My life after 1941: George Oakes

After we left Kavieng in New Ireland, the Macdhui took us to Sydney where we moved in with my mother’s parents at Lindfield where my grandfather, Rev. G. E. Johnson, was the Methodist minister. In 1942 I went to Lindfield Public School when I did years 2/3 in one year as I was so far behind. My mother, who had no training before she was married in any sort of work, commenced nursing training at Royal North Shore Hospital. Later, we moved to Mosman and lived in a house that had a view through the Sydney Harbour heads.

Because of the war, all of the windows were covered, so that the light would not get out at night. When the Japanese submarines entered Sydney Harbour the sirens went and we turned off all lights and sat together under tables in the hallway in the centre of the house until the all clear siren went: it was spooky!

In 1945, my brother Parker and I went to Wolaroi College, Orange, as boarders. I was 11 and went into year 6 while Parker, who was 8, went into year 3. We had heard nothing about the whereabouts of our father since we left Kavieng. Later in the year on VP Day we were all happy boarders and walked around the school banging garbage bin lids: I think we were given half a day off school. Later, that year in October, the Headmaster called Parker and myself into his office and told us that our father had been lost on the Montevideo Maruand would not be coming home. I cried but Parker was not so overwhelmed: he was too young to comprehend what had happened. In 1946, our mother joined us at Wolaroi as the Sister/House Matron. Wolaroi at the time had about 90 boarding students. Mother only stayed at Wolaroi for one year and then went back to nursing in Sydney.

In October 1947, our mother married again and moved to Cheltenham in Sydney. At Easte, 1948, I left Wolaroi as a boarder and became a dayboy at Newington doing third year of high school (Year 9). At the end of that year as my marks were so low because of my broken background, I repeated 3rd year in 1949, and did the Leaving Certificate (year 11) in 1951. I also did well in long distance running, winning a cup for it. Our school fees at Wolaroi and Newington were partly paid by the Methodist Church, as my father had been a Methodist missionary. At the end of 1951, I became a Cadet Survey Draftsman in the Department of Mines.

In March 1952, I started 6 months’ National Service in the Air Force and was lucky to be in the 12 selected in NSW for pilot training. Six of us trained on Tiger Moths at Newcastle while staying at the Williamtown RAAF Station. We did 50 hours flying including over 40 hours solo.

About August 1953, my mother noticed in the paper an advertisement for applications for Cadetships in TPNG. She knew I was not happy living at home spending a lot of time babysitting my two sisters and young brother aged then 5, 3 and 8 months, and not getting on well with my step-father who was a Member of the NSW Parliament which meant he and my mother were out many nights each week. I applied for three Cadetships as a Patrol Officer, Forestry Officer and Surveyor. At the interview, I was offered any of the three but decided on the Patrol Officer as the other two entailed going to University in Sydney for several years before going to TPNG. The Chairman of the committee that interviewed me had been District Officer at Kavieng prewar and knew me as a child. I only found this out later when I spoke to my mother.

I went to TPNG in January 1954 and, after attending a short course in Port Moresby, was posted to Mendi which was in a restricted area as the people were still fighting. I went on several patrols with senior staff.

In 1956, after having leave, I went to Lumi in the Sepik District where I was almost constantly on patrol. On one patrol, I did the first census for some people in the Yellow River area and, six weeks later, about thirty of these people were killed and cannibalized by May River people. I also visited a village, Magaleri, which had never been visited by a white person before. The looks on the women and children were very interesting. In 1957, I supervised the construction of a new airstrip at Nuku in the Palei/Maimai which then became a new patrol post. I had up to 1,500 people working together daily on the airstrip with only a few spades and many previous enemies got to know each other.

In 1958, I did the Patrol Officer’s Course at Mosman, Sydney, and at the end of the year married Edna Brawn, who like me was born in New Britain where her parents had been Methodist missionaries from 1932 to 1935.

In 1959, we were posted to Pomio on Jacquinot Bay in New Britain, where I was the Officer in Charge until late in 1963: nearly 5 years. While there, I walked over a lot of the area that the soldiers retreating from Rabaul in 1942 travelled over to Palmalmal in Jacquinot Bay where they escaped on the Laurabada to Papua. I often visited the Catholic Mission at Malmal where the Japanese killed Father Harris in the war. I also got to know many of the native people who helped Australians and Americans to escape during the war. Golpak, a well-known leader during the war, died the day before we arrived at Pomio and I attended his funeral the next day. (See Hostages to Freedom, where there are many references to Golpak.) In 1961, we unveiled a Memorial to Golpak at Pomio. In attendance was Group Captain Townsend who was one of the pilots rescued by Golpak’s team. The bush around Pomio was real jungle as Pomio had an annual rainfall of 6.426 m (253 inches), being one of the highest recorded rainfalls in PNG.I can understand the difficulties that the men had to face escaping Rabaul in 1942.

I then spent some time at Kokopo patrolling the Duke of York Islands where my father had been the Methodist missionary from 1933 to 1935. Here I met our prewar cook, Iotam.

In 1959, talking to Fred Kaad, District Officer, he told me to start a University course because I would not always have a job in TPNG. I started a Commerce degree course with University of Queensland. In 1964, I transferred to the Business Advisory Service and I was posted to Lae. In 1967, went to Port Moresby. In 1972, I obtained my Bachelor of Commerce degree by correspondence (I never went to the University of Queensland in Brisbane in semester time) and I also got other accountancy qualifications. In 1974, I was President of the Port Moresby Lions Club. I left PNG shortly after Independence in 1975 as Principal Finance Officer of the Department of Business Development.

After a long holiday, I became Bursar of Barker College, Sydney, in December 1976. Barker is an Anglican boarding school that had over 1,500 students when I retired in 1992. As Bursar, I was in charge of the non-teaching side of the school, which included finance, building and ground maintenance, cleaning and catering with a staff of over 100. I was also Secretary of the School Council. In 1990 and 1991, I was President of the NSW Bursars’ Association Inc. that included the Bursars from most of the private schools in NSW.

In 1993, we moved for our retirement to Woodford in the Blue Mountains. From 1994 to 1998, I was a member of the School Council of the Blue Mountains Grammar School.
In 2002, Edna and I went to Kavieng for the unveiling of a plaque to the people who died during the war from New Ireland because of the Japanese. There are nearly 100 names on the plaque including the names of the Europeans and some Chinese who died. My father’s name is on the plaque. While there, we went back to Pinikidu where I grew up as a child. I previously had been back to Pinikidu in 1969 and 1971. It was a moving experience. The house we had lived in was destroyed during the war and only the front steps and a concrete water tank remained. On the site of the prewar Mission Station is now the Pinikidu Upper Primary School. My father would have been very pleased.


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