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New Guinea Volunteer Rifles Page 2

New Guinea, 1942-08-28. Members of B Company, New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, proudly display a Japanese flag they captured at Mubo on 1942-07-21. 
  • Personnel are (rank is rifleman unless stated otherwise) 
    • back row from the left, NG2423 G.R. Archer, NG2192 J. Cavanaugh, NG2200 Sergeant L.E. Ashton, NG2230 H.M. Shutt, NG2214 J.G. Kinsey, NG2113 F.L. Leather, NG2191 Sergeant J.B. Macadam, NG2231 S.F. Burns, NG2114 I.H Patterson, NG2068 J.C. Shay; 
    • centre row, NG2461 R. Napier, NG2234 C.L. Cavalieri, NG2380 A.R. Sheath (bending over); 
    • front row, NG2201 Corporal J.A. Birrell, NG2219 H.L. Harris, NG2022 Corporal A.McA. Graham, NG2229 R.W.Doyle, NG2211 Sergeant H.J.W. Farr, NG2325 W. Allen and NG2047 Corporal G.R. Rayner. (Negative by Damien Parer)

The History of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles.

Anyone glancing at the Nominal Roll of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR) would be excused for thinking that Australia had maintained a Foreign Legion at its northern outposts in January 1942. Such names as Lars Waldamar Bergstrand; Carlo Lugarno Cavalieri; Bruno Chou Lai; Alistair Stuart Fraser-Fraser; Francisco Trojaolo and Hubert Behrendorff appear and are an indication of the cosmopolitan nature of the volunteer movement.

When Army Headquarters, on 4 Sept 1939, issued the necessary orders for the raising of this unit, men from Europe, British Isles, New Zealand, Australia and Asia, men who had their homes and livelihood in the Territory of New Guinea and were aware of the menace of Japan, hastened to join. Chan Kim Thai was a rifleman; Shui Hong, a Lieutenant.

Prior to the beginning of the war, Australia had scrupulously observed its undertakings to the League of Nations and had refrained from making any defence preparations in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. In spite of the limitations imposed by the mandate, the Returned Soldier's League Sub-Branches took a vigorous lead in demanding that at least some effort should be made to arm and train those residents who wished to be better prepared to defend themselves and their homes. Colonel J. Walstab, the Police Superintendent at Rabaul, visited Melbourne in August 1939, and discussed the matter fully with Army HQ. Largely because of his efforts, it was decided to form a militia-type battalion in New Guinea. 

Oiva River, New Britain. 1945-02-07. NX151701 Major H.M. Lyon, officer-in-charge, B Company, 1st New Guinea Infantry Battalion. Major Lyon was previously a Company Commander in the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. He has lived in the territory for some 13 years and was employed by Guinea Airways. Port Moresby, New Guinea. 1942-04-12. Sergeant S. Costello, New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, an accountant of Rabaul in private life, one of the evacuees who was successfully rescued by the HMAS "Laurabada" from Palmalmal, photographed aboard the rescue ship.
Originally, the strength of the battalion was limited to 20 officers and 400 other ranks but the establishment was increased in Jun 1940 to 23 officers and 482 other ranks. The enthusiasm in the early days stemmed mainly from returned servicemen of the 1914-18 War, but in mid-1941 the unit lost much of its zest, many of the youngest and most ardent members having gone to join the AIF and other services. The remoteness of many areas was a disadvantage inherent in the unit's organisation. But, in the latter half of 1941, a growing realisation of the danger of war in the Pacific and the increasing peril of the Territory led to a revival of interest.

Headquarters of the NGVR was originally at Rabaul and companies and sections were located at Wau, Salamaua, Lae and Madang. Fit men between the ages of 18 and 50 were accepted. Enlistment was for two year periods and there was no pay except for an allowance of 1 Pound per year, made for each efficient member - an efficient member being one who put in 20 full days of training and who qualified in handling small arms. The standard of rifle shooting was very high. The first Commanding officer was Lt Col C. Ross Field, the Public Works Director at Rabaul and the Adjutant was Lt J J Mullaly.

