War Cemeteries and Memorials in Papua New Guinea
Within the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG) manages war cemeteries and plots. We also care for 3 war cemeteries, 70 isolated graves and 15 official Australian memorials in Papua New Guinea.
The Office of Australian War Graves
The Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG) commemorates, in perpetuity, Commonwealth and Australian war dead and post-war dead. It manages more than 2300 sites and 72 Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) war cemeteries and war plots in Australia, 3 CWGC war cemeteries in Papua New Guinea, and one CWGC war cemetery in the Solomon Islands.
OAWG acts as an agent of the Commission to maintain war cemeteries, memorials and individual war graves for members of the Commonwealth forces, who died during the First and Second World Wars in Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands (Guadalcanal) and Norfolk Island.
In Papua New Guinea, the OAWG cares for and maintains 3 war cemeteries, 70 isolated graves, and 15 official Australian memorials.
These war cemeteries and memorials commemorate:
- New Britain campaigns from both World Wars
- Papuan campaign including Kokoda Track, the Battle of the Beachheads (at Buna, Gona and Sanananda) and Milne Bay
- New Guinea campaigns of 1943 through to 1945.
In the decades since the end of the Second World War, individual Australians and ex-service organisations have constructed private memorials throughout Papua New Guinea. The responsibility for preserving these memorials rests with those who erected them.
The OAWG team, which maintains the graves and official memorials of all Commonwealth war dead in Papua New Guinea, is based at the Bomana War Cemetery. For further information please contact OAWG by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Second World War in Papua and New Guinea
Japan entered the Second World War on 7 December 1941 with attacks on Pearl Harbour and the Malay Peninsula. Its forces then swept southward through the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). To secure those gains, Japan had to deny to the United States and its allies the operational bases offered by New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
The Japanese occupied Rabaul (which became their most important base) on New Britain, and Lae and Salamaua on mainland New Guinea. A major Japanese force landed at Gona and Buna in July 1942, with orders to advance across the Owen Stanley Range, via the Kokoda Track, to take Port Moresby. Within a week, the strategically important village and airstrip at Kokoda were in Japanese hands.
Allied Commander General Douglas MacArthur set up a defensive front that extended through Merauke, Wau and Kokoda to Milne Bay, where an airstrip was hurriedly constructed, and a squadron of RAAF Kittyhawks established. On 25 August the Japanese attacked Milne Bay, but in fierce fighting over several days the invading force of 2800 Marines was repulsed by the Australians. It was the first defeat of the Japanese on land and it sent a heartening signal to all Allied commanders.
The Japanese advanced from Kokoda as far as the Imita Ridge, 48km from Port Moresby. Before the Allied offensive drove them back along the Kokoda Track, down overstretched supply lines. The Australians re-took Kokoda, and by the end of November the Japanese attempt to cross the Owen Stanleys had been defeated. During the 4 months of battle, the 4 Australian brigades involved had lost 625 killed while 1055 were wounded.
American and Australian forces pursued the Japanese in the northern coastal areas until, by the end of January 1943, following the Battle of the Beachheads, all enemy resistance in the Gona-Buna-Sanananda area had been broken.
The Japanese, having failed to reach Port Moresby by advancing over the Owen Stanley Range, reinforced Salamaua and made a rapid march on Wau and its strategic mountain airfield. That thrust was repulsed by a force comprised of Australians and New Guinea Volunteer Riflemen who drove the Japanese back towards the coast.
In February 1943, the Japanese commander at Rabaul moved to reinforce Lae by sea with some 7000 troops. However, the fleet of light transports and 8 destroyers was detected and, in the ensuing Battle of the Bismarck Sea, many were destroyed by US and Australian air attacks.
By May 1943 the Allies’ objectives were:
- to continue the advance westward to Madang
- to seize the Markham Valley (which extends 608km westward from Lae)
- to secure the Huon Peninsula prior to a move eastward to the island of New Britain.
