Honouring our heroes

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday 06th January 2012

WEDNESDAY, Jan 4, 2012, marked the 70th anniversary of the first Japanese bombing of Rabaul on Jan 4, 1942.
Sadly, this day went by unrecognised by many people in Rabaul, East New Britain and Papua New Guinea.
The Japanese dropped their first bombs on Rabaul on Jan 4, 1942, and continued with almost daily air raids until the 5, 000-strong Japanese invasion force attacked Rabaul soon after midnight on Jan 23, 1942.
The New Guinea campaign opened with the battles for New Britain and New Ireland.
In the first month of the war in the Pacific, Japanese aircraft reconnoitred the islands and in response, Australian Hudson bombers and Catalina flying boats flew reconnaissance and bombing sorties over the Japanese naval bases in the Caroline Islands.
The first casualties occurred on Jan 4, 1942, when three New Guinean workers were killed in an air raid on Rabaul.
On Jan 22-23, the Japanese invaded Rabaul and Kavieng.
Rabaul had been the administrative capital of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.
Its pre-war populace included about 1,000 Europeans, 1,000 Asians (mostly Chinese), but also a few Japanese and about 3,000 New Guineans.
 Villages and plantations were spread across New Britain and New Ireland.
Australian troops, local police and some civilians retreated south but the Japanese captured over 500 European civilians, six army nurses and some wounded soldiers (some of whom were executed) in and around Rabaul.
These captives included 350 missionaries, priests and nuns who were interned.
The Chinese were especially fearful, as the Japanese had massacred Chinese in other countries.
Some were executed soon after Rabaul fell but there was no large-scale massacre.
Instead, they were ordered to live in designated areas outside Rabaul.
Men were forced to work as labourers alongside Chinese prisoners of war brought to the island.
An unknown number of women and girls were raped and, in the worst instances, forced to serve for periods as “comfort women”.
 The situation might have been even worse had the Japanese not begun importing some Japanese, Korean and Chinese “comfort women”, who were housed at “China Town” in Rabaul.
In July 1942, , about 1, 000 of the captured Australian men, including civilian internees, were drowned when the Japanese transport ship Montevideo Maru was sunk by an American submarine off the Philippines coast en route to Japan.
 Only the officers and nurses, sent to Japan on a different ship, survived.
The small Australian garrison, Lark Force, was overwhelmed and most of its troops, including six army nurses, captured.
Approximately 400 of the troops escaped to the mainland and another 160 were massacred at Tol Plantation.
“Some villagers remained staunchly pro-Australian but several villages turned pro-Japanese to ensure survival under the new regime or (sometimes) to facilitate ‘payback’ against rival groups,” writes John Moremon of the Australian War Memorial.
“The Japanese were fortunate to have at least one pre-war Japanese resident who arrived with the invading force and was able to advise on Australian administrative methods.
“The Japanese adapted the system of delegating to lululais and tultuls (village chiefs); the few who refused to comply were punished harshly, and sometimes killed.
“About 8,000 New Guineans from the mainland and some Bougainvilleans who had been employed around Rabaul were trapped on the island.
“Most ended up having to fend for themselves or work for the Japanese because local villagers were not very welcoming; this was due partly to ethnicity and partly the fact that locals could not feed all of the outsiders, as the island was in drought.
“The Japanese appointed some of these men as police while others were later transported to the mainland to work as carriers and labourers.”
“Roman Catholic missionaries and a few other civilians from neutral nations (such as Sweden) were interned separately at Vanuapope, outside Rabaul.
“They established gardens and lived relatively well, but in 1944 their camp was bombed mistakenly by Allied aircraft.
“A few internees were killed in the raid, and others had died of disease.
“The 158 survivors moved to Ramale where they were liberated at the end of the war.
“The Japanese developed Rabaul as their principal base in New Guinea.
“Over 100,000 navy and army personnel eventually would be based there.
“The workforce was bolstered by local Chinese and New Guineans and from mid-1942 by thousands of Chinese, Indian and British prisoners of war shipped to New Britain.
“From March 1942, the Allies responded with a bombing campaign and fierce aerial battles were waged over Rabaul.”
There were six airfields used by the Japanese, and several seaplane anchorages in Simpson Harbor.
Reportedly, 367 anti-aircraft weapons (192 army, 175 navy) were emplaced around Rabaul by late 1942.
The harbors were defended by an estimated 43 costal guns and 20 searchlights, according to US Strategic Bombing Survey in 1943.
The Rabaul area was the most heavily-defended target in the South-West Pacific area.
Bypassed by the Allies, Rabaul remained in Japanese hands for the duration of the war and was subject to almost daily air raids, until the Japanese surrender in 1945.
Americans dropped 20,000 tons of bombs on the town and vicinity.
 Conditions for the Japanese deteriorated once they were cut off from supply.
They were forced to commandeer food from the natives and to fend for themselves by large scale gardening.
War had begun in the Pacific with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec 7, 1941.
Rabaul was bombed on Jan 4, 1942 followed by Lae, Salamaua, and Bulolo on Jan 21.
Bitapaka War Cemetery, not far from Rabaul, is a peaceful and beautiful cemetery containing the graves of over 1, 000 Allied war dead and the Rabaul Memorial commemorates those who have no known grave.
It is located near the site of the first Australian action of World War I when the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) captured a German wireless station on Sept 11, 1914.
Each grave is marked by a bronze plaque set on a low concrete pedestal with 500 marked ‘Known to God’.
As well as Australians, the cemetery contains the graves of Indian and British prisoners of war who were transported to New Britain by the Japanese as a labour force.
Bitapaka War Cemetery respects and honors those who made the supreme sacrifice for their people.
It also serves as a reminder that war kills, not just a few, but many hundreds of thousands, and on both sides.
Bitapaka – like other war cemeteries in Papua New Guinea – offers an opportunity to create goodwill amongst all the living so that the same tragedies may not be repeated.
It creates strong feelings of sacredness, tranquility, spaciousness, peace and beauty, and is immaculately maintained by devoted staff.
Bitapaka War Cemetery contains 1, 111 burials of WW11: 12 from the Navy, 1,042 from the Navy, 55 from the Air Force and two civilians.
Of these, 35 are British, 420 are Australians, one is a New Zealander, 614 are Indians, 34 are Fijians, two are Western Solomon Islanders, and five are Allies.
The memorial commemorates 1,113 Australian soldiers, 104 airmen and eight Papua New Guineans who have no known grave.
The Indian soldiers were prisoners of war from the Malayan Campaign, while the remainder of the burials and all the names on the memorial are of men who died in New Britain and New Ireland.
The cemetery also contains 28 burials of WW1: 27 Australian and one British.
The cemetery and memorial were constructed and are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Lest we forget!
l [email protected]