The uniform consisted of khaki shirts and trousers, made up locally from material sent from Australia. The Army supplied felt hats, bandoliers and leather belts, boots and puttees. Brass NGVR shoulder badges were worn. Arms available for training consisted of rifles and some Vickers and Lewis machine guns. In mid-1940, two Army Instructional Corps instructors, WO2 (later Major) D H Umphelby and WO2 Barnard were sent up and brought the training more into line with current AMF practice. 

Bainings Mountains, Gazelle Peninsula, New Britain. 1942-01. Some of the Australian troops retreating from Rabaul, following the successful attack by Japanese forces on 1942-01-23, take a rest on the track through the Bainings Mountains. From left to right: unknown; David Andrew (Dave) Laws, a member of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR), who was the Australian and New Guinea Administration Unit (ANGAU) radio superintendent in Rabaul; S156941 Signalman (Sig) William F. (Bill) Lord; T44271 Sig Dan J. Thomson; S18167 Sig G. (Shorty) Barwick; unknown; unknown; unknown; and unknown in background. This photograph was taken in late January 1942 as N14130 Sergeant Leslie Ian Hamilton (Les) Robbins and his party made their way south to Palmalmal Plantation and rescue in April 1942. Dave Laws' local knowledge was instrumental to this party successfully reaching Palmalmal. Later, P479 Lieutenant Dave Laws, an ANGAU officer allotted to the Allied Intelligence Bureau and member of M Special Unit, was killed in action on 5 May 1943 in the Saidor area, New Guinea. (Donor L. Robbins)

With the arrival at Rabaul in April 1941 of Lark Force (2/22 Infantry Battalion plus components) NGVR's role became subsidiary and in August its Headquarters was transferred to Bulolo on the mainland. Colonel Field relinquished command, and Major (later Colonel) W H Edwards was promoted to command. One of most enthusiastic of the early volunteers, Edwards revitalized the unit on the goldfields of Bulolo and many new recruits came in. War with Japan was imminent and the strength of NGVR on the eve of the outbreak of war was 12 officers and 284 other ranks.

Immediately Japan attacked, Maj Gen B M Morris, commanding the 8th Military District, was authorised to place the battalion on full-time duty, but only a small group was then called up and it was not until the 21st Jan 1942 that the battalion was actually mobilised.

The Japanese attacked Rabaul from the air on the 20th, and in the early hours of the 22nd effected a landing. When the Japanese came, seventy-four members of NGVR were in Rabaul under the command of Lt Col H H Carr, the CO of the 2/22nd Battalion. They manned medium machine guns and mortars and fought until resistance was of no further avail, sharing the fate of other prisoners of war.

  • Lae, 1941-06. Members of the Lae platoon of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. 
    • Left to right, back row: Private (Pte) Des Lanecraple, Pte Roy Barnett, Pte Heck Baldwin, Corporal (Cpl) Hugh Lyon, Pte John Glosen, Pte John Cox, Pte Bill King, Pte Harly Armersted, Pte Bill Fry, Pte Ernie Tulbourm, Pte Bill Edwards (son of commanding officer captain W. Edwards). 
    • Middle row: Cpl George Milne, Sergeant (Sgt) Doug Dickson, Warrant Officer2 W. N. Bernard, Captain (Capt) W. Edwards, commanding officer, Sgt Syd Neil, Cpl Charlie Carpenter. 
    • Front row: Pte Dick Vernon, Pte George Whittaker, Pte Bob Emery, unknown, Pte Ray Woods, Pte Jack Cook.
On the mainland, the NGVR was organised as a group of 'independent companies' (not to be confused with AIF companies of the same name, with whom the NGVR later operated) at Wau, Salamaua, Bulolo and Lae. On 21st January, at about noon, Coastwatcher Pursehouse reported from Finschhafen that some 60 Japanese aircraft were headed towards Lae and Salamaua. These divided and struck simultaneously at the two towns. Systematically and efficiently the Japanese caused destruction and confusion at Lae. Seven civilian aircraft, which were on the ground when the Japanese arrived, were wrecked.

