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Rodney Pearce
Tell a little about yourself & background

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 1963).

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 content.

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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.

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