I grew up in Rabaul and Lae in Papua New Guinea, and
my fondest memories are of Rabaul, for its volcanoes and Japanese caves which
were a little boys delight. Later the family moved to Lae (about
My brother and myself used to explore the caves behind
our house and were always dragging home bullets, bombs and anything
that looked like it may be dangerous and hiding it under the house or
in our rooms. Later we would examine the object in question more closely
with a hammer or hacksaw to see how the thing worked. My memory would
put this era about 1956 only some 11 years after the war finished and
Rabaul still had a lot of its defense guns lying about in the mountains
surrounding the town. Both of us used to pester my father to drive us
to the old Japanese airfields and gun emplacements around Rabaul, where
we would clamor all over these weapons of war and explore to our hearts
I was obsessed with diving for as long as I can remember,
and it was proximally 1960 that I first had a scuba tank on my back
for the first time. From there I never looked back. We moved to Lae
about 1963 and it was with tears in my eyes that we left our favorite
bomb dumps behind and moved to new ones.
Boarding school started for me in Australia in 1964
so had to put a temporary stop to my exploring the tunnels of Lae and
the like. On our holidays from school we returned to Lae where I used
to get my father to take us to the American war time air base of Nadzab
some 15 miles from Lae. Hours were spent going over this fascinating
base, driving down taxi ways and going over the old airstrips. .(I learnt
to drive on Newton field) I remember piece's of old planes just lying
about in the various dumps and of course we were always on the look
out for memorabilia to drag home.
I was always obsessed with diving and brought my first
diving set in Australia while still at boarding school and spent many
hours when back in Papua New Guinea exploring the wreck of the Tenyo
Maru at the end of Lae Airfield.
Also the waters around Salamaua, a former Japanese
base some 20 miles south from Lae and it was here that I found my first
wreck (about 1968) that of a Japanese troop carrier of 6000 tones, the
Yokohoma Maru, sunk March 1942 by aircraft from the Yorktown and Lexington.
How did you interest in history begin?
My father was involved in WWII was in convoys
in the North Atlantic and also the Indian Ocean. He never really talked
about his experiences except to tell a few stories of ships disappearing
in the middle of the night, the hardships and the futility of war.
I guess he lost many friends and saw many things that he would rather
forget. He did tell me of coming into bomb bay I think it was several
days after an ammunition ship exploded in Bombay Harbour and finding
the wharf area and all around it just flattened. Limbs were left hanging
from trees and poles and the stench he said you could smell it from
many miles out.
My parents never really influenced me in my passion
for memorabilia of the war years except to say "don't go near there,
don't go near there" but I was hooked and a dark Japanese cave
was all I needed to get excited. I never really found much in the caves
of Rabaul or Lae.
I remember a very good friend of mine Dave Pennefather and myself did a stint in my old boat around Arawe, Cape Gloucester, Gasmata and other Japanese held
areas in perhaps one of the last souveniour hunts of the 20th century.
These were in the days when souvenir hunting was looked upon as a right.
We returned to Lae some 3-4 weeks later with the back
hatch full with lovely trinkets of war. The best we had was an iron
box we had found and when we opened it, it contained a complete 88mm mortor
sight, still packed in greese proof paper
and wood wool. This sight is now in a private museum in Adelaide Australia
and this was just one of the finds.
Next Question | Rod
Pearce Main Page