Mildura Weekly : Friday July 15 Vol 10 No 36
NEWS 11 FRIDAY, JULY 15, 2016 MILDURAWEEKLY.COM.AU Shining a light on WW2 secrets • From Page 9 Like the other ‘bird forces’ de- ployed to Australia’s north, Lark Force was considered ill-equipped and likely to be overwhelmed by en- emy attack. Nonetheless, the 2/22nd spent the next three months con- structing defences and training for operation in tropical environment. Japanese bombing of New Brit- ain began in early January 1942, increasing in intensity as the month continued. By January 22, 24 Squad- ron was virtually destroyed, and its three remaining aircraft were with- drawn. With no use for the airstrips, both were destroyed, and Lark Force withdrew from Rabaul waiting on the western shores of Blanche Bay for the inevitable Japanese landings. Those landings began at 1am on January 23, and by 9am communi- cations failure, and the overwhelm- ing Japanese strength – 5000 troops compared to the 1400 Lark Forces – destroyed the cohesion of the Austra- lian defence. Lark Force commander, Col John Scanlan, ordered a withdrawal on January 23 on the basis of “every man for himself,” and unprepared for the order, chaos erupted among the troops. Over the next few days, 2/22nd parties – ranging from company strength down to pairs and individu- als – sought escape along New Brit- ain’s north and south coasts. Some found small boats and got away, others were picked up by larger vessels operating from New Guinea. Around 400 members of Lark Force managed to return to Australia – 300 of who were members of the 2/22nd. It’s estimated that 160 Austra- lians captured by the Japanese while trying to escape were later killed at Tol Plantation, while another 836 were kept as prisoners of war. On June 22, 1942, a group of Australian prisoners and European civilians were loaded aboard the Montevideo Maru to be transported to Hainan Island. The ship was sunk on July 1 by the submarine USS Stur- geon off the Philippines, killing all 1053 prisoners and civilians. The Australian officers and a small number of civilians left behind at Rabaul were subsequently shipped to Japan, where they remained until being liberated in September, 1945. The 2/22nd was never re-raised. Danny said he had recently en- joyed the opportunity to travel to Rabaul “to honour my father and the soldiers who did not come home.” “I went to Rabaul prior to Anzac Day this year – almost 12 months after my journey started,” he said. “I went over there by myself, and it was really hard to think what it would have been like 70 years ago. “While it’s not jungle, it is thick scrub, so you can imagine how tough conditions would have been for these blokes.” Danny said that he learned a lot on the trip, while also having the chance to revisit some of the more significant sites associated with the Lark Force story. “I travelled to Rabaul to mainly see and experience the war history left behind,” he said. “I spent eight days there, and was later told that I was the first white man to capture photos of certain areas since World War Two.” Danny was taken to an old Japa- nese tunnel filled with old medicine bottles, while also seeing machine guns and large canons left behind after the conflict. “I also had the chance to visit a Japanese hospital tunnel – with all of the tunnels dug by war prison- ers,” he said. “There were 700 miles of tunnels on the island, including a prisoner tunnel, six barge tunnels and a Japanese submarine base tun- nel.” Danny said he had also travelled to the Rabaul air field to see the re- mains of a Japanese war plane wreck and explore underground bunkers. Since returning from Rabaul, Danny ensured that his father was honoured at the South Austra- lian Garden of Remembrance in Adelaide, while also organising a plaque to be placed on his grave in Adelaide. Danny said his 18-month jour- ney to discover more about his family began as a way to let his two granddaughters in Adelaide know “where they come from.” “Something I never really knew,” he said. Danny said he was looking for- ward to attending this month’s Lark Force Foundation reunion in Tra- wool, with a return trip to Rabaul also on the cards. “I’d love to head back one day,” he said. “There’s so much history there – a lot of which is untold. “The information that I do have I would love to pass on to someone so that it can be seen by others. As of right now I consider this chapter finished, and I certainly plan to stay in contact with other Lark Force de- scendants.” Danny’s individual story is also quite remarkable. Born in Went- worth to May Olive Cunningham- Norfolk and Cornelus Andrew Cun- ningham, Danny said he had been “simply handed to the Pitt family” 13 days after his birth. “No paperwork or anything like that,” he said. “I was later told that my mother simply handed me over to Vera and Charlie Pitt.” Danny said the Pitts had raised him as their own on their Bourke station, and at age seven told him who his real parents were. • Continued next page • IN SEARCH OF KNOWLEDGE: Danny Pitt with some of his research material. Matt Mason Senior Sales Consultant 0438 274 258 | firstname.lastname@example.org au If you are considering selling – don’t be fooled by a dormant garden and the dew on the lawn – strong buyer demand drives the market, not the flowers in bloom. Call me anytime to discuss your property, then sit back and rely on our red carpet experience.
Friday July 8 Vol 10 No 35
Friday July 22 Vol 10 No 37