Tropical force and the Kavieng graves: Greg Knight

Kavieng is the principal town of Papua New Guinea’s New Ireland and less than three degrees south of the equator.

Present day Nusa Parade runs along Kavieng’s sleepy waterfront with large tropical trees forming a shady archway over it. A kilometre or two from town and tucked away to the side of Nusa Parade is the local European Cemetery at Bagail where two WW1 Australian graves lay.

New Ireland was colonised by Germany in 1886: they called it Neu Mecklenburg. By 1900 the German New Guinea Company (Deutsche Neuguinea-Kompagnie) had located its New Ireland administration centre at Kavieng.

In 1899, Franz Boluminski, a former employee of the German Astrolabe Company was posted to Kavieng. He was promoted to District Officer in 1910.His legacy is the coastal 110-mile long Boluminski Highway which runs along the north eastern coast of the island. Each village was commanded to construct a section of the road and maintain it. He also established large copra plantations in the area. In April 1913, he died of heat exhaustion and was buried at the Bagail Cemetery: his grave is marked by a large cement cross.

After the surrender of German New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhemsland) at Kokopo (Herbertshöhe) on 21 September 1914, Colonel William Holmes the commander of the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF), dispatched the Nusa from Rabaulwith a small force under the command of Major FB Heritage to occupy Kavieng. Heritage also had orders to find and release Rabaul’s British Consul, Frederick Jolley, who had been incarcerated at a plantation some 20 miles from Kavieng by the Germans at the beginning of the conflict. They landed in the afternoon of 17 October 1914 unopposed and raised the British flag.

Leaving ten men under the command of Lt B Holmes, Heritage then departed in the Nusa to search for the small German vessels, Siar, Matupi and Senta which they soon found at anchor near Gardenar (Tabar) Island. All three vessels were quickly seized and their German crews arrested. The little fleet returned to Kavieng on the morning of the 20 October. The following day Heritage departed for Rabaul leaving Lt Holmes and a small temporary garrison.

On 20 November, the HMAT S.S. Te-Anau left Sydney carrying the 4th Battalion of Tropical Force. This was a section relief troops for the AN&MEF and under the command of Commander Samuel Petherbridge. His role was to provide a military administration for the area and peoples. During the voyage an outbreak of measles developed on board and in December when the Te-Anau arrived at Simpson Harbour, it was immediately ordered into quarantine near Matupi Island. An outbreak of such an infectious disease would have devastated the local native populations who had little resistance to these diseases. For the remainder of the Battalions time in New Guinea they carried the sobriquet “The Measles” as a legacy.

At Kavieng a permanent garrison of three officers, two NCOs, ten men, a European police master (Sgt Howarth) and 61 native police was later established.

Captain Guy Owen MANNING, a pre-war plantation manager in Papua, took over the role of District Officer and Officer Commanding the small garrison at Kavieng in February 1915. His wife, Lynda Manning, and two and a half year old daughter were also present at the station.

On the morning of Friday 18 June, Captain Manning and Private Percy Good left Kavieng, each riding a motor cycle along the Boluminski Highway. They spent the day inspecting various plantations and carrying out administration duties. On the return trip, and only two and a half miles from Kavieng, Manning’s motor cycle failed to round a slight corner properly and he drifted to the side of the road and into a depression where some cut saplings were left. This caused him to swerve and fall off. Good was about three to four hundred yards in front when he realised Manning was not behind him. Good returned and found Manning on the side of the road with two natives assisting him. He was conscious at this stage and, as they were only a short distance from their HQ, Good proceeded to get help. He rode to Police Master Sgt David Howarth’s residence for assistance. Howarth took Good’s cycle and returned to the accident site. Mrs Manning arrived at the scene driving a buggy with Pte Ernest Henry Ward the medical orderly from the Kavieng Hospital. Ward examined Manning and pronounced him dead.

At 9 am on 19 June, Colour Sergeant Dillane conducted a military funeral at the District Office and then proceeded to Bagail Cemetery where a funeral service was conducted and the coffin lowered into the grave. Sgt Penn from Namatanai and Kavieng garrison members formed the firing party.

A Court of Enquiry was held at Kavieng on the 23 and 24 June 1915 to determine the cause of his death. The President of the enquiry was Major Seaforth Simpson Mackenzie, the other Members being Captain Harry Lou Spencer Balfour Ogilvy and Captain Cedric William Campbell Whiting (AAMC). The witnesses were Pte Good, Sgt Howarth, Patlum, a local native who witnessed the accident, Helome, a local boy who also witnessed the crash, Pte Ward, Sgt Dillane and Mrs Lynda Manning. The two locals were interviewed in Pigeon English and translated to English for the court record. They called Manning “Kiap” and his motor cycle a “Wheel-Wheel”.

Mackenzie’s finding was that Manning was “…inadvertently killed by being thrown from a motor cycle…whilst in the execution of his duty on active service.  There were no contributing factors.

Mrs Manning and daughter were to “…return to Sydney by the S.S. Morinda on her next trip”.

The second grave is that of Private William Thomas ADDIS. He was born in Sydney in 1885 and was over 30 years old when he enlisted at Sydney Town Hall in August 1915.

His trade was listed as “striker” and was presumably involved in the steel industry. He was medically classified as “fit”, with a “fresh” complexion and “good” brown eyes. As he was unmarried, he listed his aunt, Myra Addis of Ryde, as his next of kin. He embarked from Sydney on HMAT S.S. Te-Anau on 20 November 1915 with the 4th Battalion.

It appears that he finally landed in Rabaul on 6 January 1916 and served for about twelve months at the little Kavieng garrison. He died of malarial complications on morning of 13 January 1917 in Kavieng Hospital.

He was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

There is a third unrestored private WW1 grave in Bagail Cemetery, that of CPO Frederick WREFORD (985), who died, whilst serving in Tropic Force, on 31 December 1921, the day before the Kavieng Garrison ceased duty and returned to Australia. At the time of writing investigations into this grave are on-going.

On 24 January 1942, Japan occupied Kavieng and over the next three years the US Air Force, RAAF and RNZAF reduced Kavieng to rubble but the little Bagail Cemetery survived.


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