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The Battle of Bita Paka – How the Australians Captured New Guinea, by One of Our Boys

Friday 13 September, 2019

The following is an excerpt from Pens and Bayonets – Letters from the Front by soldiers of Yorke Peninsula, South Australian during the Great War. – Edited and with commentary by Don Longo


Editor’s note:  The capture of Rabaul on the island of Neu-Pommern (now New Britain, Bismark Archipelago) in German New Guinea on 11 September 1914 was the first military operation in the Pacific during the war.  This letter written by Malcolm to his father, James Malcolm, given an eye witness account of the event.  The letter is undated, but was written in late September or early October 1914.


How the Australians Captured New Guinea, by One of Our Boys

Able Seaman Roy Malcolm to his father at Kadina

Thirty five men comprising five bluejackets from the Yarra, five from the Warrego, and twenty-five naval reserves from Sydney, landed at Herbertshohe at 6 a.m., with orders to capture the wireless station.  I was one of the Yarra’s five, and was in the fighting line from start to finish.  On landing we searched all houses and store about the shore.  We captured some native guides, and made them show us the way to the wireless station.  We formed a firing line of about twelve men, the remainder acting as scouts.  I was a scout and knew my duty was important.

After marching two miles we were fired upon by the enemy about 8.30a.m., and then I found they were firing at four of the scouts, I being one.  Their bullets found the trees near me, and all took cover.  The enemy firing were hidden above in trees.  We received orders to advance in the firing line, and we then found that our guides had led us into a trap, and we were surrounded by the enemy.  By this time we had reached a trench and took cover by the roadside, and were in this position when one of our men made a capture.  A German scout was about to set off a mine when he was shot, and from that time matters looked serious.  Now blood was shed; shots rang out on all sides of us as the enemy were closing in all round, and every moment I expected to see them charge over our trenches.  We knew our position and were determined to do our duty and fight to the last.

In the meantime one of our men had ridden a horse (one used for carry8ng medical gear) back to the shore with the riding of our position, and every available man from the destroyers, also about 200 soldiers from the troopship, came to reinforce us.  As soon as we heard their cheers it put new heart into us, and we at once advanced, fearing nothing.  At this moment our leader, Lieut. Bowen, a true and good officer, was shot through the head.  He fell a few yards from me.  There was no one to lead now, but we continued to advance, and very soon the reinforcements arrived.  The Germans, seeing we were too good for them, retired to their trenches in double time.  Just here an A.B. named Grimshaw and I captured a German scout.  He was in a hole about five feet deep, under the branches of trees.  Soon after Lieut. Ellwill, fell dead.  More injuries followed.  Two Naval reserved, one named German officer who was hurt, was shot and died the next day.  Williams, the doctor’s assistant, was also shot.  The Germans have no respect for the Red Cross.  The Germans, afterwards, seeing the case against them, hoisted the white flag, and you know what followed.

We marched back to the ships at about 6 p.m., carrying the head and wounded.  The wounded were removed to the hospital ship Grantala.  Our losses were seven killed and four wounded.  The enemy lost over thirty killed and more wounded, but they like to hide their losses.  Next day we returned and captured the wireless station without much more resistance.  During the week the Governor finally surrendered everything, and now the island belongs to the British Empire.  The Yarra was in company with the AE1 the day before she was lost.  A chum of mine, A.B. Jarman, was lost in her.  It must be an awful shock to the relations of the 34 brave men who were lost.


Members of the Australian Navy & Military Expeditionary Force bringing Captain Brian Colden Antill Pockley, the medical officer, on board HMAT Berrima. Pockley had gone out to rescue Able Seaman Williams, who had been wounded by enemy fire. Both men died later that day.

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