From June to August 1943, American and Australian forces engaged the Japanese at Salamaua, to the south of Lae. In a coordinated offensive, Allied forces landed at Nadzab and fought their way down the Markham Valley. Lae was captured on 16 September 1943 and 2 weeks later Finschhafen was also occupied. The Japanese began a fighting retreat westward and, by 15 December 1943, Japanese forces had ceded command of the Huon Peninsula to the Allies.
By 24 April 1944, the Allies had taken Madang and driven the Japanese forces from the mainland of Australian New Guinea, except for a part west of the Sepik River.
Wewak, the last of the Japanese strongholds, was eventually captured on 11 May 1945. After the fall of Wewak, the Japanese again retreated westward and by June they were totally defeated.
New Britain and Bougainville
In January 1942, Rabaul, the principal port and Allied base on the island of New Britain, was captured by the Japanese and about 800 Australian Service personnel, and many civilians became prisoners-of-war. Later, Indian and British prisoners of war were moved to Rabaul from Hong Kong and Singapore. By mid-1943 Rabaul had become the main Japanese base in the South Pacific – the centre from which their campaigns on New Guinea, the Solomons and surrounding waters, were directed. It was, therefore, a prime target for attack by Allied air and naval forces.
The Allied offensive to retake New Britain began in earnest in October 1943. Night attacks by Australian bombers continued until January 1944.
By March 1944 the American and Australian forces had made large gains in Western New Britain and by November of that year, the Japanese were concentrated around Rabaul and the northern extremity of the island.
Meanwhile, on Bougainville, Allied forces landed on the west coast and began a sweep southward and northward. Although the Japanese forces on Bougainville were not defeated, they suffered very heavy losses and Bougainville was neutralised as a base from which to mount operations against the Allies.
Similarly, the Allies were content to isolate the Japanese forces in New Britain rather than retake Rabaul by military action. At the end of the war in August 1945, about 83,000 Japanese surrendered in the Rabaul area and the island of Bougainville was occupied by Australian forces.
The war cemeteries – Papua New Guinea
During the war and immediately afterwards, the Commonwealth war dead buried in the field and in many military cemeteries throughout the New Guinea theatre of operations were relocated into the 3 war cemeteries at Port Moresby (Bomana), Rabaul (Bita Paka) and Lae.
Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery
Those who died fighting in Papua and Bougainville are buried in the Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery. Among the 3826 burials are the remains of 704 unidentified servicemen, including those of 438 British Royal Artillerymen, prisoners of the Japanese from Singapore who died in captivity in the Solomon Islands.
This war cemetery lies 19km north of Port Moresby. It was opened in 1942 by the Australian Army and is the only Papua New Guinean cemetery to contain white marble headstones and a Stone of Remembrance. On gently rising ground above the graves is the Cross of Sacrifice where a Dawn Service is held each Anzac Day.
A rotunda of cylindrical pillars stands on a hill above the cemetery. These pillars compose the Memorial to the Missing, commemorating 740 men of the Australian Army (including Papua and New Guinea local forces), the Australian Merchant Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force, who lost their lives in operations in Papua and have no known grave.
Rabaul (Bita Paka) War Cemetery
This cemetery is 48km from Rabaul. It is the smallest of the 3 war cemeteries in Papua New Guinea and contains 1155 burials, including 505 unknown personnel. Each grave is marked with a bronze plaque set on a low concrete pedestal.
An avenue of bronze panelled stone pylons form the Rabaul Memorial to the Missing, on which are inscribed the names of those who died in New Britain and New Ireland, and who have no known grave. Included are the names of 1216 Australian casualties.
A large number of Indian prisoners-of-war from Malaya and Hong Kong were liberated from the Japanese by the Australian Army during the 1945 campaign in New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville. A total of 620 casualties of the Indian Army are buried at Bita Paka.
Bita Paka War Cemetery is near the site of the German wireless station captured by the Australian Naval and Expeditionary Force on 11 September 1914, the first Australian action of World War I. Five naval personnel who died in the operation at Rabaul are buried at Bita Paka. A sandstone memorial bears testimony to this event.