As the enemy planes flew away, two Australian Wirraways of 24 Squadron from Rabaul dropped down out of the clouds where they had remained concealed and landed on the airfield. Major E W Jenyns, 2IC of NGVR went to see the administrator, Sir Walter McNicoll, who had been working from Lae for some time in anticipation of the final transfer of the capital from Rabaul. Sir Walter agreed that a state of emergency existed and told Jenyns to 'take over'.

Five Japanese fighters, diverted from the main force, destroyed three Junkers at Bulolo but, turning east again before the reached Wau, missed five aircraft on the field there. At Salamaua, where Pursehouse's report had not been received, the raiders took the town completely by surprise. They destroyed one RAAF and 10 or 12 civil aircraft on the ground.

With the knowledge of the Japanese landing at Salamaua was imminent, and with the NGVR on full-time duty, there was a general agreement that all civilians should leave the town. This occurred on 24th January when two parties, one led by District Officer N Penglase and the other by the Director of District Services and Native Affairs, R Melrose, departed overland towards the Lakekamu River, and by sea, respectively. 

Salamaua area, New Guinea. 1942-08. NG2191 Sergeant J. B. McAdam, New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, and Damien Parer, official cinematographer, observe Japanese movements from a secret tree top observation post above Nuk Nuk. (film still).  

After their departure, the only Europeans left in the town were six RAAF men, manning a signals station and six men of the NGVR. Meanwhile, other scratch NGVR platoons prepared to defend vital points in the area, with their headquarters at Mubo. A platoon which went to Salamaua found the small group there in difficulties, due to local disorders. Lae now had a company strength of men.

On the 7th Mar 1942, five enemy aircraft raided Lae, which had been laid waste, and Capt H M Lyon, OC of the group, got word that a big convoy was headed in his direction. He himself stayed in the town with four men to await events while the rest of his men made for Nadzab, destroying on the way the one remaining petrol dump at Jacobsen's Plantation. At 4.45am on the 8th, the Japanese came ashore and Lyon, his men and three New Guinea natives turned their backs on the lost town and went up the main road towards Nadzab.

That same morning the Japanese landed at Salamaua, and the bulk of the NGVR platoon fell back across the Francisco River, leaving behind a few men to demolish the aerodrome and fire the petrol dump. As Capt AG Cameron and his runner, L/Cpl Brannelly - two of a small party of 2/22 Battalion survivors - were falling back, Brannelly shot an enemy soldier at point blank range, probably the only Japanese casualty from land action in the landings at either Lae or Salamaua. After the rear party had crossed the bridge over the Francisco, and when the Japanese appeared on its approaches from the Salamaua side, the NGVR men destroyed it. Most of them then took the track back to Mubo. 

Salamaua, New Guinea. 1942-08. View from the observation post above Nuk Nuk, manned by members of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. The cleared area in the centre is the airstrip. Salamaua itself is situated on the flat isthmus linking the promontory and the mainland.

The Japanese displayed no hurry to move inland. on 18th March, a party of sixty marched to Komiatum, destroyed the NGVR stores dump there and returned to Salamaua. On the Lae side, the invaders kept to the township area. This pause on the part of the enemy gave the New Guinea men time to meet new problems. These men of the NGVR were the only representatives of the law and order previously maintained by the administration.

With civil government gone, they assumed responsibility for several thousand indentured labourers recruited from many outlying districts by planters and others, and now unable to return to their homes. The NGVR established depots and fed them and they became the first of the army of carriers and labourers so vital to the Allies during the fighting that followed.

Colonel Edwards was most interested to know what the Japanese were doing in Salamaua, so Cpl (later Major) J.B McAdam, with a party of six men, edged so close to the enemy that scarcely a Japanese movement escaped them - they scouted into the very fringes of the garrison and only their superb bushcraft, hardiness and courage ensured their survival.

The Japanese knew they were there and on one occasion a searching party actually passed beneath the telephone line, but failed to see it. As the local people were being condemned for assisting the Australians, McAdam withdrew his men to avoid further trouble for them. Other posts of the same nature were established along the Markham and Heath's Plantation to watch the Japanese. Little the enemy did escaped the notice of the watchers.

