Bitapaka 100 years on - ANMEF programs in PNG & Australia
22 January 2014
ANMEF IS THE ABBREVIATION OF the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force, which in 1914 was deployed to Rabaul to capture the militarily strategic German wireless station at nearby Bitapaka.
The ANMEF & Rabaul Association was formed last year as a not-for-profit body for people with an interest in Australia’s colonial and military history in Papua New Guinea. It is open to anyone with a Service background, descendants of Australian Infantry Force (AIF) members, or people with an interest in PNG and Rabaul such as trekkers or tourists.
The Association has three objectives. Firstly, to promote the story of the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force as part of this year’s ANZAC Centenary in Australia.
Second, to promote a Rabaul-Tol Plantation trek, with trekkers returning to Rabaul in time for the ANMEF Centenary on 11 September 2014. The trek will honour the ill-fated deployment to Rabaul of the AIFs’s Lark Force in World War II.
Lark Force lacked naval support and, as a garrison, was said to be ‘too big to hide and too small to fight”. Following Japanese carrier-borne airstrikes which overwhelmed its token air defences, Lark Force was routed overnight by a powerful Imperial Japanese Naval landing force on 23 January 1942.
Only about 400 soldiers escaped to find safety in Papua and Australia. Some 160 Australian soldiers who surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army were murdered at Tol Plantation. And, in another terrible tragedy, 1,053 captured soldiers and interned civilians drowned aboard the Montevideo Maru, which was torpedoed en route to Hainan. It was Australia’s worst maritime disaster.
The third objective is to obtain ANZAC Centenary funds for an awards program to educate students about the ANMEF, Rabaul and the ANZACS; together with visits to schools by volunteer presenters and re-enactors.
The Association’s organisers are David and Clodagh Howell of Kokoda Historical, Rabaul Hotel proprietor Susie McGrade, and trek leader Reg Yates.
David Howell is a Reservist who served with a Solomon Islands (RAMSI) deployment. He is a staff member with the Shrine of Remembrance and has owned, operated and led treks for Kokoda Historical for several years.
As well as running the Rabaul Hotel, Susie McGrade is a third generation Rabaul expatriate and secretary of the Niugini & Rabaul Historical Society.
As for me - Reg - I served as a Reserve Infantry Captain for 30 years (1971-2001), mainly in training roles with the Royal Victoria Regiment. I retired after 36 years as a Melbourne Ambulance Service paramedic (1973-2009) and serve occasionally as a paramedic in PNG.
I’ve been visiting PNG for almost 30 years and had the honour of meeting the late World War II identities Matt Foley, Peter Figgis, Bill Harry and Malcolm Wright. I’ve walked the Kokoda Track 45 times and the Black Cat Track, Shaggy Ridge, Wau-Bulldog Army Road, and Rabaul-Tol Plantation trail several times each.
I’ve also paddled a dugout canoe on the Sepik River, descended the Watut River with soldiers in inflatable rafts, walked part of Karius and Champion’s 1928 route between the headwaters of the Fly and Sepik Rivers, and visited the Kaiapit, Milne Bay and Finschafen battlefields.
Associates of the ANMEF & Rabaul Association include five former Kokoda or Tol Plantation trekkers, seven AIF relatives two surveyors, two journalists, five museum staff members, five former or serving Reservists; five former or serving members of the military; one Veterans’ Affairs staff member; three former Rabaul residents; two former police officers and three authors. That’s some 32 associates and we welcome others.
The Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force battle at Bitapaka was the first clash between Australia and Germany on 11 September 1914. On that day six Australians were killed or died of wounds; one German was killed and one wounded; and some 30 indigenous troops (on the German side) were killed and 10 wounded. There are about 1,500 names listed as members of ANMEF.
German and indigenous troops laid down their arms 10 days later and German New Guinea was mandated to Australian administration until PNG's independence on 16 September 1975.
The ANMEF Centenary will take place seven months before the ANZAC Centenary at Gallipoli. Visitors are welcome and there are ample facilities for tourists and trekkers at Rabaul.
And a contest with a great prize....
ANMEF descendants, high school students and ordinary Australian community members are invited to enter the ANMEF & Rabaul Award - an essay writing and multi-media competition. The winner is to be awarded either a free Rabaul Tour or a Rabaul-Tol Plantation trek by Kokoda Historical to coincide with the 11 September 2014 Centenary.
Winners are to be determined by their Federal MP's Electorate Committee together with ANMEF Association members, David and Clodagh Howell.
The contest has developed from the Harry Bould-39th Battalion Award currently supported by the 39th Battalion Association, together with Victorian MP, the Hon Edward O’Donohue, and Kokoda Historical. Private Harry Bould grew up in the Mr O’Donohue’s electorate, became a 39th Battalion soldier and was declared missing-in-action during the 1942 Kokoda campaign.
In recent years the annual student winner of the Harry Bould Award has been given a free Kokoda trek. Kokoda Historical provides safe, well-organised tours and treks in PNG. Its experienced leaders are able to brief trekkers and tourists on PNG’s military history, village life and traditional societies.
Given that funding is received from the ANZAC Centenary Local Grants Program, selected volunteer presenters and re-enactors ('live theatre' historians) are to receive ANMEF packages and replica uniforms so they can present the ANMEF story, by invitation, either in schools or at Service museums.
Hi. I was a resident of Rabaul in the late 1960s-early 1970s and a member of the PNGVR whilst there.
I have recently written an article about a member of the ANMEF on whom I did some research. I am interested in any tours that are being organised to visit Rabaul in September.
Posted by: Michael White | 07 April 2014 at 11:56 AM
Hi Reg, Do you have email details for those involved in the commemorations, if you do, would you be able to pass them to myself at [email protected] - in order to better perhaps coordinate and liase several activities that are being planned for the centenary in PNG by the Port Moresby Sub Branch of the Returned and Services League of Australia, Australian Department of Veterans Affairs and the Australian Defence Staff - Papua New Guinea. Our FB page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/pomrsl
Returned and Services League of Australia (Port Moresby Sub Branch)
PO Box 22
Papua New Guinea
Posted by: Mick Rice | 22 January 2014 at 05:20 PM
Thanks Reg for this excellent article. It is great to hear of the work of the ANMEF & Rabaul Association.
This should go a long way to improving the understanding of students and others about what happened in the past in TPNG.
Best wishes for the ANMEF Centenary on 11 September 2014.
I have a copy of "How Australia Took German New Guinea - An Illustrated record By F.S.Burnell - which is very interesting.
Posted by: Mrs Barbara Short | 22 January 2014 at 11:24 AM