IN MEMORY - Van Duis passed away March
Tell a little about yourself
My father was a civil servant in the former
Dutch East Indies. He spoke Indonesian, Dutch and German. I am
a product of my father's second wife, an English woman who was
tutor to an aristocratic Indonesian family. My father's first
wife, a Dutch lady, died in a car crash two years before I was
What brought you to PNG after WWII?
My family barely escaped Japanese imprisonment.
My mother had several friends forced into prostitution under the
Japanese occupation of Dutch East Indies. She only spoke of this
once before her death. She kept diaries of the time leading up
to our evacuation to Australia. I started reading them once, when
I was a teenager. They were too distressing. I burned them when
she died. After the war I needed to sew wild oats. I traveled
all over the Pacific, including time as a scrapper in Dobodura and Nadzab. I was
too young to serve in the war, 14 years old when Pearl
Harbor was bombed.
What were the airfields like?
There were hundreds of airframes at Nadzab,
less at Dobodura. I never thought about it then, it was a job.
I was paid well, in Australian Pounds most of which I saved in
a Commonwealth bank account in Sydney, Australia. Nadzab was green
kunai grass - miles and miles of it. Dobodura was hotter . . .
and more humid. More trees at Dobodura - and more snakes.
What discoveries were interesting?
Little Chief Cockeye was the most memorable
aircraft I saw - the noseart was amazing. i have since found out
that it was a copy of some middle-ages art piece - don't know
which. I remember thinking - with this art, this aircraft meant
something special to someone. It is a piece of history and we
should not simply melt it away. Michael
Claringbould gave me the history of this aircraft to me only
recently. It meant little to me - I did not understand the history
at all to be honest. You should look at this through
my eyes - I was in New Guinea only for one year. I had no historical
sense at the time, and I did not fight in the war. The key issue
here is that everyone around me was trying to forget about the
What wa scrapping work like?
I don't recall the 'value' of the scrap. i
was paid a weekly wage by my boss - an Australian who had fought
in the Ramu Valley in 1943 (or so he claimed). When he got drunk
he would get emotional about the war. We would just say, "that's
Bill". Bill Riley would never mention the war except when
he was drunk. He hated the Japs, something about what they did
to a friend of his. We never got the full story from him. The
aircraft were cut up and fed into a smelter. Natives helped us.
It was a hot, dirty and thankless job. But it paid well. I saved
a bucket of money in 1949. I never found
live ordnance. One day i was pulling off a tailplane after unbolting
it. A giant spider leapt out onto my shirt. I think the whole
valley heard the scream. My reflex action caused me to bump my
arm against the tailplane. Nearly broke it.
Did you locate any buried Gear?
No, this type of story was never around in
my time. These types of stories seem to have originated only in
the past ten years - dreamers perhaps? What you must remember
is that there was no reason to bury this material.
Speak about your life after PNG
I became a fitter and turner after the war.
I had trouble getting an apprenticeship in Australia at the time
- I was considered too old at 25, but I think they took pity
on my Dutch history.
from B-25D "Little Chief Cockeye"
I kept the parts in several boxes and thought
nothing of them. I am not getting younger. When I saw Aerothentic
website, and I explained what I had. I hope the parts get to the right families. I collected these bits as I though someone, some day,
somewhere, would be interested. I lead
a quiet life now. My wife died eleven years ago. Thank you for the interview.