Lest We Forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

As you know we’ve just returned from Papua New Guinea, and in particular Milne Bay where we spent most of our time. We had lived there for a couple of years after our marriage but Mr Cassmob had also spent his teenage years in the district, when home from boarding school, and he regards it as his “place”.

It always shocks me how little known Milne Bay is within the history of World War II, while Kokoda gains a much higher profile. Despite contradictory stories, it was in the Battle of Milne Bay that the Japanese suffered their first land defeat, proving they were not invincible. Following the rapid domino effect of their overthrow of the Asian countries such as Singapore, this battle gave hope that their forces could be defeated. While there is now no indication that the Japanese forces intended to invade Australia, there’s little doubt that an enemy force ensconced in Papua or New Guinea would have been cause for grave concern and fears for Australia’s security. This year has been the 70th anniversary of the battle.

The Battle of Milne Bay was a relatively short but difficult campaign exacerbated by challenging terrain, heat and the hazards of malaria. It raged up and down the northern coastline of Milne Bay exactly where we were visiting last week and where we had lived in the 70s. The major air base was on Gili Gili Plantation where my husband worked briefly in the late 60s (see the story of his discovery of a wartime artefact here).

Rather than give you chapter and verse I’m going to show you the images of the War Memorial near Alotau and also the information plaques which tell the story of the battle. You might also be interested in the images on my Tropical Territory blog which show the stained glass windows in the Catholic Church in Alotau, honouring those lost in the battle.

The map shows the range of the battlegrounds. Alotau, the provincial headquarters, where we’ve just been, is slightly to the left of the arrow.
The memorial overlooks Milne Bay: a far more tranquil scene than 70 years ago.

The Australians gained great support from the local people who risked much to help them.

Lest we forget

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.
In Memoriam: Crows Nest Memorial to those who gave their lives in World Wars I and II. The memorial includes the names of Cpl French VC and my grandfather’s cousin, James Gavin.

16 thoughts on “Lest We Forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

  1. It’s great to be reminded that there was more to the war in PNG than the Kokoda track. Three of my Dad’s brothers served in PNG, one was on the Kokoda track..not sure if any were at Milne Bay. I know another worked on airfields, another in transport… I must recheck their records, so may people and so much to remember.


  2. My Dad Joseph Craggs was a Medic in the 61st Battalion in Milne Bay. He had his 21st birthday during the Battle of Milne Bay. He is now 91 and living in a nursing home but vividly remembers his time in New Guinea during the War. Thank you for your wonderful site. I hope to visit Milne Bay one day in tribute to my darling Dad and his mates and comrades. Kathie Comb (née Craggs)


    1. Thanks for both your comments Kathie. I was so pleased that the blog reached someone with a family connection to the Battle of Milne Bay. You must be very proud of you Dad’s service in such a pivotal battle, which sadly has lost its profile in public memory. If you get a chance to visit Milne Bay I think you’d enjoy it. Unlike other parts of PNG it is very safe, and the people are just so welcoming. There are special tours of the War areas which we didn’t get time to do this time but will “next time”. As you’ve gathered this was a personal pilgrimage for us in 2012. I hope you’re able to show your Dad some of the photos I’ve put on the blog so he can see the place in peacetime. Pauleen


  3. This evening I have skipped around– started near the beginning, went to the end of your trip (to date), and ended here at the beginning — dinna matter, great reading! Thanks.


    1. Thanks Joan for your kind comments. I’ve been following your stories on Google Reader since I’ve returned but haven’t got to commenting yet. I’m sorry about that as I really enjoy what you have to say.


  4. Thanks Pauleen for the blog and photos. There is a detailed Wikipedia page for the Battle at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Milne_Bay The Dept of Veterans Affairs also has a good geographical representation of it at http://kokoda.commemoration.gov.au/milne-bay/japanese-defeat-at-milne-bay.php You can click on each phase and watch the show. We have a Milne Bay Memorial Library and Research Centre in Brisbane. Its Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/MilneBayMLARC


    1. Thanks Brad for visiting the blog, your comments and also the blog links. I didn’t know about the library in Brisbane, even though that’s where I’m from originally so next time I’m visiting I’ll have to put it on my “to visit” list. Cheers Pauleen


  5. Hello, I am looking into the French family tree. Looking for more information on William Perkins French and Family (Footscray Olinda NZ & Au) have trolled Trove with lots of leads.
    Related to Gladys Margaret in 1935.
    Angela H


    1. hi Angela, Thanks for visiting my blog. Unfortunately I don’t have any words of wisdom on the French family. The VC winner came from the little town of Crows Nest on the Darling Downs, if memory serves me correctly. Cheers Pauleen


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