Cornelius 'Con' Page

By the end of March, Page was a dot in a Japanese-held ocean…

[Eric Feldt, The Coastwatchers, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1946, p. 75]

Cornelius (Con) Page was one of many Coastwatchers who risked his life transmitting reports of Japanese movements. Page was born in Sydney but went to New Guinea at the age of 19. He bought a plantation in Rabaul and began coast-watching duties at the age of 30, when Japan entered the war. Page is remembered as being 'a trader, planter and free spirit, who violated the expatriates' code by taking a Tabar girl, as his consort.' He is also remembered as being liked and trusted by the natives. [Alan Powell, War by Stealth: Australians and the Allied Intelligence Bureau 1942-1945. Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, 1996, p. 33]

Page is credited with making the first enemy sighting by a Coastwatcher in the Bismarck Archipelago when he spotted Japanese plans en route to reconnoitre Rabaul on 9 December 1941. As they passed overhead he reported their numbers to Naval Intelligence. His plantation was raided after the fall of Rabaul and Intelligence Headquarters in Townsville signalled him to bury his radio and leave the island for somewhere safer. Page refused to leave: his wife Ansin Bulu was a Tabar islander and he regarded the islanders as his people. He was then ordered to cease transmissions to avoid attracting enemy attention.

Con Page was a civilian Coastwatcher and was not paid for his services. Belatedly, he was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant RANVR (Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve) but nothing could save him. As the Japanese moved in the islanders turned against him. The RAAF continued to drop supplies and radio parts but attempts to evacuate him failed. He refused to leave or to silence his radio.

According to Feldt, 'by the end of March, Page was a dot in a Japanese-held ocean'. [Feldt, p. 75]

On June 12, 1942, Page signalled for assistance:

SOS Japanese landed Monday. Am hunted by dogs, natives, machine guns. Japanese left last night Thursday. They will return with more troops. Only chance flying boat land on west side where there is small island and sandpit.

[AWM 124 2/3 The Stubborn Coastwatcher – Cornelius Lyons Page]

At dusk on 16 June a flying boat was despatched to rescue Page. The pilot searched the beach thoroughly but saw no sign of the Coastwatcher and turned back to Cairns. It is assumed that this captured document, the diary of a Japanese soldier who was a member of Kure No 3 Special Landing Party April to August 1942 refers to the capture of Page and a fellow planter, Talmage in June 1942. According to this document the Japanese searched for the Coastwatchers between 13 and 20 June so they were probably not actually captured until after the RAAF's unsuccessful search.

There is some discrepancy about the date on which Page was executed but It is believed he was executed in the company of two other Coastwatchers who had been captured in New Ireland. Some accounts suggest it was as late as September but the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour lists his date of death as 21 July 1942.

Two years after Page's death, Sub-Lieutenant Stanley Bell RANVR visited the Tabar group which was then on the outskirts of Japanese-held territory under siege from the Allies. Page's wife/companion, Ansin Bulu, just released by the Japanese came to Bell with a crumpled and dirty scrap of paper she had managed to carry during her years of imprisonment. In, by then, barely legible, pencilled scrawl Page had written:

To CO Allied Forces
For Lieut-Commander E. A. Feldt, R.A.N.
From Sub-Lieutenant C.L. Page R.A.N.V.R.
9th July. [sic]
Re the female Ansin Bulu,
Nakapur Village,
Simberi Island.
This female has been in my service 7 years. Has been of great value to me since Jan. Japs looted all she owned value £50, put her in prison and God knows what else. Her crime was she stuck. Sir, please do your best for her.
Sub-Lieutenant C.L. Page


[AWM 124 2/3]

Cornelius Page was Mentioned in Dispatches 'for special services in the South West Pacific'. His name is included under HMAS Brisbane on Panel 1 of the World War II Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial.

Signals

As Coastwatcher Corporal Doug 'Slim' Otton, 1st Independent Company, explained:

…We were dropped an identification sheet of Jap ships and we got pretty good at it. We were complimented on it in the end that we were able to identify Jap ships pretty well. And you know, when you're looking at sixty-odd ships and they were all types and then you've got to describe, say, two Natori class cruisers and Congo-class battleships and, you know, they all had their various names and they were very sleek looking ships…

[Doug 'Slim' Otton, AWM Murdoch Sound Archive No:S00596]

Sub-Lt Paul Mason based on Bougainville missed out on receiving one of the Japanese ship silhouette sheets and so instead he received photographs of pages of Jane's Fighting Ships in his next supply drop. When the Japanese attempted to recapture Guadalcanal in November, Mason's report on 10 November 1942 advised that:

At least 61 ships this area, viz. 2 Nati, 1 Aoba, 1 Mogami, 1 Kiso, 1 Tatuta, 2 sloops, 33 destroyers, 17 cargo, 2 tankers, 1 passenger line of 8,000 tons.

[Eric Feldt, The Coastwatchers, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1946, p 121]

Another signal from Mason transmitted intelligence gleaned from friendly natives who would work for the Japanese and then return to Mason with their information:

Our scouts being employed Kahili aerodrome state aerodrome is expected to be completed in a week's time. Many hundreds of natives being forced to work on aerodrome. 27 lorries, 6 motor cars, 10 horses, 6 motor cycles, 4 tractors and aerodrome working equipment at Kahili. Stores and fuel under tarpaulins spread along foreshore from mouth of Ugumo River to mouth of Moliko River. Two anti-aircraft guns near mouth of Ugumo River in fuel and ammunition dump and one anti-aircraft gun on north-western boundary of aerodrome. Wireless station on beach in front of aerodrome, also eight new iron buildings. Priests and nuns interned in iron buildings on beach. Enemy troops in green uniforms with anchor badge on arm and on white hat. Scouts state about 440 enemy troops but coolies too numerous to count. Weather too hazy to observe ships to-day. 0320Z 23rd (September 1942)

[Feldt, p.168-169]


Last updated: 1 February 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Cornelius 'Con' Page, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 13 August 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/resources/coastwatchers-1941-1945/cornelius-con-page
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