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.