul, was told that the shipping transport in Rabaul couldn’t wait any longer for us, and, as the bad weather might continue indefinitely, we were all to go home pending further notice!

But by this time we were heartily sick of rain, wind and Uluputur and cheered loudly! We had lunch at Kenny’s and then started for home. Ours was the first lorry away from Namatanai on the homeward trail, and we were so weary that we decided to beg lodgings at Lamerika. We only had two nights at home and we did absolutely nothing. We needed it!


I’m afraid this letter is being written in spasms. Well, to continue the tale of the evacuation. It was now Christmas Day [1941], and the Warrants (Lossu manager), who’d been to Kavieng since the last Uluputur effort, called in on their way home. “Hullo and Merry Christmas!” we said. “Merry Christmas be blowed!” said they. “Bell’s lorry is calling for you in an hour!” We were expected to be in Namatanai by 9 o’clock that night!

You should have seen us hurry. We’d had breakfast, but none of us had bathed or dressed, though it was nearly 12 o’clock! Well, we hastily packed, bathed and dressed—and before the hour was up we’d even had the inevitable cup of tea! We set off in Bell’s big truck and this time we had good weather for it. When we got to Karu it was about 7 pm and to our surprise there was a light in the house. Thinking they may not have heard the orders for us to be at Namatanai at 9 o’clock, we called in, and found out that “someone had blundered”. It was on Saturday morning, not Friday morning, that we were to leave Uluputur!

We had some tea and listened to the news at Karu, and then went on to Namatanai. Of course, we had to put in all of Boxing Day doing nothing in particular at Namatanai. On the Saturday morning we set off for Uluputur for the third and last time. The weather was fine and the Paulus was waiting—also the Teresa. We travelled in the Paulus, which is a nice clean little ship and the Brother put on tea and biscuits twice during our 5½ hour trip to Rabaul.

We spent the night in Rabaul—and had to do a bit of luggage rearrangement, as we only heard when we arrived that we were to depart by air and could only have 30 lbs per adult and 15 lbs per child. The rest of our luggage was left to follow (and we got it only two or three days ago). When we were packing at Bolegila we put in all your photos, stamp albums, letters, school magazines, prizes and photos—in fact everything of yours except ancient clothes.

On Sunday morning at about 9.30 we left Rabaul from the Rapindik ‘drome, which received its first Japanese bombs six days later. As you know, I’d never flown before and I enjoyed our trip very much. We flew in a Douglas—and we were very lucky as we had a very comfortable journey which only took a day, instead of being part of the awful crowds being crushed on the ships.

We saw Dad en route. Of course he didn’t know that rain had stopped us leaving with the rest of the Kaviengites, and wasn’t expecting to see us. We only saw him for about an hour, but it was great to see him at all.

Our plane-load arrived at Cairns at about 6 pm and were billeted in various hotels. We were lucky and went to Hides, which is the best hotel there. Several of the women struck a dud. They had to carry their own luggage upstairs, etc.

Next day at noon we started on the next stage of our journey—by special train to Sydney. Our lot made up two Douglas loads, but there were also about 200 others who had previously arrived in Cairns and had been kept two or three days awaiting us. They included a large number of German Lutheran women and children from the mainland. They received exactly the same treatment as the rest of us.

Many of us didn’t have sleepers for the first two nights—only women with very small babies, old women or ill ones had sleepers. Our trip down was very well arranged—good meals were ready for us at suitable stopping places and we had a number of conveniently spaced shorter stops when we could buy any refreshments we wanted. The main meals were supplied.

There were two VADs travelling on the train, and doctors and nurses were on many of the stations in case they were needed. At several stops Red Cross helpers and members of the Country Women’s Association met us with milk and biscuits for the kids and magazines for us. At one or two places too, they supplied complete changes of clothing to some women and children whose luggage had gone astray.

The funniest part of the whole show was the bath parade for babies! At Rockhampton and Gympie about 40 or more VADs and some Red Cross workers met the train. They dashed up to all the carriages as we pulled in—“Any babies in here?”—grabbed the babies and small children and rushed them off to be bathed, dressed in clean clothes, fed and returned to their parents! The poor kids were startled and almost all yelled loudly. A few took it complacently, but you can imagine the general uproar. There were about 90 of them! The German babies were the most inconsolable, as they couldn’t understand a word the poor girls said when they attempted to calm them down. When the rush was over, one of the VADs offered John a bath. Thinking he would be forthwith stripped and washed, he fled. However, I chased him and brought him back and he got a private one! When we got to Brisbane we had lunch provided at The Canberra and also hot baths, which were very welcome.

Altogether, we had three nights in the train. For the first two, Di and John shared a long seat to sleep and Mum and I each had one of those seats that accommodate two sitting up. We both had “permanent waves” in the back for days. The third night, however, we were very comfortable in bunks, for quite a number of folk left the train at Brisbane. On New Year’s Day we finally arrived in Sydney—just one week before, we’d been loafing comfortably on the front verandah at Bolegila!

We were temporarily billeted here at The Kirketon—a private hotel in Darlinghurst Road, quite near Kings Cross. It was really quite good. clean and comfortable rooms and good food, which are the main considerations. Like most of such establishments, it is full of old women.

I will probably be going back there soon, for since I started this letter, Mum has had a letter inviting her and the kids to stay on a station at Stockinbingal, near Cootamundra. The Davidson’s (the people I was out with the day I broke my leg!) have asked them. Margot Davidson was a good friend of mine at school and soon after we arrived here I wrote her a letter to apologise for not having written earlier to thank her for a Christmas present—I told her about the evacuation so she’d realise why I hadn’t written before. Now Mrs Davidson has asked Mum and the kids up there, saying that perhaps they’d like to as the powers-that-be are wanting to get children into country places if they can, and she has set no definite time. It is awfully kind of them as they want them to go as guests—though owing to the difficulty of getting servants they’d naturally have to do their own work and help generally.

It is not yet settled but they will very probably go. Well I think page 22 is quite a good page to say cheerio on. I think I’ve exhausted all the news. I should have by now, anyway.

When you write, the address for Mum or me is [care of] Carpenters, O’Connell St, Sydney—or care Head Office, Bank of NSW, Sydney.

We are hoping and praying that you are safe and well, Jim, and that we’ll hear from you soon. I hope we hear long before this letter reaches you—and we’ll radio when we do. Keep smiling, old boy.

Tons of love,


Pat’s letter was returned. Jim was missing with the RAF, presumed dead. but the family never heard the details.


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