Tuesday, December 25, 2007

the War in Papua New Guinea. Part Three.

Delonix regia can best be described as a messy tree, and they rely heavily on a good season if they are to be a spectacular tree. I have seen some awesome D. regias in the past and seen some pretty ordinary ones. In Australia they are sometimes referred to as Poincianas and in North Queensland, they are pretty popular, as they grow fast and are tough as boots. They will often in times of dry weather, shed all their leaves and look quite deciduous, other more prosperous times, they will hold onto their foliage. In PNG, they are called Christmas Trees, as this is the traditional time for them to flower (not to be confused with the other Christmas Tree which is Cassia fistula or even C. queenslandica).

As Christmas can often be a time of reflection, so too are the memorials and cemeteries which I have spoken in the last two previous posts and the Bita Paka War Cemetery has a small stand of D. regia within its boundary of Codiaeums. The Bita Paka War Cemetery makes up the trio of War Cemeteries here in PNG.

From my understanding the fighting that took place in East New Britain was a little different to that of mainland PNG. It appears that the Japanese saw Rabaul as a very important strategic port with its deep volcanic caldera and proximity to lands to the east, west and south. The Japanese decided that Rabaul had to be theirs, so they sent some 17,000 troops ashore to pacify a small contingent of Australian troops that were in the area.

The battle was decisive yet the Australians fought valiantly despite being heavily outnumbered. The stories that emerged from the months afterwards are emotional and exhausting, tales of survival as people tried to retreat to mainland New Guinea amidst plantation massacres and those who remained in East New Britain and became spies against the Japanese forces. The Memorial to the Missing at Bita Paka lists more names than those buried in the cemetery itself, many of the names were of servicemen killed at Tol and served as part of the Lark Force.

Members of the Lark Force and many civilians were also killed aboard the Montevideo Maru as she sailed away from New Guinea towards South East Asia. An American submarine thinking the vessel was a Japanese Troop ship, torpedoed and sank the Montevideo Maru, killing all on board.

Once Rabaul had fallen, Lae fell shortly after, and then the push to capture the Coral Sea and Port Moresby was on. Rabaul indeed became a vantage point for the Japanese Troops. Along with the troops, the Japanese bought with them Indian and Pakistan soldiers who were captured on the Malay Peninsula and used in New Guinea as labourers, digging many of the tunnels which dot the shoreline around Simpson Harbour. Some 400 of these POWs are now interred within Bita Paka, many of them unidentified.

The history of the Bita Paka War Cemetery was created before the atrocities of the Second World War, as the War Cemetery is now on the site where a German Telegraph station was positioned during the start of the First World War. Australian exploratory troops were sent to Rabaul too investigate and a small and bloody battle took place where the first Australians to be killed in the First World War lost their lives, just days before Australian Troops stepped onto the shores at Gallipoli.

The Delonix regia are not the main horticultural feature of the cemetery, this honour goes to a stand of Albizia sammans which grace and dominate the entrance. These massive trees are a vigilant reminder of the strength and fortitude that was required not once but twice by Australian Troops in this part of PNG. At this time of the year, let us remember those who served and those whom still provide defence duties for their countries.

Lest we forget.

No comments: