The Tol Plantation Massacre    4th February 1942 by Margaret L Henderson

The year 2017 will be marked by remembering the 75th anniversary of terrible events to our north.  We have already seen formal anniversary services for the fall of Singapore and the bombing of Darwin. More, including a memorial service for the sinking of the Montevideo Maru on 1st July 1942, are scheduled.  It is right and proper that these major disasters should be remembered, but there are countless other less publicised terrible events at that time which also deserve our attention.  One of these is the Tol Plantation Massacre on 4th February 1942, the memory of which seems to have slipped by without recognition.  It deserves more.

Rabaul fell to the Japanese on 23rd January 1942 and the small force of Australian defenders was told that it was every man for himself.  The remnants of Lark Force spread out over New Britain looking for ways to escape the Japanese and perhaps get back to Australia.  Some battled through the jungle suffering from malaria, dysentery, ulcers and hunger and eventually found some small boats. In these boats, they crept along the south east coast of New Britain coming ashore near the Tol Plantation on 4th February.  They were expected and were met by five barge loads of Japanese troops.   The exhausted Australians had no choice but to surrender.  They were tied together in small groups, taken into the jungle and executed.  They were shot or bayonetted or both.  Two men escaped and were re-captured at the neighbouring Waitavalo plantation where they were smeared in pig grease and burned alive in the house.  One hundred and sixty prisoners of war were killed at Tol.  A few survived by playing dead although they had terrible wounds. Against all the odds a very few managed to get back to Australia.    Some historians believe that the Tol Plantation massacre was among the most callous in the war.   A school in the area has been named the 2/22 Lark Force School and a small cairn has been erected at the site by descendants of those killed.

On 9th October 2001, the Sydney Morning Herald published this death notice.

Collins, Wilkie Desmond (Bill)

NX57343, NX99560, 2nd/10th

Australian Field Ambulance. Last Survivor of the Tol Plantation Massacre. Rabaul, 4th February, 1942. Passed away October 8th, 2001. Late of Culburra Beach, formerly
of Sutherland Shire. Dearly loved husband of Norma (deceased) and Jackie (deceased).  Loved father, father-in-law, grandfather, and great-grandfather of his families.

Aged 79 years.

This simple notice marked the end of this tragedy for the Australian participants.   However, the 160 who were killed so callously left families and friends to mourn and to face the rest of their lives without them.  It seems more than appropriate that we should honour them all in this year of 75th anniversaries.

UV: An article by Max Uechtritz on the Tol Plantation Massacre was published in Una Voce, March 2017.

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