Lae War Cemetery
The Australian Army Graves Service, the predecessor to the Office of Australian War Graves, commenced the Lae War Cemetery in 1944. This cemetery is located within the town of Lae, adjacent to the Botanic Gardens. It has an impressive entrance of stone pillars joined by stone latticework. Within the entrance is a grassed forecourt and a surround of colourful shrubs. Rising from the forecourt is a wide flight of steps that lead to a flat-topped colonnade.
The central span of the colonnade frames a view of the Cross of Sacrifice, which stands on a wide expanse of lawn studded with bronze plaques that mark the gravesites.
The war cemetery contains 2819 burials, including those of 426 Indian soldiers who were taken prisoner in Malaya and Hong Kong, and who were brought to New Guinea by the Japanese. A total of 442 graves are marked as unidentified.
The Lae Memorial to the Missing commemorates the 326 officers and men of the Australian Army, the Australian Merchant Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force who lost their lives in Papua New Guinea and have no known grave.
See Lae War Cemetery
The 60th anniversary of major Second World War campaigns in Papua New Guinea was commemorated in 2002. Significant new memorials were constructed and several were upgraded by the Office of Australian War Graves.
The Isurava Memorial was dedicated on 14 August 2002 by Australia’s Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. This memorial stands in remembrance of all those Australians and Papua New Guineans who fought and those who died on the Kokoda Track in 1942.
The memorial features 4 Australian black granite pillars that are each inscribed with a single word – COURAGE, ENDURANCE, MATESHIP and SACRIFICE – representing the values and qualities of Australian soldiers who fought along the Kokoda Track. 10 information panels, including 2 in local Tok Pisin language, have been installed in the interpretative area.
Isurava was the site of some of the most intense fighting in the Kokoda Track campaign. The memorial is immediately adjacent to the site where Private Bruce Kingsbury performed an act of valour for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) – the first VC awarded in Papua New Guinea. Private Kingsbury VC is amongst those at rest in the Bomana War Cemetery.
Milne Bay Memorial
The Milne Bay Memorial is located on the foreshores of Hiwehiwe Beach at Alotau. The memorial was dedicated on 1 November 2002 by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.
During the Second World War, fierce fighting took place in the vicinity of this site, as the Japanese forces advanced through the area towards the airfields, before their eventual defeat and withdrawal.
A 3m high granite column forms the centrepiece of the memorial and is inscribed with the 3 Australian service crests and the words ‘In remembrance of those Australians, Papua New Guineans, and their Allies who fought and those who died in the Battle of Milne Bay 1942’. The memorial site also features an interpretative area with 8 information panels.
The memorial at Popondetta commemorates the service and sacrifice by Australians, Papua New Guineans and their Allies in the Battle for Buna, Gona and Sanananda in 1942-43. The Popondetta Memorial was redeveloped in 2002. The redevelopment involved a significant upgrade of the existing memorial and the construction of a new pavilion at the entrance to the park.
The original structure, built in 1962, featured 7 battle notices (markers) which were relocated to the site from Buna, Buna Old Strip, Cape Endaiadere, Giropa Point, Gona, Sanananda Point and Wye Point, so they could be preserved at a central place of commemoration.
History of battle exploit memorials in Papua New Guinea
In 1945, Australian Commander General Thomas Blamey authorised the erection of 'permanent' battle notices throughout Papua New Guinea. Each of these metal notices, topped by an Australian Rising Sun badge, carried a brief narrative outlining the experiences and achievements of the Australian forces in the area in which it was erected. All the bronze panels were cast in the Army Workshops. However, by 1961, it became apparent that proper maintenance of such widely dispersed memorials presented considerable difficulties.
The (then) Battle Exploits Memorial Committee, including representatives of Papua New Guinea administration, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Returned Services League, Apex and Rotary Clubs, decided to reposition many of these battle notices to more central locations.
11 battle notices from Salamaua and the Lae areas as far as Nadzab, but not Wau, were incorporated in a memorial positioned at the entrance to the Lae War Cemetery.
This memorial commemorates those Australian soldiers who fought a desperate defensive battle against Japanese forces that advanced from Salamaua.
