Mr H.W. Smith, RSL, 2/22 Battalion
My part in today's ceremony is to pay tribute to the servicemen, many of whom were involved in the occupation of Rabaul ... In Melbourne there has been a 2/22 Battalion Association in all these post war years and we have very active interest, still, in the Rabaul area.
I think that you should appreciate that this is a rather emotional situation for me. After all, I was here over on the other side of the harbour when the original landings occurred and inevitably today I recall so very many fine men who subsequently lost their lives, either in the initial landing or attempting to resist this landing, or later in attempting to escape and get back home to Australia, or those who were captured and concentrated back in Rabaul and later with so many other fine men, not servicemen but civilians, who were embarked on the Montevideo Maru and subsequently lost their lives.
In support of the DC's comments on the sinking of the Montevideo Maru I would just like to read to you two small paragraphs from a letter which I received from the Australian Government in 1960. At the time there were doubts cast in the papers both in Melbourne in particular, here and other places; some doubts as to whether the Montevideo Maru did sail from here and whether or not these men lost their lives in some other fashion ...
'I am able to advise you that official records disclose that 1503 Australians, servicemen and civilians, embarked on the Montevideo Maru during June 1942 at Rabaul. American naval records clearly state that the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed and sunk by the American submarine Sturgeon off Lingaen Gulf in the Philippines on 1/7/1942. After the war Australian investigating officers secured a letter from the Japanese Navy dated 6/9/1943 reporting the sinking of the ship and containing a nominal roll of 1503 men ... A copy of the translation of that letter and the nominal roll is held by the Central Armyís Record Bureau.'
A few points about the Rabaul Force. It is such a long time ago now but the Australian Government endeavoured to develop an outlying fringe of garrisons around the northern coastline of Australia. Positions were taken in 1941 as a result of which a garrison was formed in Rabaul. Another similar garrison was formed in Ambon and another in Timor ...
The Rabaul force comprised mainly the 2/22 Battalion and there were other supporting army units, in total a force of about 1200 men. I think it's also important to appreciate that these men were all volunteers, AIF volunteers. They had enlisted in the early part of 1941. They expected to go to the Middle East or somewhere like that. They certainly had no initial thought of being sent to Rabaul but here we came.
The Garrison moved into the Rabaul prewar community and merged into the community in a whole variety of ways over a period of some 6 months prior to the occupation, and in that time I can recall many pleasant and happy associations with people in Rabaul. We entered into the home life of the people, we played all the locals football, cricket and baseball. We entered their churches and there were many fine fellows in our battalion who in fact attended the churches regularly of their own accord during the prewar period.
In my own mind I think about the most moving case or example of the futility of war is of two brothers who were with us at that time. Their names are recorded on a simple wooden cross here in the UC. Two lads, Melbourne boys, both 21, fine upstanding well built good sportsmen, and good churchmen and they attended the Methodist church. They came from a fine Methodist family and they attended this church in the months before the landing.
I don't intend to endeavour to explain what happened after the landing. It's not my role: sufficient to say that disaster struck very quickly indeed and it not only had an immediate effect on the servicemen deployed here, but on all of the very fine Administration men whom the DC has mentioned. I knew some of them and all of the other businessmen in Rabaul. It was after all the administrative centre of the territory at that time. It was a lovely community. Its peace was quickly shattered and in the short event it was escape or survival.
Some fortunate men got away and others did not. Most went down on the Montevideo Maru but others lost their lives in the bush, getting out in a whole variety of tragic circumstances.
Before closing I would like to make a few points particularly. I think formally I should pay public tribute to my former colleagues and all of the other fine men who lost their lives either in the initial landing or later in the bush trying to get away, or those who went down with the ship. May God rest their souls.
I would like to commend the United Church for organising this service. I think it is very important indeed that these facts should be known. They form part of the history of this emerging Territory, this emerging nation, rather, and itís very important as far as possible that the history of this area, this entire area, not only Rabaul, is more widely known.
Although I speak in tribute to those who went down on the Montevideo Maru I would also like to record that many of us, in attempting to get away over a period of months, received very great assistance from the missionaries. I, personally, in the Bainings at a village called Malasait met for the first time the present Bishop of the United Church, Bishop Gaius. He was then a young chief there, 20 years of age. I was 22. And I can clearly remember meeting Saimon because he gave us kai. We were badly in need of it, but more than that, because of his very composure, only a young man of 20, a fine man, and those attributes have come more to the fore as he matured and has now achieved the bishopric of the United Church here. But even then he was a very well composed young man and I got some succour, not only in the sense of food, from Saimon at that time.
Also Father Francke. Father Francke is here today. I did make contact with Father Francke and I recall the service he gave to many servicemen early, and later in staying in the Talasea District in face of, shall we say, intimidation.
Another point is that a number of our men received great assistance from members of the Chinese community and I'd like to pay tribute to the Chinese, the Rabaul Chinese, because the Chinese community was shattered, absolutely shattered, by the Japanese occupation.
And last, but by no means least, I would like to pay tribute to the many fine Administration men who served this country for so many years, some of whom I met in the bush myself and I can pay no greater tribute than to give Keith McCarthy, J.K. McCarthy, as an example of those very fine DOs and other administration men who helped us as well.
Transcript provided by George Oakes.
Image of Rabaul, 1945 AWM #096796 with permission of the Australian War Memorial.
Image of Rabaul, 1971 with permission of the National Library of Australia.