Last but by no means least were our pets. From memory I don't think pets were common in Rabaul in those days but at various times we had three widely different pets in our household.
Firstly, my father being fond of the cheerful little birds, we had a canary, which sang during the day in its cage on a stand on the veranda. It disappeared one night, the obvious conclusion being that it provided dinner for a rat. Marc persisted with another canary, carefully covering the cage at night but it too, poor thing, fell prey to a rat and that was the end of our canaries.
Next, to my delight, I was given a pair of guinea pigs, no doubt spares from those kept at the hospital. They were lovely gentle pets, which gave me a great deal of pleasure. However, despite being in a rat proof enclosure, they too disappeared one night and suspicion fell on our boys. Marc lined them up and asked 'You pella kai-kai guinea pigs'. They freely admitted they had and compounded their crime by their spokesman saying 'Number one kai'.
Finally I had a most unusual pet. A young rooster attached itself to me. It used to perch on the end of my bed as I was tucked in for the night and crow and flap its wings before we both nodded off. Even more unusually, when I rode my small tricycle round that lovely wide veranda during the day, it used to hop up behind me again flapping its wings and crowing. All good things come to an end however, as, when the rooster reached maturity, Marc had his head chopped off and he appeared on the table for dinner. Of course I was most upset and refused to eat a morsel. It was one of the very few occasions on which Marc ever did anything that distressed me. Looking back it now occurs to me that the rooster probably started crowing at dawn and that, perhaps, sealed his fate.
It may be thought unlikely that a child could remember all the people and events that I have chronicled. I can only put that down to a retentive long term memory aided to a great extent by Rabaul being such an extremely fascinating, beautiful and colourful place with a relatively small population of expatriates, all of whom knew one another and all factors which helped things lodge in one's memory.
As well, many of the events and people figured in conversations between my parents and others, at which I was present, for years after we left Rabaul, as Rabaul had left just as lasting an impression on my parents as it had on me. My only regret is that I have not been back since. The closest I got was in a brief spell at Jacquinot Bay, about 100 miles away as the crow flies, late in 1944 during World War Two, when Rabaul was occupied by about 100,000 Japanese troops.
Now it is too late, as, after the recent devastating eruption, I doubt it will ever again become, in my time, the jewel of a place I knew in my childhood.
© Derek Westoby O'Dean, 2002
Online edition created by J & J Evans, October 2002