70th anniversary, Cape Wom: Charles Betteridge

This year, 2015, is the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II. It was a war that stunned the world in its ferocity and swiftness, and there was not a living soul on this earth that was not affected by it in one way or another.

Having lived in Papua New Guinea for thirty years from 1960 to 1990, and with subsequent visits to PNG and the Pacific Islands from 1993 to 2003, I had the chance to visit a number of places where fierce land battles took place and to talk to people who fought in the New Guinea campaigns: Europeans, Japanese and islanders.

One of the most interesting meetings I ever had was with Edward Kenna at a reunion of the 2/4th Battalion at the Ballina RSL Club in northern NSW on Friday 21 October, 1994. Edward Kenna was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in May 1945 where he confronted a Japanese heavy machine gun post on Mission Ridge behind Wewak and disposed of the gunners by firing his .303 rifle at them while bullets from the Japanese gun came precariously close to him. His actions saved the lives of the rest of his company. Using copies of battle maps, I actually stood on the spot where this action took place on Mission Ridge.

Edward Kenna died in Geelong, Victoria, on Wednesday 8 July 2009, aged 90 years and two days. He was the last Australian to receive the supreme award for gallantry in World War II. A State Funeral was held for Mr Kenna in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne on 16 July 2009.

During my time in Wewak between 1974 and 1979 my interests in the New Guinea campaigns became very strong and I spent several years looking over documents, speaking to people who were actually involved in the war, and visiting numerous places around PNG and in particular around the East and West Sepik Provinces where actual battles took place between the Allied Forces and Forces of the Japanese Imperial Army.

While researching all of this I looked at both sides of the conflict, for the Japanese lost far more men than the Allies did. While in Wewak I became a member of the Rotary Club in August 1974 and I was the Club’s President from November 1974 to November 1979 when my family and I were transferred to Mount Hagen with Ela Motors. Through Rotary, I was able to find and talk to the many Papua New Guinean people who were directly involved in the war as well as clergy from the Catholic Mission Headquarters in Wirui in Wewak.

I was also involved in the Japan/PNG Goodwill Society formed in the late 1960s to help Japanese, Australian and PNG ex-servicemen who returned to Wewak to visit old wartime battle areas and to help locate lost graves.

To look at Wewak today, compared with the 1940s, is quite an eye opener. There is hardly anything left from WW2 as most of the wartime wreckage no longer exists except for a few Japanese heavy anti-aircraft gun emplacements up on Mission Ridge and a few bomb craters around Boram airstrip.


Borum airstrip, Wewak, under Allied attack, 16 October 1944


Borum airstrip, 1975


Aerial view of Wewak Point, July 1987

Article continued in World War II in the Pacific—The closing stages

 

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