Wednesday, December 5, 2007

the War in Papua New Guinea. Part One.

It is nigh impossible to avoid the fact that the Second World War held a theatre of conflict here in Papua New Guinea. At the time, Allied troops had surrendered at Singapore, Pearl Harbour had been blown to pieces and the Japanese were expanding their line of attack ever closer to Australia. John Curtin was caught up between Commonwealth (read Imperial) alliances and the entry into the War by the US. Plus he had a continent in which war had never graced its shores before.

August 1942, Australia was in the firing line.

Papua New Guinea has a very interesting career, the Spanish have been visiting for hundreds of years and only a dozen years before the Second World War reached New Guinean soil, white man had discovered soil in the rich fertile populated Highland regions. What did New Guineans think of the invading Japanese and what did the Papuans think of the invading Australians?

There are no answers at the three War Cemeteries in Papua New Guinea. Only more and more questions but all three War Cemeteries are beautiful places of reflection and peace. I often find myself on my journeys of PNG, stopping to refocus within these places of history. I am not alone as I know of many expatriates who work here in Papua New Guinea who often visit the War Cemeteries as a place of solace and understanding. No where closer to Australian soil has a concentration of Australians fought so valiantly for a nation of multiculturalism (Those in Darwin may disagree, and I understand).

My first blog entry on the War in Papua New Guinea starts with the Bomana War Cemetery in Port Moresby. Here lies close to 4,000 Commonwealth soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice. I have wandered through these grounds and read the epitaphs of many of the fallen, the individuals who's history is forever written include Kingsbury, French, Marie Craig, Bissett, Payne and many more but it is some of the collective stories that bring me back to wander the field.

I must say that am moved by the 438 men of the British Artillery who surrendered at the Fall of Singapore only to be taken Prisoner of War by the Japanese and sent to Ballale Island. There they were instructed to build a runway for the Japanese offensive to continue East. Unfortunately these British men died on the Island and were buried in a mass grave. This grave was soon discovered after the War and the remains were relocated to Torokina War Cemetery on Bougainville. A short time later, they were exhumed and reinterred at Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.... A long way from home, and a long way to get there...

The loss of a plane full of passengers in a tragedy anywhere, but one full of Medical staff and wounded soldiers returning to their home after the War was declared over is even more heartbreaking. 28 were on board a flight returning home to Australia when they crashed into Mt Carstenz in Irian Jaya. Recent explorations have discovered a 29th body which was never on the original flight manifest and was always considered lost in action by family. The discovery of remains from the wreckage has finally given closure for families back home, as their burials at Bomana have only recently occurred. One member of the flight was Sister Marie Craig who is the only female buried at Bomana War Cemetery.

At the going down of the sun, we will remember them.

The wonderful part of walking around Bomana is the gardens themselves, they consist of a large expanse of turf surrounded by Albizia sammans, and then the dry tropic areas surround. The headstones are interrupted by a variety of plants which obviously need to be trimmed to be kept in size and a series of low growing plants which sit in front of the headstones.

My favourite photo of Bomana is of a young son of a good friend of mine, we all visited Bomana one weekend and young Scotty enjoyed his time running around, simply oblivious to the impact of some 4,000 headstones should have. I am well aware of the significance of him holding a white feather but it was found from an Egret which habits the Cemetery.

Lest we forget.

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