On 16 September 1993, the Rabaul 1942-45 Memorial was unveiled on the shores of Simpson Harbour. Peter Stone writes in Hostages to Freedom: 'The bronze plaque measuring 4-ft by 3-ft, commemorates all Australian forces who served in East New Britain, in particular those members of Lark Force. ... The memorial was paid for by donations and unit funds and a $1000 contribution from the Australian Government.'
The island of New Britain with Rabaul as its administrative centre had until 1914 been part of German New Guinea. From the close of the First World War, the territory was administered by Australia under mandate granted by The League of Nations.
On 7 December 1941 war dramatically came to the Pacific when the Japanese attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.
In 1941, a small Australian Army Garrison known as 'Lark Force', numbering approximately 1400 personnel of which the 2/22nd Battalion was the major component, was located at Rabaul. It was supported by the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, an Air Force Squadron and a small shore-based Naval Detachment.
The main body of the 1st Independent Company was located on New Ireland with sections stationed at Bougainville and the Admiralty Islands.
Air attacks against Rabaul began on 4 January 1942 and were mounted by forces far superior to those defending the base.
The Japanese seaborne invasion took place on 23 January 1942 and the invading forces quickly overwhelmed the small garrison from which few escaped.
Preceding the invasion, the eight available Wirraway aircraft bravely took to the air but outnumbered, outpaced and outmanoeuvred, they were soon forced out of action.
In mid 1942, the Japanese began to move prisoners of war from Rabaul to Japan. An unmarked Japanese prison ship, the Montevideo Maru sailed from this harbour late in June 1942, carrying 850 prisoners of war [of which 133 were from the 1st Independent Company], and 185 male civilian internees, including missionaries. On 1 July 1942, the ship was torpedoed off the Philippines islands by an allied submarine. There were no survivors.
Rabaul became the major centre of Japanese naval and air operations in the South Pacific and for over three years was subjected to heavy and repeated allied air attack. The territory was liberated in August 1945 following the Japanese surrender.
This memorial honours all those who lost their lives in the air, on land and at sea in the defence of New Britain, and in the course of the Japanese occupation of the territory 1942-1945, including those who so tragically were executed at Tol Plantation on February 4 1942. It serves to honour, especially, members of the following.
The 'Lark Force' Australian Army Garrison comprising:
17th Anti Tank Battery
Fortress Artillery, Engineers & Signals
Attached Medical Supply Ordnance & H.Q. Details
New Guinea Volunteer Rifles
No. 24 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force
Royal Australian Navy Detachment
1st Independent Company
Indigenous People of New Guinea
Erected by the 2/22nd Battalion 'Lark' Force Association, and relatives of those who died, supported by the Rabaul Sub-branch RSL, the Office of Australian War Graves, the East New Britain Provincial Government, and the Rabaul Town Council.
The Hon. Sinai Brown, O.B.E. M.P.A.
Premier East New Britain Provincial Government
On 16 September 1993
Twelve months later it was buried in the 1994 volcanic eruptions.
In late 2002, with funding from the Department of Veteran Affairs, the memorial was excavated. Local resident Peter Cohen organised the excavation works. The local builder 'did a marvelous job, actually having to jackhammer the stone from its concrete base that was sunk 1 metre below the surface, lift the stone (which weighed many tons) and resite on top of a new plinth which is now elevated about half a metre above surrounding ground level'.
Peter also reports that the rejuvenation of the Rabaul Civilian Cemetery is almost complete. This cemetery contains the graves of 5 people who were killed on active service and also the graves of 47 returned servicemen, including that of his father who was a coastwatcher. Duncan McLellan, the OIC of War Graves after viewing the work done so far has offered to redo the missing plaques belonging to the returned servicemen who are buried there.