Decades of uncertainty and years of searching have come to an end for two Australian families, near Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. Today the crew of a Royal Australian Air Force Beaufighter was buried with full military honours at Bita Paka War Cemetery, 57 years after they were reported missing in action.
The crew’s remains were recovered last month, only a short distance away, near the wreck of Beaufighter A19-97 that crashed 40 kilometres south-east of Rabaul on the island of New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
Flight Lieutenant Derrick Robert Stone (Pilot) and Flying Officer Edward Burford Morris-Hadwell (Wireless Air Observer), of 30 Squadron, flew with a large force of allied aircraft involved in an attack on Tobera airfield and were last seen climbing to attack a Japanese fighter on the 12th of October 1943. The accounts of other crews on the raid indicate they turned back to help another Australian aircraft that was under attack from a number of Japanese planes.
The young women and men at today’s ceremony serve in an era of supersonic jets and peace keeping missions, far removed from a world war fought in piston driven aircraft. Today they gained a new understanding of the Royal Australian Air Force, as they laid to rest two of ‘their own’.
Following the discovery of the remains RAAF forensic specialists worked with local people to clear and investigate the crash site in a coconut plantation. The airmen were positively identified and the crash site has been marked with a memorial plaque.
Both of the deceased airmen had been listed on the Monument to the Missing at the Bita Paka War Cemetery, Rabaul. The Air Force located a number of relatives of the Beaufighter crew and brought them from as far as Perth to attend the funeral. They included Flight Lieutenant Stone’s daughter, born only a few days after his death, and two of his grandsons. Flying Officer Morris-Hadwell’s two nieces and a nephew were also at the grave side.
Also on hand was one of Ted and Derrick’s old squadron mates from the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Flight Lieutenant George Robertson represented the thousands of men and women who served with the RAAF, and the bond of comradeship with those who did not return.
The Royal Australian Air Force buiried two of its men with full military honours, today, at Bita Paka War Cemetery in Papua New Guinea. A release is attached.
An Air Force camera team will provide pool ENG and a roll of film to be sent via courier from Rabaul to Port Moresby immediately after the ceremony and very effort will be made to dub audio to mini disc for radio use.
The pool reel will cover a visit to the crash site late yesterday by relatives of the pilot, FLTLT Stone, as well as today’s ceremony at Bita Paka, (Pron. Bitter Parker). Interviews will be tagged at the head.
ABC and AAP bureaux in Moresby will have access to the material, which is available to all outlets.
Please note: a short reel of historic film is included, courtesy of ScreenSound Australia. For your returns the details are: CINESOUND REVIEW NO.0594. Copyright contact: Film World Pty Ltd.
There is no telephone contact at Bita Paka cemetery, which is some distance from the town of Rabaul.