The men of the NGVR had filled a large gap in the period up to late May - they had kept in touch with the invaders. On the 23rd of that month, the first troops to share their task arrived. Flown from Port Moresby to the Bulolo Valley, the 2/5 Independent Company AIF arrived to co-operate with the NGVR. These two units, plus some details from Port Moresby, a mortar platoon and a group of reinforcements for the widely dispersed No 1Independant Company, formed Kanga Force, with the role of a 'limited offensive' and the object 'to harass and destroy enemy personnel and equipment in the Markham District (including Salamaua in that area).

Major NL Fleay, OC Kanga Force, considered there were 2000 Japanese at Lae and 250 at Salamaua, as against 700 men under his own command, of whom only 450 were fit for operations - a pitifully small number to meet any one of the possible Japanese threats. To forestall these, Fleay proposed to engage the Japanese by raids designed to inflict casualties, destroy equipment and to hamper their use of Lae and Salamaua as air bases. Accordingly, he issued orders for raids on Heath's Plantation and Salamaua and, as the need for action was urgent, directed that the one on Heath's was to take place first. As it transpired, however, the Salamaua raid was made first. It could be planned quickly and in great detail, as a result of the work of Cpl McAdam's scouts.

In the early hours of the morning of 29th June 1942, 71 members of the 2/5th and the NGVR killed at leat 100 Japanese at a cost of three men slightly wounded. The raid was an outstanding success and thoroughly disturbed the Japanese, who sent fighting patrols up to 90 strong into the foothills. The raid also made them draw on their garrison at Lae to reinforce their perimeter at Salamaua.

The raid on Heath's Plantation at Lae, equally well-planned and carried out by 58 strongly armed men, was successful, but barking watch-dogs warned the enemy of the raiders' presence and the operation was robbed of the element of surprise that has been so valuable at Salamaua. In the raid, the leader, Major T P KEEN was killed and two men were wounded.

As a result of these guerrilla raids, the men were in good spirits, although many of the NGVR were sick with fever and the number of fit men dwindled steadily. The most serious problem, however, was one of supply. Food was not getting through and, in this regard, the guerrillas were totally dependant on the local supplies. Japanese air raids, intimidation tactics and the difficulty of getting rations forward to feed carriers had a cumulative effect and threatened to stop any activity on the part of the Australians. The shortage of tobacco was a particularly irritating problem.

In the months that followed, attention was focussed on the Battle of the Owen Stanleys (KOKODA), but the NGVR continued to man posts over-looking the Japanese although their numbers were shrinking. They fought splendidly, true to the tradition they themselves has established. 1942 WAS THEIR YEAR. By the early months of 1943, too few were left to be effective. In view of their specialised knowledge of the county and its problems, the remaining members were distributed throughout Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) and the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles lost its identity.
  • The members of the NGVR had come from many walks of life. Some were too old to join the AIF, some medically unfit or employed in restricted occupations. But they fought well and still found time for important administration and for laying down an organisation of local labour that later grew to be a most important contributory feature of the success of the Allied campaign in New Guinea.

The NGVR involvement in the BATTLE for RABAUL -

At about 1640 hours on 20 Jan 1942, Sgt Ryan of NGVR (European School Teacher) of RABAUL came to the New Guinea Club where a number of Europeans were gathered. Ryan was in the uniform of NGVR. He approached several of us individually who had been training with the NGVR. ,br> To me he said, "Will you be available to muster on the Parade Ground as soon as possible to go into Battle Station tonight?" I believe Sgt Ryan was acting under instructions from Lieut Geoff Kilner, OC Rabaul Detachment NGVR. I replied that I would make the necessary arrangements, it being my intention to do military duties during the night and resume my civilian work in the daytime if required.

Les Corbett was one other in the Club at the time who to my knowledge made similar arrangements.

This is taken from records held in National Archives of Australia - Series J 2810 R707/1/1. This summary of the history of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles was written by Mr C F Coady of the Australian War Memorial Canberra.


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