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Rabaul to play an important role in the ANZAC Centenary


HMAS Sydney steams towards Rabaul, September 1914The ANMEF (Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force) & Rabaul Association was formed in 2013 for people who have an interest in Australia’s colonial and military history in Papua New Guinea. On and around 11 September this year, the Association will mark the centenary of the capture by the Expeditionary Force of the German wireless station at Rabaul, a significant Australian military victory in the early part of the Great War of 1914-18. Over the next few days PNG Attitude will publish a series of articles on this important commemoration.

FOR AUSTRALIANS AND NEW ZEALANDERS, 2014 brings the ANZAC Centenary with the 99th anniversary of ANZAC Day on 25 April 2014, followed by the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the First World War between Britain and Germany on 4 August 1914.

A mere five weeks after the declaration of war, the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force captured the strategic German wireless station at Bitapaka near Rabaul, East New Britain, in a single day on 11 September 1914.

On Nauru and Yap, other wireless stations, which communicated with German warships in the Pacific, were also seized, and one in Samoa fell to New Zealand forces.

In Rabaul, six Australians, one German and some 30 indigenous troops died fighting. German New Guinea surrendered 10 days later and was mandated to Australian administration until the independence of Papua New Guinea in 1975.

Few Australians know of this first decisive battle conducted by Australia as a nation that was less than 15 years old. Ironically, the Imperial Japanese Navy applied this lesson of combined force when they seized Rabaul from Australia’s Lark Force in 1942. And the UN’s INTERFET, led by Australia, did the same when they took control in East Timor in 1999.

1915 brought the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, now regarded as Australia’s ‘coming of age’.  On 25 April next year, at least 8,000 Australians and 2,000 New Zealanders are expected to crowd into ANZAC Cove at Gallipoli in Turkey to mark the beginning of the ANZAC legend bean 100 years previously.

Others will commemorate ANZAC Day nearer home at Shrines of Remembrance, Cenotaphs and community memorials throughout Australia and New Zealand. Some people will visit Commonwealth War Cemeteries and former battlefields from different wars all around the world, including Bomana: wherever Aussie and Kiwi Diggers fought and died, were wounded or became prisoners-of-war, or in more recent years served their countries and the United Nations on peace-keeping operations.

These wars and other engagements include the Second World War, 1939-1945; the BCOF in Japan after WW II; Kashmir and Indonesia from 1947; the Korean War, 1950-1953; the Malayan Emergency of 1948-1960; ‘Confrontation’ in Borneo with Indonesia during 1962-1966; the Vietnam War during 1962-1972; Sinai and the Lebanon from 1973; the First Gulf War in 1990; Bougainville from 1992; Somalia in 1993; Rwanda in 1994; East Timor in 1999; the Solomon Islands from 2002; the war in Iraq from 2003 and our longest war in Afghanistan during 2002-2013.

More than 2,000 Australians are serving overseas today. The ANZAC legend lives on, yet the history behind the ANZAC Centenary started long before ANZAC Day, 1915.

Australia’s military history began with the First Fleet from Britain in 1788: 212 Marines (plus officers and staff ) guarding 548 male and 188 female convicts, for a total of 1030 aboard 11 ships. For 80 years until 1868, Britain sent some 160,000 convicts as well as free settlers to establish the Australian nation as we know it.

Yet Australia’s original inhabitants had already been here for some 50,000 years, which led to fights and killing between whites and blacks as settlements expanded. Those fights and massacres with armed men on horseback against tribesmen with spears may well have left us with the notion: ‘as we took this country, so might it one day be taken from us’?

As settlement developed, problems arose with the New South Wales Corps (the so-called “Rum Corps”) trading illegally in rum. Governor Bligh was overthrown by the NSW Corps, so Governor Macquarie replaced them with his own British infantry regiment, the 73rd. Other regiments would garrison Australian colonies until 1870.

Though there was often little difference between the troops and those they were guarding, they established the Mounted Police in NSW, built forts, guarded goldfields, treasuries and government buildings, and provided fire-fighters; while military engineers surveyed parts of early Sydney and helped build roads, bridges and ports.

Ironically, the first Australian soldiers to fight overseas went to New Zealand. Known as the Waikato Militia, they assisted British Army regiments fighting in the second Maori Wars of the 1860’s. The fighting eventually ended honourably between ‘Pakeha’ (Europeans) and Maori, following the Treaty of Waitangi.

The first Australian military force (i.e. non-British and actually from NSW, pre-Federation) of 750 infantry and artillery, also volunteers, was raised in 1885, serving some seven weeks in Sudan. This followed the death of popular British General ‘Chinese’ Gordon at Khartoum, after the city was overrun by the Dervishes. The Australians saw only sporadic action.