Lae Battle Exploit Memorial
This memorial is situated at the entrance to the Lae War Cemetery and is maintained by the OAWG. It is of a circular design and bears plaques commemorating battles in the Salamaua and Lae areas.
Turnbull Field Memorial, Milne Bay
The Turnbull Field Memorial, in the vicinity of the former airstrip known as No 3 Strip, marks the place where the Japanese advance towards the airfields at Milne Bay was ultimately halted. The area was named after Squadron Leader Peter Turnbull, Commanding Officer of the RAAF 76 Squadron who was killed in action in the Battle of Milne Bay.
1943 Kokoda Track Memorial at Koitaka, Sogeri
This memorial was designed and built in 1942 by the 7th Australian Infantry Brigade in conjunction with the 2nd Australian Watercraft Workshop, using a concept by Brigadier John Field. It stands at the junction where the Kokoda Track to McDonald’s Corner and Ower’s Corner intersects the Sogeri Road. In July 1967, the 25th Anniversary of Kokoda, members of the 25th Brigade Association provided a fence to enclose the memorial.
In November 1990, an additional plaque was fixed to the memorial in recognition of the support given by the local community, the Ianari Clan of Sogeri.
The village of Kokoda contains some memorial cairns, as well as a museum featuring information panels. The museum commemorates the sacrifices of the Papua New Guinea people who helped Australian troops during the Kokoda Campaign of 1942. Kokoda was taken by the Japanese on 29 July 1942, and was eventually retaken by Australian Forces on 2 November 1942.
Also at Kokoda village are facilities created in a joint venture by the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea and Rotary Australia World Community Service. These facilities comprise a rural hospital and staff quarters, a hikers' guesthouse and airport shelter. They were gifted to the Oro Provincial Government in 1995.
Surrender Memorial, Cape Wom, Wewak
Situated in an area known as the Cape Wom Memorial Park, this memorial takes the form of a pyramidal cairn bearing a central plaque, commemorating the surrender of the Japanese Army on 13 September 1945.
The cairn stands on the site of the surrender by Lieutenant General Hutazo Adachi, General Officer Commanding the Japanese XVIII Imperial Army, to Major General Horace Robertson, General Officer Commanding the 6th Australian Division. Other plaques in the park commemorate the acts of valour, such as that near Wewak where Lieutenant Albert Chowne MM (25 March 1945) and Private Edward Kenna (15 May 1945) were awarded the Victoria Cross.
Coastwatchers' and 5th Division memorials, Madang
This memorial is a working lighthouse and is maintained by local authorities and the Coastwatch Association. This organisation, created and administered by the Royal Australian Navy, operated in the islands north and north-east of Australia from the earliest days of the war in the Pacific in the Second World War. Civilian and military personnel, who continued their work in enemy territory throughout the war, staffed the organisation at extreme risk to themselves and the native people who assisted them.
Coastwatchers made the first sighting of Japanese forces by identifying large ‘flying boats’ off Madang in December 1941. The Coastwatchers’ Memorial is therefore appropriately situated in this area.
In April 2013, the 5th Division Memorial, previously situated in Bates Memorial Park, Madang, was moved to the Coastwatchers’ Memorial site. This memorial commemorates the recapture of Madang on 24 April 1944 by the 5th Australian Division.
Rabaul 1942-45 Memorial
The Rabaul 1942-45 Memorial, on the foreshore of Simpson Harbour, honours all those who lost their lives in the air, on land and at sea in the Defence of New Britain and in the course of the Japanese occupation during 1942-45.
This memorial also features a cairn in remembrance of MV Montevideo Maru, a Japanese auxiliary ship that sailed from Rabaul in June 1942, carrying 845 Allied prisoners of war and 208 civilian internees. The prisoners had been captured by Japanese forces on New Britain and New Ireland. On 1 July 1942, the unmarked ship was torpedoed by an American submarine off the Philippines; none of the prisoners-of-war or civilian internees survived. The sinking is considered the worst maritime disaster in Australia’s history.
The stone cairns were partially buried by volcanic eruptions in 1994 and were relocated to a raised platform in 2002.
Department of Veterans' Affairs