DAY 12 Today’s agenda was
sightseeing around Lae. First stop was a
view of the old air strip which was now stacked with containers & then on
to the war cemetery.
The cemetery is maintained
by the Australian Government & very well kept. There was also security as unfortunately
locals had taken to both vandalism of the cemetery but also trying to solicit
&/or steal from visitors to the cemetery (like us). There a number of plaques commemorating various battles in & around Lae that had been relocated to the front of the cemetery due to said vandalism.
Blue’s brother Tom (my great uncle) also went to war, but was
killed in action & never made it home.
In a way, this was the culmination of our journey, to find Tom’s grave
in the cemetery. We are certainly the
only family who have ever made the pilgrimage to pay our respects &
probably the only people ever to specifically visit his grave.
I’d not really
given a lot of thought over the years to my great uncle Tom. I knew that he died in the war & until
recently didn't even realize that he fought in PNG although in a different
battalion to Blue & I had no idea he even had a grave over there. It wasn't until someone mentioned to me that
the thing Dad was most looking forward to on the trip was seeing his uncles grave, that
I began to think about it.
That he never had
the opportunity to meet my Dad or any of his nieces or nephews. That he never had the opportunity to come
home like Blue & make a life, find love, get married, have children. That was all denied him. Regardless of my feelings about war, he went
voluntarily & believed he doing the right thing for his family if not his
country (Blue was to have said he never fought for the “government”).
The last time Great Uncle Tom saw any of his
family was in Lae at the hospital after Blue had been shot: they ran into each
other there. According to Blue, he said
to Tom, don’t you recognize me?
I was feeling quite
emotional as we entered the cemetery. It
is by no means a large war cemetery, but most of the people buried there we
under the age of 25. Dad & Plumbing Boy went
on ahead & checked the cemetery register finding Tom’s details.
There were big plaques on the wall listing
all those who were denied a burial as their bodies weren't recovered. I felt a bit weird taking photos of the
plaques, almost disrespectful. I commented
such to G who assured me that it wasn't disrespectful; the fact that we
were there showing respect warranted it.
Next it was time to
find Tom’s plot which was first, in the last row on the top left hand side of
the cemetery. As we walked towards the
plot, I looked for flowers & apologized silently to the gardeners for taking a
couple, to place on his grave. Emotion
welled up in me & I almost felt sick as we approached his grave. I knew that there was nothing to be afraid
of, but I felt so bad that he had been there all that time with no-one to bring
him flowers or to say goodbye. I knew
this was a bit daft & that he wasn't really there, but that was how I
felt. Dad laughed at me with my flowers
saying that I was a better man/woman than he, as he hadn't even thought of doing
We took a few photo’s & then
went on to look at some of the other graves.
Each family was given the opportunity to have a line of their own words
on the plaque & I had to stop reading them or I was going to run out of
tissues. I’d also lost my sunglasses the
day before & it was a very overcast & glarey day. This in combination with sinusitis which
was now in full force did not help my teary state.
I went back to
Tom’s grave a few times before we left the cemetery saying my own personal good
bye. And hello. How do you say goodbye to someone you never
even had the chance to meet?
We found the area where
the locals were buried & a whole section of Indian sailors who’d been used
by the Japanese to dig tunnels under Lae.
All of their plots read: hear lies an Indian sailor, with the date of
the war on the plaque. While their names
were unknown as were their birth & death dates, they each were given a
respectful burial & a plaque. So So
Once we’d finished
wandering around, Reg & Dave called us together to the monument in the center
of the cemetery where Reg said a few words.
From the FallenThey went with songs to the battle, they were
young,Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and
aglow.They were staunch to the end against odds
uncounted;They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades
again;They sit no more at familiar tables of home;They have no lot in our labour of the
day-time;They sleep beyond England's foam. But where our desires are and our hopes
profound,Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from
sight,To the innermost heart of their own land they
are knownAs the stars are known to the Night; As the stars that shall be bright when we are
dust,Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;As the stars that are starry in the time of
our darkness,To the end, to the end, they remain.
From Danny Boy
Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are callingFrom
glen to glen, and down the mountain sideThe
summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying'Tis
you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
come ye back when summer's in the meadowOr
when the valley's hushed and white with snow'Tis
I'll be here in sunshine or in shadowOh
Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.
you come, when all the flowers are dyingAnd I
am dead, as dead I well may beYou'll
come and find the place where I am lyingAnd
kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.And I
shall hear, tho' soft you tread above meAnd
all my dreams will warm and sweeter beIf
you'll not fail to tell me that you love meI'll
simply sleep in peace until you come to me.I'll
simply sleep in peace until you come to me.
the atmosphere was emotionally charged with Reg’s voice starting to break as he
& G were keen on finding some of the graves of VC recipients & PB was enjoying reading the register & learning about some of the soldiers who
were buried there, so they joined forces, PB found the VC’s & Dave &
G found their graves.
Dave said that
usually when he goes to a war cemetery he picks a random grave & places a
stone on it http://cemeteries.wordpress.com/2006/09/26/leaving-pebbles-or-stones-on-a-grave-marker/
to pay his
respect; as per Tom’s grave, many graves are not visited & he feels this is
the best way he can pay his respect.Both
G & I had run out of camera battery by the time we’d finished at the
cemetery & our driver Kevin was happy to make a quick detour back to the
hotel for us to pick up fresh batteries & also to do a drive by a chemist
as Dad’s nasal spray was now giving me rebound sinus issues & I picked up
some Sudafed. Dave & Reg were happy
too, to make a stop picking up a razor & a phone charger respectively!Next
stop was the Markham bridge although the significance was lost on me, still
feeling quite emotional & unwell due to said sinus issues. The bridge wasn't there during the war &
the supplies had to navigate across in boats I guess.
After this we went to the yacht club for lunch
(where we’d returned to yesterday from Salamaua) – the food was so much better
than the hotel!!! Next stop a the
beginning of the tunnels the Japanese had dug under the town of Lae &
apparently went under our hotel several kms away, a church who’s relevance I
missed, then a rundown wildlife park which was pretty sad to see the animals in
captivity. We were told they’d tried to
release the birds back into the wild, but were unable to fend for themselves
& kept coming back to the park to be fed.
we returned to our hotel for a relax until our final dinner back at the yacht
club. I had a sleep, the boys a few
beers, K a read & I think the same for Dad. It was quite surreal at this point to believe
we’d completed our pilgrimage & were about to return home. It felt like it had gone forever, yet at the
same time was over in the blink of an eye.
I wasn't ready for it to be over!Dave
did a little presentation & awarded us each a laminated certificate of
completion which was sweet. He always
finds it rewarding doing treks with people who have a family connection &
in our case the two connections made it all the more special & he has asked
Dad for a photo & more information on Tom to do something with. Despite the fact that his clowning around at
times frustrated me, his passion for what he does, his knowledge & his
crazy sense of humor rendered him overall a pretty good bloke & I was
grateful for the opportunity to have trekked with him. That said there were still a few organisational
issues that need ironing out & a strict policy on NO THONGS of which he is
well aware of :0)!