Phebe Parkinson


World War 2

Japanese Occupation

Memorial Service, July 2002

Return to Lost Lives

Concerning Phebe Parkinson
by her grandson Alf Uechtritz


My parents Peter Uechtritz and Johanna (Dolly) Uechtritz (daughter of Phebe) parted in 1930 when I was only 4 years of age. It was because of this that our Grandmother Phebe Parkinson spent a lot of time with us at Sum Sum Plantation (New Britain). Granny Parkinson ran the household at Sum Sum and was still there when I left for boarding school in Australia at the age of seven (1934). My eldest brother Ewald was also at boarding college in Australia.

Gran would help Dad by issuing food, tabac and pay to the labour line as was the custom and law at that time. She also looked after the sick. We spent a lot of time in our big garden at Sum Sum. There were about 3 or 4 acres of land planted up with all sorts of fruit trees and of course there was a vegi garden as well. Gran loved the frangipanni and had many different types growing. Gran also used to make hair oil from the 'grease' of sprouted coconuts and she scented it by pricking the flower of the elang- elang which had a beautiful scent. She would put the flower with the scrapings of coconut grease on a piece of corrugated iron and then would leave it in the heat of the sun. This turned it into oil and it would drip into containers and would smell very nice.

Everyone, black, white, and brindle loved Gran. She was always a happy person, gentle and soft spoken but a great organiser with a twinkle in her eye. All the piccaninnies and the labour line would always run to her. They would do anything for her. She loved children. Strange that Gran had 10 children, 3 girls and 7 sons, and had lost one at birth. That is also what my wife Mary Lou and I have, 7 sons and 3 daughters, and we also lost an 11th - a girl - at birth. None of Gran's sons had any children. Her daughters did. My mother had the three sons, my Aunt Louise had three children and my Aunt Nellie had one son. That is why when I was born Gran asked that one of my Christian names should be Parkinson. So I am Alfred Max Parkinson Uechtritz.

I loved to listen to stories told by Gran about the early years in Samoa as well as the early years of settlement at Kuradui and Ralum, Malapau and also about Gunantambu, my Aunt Emma's place. She described her trips with Grandpa into the bush and down the coast to gather artifacts and get material for the book my Grandfather later published Driessig Jahre in der Sudsee (Thirty Years in the South Seas). Grandfather only spoke German, Danish and English but Gran could speak the local Tolai language and was able to pick up enough of other dialects to translate for Grandpa.

I last saw Gran in Christmas 1937. After going to boarding school, we did not return to Sum Sum again until the Christmas holidays of 1937. By that time Granny had left Sum Sum and was living with her eldest grandchild Rudi Diercke on a plantation near Kokopo which Rudi was managing for Carpenters. As we passed through Rabaul before catching a ship to Sum Sum Dad took us to visit Gran. It was great to see Granny again after all those years in Australia. She still had a small block of land near Raluana Village with a small house and stayed there at times. This was the last time Ewald and I saw Grandmother. When we returned for Christmas 1938 Gran had moved, with Rudi, to a plantation in New Ireland.

World War 2

At the outbreak of War most German citizens in what is now Papua New Guinea were interned in Australia. This included my father Peter Karl Gustav Uechtritz. My father had married an English woman, Rita Brain, shortly before the War started and my stepmother had a baby boy - my half brother Robert. I was at school at Riverview College in Sydney and Rita had come to Australia to try and have my father released, as he had been on New Britain since 1910 and was not a person who backed Germany. Unfortunately though, at that time my elder brother, Ewald Robert, had gone to Germany to visit our German grandmother. Ewald planned on returning to Australia to attend University in Sydney. He was 18 at the time. Under the law of the League of Nations - New Guinea was their Mandated Territory - children took the nationality of their father until they were 21 years old and then they could choose to take the nationality of any country belonging to the League of Nations. Ewald being under 21 years was considered a German national and so, at the outbreak of war and being in Germany, he was called up and joined the German Navy. This of course was held against my father and he had to remain behind barbed wire!!

I returned to the plantation Sum Sum on the South Coast of New Britain with my stepmother and baby brother. I could not remain at school because we had no income with which to pay the fees. The only income we were able to get was to cut and flitch walnut timber for Jack Chipper. Otherwise we lived off the land. We had cattle, pigs, poultry, plenty of fish and kiddams in the sea and large vegi and fruit gardens. The latter came in to good use, as well as the cattle and pigs, for Australian civilians as well as soldiers after the Japanese invasion of Rabaul.

In December 1942 we had a knock on our door around midnight. It was a Seventh Day Adventist from Kambubu who told us that all women and children had to be in Rabaul the next day to be evacuated on the Macdhui to Australia. We hurriedly packed and left in their workboat for Kambubu to collect the women and children there and then proceed to Rabaul. We arrived in Rabaul at daybreak. I was woken up by the roar of a Catalina taking off for patrol. We all collected our baggage and headed for the Macdhui which was berthed nearby. The Australian administration was supposed to have notified all families about the evacuation and date etc. However they had not notified us - probably because my stepmother was married to a German.

