MELBOURNE - For all of us who were kiaps, life brought us a range of experiences, some serious, some tragic, some mundane and others that were extremely humorous.
I was always mindful that if I ever lost my sense of humour it was time to resign.
In this vein I recall an incident when I was a young Cadet Patrol Officer at Kabwum and was despatched on patrol.
I was flown to the remote airstrip at Indagen and, on completion of the patrol, collected by aircraft at a pre-arranged date and time from the same strip.
Came the day, I was back at the airstrip with my collection of patrol equipment, boxes, chair, table, lantern, the works, all neatly stacked on the hard-standing area.
After what seemed like hours, I heard an aircraft in the distance. It circled and came into land.
The pilot stepped out and stated that he needed help to unload a coffin that contained a body. Several villagers stepped forward and laid the coffin on the ground at the edge of the hard-standing area.
There was no-one accompanying the coffin. The pilot looked at my gear and decided he didn’t have enough room as he had a couple of passengers and cargo for another airstrip. Telling me he would return, he taxied and took off.
And then it started. Men and women came from everywhere and the wailing, keening and sobbing broke out in earnest. Several women threw themselves on the coffin and others came up to stroke it.
I turned to the councillor and asked the identity of the deceased. “I don’t know,” he shrugged.
So there it was, a coffin with an unknown body, a group of very upset mourners but no-one actually claiming the body and making any attempt to take it away for burial.
About half an hour later I heard the aircraft returning and the pilot was very contrite when he landed. He explained that he’d unloaded the coffin at the wrong airstrip and asked me to explain his dilemma to the mourners and help him get it back on the plane.
The crying quickly stopped and we loaded the body back on the plane and a relieved pilot again took off.
As soon as it was aloft the assembled people drifted away until I was left with the councillor and a couple of other village men.
The plane finally returned to collect me and I made it back to Kabwum to complete what had been a mundane patrol enlivened only by the events of the final few hours.