Living in Kavieng since 1977 I can remember after a few years thinking it strange that there was no memorial to those from New Ireland who lost their lives in World War II, especially the Catholic Mission that lost 10 priests, a brother and 2 sisters. Some would say 14 as Brother Teutonberg died in Brisbane in December 1944 after having been evacuated from Anelaua Island Leper Colony by an American patrol boat in June 1944 with Father Stamm, 4 Sisters and Harry Spanner.
A couple of years ago Margaret Henderson and I made contact. She was writing a book about her father the Rev. Thomas Simpson of Ranmelek Mission 'Yours Sincerely Tom'. From then on the word spread until on 4 July 2002 a bronze plaque, remembering 97 named civilians who lost their lives and innumerable others from New Ireland and elsewhere in New Guinea, was unveiled at the Kavieng War Memorial.
This has been donated to the people of New Ireland by relatives in Australia.
A few things about the plaque and Roll of Honour need to be explained.
As a memorial to civilians, there are 3 names on the plaque who held military rank when they died and, with Jack Talmage, are buried at Bitapaka War Cemetery near Kokopo. They are:-
- Lieutenant A.F. Kyle RANVR
- Sub.Lieut G.M. Benham RANVR
- Sub.Lieut C.L. Page RANVR
They 'qualify' as civilians in that they stayed in New Ireland after 23 January 1942 as Coastwatchers after the Japanese landed. Rank was later bestowed on them as an, what proved to be, ineffective protection against being regarded as spies. They had not formally enlisted as such.
Another, John Morell from Djaul, was in the New Guinea Volunteer Reserve but was on Djaul on 23 January 1942.
Anyone reading the Roll of Honour information will realise that 2 people, Tung Sing and 'Dad' Forsyth, died on 21st January 1942, the day of the large Japanese air raid on Kavieng, but otherwise the intention was that anyone in New Ireland on 23 January 1942 who didn't escape the Japanese and died before the end of the war be included.
There were no records as such of indigenous deaths, and if there had been the large numbers would have needed a large memorial. Chinese and Mixed Race deaths were also not recorded and it is certain that there are names missing from the plaque, including Kam Leong whose name was confirmed just too late for inclusion on the-plaque, but is in the Roll of Honour.
Records of Europeans who died are scattered around Canberra and Melbourne and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) only recorded British deaths. Where there was doubt about anything, including whether a person may have been in New Ireland or elsewhere on 23 January 1942, and if he appeared in the CWGC rolls as such, then that information, including the date of death, was accepted by me.
The one major exception to the CWGC date of death is for all those killed on Kavieng wharf in 1944.
The CWGC date is given as the 18th February 1944. That was the date given by the Japanese as when the remaining prisoners of war (POW) from Kavieng were put on the MV Kowa Maru near Doi Island to go to Japan via Rabaul. As they were not seen again it was the date they went 'missing-presumed dead'. Death certificates to that effect were issued.
In mid 1947 fresh evidence was found and the War Crime Trial in Hong Kong later used sometime in March throughout without specifying the date. After the guilty verdict was given however the 3 most senior Japanese in their petition of appeal stated 17 March 1944 as the date of the massacre.
Judging by the many statements taken after the war, it would seem probable that this date too may be incorrect. They record the POWs as not being seen after the massive bombardment of Kavieng by the American Navy on 20 March 1944 in support of the American landing on Emira Island on that date.
Whatever the truth, 17 March 1944 is on the Roll of Honour followed by [18 February 1944] indicating that there is alternative evidence of another date. This has also been used elsewhere for other dates with alternatives.
Where ever 'killed 17th March 1944 at Kavieng' appears it indicates the massacre on the wharf there and 'drowned 1st July 1942' indicates the controversial sinking of the MV Montevideo Maru when torpedoed with the loss of all the POWs.
In most cases the family name of the Chinese are not on the plaque but where known are on the Roll of Honour.
The final line on the plaque was suggested by Jack Goad, son of J.C. Goad on the plaque, who was one of the first officials to return to Kavieng after the war and appreciated what the people had been through. With his wife he also planted new trees along Nusa Parade to replace those originally planted by the Germans and destroyed by bombings and bombardment.
Many people in Australia one way or another helped me in checking names to go on the plaque although the final decision I suppose was mine. Particularly supportive were Margaret Henderson, Erice Pizer, Sue Jellis, Pat Murray, Gwen Diercke, and Jack Goad. The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby assisted in making contact with the Melbourne Australian Archives and in Kavieng Jim King, Alun Beck & Gordon Seeto. A special thank you to John Seeto in Sydney, Peter and Jennie McEwan in Kavieng for use of their office facilities and unwavering support and John McLeod of Malagan Beach Resort for the concrete plinth.
Jim Ridges P.0 Box 86, Kavieng, PNG. 27th June 2002
Online edition created by J & J Evans, August 2002