At that time Phebe Parkinson my grandmother was living with my eldest cousin Rudi Diercke at Komalu plantation on the west coast of New Ireland. They too had not been informed and so it was that Phebe missed out on being safely evacuated. Rudi was the Plantation Manager for the New Guinea Company Carpenters.

Back in Rabaul the afternoon was very overcast and rainy, luckily as it turned out. We heard the air raid sirens and saw Australian Wirraways take off over near Matupit. Apparently they were chasing a Japanese reconnaisance plane which because of the weather fortunately did not spot the Macdhui.

When we left Rabaul we zigzagged down St George Strait and headed for Samarai. It appears that many civilians and soldiers and airmen fleeing Rabaul down the South Coast made good use of our house and gardens etc. A Sutherland Flying Boat landed in Sum Sum Bay and took some airmen and civilians off.

A later lot of soldiers who came through were not so lucky. Though they were able to get some food and rest they kept on moving down the coast to Tol, the next plantation 'down the road'. Here, over 100 of them were captured, shot and bayoneted by the Japs.

Japanese Occupation

After the Japanese occupation of New Britain and New Ireland Phebe Parkinson and Rudi Diercke were allowed to stay on Komalu plantation as they were classified as German. However, in late 1944 an American Bomber called 'The Reckless Mountain Boys' - returning to base - was shot up by a Zero. Three men on the plane were shot dead. The pilot, Lt Byron Heichel, belly landed the aircraft on the reef off Komalu homestead. There were three other men seriously injured.

Rudi and his boys brought the injured men to the Komalu homestead and Granny tried her best to save them. Rudi said that Gran's bedroom was a mess of blood and torn sheets to use as bandages. Unfortunately these three airmen also died and Rudi had a large grave dug on Komalu and the six dead airmen were buried there.

The next day a Japanese destroyer pulled up offshore and Japanese soldiers landed and took the rest of the crew as prisoners aboard the destroyer. The Japanese accused Rudi and Granny of harbouring allied airmen and had them escorted to a P.O.W. camp at Bo just out of Namatanai. Rudi, with the help of some bois, built a small bush house for Granny and himself to live in. Food was very short. The Japs gave them nothing. There were many Chinese and mixed race people in that camp. All had to make their own gardens to live off.

A young mixed race boy in the camp was what we called after the war 'manki masta' (servant) to the Japanese Officer in charge of the camp. He used to pinch some food from the Jap mess for Gran. However, with not enough food and no medicines Granny Parkinson died. She was 81.

Whilst alive Gran was allowed on Sundays to go to a Catholic service at a bush church near Bo. She would be under guard of a Japanese soldier who would wait outside the church and then escort Gran back to the camp. When Granny was dying she told Rudi that she would like to be buried in Catholic ground. So Rudi got permission to have her body carried to the bush church and she was buried next to it. Only Rudi and his post-war wife Gwen knew where Gran was buried. It was not until 1951 that I learned that Gran was buried somewhere near Namatanai. It happened that my eldest son Peter was manager of Maghi Plantation in the Namatanai area. One day, a mixed race chap, on hearing Peter's surname, told him that he knew where Gran was buried. Peter and some bois went along to see if they could find the grave - but no luck. The bush church had long since disappeared and there was much overgrowth. (Years later we learnt that they had come very close to the right site!).

Memorial Service, July 2002

In July 2002 I attended the Memorial Service, in Kavieng, for all those who had been killed or died under the Japanese in New Ireland. At the ceremony, as the names on the plaque were read out, the nearest relation went and said a few words about their relation. I told the story of how Gran was sent to the P.O.W. camp etc. but said that we did not know where her grave was.

The next day we all visited places of interest. Unbeknown to me, my son Gordon (who had come with me) and his friend had made some enquiries and Gordon was given the names of three old men at Namatanai who had lived under the Japs and might know something. Whilst we were visiting other places, Gordon set out for Namatanai and approached an old native named Das Das and when asked 'wanpela missis I die pinis na planimnabout' said that 'Yes, he knew' and he led Gordon about 500 yards from his house to the grave site of Phebe Parkinson.

Gordon noticed a Tanget bush planted at the head of the grave and asked Das Das whether he planted it there. Das Das said that he had planted it there because, when the missis was buried they could hear her voice, very unhappy, crying out that she wanted to be planted in her own ground. Das Das didn't really know who Granny was and that her husband Richard and a daughter and three sons were all planted at the Kuradui cemetery - the Parkinson cemetery - at Raluana in New Britain.

That evening at the Memorial dinner in Kavieng, Gordon returned and told me that he had found Gran's grave!!

As I knew that Gran had wanted to be buried beside her husband I have set in motion efforts to get permission to dig up Gran's remains and rebury her at Kuradui. I now have all the permissions but we have to tidy up the cemetery because a bomb dropped by American planes landed just near the grave sites and many of the headstones have been blown off their pedestals and cement edgings have to be re-made etc. This will I hope be done in October with the help of a family friend Julius Violaris. When all this is done I will be going back to New Ireland and will bring back Gran's remains and place her next to Grandpa. There she will also have Otto, Nellie, Max and the unknown grave which I now feel sure belongs to Karl Alfred Parkinson who died at Kuradui on 16 June 1904.

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