FRANK Wells has a vivid memory of being called into
the principal's office at Ballarat College soon after his brother Geoff
went missing in action during a 1943 torpedo attack on Japanese shipping
at Rabaul in Papua New Guinea.
"I was 16 when he was killed. Geoff was only 20. He
was a great fellow, good at cricket and football _ he was a normal young
Australian man,'' Mr Wells recalled yesterday at Melbourne's Glen Waverley
``I still remember being told the principal wanted
to see me. Yeah ... it was pretty traumatic alright. Mum took it very
The remains of radio operator and air-gunner Flying
Officer Geoff Wells, pilot Flight Sergeant Jack Woodgate, navigator
Flight Sergeant Stewart Drakes and radio operator and gunner Flight
Sergeant Byron Maclean were recovered last week from the sandy bottom
of the Solomon Sea near the island of Kawa in the Trobriands.
The wreck was originally discovered in January last
year. The original 1943 search found a fuel tank which can still be
seen in the island's only village.
Dog-tags and dental records have confirmed their identity
and relatives of Woodgate, Maclean and Wells located after a two-week
search. So far, however, Flight Sergeant Drakes's next of kin have not
been found. (Contact Greg Williams on (02) 6265 1027 with any information.)
Ken Maclean from central Queensland, whose brother Bryon, 22, also died
in the crash of the Australian-built Beaufort fighter-bomber, recalled
a sibling seven years older who had a great enthusiasm for life. He,
too, has sharp memories of his elder brother.
``He loved riding. He loved all horse sports, bullock
riding and anything to do with country life,'' Mr Maclean said.
``When Byron was killed, he wasn't flying with his
regular crew who all survived the war. They were a man short, so he
volunteered for that mission. `It was devastating for the family.''
Mr Maclean was the youngest of four brothers. The eldest,
Malcolm, was a Mosquito pilot attached to the RAF in England. He was
killed in 1944. ``Bryon had been awarded the British Emprire Medal in
training when an aircraft crashed at Canberra airport. The wind changed
180 degrees and the pilot hadn't realised. Byron and his mate got out
but went back for the navigator, who was unconscious, and for the body
of the pilot who had been killed.
``He got them out before the aircraft caught fire and
Mr Wells's wife Bet said they had named their son Geoffrey
Stewart after her husband's brother.
``He was like a replacement,'' Mrs Wells said.
The family of Jack Woodgate have requested their privacy
be preserved. In May, the four airmen will be buried with full military
honours in the Bita Paka war cemetery at Rabaul where they will rest with 1000 Allied
war dead including two RAAF Beaufighter crew members Robert Stone and
Edward Morris-Hadwell whose remains were buried last year 57 years after
they were killed near Rabaul.