Sadds Ridge Rd, Charters Towers (Qld) and WWII in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.


This post is really about my husband’s family and some World War II history from Papua New Guinea (then Papua). This story shows how family history intersects with local history and each can complement the other.

Let him tell the story of how this all started:

From the late-1960s my family lived at Alotau, the District Headquarters for the Milne Bay Province, for a number of years and prior to that in Samarai also in the Milne Bay District.  Alotau as a town only came into existence in the mid-1960s but service men and women who were in Milne Bay during World War II may have known the location as Sanderson’s Bay, on the northern side of Milne Bay and to the east of Koiabule (KB) Mission. Sanderson’s Bay is near near where Corporal John Alexander French won his VC  on 4 September 1942.
During a university break in 1968 I was working as a supervisor on Gili Gili Plantation, a copra plantation near Gurney Airstrip. The plantation was essentially a very large clearing in the jungle which cover the ranges of hills surrounding the Bay and extend down across the coastal plains almost to the sea. In 1968, the stands of coconut palms on the plantation were still littered with bomb craters, wrecked military vehicles and other discards of war, including quite a lot of rusted-up weapons and unexploded ordnance; they probably still are!  I was overseeing a “labour line” or work gang using grass knives or “sarifs”, a sort of primitive hand-held scythe, to clean out overgrown parts of the plantation. I was nineteen at the time, the same age as many of the soldiers who had fought over the same country twenty-six years previously.
One of the workers took a chip out of the blade of his sarif on something metal which, when he uncovered it, proved to be a street sign, but not like any street sign I’d ever seen in Papua New Guinea or, indeed, in Brisbane or Melbourne. It was a blue rectangle with a white border carrying the name Sadds Ridge Road. I took the sign home and it has graced the many houses my family of origin and later my wife and I have lived in. While we often wondered where the sign came from, the occasional search of Australian street directories did not help, and we did not solve the mystery until March 2008, although my wife had previously seen an elusive reference to it among the Queensland pension indexes.

We now live in Darwin, and were driving to Cairns on holidays, calling in at cemeteries and Family History Societies along the way, as you do if you are relly-hunting. We stopped in Charters Towers because Pauleen’s great-grandfather Stephen Gillespie Melvin had well-known refreshment rooms and a chocolate factory in Gill Street. We saw a reference to Chinese market gardens at Sadds Ridge – and there you are! I gather the name of the Road was changed to York Street years ago, and this explains why we hadn’t found it previously.
The sign was obviously souvenired and taken to Milne Bay in 1942. While it must have meant quite a bit to someone to go to that much trouble, we have no clue as to their identity – someone who lived on the Road and wanted a reminder of home, or a soldier from somewhere else who wanted a memento of their time in Charters Towers?

So the mystery is: does anyone out there know of a soldier from Charters Towers (there were many) who served in Milne Bay during World War I? It would be intriguing to fill in the final part of the puzzle.

World War I discovery in Milne Bay, Papua

Sadds Ridge Rd sign

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11 thoughts on “Sadds Ridge Rd, Charters Towers (Qld) and WWII in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.

  1. Greetings,
    I cannot help you with your “mystery” question, but my father did spend time in Charters Towers and Milne Bay during WWII. My father passed away when I was to young to ask him about his service time and the countries he served in. Therefore, I am trying to piece together bits of information. The US Army war records repository burned years ago so good information is hard to find.

    I do have a newspaper or magazine article about my dad. It is a letter from a Charters Towers woman to my grandmother that was published somewhere. I have been unsuccessful in identifying where. Here are a few paragraphs from the letter.

    Australian Mother Writes of Local Boy in Foreign Service

    Mr. And Mrs. John H. Collins of Hurontown, whose son Harry Medlin Collins is serving with the U. S. Army in Australia, recently received an interesting letter from an Australian woman, Mrs. Clara L. Crocker of Charles Towers, (Note: I believe the editor made an error when using the name “Charles” instead of Charters Towers?) Queensland, Australia, who recently was a host to Mr. And Mrs. Collins’ son.
    Her letter, in part, follows:
    “It gives me a great pleasure to be able to give you first hand news of your dear son, Harry. He has been my neighbor for three and a half months and left this towns Sept. 12. There was an encampment of about 350 American soldiers in the park opposite my home and your son was one of them. I feel I was led by God to take a candle-light and books to his friend, Ivan Borns. That was shortly after they arrived here, but since then they have had the electric light installed in every tent. There were six men in their tent, and they had camp stretchers and were quite comfortable. (snip)

    If you wish I can send the remaining article. If by chance you know of Mrs. Crocker, I would like to know. She had two daughters. I have pictures of them. They were teenagers during WWII.

    Hope to hear from you.

    Tim

    • hi Tim

      Sorry about the delayed reply -it’s been a bit busy lately. I thought your father’s story was interesting -it brings a personal dimension to the Milne Bay story. I haven’t researched the CHarters Towers military story so was a bit surprised by the American encampment in Charters Towers. I knew they’d been in Townsville which isn’t that far away so perhaps they needed to spread out to accommodate them. Unfortunately I don’t live in Charters Towers so the Crocker family isn’t familiar to me.

      Are you in the States? I wonder if searching the progressively digitised records of Australian newspapers through our National Library might turn up references to his unit? The link is http://newspapers.nla.gov.au/
      It’s very good and very helpful, and as it’s done by OCR it’s better when the newspaper fonts are clearer so you should do reasonably well in the WWII era. If you find that your father did serve around Milne Bay I can recommend a number of good books. You could also try writing to the local newspaper if you thought you’d like to see if any of the Crocker family are still in Charters Towers. Cheers Pauleen

      • Hi – Mrs Clara. L. Crocker is my great aunt but sadly passed away in 1966 – the picture you will have are not daughters as she only had 2 sons – both also sadly passed on however I have contact with one of her grandsons and his wife as well but they are no longer near the Charters Towers area – I also have family that were in the Charters Towers area as well so it makes for interesting research – if you wish to email me at all my email address is raedavies@internode.on.net

        Cheers
        Rae-Marie Davies

      • Thanks for dropping by Rae-Marie. I’ll get in touch with the person who commented about Mrs Crocker and check if it’s okay to pass on his email. It seems there were a lot of families with Charters Towers connections, no doubt why they called it “The World”. What was your family name? Cheers Pauleen

      • Hi Pauleen

        The family names I have in Charters Towers are as follows Jackson(which is Clara Lily Crockers family), Carse, Gourley they all seemed to live in Charters Towers around the same time as each other however the Jackson were not relate to the Carses or Gourley’s but the Carses were to the Gourley’s through marrriage

      • Good to hear from you Rae-Marie. Sadly none of the names tie into my families though it’s quite likely they may have known each other.

  2. My husband’s grandmother, Eva Hassard, was born on Sadds Ridge Road, Charters Towers, in 1890. Not knowing where it was, Google came to the rescue, and up popped your very interesting story. Thankyou very much for sharing it.

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