A NUMBER OF EVENTS ARE PLANNED in Rabaul for the Centenary of the landing of the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force, which in 1914 was deployed to the Gazelle Peninsula to capture the militarily strategic German wireless station at Bitapaka.
The events, which will take place from 30 August to 17 September, may include a visit by HMAS Yarra, the namesake of the original warship with the ANMEF, on 14 September.
In addition, Papua New Guinea’s 39th anniversary of Independence will be celebrated on 16 September. Special arrangements for accommodation and flights will be required for anyone hoping to stay for those events, extra to the five-day fully guided tour of the ANMEF battlefields, which will be a highlight of the anniversary activities.
There will also be a Dawn Service at the Rabaul ANZAC memorial and a Gunfire Breakfast at the Rabaul Yacht Club. The tour is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Optional extras include day tours in Rabaul and surrounds from 13-15 September and a trekking tour to Tol Plantation from 29 August-7 September.
If you go to the Kokoda Historical website here you’ll find all the information you require.
Itinerary for the ANMEF battlefields tour
Day 1 – Monday 8 September
Depart Cairns direct to Tokua airport, Rabaul; from Cairns you will be travelling with Kokoda Historical owner David Howell. Upon arriving we will be met by Susie McGrade, proprietor of the Rabaul Hotel, oldest hotel in the New Guinea Islands region.
The nearby Niugini Club survives but the ‘old town’ of Rabaul on Mango Avenue is no more; now covered in ash from the 1994 volcanic eruption. This will be our base for the duration of the trip. The hotel is surrounded by the volcanoes around Simpson Harbour. The port and wharf are nearby; cruise ships moor there.
Guests are able to take a guided stroll to the nearby harbour and memorials. In the late afternoon we will indulge in “Kulau” and cocktails as we attend the official welcome, sponsored by the McGrade family, originally from Scotland; Susie is a 3rd generation Rabaul resident and a PNG citizen.
This will be followed by a pre-dinner presentation prior to our evening meal in the magnificent Rabaul Hotel function room.
We will also welcome the others who have returned from our Lark Force trek with Reg Yates. To find out more about Lark Force and this trek, please see the webite.
Day 2 – Tuesday 9 September
Today we embark on the Rabaul-Kokopo Guided Tour, including the Lark Force 2/22nd Battalion memorial, the Montevideo Maru memorial, the Rabaul Museum, Yamamoto’s HQ Bunker, the Japanese-PNG Peace memorial, the site of Governor Haber’s residence on Namanula Hill and view the remains of a Japanese Betty bomber. We will then travel along the Old German Road to Kokopo, stopping off at the Japanese barge tunnels, the WW II Japanese underground hospital, the Kokopo War Museum, German WW I cemetery, Vunapope Mission and share a picnic lunch at Bita Paka War Cemetery.
After lunch we visit the remnants of the original German wireless station and meet ‘live theatre’ historians who will give unique first-person accounts of individual stories of service and sacrifice. This memorable experience has never previously been attempted on such a tour. We return to Rabaul via Mt Toma lookout, the site of the relocated German HQ; then via the abandoned Vuakanau airfield where the WW II Lark Force RAAF Hudson and Wirraway aircraft, commanded by Wing Commander Lerew were based.
Returning to the hotel for rest and refreshment, our evening meal will be ‘poolside’: the perfect setting for guests, historians and our hosts to mingle.
Day 3 – Wednesday 10 September.
Rising early, we enjoy a cooked breakfast before setting off by banana boat to view Tarvurvur volcano in safety; depending on its activity we may or may not be able to walk up to its rim. We also visit the megapode farm and the hot springs (previously the spa baths of the Imperial Japanese Army). On return we will visit the former Rabaul airport, see the wrecked Japanese Betty bomber on Matupit Island and visit the Vulcanological Observatory, at Tunnel Hill overlooking Simpson Harbour.
We return to the hotel for lunch and an afternoon siesta. As evening approaches we assemble at the Montevideo Maru memorial for a Dusk Service to pay our respects to the 1053 Australian prisoners of war and civilian internees who perished aboard this Japanese prison-ship, together with the 160 surrendered Australian soldiers murdered at Tol Plantation in 1942. This service will be conducted by the Rabaul District Administration with a Guard of Honour posted by the Australian Great War Association. Refreshments and finger-food follow, at the renowned and refurbished Niugini Club, hosted by the Rabaul Historical Society.
Day 4 – Thursday 11 September (100th Anniversary of the Battle of Bita Paka)
Very early morning we attend the official Dawn Service at the Rabaul memorial. Dignitaries, special guests and local citizens from Australia and Papua New Guinea assemble to remember those who lost their lives in this little known piece of Australian & New Guinean history. Attendees are encouraged to wear their medals, or those of their relatives (on their right breast).
The Dawn Service will be followed by Gunfire Breakfast at the Rabaul Yacht Club: sausages, toast, black coffee or black tea (with a dash of dark rum available), ANZAC biscuits of oatmeal and golden syrup; typical soldiers’ rations, as at the ‘Landing at Dawn’ on Gallipoli, to commemorate this Centenary of the ANMEF dawn landing to capture the wireless station at Bita Paka.
After breakfast our drivers take us to assemble at Bita Paka War Cemetery by 10am to participate in the First World War ANZAC Centenary program, with a service and local choir followed by the ANMEF presentation with ‘live theatre’ historians.
On completion of official commemorations our drivers take us to lunch at the Ralum Club, with a game of Two Up included! We return to our hotel and in the evening attend a special ANMEF Commemorative Dinner in the Rabaul Hotel Function Room where the keynote address will be given by one of the most experienced New Britain guides and trek leader, Capt Reg Yates, RFD (Ret).
This presentation will detail the ANMEF action on this day, 100 years ago, along with the story of the loss of the Australian submarine AE-1 and its 35 crew members, while patrolling in nearby St George’s Channel on 14 September 1914.
Day 5 – Friday 12 September
0400 wake up for 0530 check-in at Tokua airport and our flight to Cairns.
Optional pre-ANMEF Tour Extension
29 August – 7 September
Prior to the ANMEF Centenary Tour, Reg Yates will be leading a Lark Force Trek via the Baining mountains and ‘South Coast’ tracks to Tol Plantation, returning by banana boat in time for the ANMEF Centenary events, above. Clients have the option of joining this trek prior to linking with the ANMEF Centenary Tour. Please visit the website for more information.