RABAUL – In a year that marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Rabaul, more than 80 people attended Rabaul’s Anzac Day dawn service this year, which was hosted by the Rabaul Historical Society at the RSL Cenotaph.
The battle saw a small Australian overwhelmed by Japanese forces in late 1942 and it became the as the main Japanese naval base for the Solomon Islands and New Guinea campaigns.
The defeat led to the great tragedies of the Vaingait massacre of between 200 and 1,000 Baining villagers and the Tol Plantation massacre of 158 captured Australian troops, both atrocities perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Army.
It also led to Australia’s worst maritime disaster, the sinking of the Montevideo Maru which was carrying more than 1,050 Australian military and civilian personnel taken captive in Rabaul. All drowned when the ship was torpedoed off the Philippines.
Guests from the Australian Defence Force and the Australian High Commission travelled to Rabaul for the ceremony, at which the key address was given by Senior Squadron Leader Konstantin Jensen, based in Port Moresby for the Royal Australian Air Force.
The service was led by David Flinn, president of the Rabaul Historical Society, and the Society’s Hannah Woolcott also gave an address. Hannah's grandfather fought at Gona and Buna on the PNG mainland.
Two fine young men representing the Urka people from the Baining area laid a floral tribute.
The Dawn Service was followed by the traditional Gunfire Breakfast at the Rabaul Yacht Club, with coffee and a bottle of Bundaberg rum donated by the representatives of the Australian Defence Force.
Father Matte and his choir from St Francis Xavier Cathedral at Kuragaga also played an important role at the Dawn Service.
We have had a terrific group at St Francis for the past five years. Fr Matte is from Croatia and his second in commands are from Argentina and Mexico.
They have made a huge difference to the area as before them had Father Allen Casquelo who was responsible for bringing the cathedral back to its deserving glory.
Rabaul started getting representation from the church again after Archbishop Hesse was replaced by Fr Pompanfilo.
But fortunately the congregation never abandoned St Francis Xavier even through the years the Vunapope Archdiocese did not seem interested.
There are some people who insist on deserting Rabaul even though over many years it has been clear the historic town will not die.
It's amazing what a difference dedicated men of the cloth make to a community.
The priests acted as capable peacemakers when Matupit and Malaguna people rioted.
In fact Father Matte convened the peace talks when police and the local member of parliament failed.
St Francis - appropriately - became the site of reconciliation.
Anzac and Peace. Lest We Forget