Wau Cemetery 2018 by Deryck Thompson

For the last year I have been based in Wau and in recent months I have been paying locals to clear away 2-metre high kunai in the old section of the Wau cemetery to enable me to photograph pre-Independence headstones. There are of course the graves of many hundreds of Wau locals, including famous identities like Lady Grace Pokana. However, time does not permit me to record all these graves and perhaps someone else will do so at some time in the future.

My interest in this cemetery was prompted by a chance meeting with Peter Shanahan at an ex PNG luncheon in Cairns. Peter was born in Wau and was evacuated out as a child in 1941. His family returned after the War and later he worked in forestry in the Wau area. Peter told me that his father was buried in Wau and gave me a photo of his headstone, so I went looking for it in the very overgrown cemetery. I have not been able to find the grave of Peter’s father and it is likely that his brass plaque, along with many others, has been removed and sold as scrap metal.

So far, I have only been able to find 21 graves with readable headstones, or with plaques still attached, and many of these were damaged or knocked over. I was touched when I read the wording on these remaining identifiable headstones which range from an 8 day old baby to a Trooper who was in the 3rd Light Horse which was involved in the battle for Beersheba in 1917.

A couple of the pre-War granite headstones weigh 20 plus kilos and as there was no road into Wau until after the War these headstones would have been flown in at huge expense. Some inscriptions mention country of origin – Australia, Austria, Canada and France and are indicative of the expatriate population of Wau who were from all over the world.

One particularly tragic death was that of a young pilot who crashed in 1940 when attempting a “go-around” (missed-approach) of Wau airstrip. A DCA report later stated – W.R.Carpenter Airlines flies a DH.86 mail service from Sydney to Salamaua to Rabaul. When these aircraft arrive at Salamaua, the First Officers are often taken off the service and given captaincy of the Mandated Airlines DH84 Dragon, to gain experience in New Guinea conditions. On this occasion, the pilot was inexperienced in PNG conditions and not endorsed on DH84 and probably did not anticipate the poor performance of the lower-powered DH84. On short final Wau, he thought he would have to overshoot, so he opened up the throttles but pulled the turn too tight, stalled and crashed and died with two passengers.

The epitaph on the young pilot’s granite headstone reads –
Here lies one who took his chances
In the busy world of men
Battled luck and circumstances,
Fought and fell, and fought again.
Kept his spirits undiminished,
Never false to any friend,
Played the game until it finished,
Lived a sportsman to the end.

Inexplicably the brass plaque for WW1 veteran Joseph Wharram Hill (1958) was found detached and lying in the undergrowth – perhaps the grave robbers had been disturbed and dropped their booty. There is no way of knowing where Joseph’s grave is located as local records were destroyed when Wau District Office was burned down many years ago. I am trying to trace relatives of Joseph, so that they can decide what to do with his brass plaque.

In January 1943, the Japanese fought their way to within 500 metres of Wau airstrip, and at that time a lot of things like food, ammunition and valuables were buried. One enduring result of this is that there are still persistent rumours today that gold bars buried during the War years are still lying undiscovered. One hefty grave slab was found upended – apparently rolled over by diggers searching for gold bars – according to local legend 2 of these grave robbers died soon after their fruitless search.

There are several web sites which accept photos of old graves but the digital age has by-passed the Wau Cemetery and it is not listed on any of these sites. I will be loading photos and GPS co-ordinates of the following – BLANDEN, Oswell Percy;10.4.1954; BLANDON, Graeme Stuart, 23.03.1954; BOREHAM, Audrey, 26.04.1941; BUDGEN, Elizabeth, 11.09.1948; DELANEY, Felix, 09.04.1960; DALTON, unknown first name, 24.05.1935; DICKSON, Alexander Ferrier, 31.10.1941; DOYLE, Ronald, 30.01.1940; GARRICK, Jim, 28.02.1972; HILL, Joseph Wharram, 06.12.1958; HURET, Pierre Gabriel, 06.03.1963; JACKUS, Vera, 1871 – 1952; JOHNSON, Edward, 17.12.1958; KADLETZ, Oskar, 30.11.1969; KUHL, Edwin, 06.05.1950; LEAHY, Patrick Joseph, 28.04.1963; MURPHY, Mrs, 01.01.1967; NOLAN, Harry, 05.10.1934; ROACHE, Edward John, 22.11.1935; SEETO Poh Jun, 1938; WATSON, John, 02.05.1951; WRIGHT, Margaret, 25.06.1954.

Grave site for Dick Cooper’s beloved dog Sheba at Wau

However, there is one grave that has been carefully tended over the years and it is located in what was previously the New Guinea Gold Company (NGG) Compound at the top of the Wau airstrip. Fortunately, all the old Queenslander style houses and the grounds of this compound have been maintained over the years by a succession of mining companies. I was allocated one of these houses and it was very comfortable after having previously lived in a tent in a bush camp one hour, by helicopter, west of Hagen. This special grave I mentioned is located in one corner of this compound, overlooking the very scenic upper Wau valley and the inscription reads –

“To my dog Sheba, gone but never forgotten. Faithful companion for 13 years. Layed to rest 6th August 1988. Thanks for the memories old girl. Dick Cooper Edie Creek. D.H.O.G.”.

So, if you are out there Dick, rest easy that Sheba has not been forgotten and is being tended carefully, ironically more so than many of her human contemporaries.

The epitaph on the
young pilot’s granite
headstone reads –

 

 

 

DOYLE, Ronald

Sacred to the Memory of
Pilot Officer Ronald E. DOYLE
3rd Son of Bertram R and Margaret Pearl DOYLE
Of Mertoun, Mungindi, NSW, Australia
Died 30th Jan. 1940 aged 28 years.
Here lies one who took his chances
In the busy world of men,
Battled luck and circumstances,
Fought and fell, and fought again.
Kept his spirits undiminished,
Never false to any friend,
Played the game until it finished,
Lived a sportsman to the end.

30.1.40 Crashed at Wau. Flew into hills during an attempted go-around during landing on a freight flight from Salamaua to Wau. The aircraft was unable to outclimb the uphill slope of the aerodrome. Barely cleared the Hotel Bulolo on the side of the strip and the Wau Theatre before stalling into the deep gully of the Little Wau Creek. Pilot Ron E. Doyle and two native passengers were killed.’

Written off, wrecked aircraft in the hands of the insurance company. DCA inquiry into the accident found that the pilot  usually flew as First officer on the W.R.Carpenter Airlines DH.86 service from Sydney to Salamaua- Rabaul. He was inexperienced and not endorsed on DH.84. He probably did not anticipate the poor performance of the lower-powered DH.84. Eric Noble. a ground engineer for Stephens Aviation at Wau prewar, explained that after W. R. Carpenter started their DH.86 mail service from Sydney to Rabaul, the second pilots were taken off the service at Salamaua and given a few local trips in the Mandated Airlines Fox Moths to gain experience in New Guinea conditions.

“One day Mandated put one of these copilots from the DH.86 service into a Dragon to do some local trips. Shortly after lunch this pilot was returning to Wau on completion of his second trip. On the approach, he thought he would have to overshoot so he opened up the throttles. As he came above our hangar, he caught the radio aerials, lifted a bit, tried to turn but pulled the turn too tight, stalled and in he went. We raced up to the wreck but the pilot was dead. he had been carrying cases of soap but as there was no way of tying them down in those days, the load had moved forward and crushed him on impact.

If anyone knows the history of any of the names mentioned in this article I would be interested to hear from you, or if you would like photos of headstones please email me – dandy51@bigpond.net.au

Deryck Thompson

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