By MALUM NALU
Rabaul, East New Britain province, marked the 70th anniversary of its bombing by the Japanese today (Wednesday, Jan 4, 2012).
The Japanese dropped their first bombs on Rabaul on Jan 4, 1942, and continued with almost daily air raids until the 5, 000-strong Japanese invasion force attacked Rabaul soon after midnight on Jan 23, 1942.
Bitapaka War Cemetery, not far from Rabaul, is a peaceful and beautiful cemetery containing the graves of over 1, 000 Allied war dead and the Rabaul Memorial commemorates those who have no known grave.-Picture by MALUM NALU
Rabaul had been the administrative capital of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.
Its pre-war populace included about 1,000 Europeans, 1,000 Asians (mostly Chinese), but also a few Japanese and about 3,000 New Guineans.
Australian troops, local police and some civilians retreated south but the Japanese captured over 500 European civilians, six army nurses and some wounded soldiers (some of whom were executed) in and around Rabaul.
These captives included 350 missionaries, priests and nuns who were interned.
The Chinese were especially fearful, as the Japanese had massacred Chinese in other countries.
Some were executed soon after Rabaul fell but there was no large-scale massacre.
Instead, they were ordered to live in designated areas outside Rabaul. Men were forced to work as labourers alongside Chinese prisoners of war brought to the island.
An unknown number of women and girls were raped and, in the worst instances, forced to serve for periods as “comfort women”.
The situation might have been even worse had the Japanese not begun importing some Japanese, Korean and Chinese “comfort women”.
Villages and plantations were spread across New Britain and New Ireland.
The small Australian garrison, Lark Force, was overwhelmed and most of its troops, including six army nurses, captured.
Approximately 400 of the troops escaped to the mainland and another 160 were massacred at Tol Plantation.
Rabaul, despite the 1937 volcanic eruption, continued to remain as capital of New Guinea until 1941 when renewed volcanic forced the transfer to Lae in Oct 1941 right up to the Japanese invasion in January 1942.
War, however, had begun in the Pacific with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec 7, 1941.
Rabaul was bombed on Jan 4, 1942 followed by Lae, Salamaua, and Bulolo on Jan 21.
In July 1942, , about 1, 000 of the captured Australian men, including civilian internees, were drowned when the Japanese transport ship Montevideo Maru was sunk by an American submarine off the Philippines coast en route to Japan.
Only the officers and nurses, sent to Japan on a different ship, survived.