By DAVID CONN
AN unexpected meeting between an ex Kiap (Patrol Officer), John Hocknull, and local man, Liam Ngahan, in Alotau in August has unearthed the secret of a ring that was found by Liam years ago.
Hocknull was visiting friends in the Milne Bay capital when he was introduced to Liam Ngahan who lives in a village in Nigila just outside of the town.
Their unlikely friendship began with a ring that Liam had unearthed whilst clearing the land for a garden next to his mother’s new house. It was a high school graduation gold signet ring, with the year 1938 engraved on the front, with the initials “E.D.D.” engraved inside.
A chance meeting with Liam’s sister Nikka, who works at the local DHL agent in Alotau, brought the story to light. Nikka told John about the ring and asked if he thought there was a history behind it.
John knew straight away that it was an American high school graduation ring, (having had many dealings with alumni in the USA college system over many years) and took photographs of the ring, explaining to Liam he would try and find out more about it. He promised Liam he would get back to him on his next visit to PNG.
John and his wife Morag are regular passengers on the P&O cruise vessels which visit Alotau.
Those visits are an opportunity for John to give lectures on his time in PNG as a kiap in the Bosavi and Komo areas.
After learning about the ring, John returned to Brisbane and made contact with Audubon High School principal.
He also sent photographs. It was quite a surprise that within a short time, the High School Alumni Office made contact and asked John if they could reproduce his email and photograph in their high school alumni newsletter.
Within a couple of weeks, in September 2016, John was on another cruise to PNG and was calling into Alotau once again to catch up with friends. Two days before he arrived he received an email from the USA advising that they had tracked down the son of the owner of the ring.
The owner was, Edward Dodds, who would have been in Milne Bay during WWII in 1943.
The speed of identifying and communicating through the marvels of alumni connections, as well as the amazing use of the internet and emails, has brought this ring back in touch with its family.
After he found it, Liam had been wearing the ring.
He had never seen anything like it and it was very special to him. He was enamoured by John’s story that the owner had been found.
Although initially reticent, he decided it should be returned to the owner’s son.
It was an important symbol for him to have, and extremely difficult for him to part with it.
However, from the beginning he was keen to find out more about it. For Liam, this is a great story and he is keen for the family to have it safely returned.
John is making sure the ring is returned to the USA along with the photographs, and perhaps the family will consider making a trip to Papua New Guinea so that Liam can meet them and show them where he found the ring.
Perhaps they can forward some photographs of the owner and further stories can emerge as to when the owner of the ring was in the Milne Bay region.
Was it during the war? What regiment was he with? How long was he based there? Who can tell Liam what the Bethlehem Wharf was, and its significance to the war in the Pacific.
Many questions are now being asked to try and piece together this important find for both the owners family and Liam and his village who still remain on the site where the ring was found.
By DAVID CONN