In 1899 Australian volunteers served in South Africa with British and other Dominion troops in the second Boer War. Australia sent 12,000 soldiers before Federation in 1901 and 4,000 thereafter. New Zealand sent some 6,500 soldiers; these were very large numbers from Australian and New Zealand populations at that time. 300 Australians and 200 Rhodesians held off 3,000 Boers shelling them constantly for six days at Elands River. When the Boers demanded surrender the British commander said he could not; he commanded Australians ‘who would cut his throat if he did surrender’!

The Boer War also saw three Australians charged with the murder of Boer prisoners: Lieutenant Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant and Lt’s PJ Handcock and GR Witton were found guilty by a British court martial. Witton received life imprisonment; Morant and Handcock were shot by firing squad with Morant refusing a blindfold and calling out, “Shoot straight you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it’!” These executions led to the view that only Australian authorities should control disciplinary actions against our soldiers.

Newcomers to Australia and New Zealand, or our younger children might ask, “What does this word ANZAC mean; where does that word ‘Digger’ come from; and why do we Aussies and Kiwis honour ANZAC Day”?

The word ANZAC originally comprised five capital letters: A&NZAC, for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”, which was created when the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) were combined into an Army Corps (pronounced ‘core’) at their training ground in Egypt.

From late 1914, A&NZAC was stencilled on Corps equipment shipped to the battlefield at Gallipoli. In Australia, a Gallipoli veteran was an Anzac; later foreign newspapers referred to all Australian and New Zealand soldiers as Anzacs, regardless of which war they fought in.

The word Digger was in common usage by the end of 1917. It had been used among the gold miners from Western Australia in some units but it was from the New Zealanders, who took it from their country’s gum-diggers, that the Australians adopted the term and in time ‘it spread like a crown fire through the AIF’.

Australians and New Zealanders honour ANZAC Day, every 25 April even though that campaign ended in failure, with nothing gained; the Allies withdrew from Gallipoli on the night of 19 December 1915. The Allies put half a million men into Gallipoli and 252,000 became casualties. Turkish losses are estimated at 253,000. Australia lost 8,587 killed and 19,367 wounded; New Zealand lost 2,500 killed and 5,000 wounded.

The legend of ANZAC arose from adversity in an ill-planned, poorly executed and ultimately pointless campaign, yet the armies and peoples of Australia, New Zealand and Turkey all emerged with enhanced reputations. ANZAC still stands for reckless valour in a noble cause; for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never accept defeat.


Adam-Smith, Patsy, The ANZACs (Nelson)

Bean, CEW, ANZAC to Amiens (Australian War Memorial)

Laffin, John, ANZACS at War (Abelard Schuman)

Lindsay, Patrick, The Spirit of the Digger (McMillan)

Mackenzie SS, The Australians at Rabaul, Vol X Official History 1914-1918 (Australian War Memorial)

Meade, Kevin, Heroes Before Gallipoli (Wiley)

Perryman, John, Kit Muster: Australian Navy Uniforms 1865-1953 (Sea Power Centre)

Raffin, Greg, Baptism of Fire (Five Senses Education)


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Peter Kranz

I'd like to pay tribute to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

I don't know how they manage to keep those cemeteries and monuments in such wonderful and cared-for condition, in many countries all around the world. They are little oases of care and memory often in countries where this must be extremely difficult to maintain.

Bitapaka, Bomana, Wewak, Honiara - I have visited but a few, but have always been impressed with the care and devotion that is being taken to keep such sites in a beautiful state, despite civil unrest, massive local infrastructure problems, differing politics, surrounding poverty and diminishing memories.

How do they do it?

Mrs Barbara Short

This article contains a good little summary of Australia's military history.
I realize that the ANZAC centenary will mainly focus on Australian forces in Europe during World War II. It is good to remember the small group that went to Rabaul. I remember the man from our street who disappeared in our first submarine and lies in the waters around Rabaul.
But one day we need to remind the people of Australia about the Fuzzy Wuzzy angels and what they did to protect Australia during World War II.

Some Australias who hear of all the trouble in PNG at the moment are starting to say things like "we should have never got mixed up with the place".

One day I hope thousands of Australian young people will make pilgrimages to PNG to see the battle site. The Kokoda Trail is excellent. But there were so many places where the ANZACs fought in PNG.

One of my Chinese friends in Epping was born in Wewak in the early 1930s and he and his family fled to Australia in the early 1940s.

Sadly many middle aged Australians have little knowledge about our time fighting in PNG and the role the native people of PNG played in making Australia what it is today.

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