Reflecting on the 70th Anniversary mission to Papua New Guinea

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Going back to a place you had not seen for 70 years would be interesting for anyone, but for seven veterans who fought in New Guinea during the Second World War it was particularly moving.

In early September 2015, the Department of Veterans’ Affair’s Major General Mark Kelly AO DSC, Commissioner, led a commemorative mission to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific and Surrender of the Japanese forces in New Guinea.

PNG dancers in front of a group of Australian Veterans
The veterans’ party welcomed by Wewak elders

The seven spritely members of the mission party, who are aged between 88 and 92 years old, were veterans who served in or directly supported the New Guinea campaigns from the Battle for Wau (January 1943 onwards), in either the Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army or the Royal Australian Air Force.

The mission party was proud to represent all Australians who served in the Pacific region, and also all Australians who served in the Second World War.

For members of the mission party the services or commemorations at Rabaul, the Bita Paka War Cemetery, Lae War Cemetery, Coast Watchers Memorial, Bomana War Cemetery and the main commemorative ceremony to mark the Surrender of the Japanese forces at the Cape Wom Surrender Memorial, were very moving and bought back memories of lost mates.


Mr Dixie Lee reads the Ode of Remembrance at the Madang Coastwatchers Memorial

For example, the service at the Coastwatchers Memorial in Madang was emotional for former coast watcher, Mr ‘Dixie’ Lee. Mr Lee was one of the incredibly brave civilians and military personnel who continued their work in enemy held territory throughout the war, at extreme risk to themselves and the local people who assisted them.

The success of the mission is perhaps best summarised by Mr Norman Quayle from Ballarat in Victoria who said, “It has left us with great memories and we feel we have made new friends.”

If you want to see images from the ceremonies visit DVA’s Flickr page, and for video interviews with some of the mission party go to YouTube.