by Phil Bradley
Photograph from "The
Searchers" of the recovery team looking at one of the Beaufighter
Two Beaufighters from 30th Squadron RAAF departed
from Kiriwina Island on 25th November 1943 to carry out a sweep
for barge traffic around the coast of New Britain from Rangandol
Point to Cape Hoskins. After passing Bangula Bay, heading for home
at 800 feet, Beaufighter A19-139 was seen to roll over on its back
and dive into the jungle at a 45 degree angle. The two crew, pilot
officer Charles Hilton Chapple and flying officer Percy John Coates
were posted as missing.
Bristol Beaufighter Mark XI Serial Number A19-139
Nigh on 52 years later in October
1995, Brian Bennett, a field manager
for a forestry company on New Britain, following a lead from a local
villager, came across the wreckage twelve miles south west of Kimbe.
With him were Rod Marsland and Tony Aldridge, who had managed to land
a helicopter in a nearby creekbed. The wreck was broken apart across
a ridgeline amongst thick jungle and Bennett knew when he saw it that
it had been undiscovered since the war.
Brian Bennett had spent many years looking for such aircraft wrecks
and proceeded to systematically explore the wreck. In a nearby gully
the two Bristol Hercules engines were found and on exploring fuselage
sections the serial number was identified as A19-139. A message was
sent out to the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby and soon
thereafter the RAAF took over the recovery. Due to Brian Bennett's work the RAAF could
be sure of the wreck identity before a crash team were sent in. When
the team went in, the dog tags of both men were found and their identity
further confirmed by a forensic dentist who accompanied the RAAF team.
Wing Commander Bruce Hudson had perhaps the most solemn task as he
contacted Jack Chapple, still living on the family property at Greenthorpe
in the Central west of New South Wales. "We've found your brother's
plane" Hudson told him. A speechless Jack Chapple struggled to
comprehend what that meant. He still remembered the postman coming
to the property with the telegram, and how his mother, heartbroken
by the loss, had gathered her missing son's letters and medals. Later
she would look longingly at a photo of Rabaul's Bita Paka war cemetery
where her son's name was inscribed as missing in action. Jack had
kept it to himself, but he had idolised the older brother who had
gone out to fight for his country, and now he was no longer missing.
On 22nd November 1995, exactly 52 years since they went missing, Charles
Chapple and Percy Coates were laid to rest in Bita Paka war cemetery.
Jack Chapple was there as was the sister of Percy Coates. May the two
brave Australian pilots rest in peace. The story
of Chapple and Coate's plane is one of many fascinating stories of wreck
recovery to come out of the Pacific War.