by Terry Edwinsmith
Some of the strangest stories are fact rather than fiction. This story, I believe falls into this category. Several years ago, I wrote an article for Keith Jackson’s PNG Attitude (as it was then known) about National Service Conscript teachers who served their period of service in the Pacific Islands Regiments with most of my article concentrating on the 1PIR at Taurama Barracks where I served from late 1967 to the end of 1968. (Refer to ‘Armi Wantoks: conscript chalkies and PNG‘)
As a result of this article, a reader responded to the conversation on the blog asking about a certain person who may prove to be a relation of his. I responded, and after some to-ing and fro-ing, it was established that Taurama’s RSM from those times was indeed the uncle of this respondent from the Northern Hemisphere. The RSM was once my superior and a man who came out of his office to personally welcome me to the Regiment upon my appointment, he shook my hand and directed me to the mess accommodation that was to be my home for the next 15 months. This one event proved to be memorable, welcoming and the start of a very positive posting to these Barracks. RSM Fred Wilson was a leader who enjoyed the respect of the entire Battalion. (Refer to ‘WO1 Frederick Wilson RSM, Leader of Men‘) He was a quiet, modest man who was deeply involved in the running of this Australian Army outpost. He was very enthusiastic, hard working and a family man as well. I and my fellow soldiers worked hard to follow Fred’s directions. We all did it for Fred, as no one wished to let Fred down. The Sergeants’ Mess was a harmonious place. Families would meet together at the mess on weekends and for special occasions.
For a short time, I worked in the picturesque administration building near Fred’s office. Often at morning tea and lunch time, I would walk with the RSM from his office back to the Sergeants’ Mess for a meal. Fred was double my age during this period of my life. We got on well. Everyone got on well with our RSM, a Leader of Men. One little project that Fred and a few of his engineering mates involved themselves with, especially at weekends, was to build a new annex to the newly completed Sergeants’ Mess building. This was a labour of love, but also a ‘boys’ project that men like to get up to in their spare time. This annex would benefit the existing soldiers and their families as well as all those who came after.
Alas, on a typical hot Port Moresby day, together with roofing duties in that heat followed by a cold refreshing drink, proved too much for Fred’s heart to take, this one fateful weekend morning. Fred died at the age of 43 years, leaving behind a young wife and two children under the age of 4 years. The event shocked us all. Almost the entire battalion turned out for Fred’s funeral. He was laid to rest in the Taurama Barracks’ Cemetery. His young family departed for Australia soon after. This was 1968.
Fred Wilson’s short life reads like an adventure! He was born in the UK, placed in an orphanage at the age of 8 to become a St Barnardo’s boy, separated from his brother and other siblings and he was then sent to Australia to be placed in a Fairbridge Home in Pinjarra, Western Australia. He survived in this environment until the outbreak of World War 11 where he was trained for the Australian Airforce. This led him to be posted back to the UK where he took up a position as tail gunner in a Lancaster Bomber. After surviving for more than a year with the RAF in a variety of combat positions, he returned to Australia at war’s end to join the Australian Army for almost 20 years service both locally and overseas. A colleague once remarked that he had never seen a soldier with more medals and ribbons than Fred. His untimely death was a loss to his family and the Australian Army. A truly remarkable life!
Forty odd years later, I am having correspondence with Fred’s nephew who was hoping that I might help him find his ‘lost’ cousins in Australia, people he had never met. The pair of us pursued several lines of enquiry without much success. At about the same time, Fred’s daughter happened upon Keith Jackson’s website, read the afore mentioned story and the ensuing comments from her cousin then added her own comment to the commentary. Again with some to-ing and fro-ing, the cousins from different hemispheres were united on-line after establishing each others ‘bona fides’. A truly remarkable event had occurred!
Fast forward to August 2011 and myself with several Taurama ‘old boys’ made a pilgrimage back to 1PIR outside Port Moresby. I was anxious to see Fred’s grave after all these years. Alas the ‘raskals’ had beaten me to it and all of the metal plaques from almost all of Taurama Cemetery’s graves were missing. Fred’s wife had recently died prior to our visit and wished to have her remains interred with those of her husband. The family found out about this dire situation of the missing plaques. Indeed other families also found that they were in the same predicament as the Wilsons. (Refer to ‘Turning PNG’s rich history into Scrap Metal.‘)
Negotiations did take place and I am pleased to report that with the assistance of the Military staff at 1RPIR, the Australian RSL Port Moresby Sub branch plus others in government and the families concerned, three graves were rededicated on 25th September 2013 with newly engraved headstones. Other internees may one day receive similar treatment.
The very well respected National, WO1 Osi is a case in point. RSM Osi has suffered a similar fate to those of his comrades. Osi was a giant among men, a World War 11 veteran who retired as the first National RSM of Taurama Barracks, an example to everyone who knew him, but was no match for the ‘raskals’ destruction. RIP Osi and to the others whose bodies lie unmarked in their graves at Taurama, Badihagwa or other cemeteries throughout PNG.
For further reading on military topics in PNG, please refer to other articles on this website www.NashosPNG.com. Photos of the rededication ceremony have been kindly supplied by members of the Port Moresby Sub branch of the RSL (See www.pomrsl.com). I thank them for their contribution.
(See also the article RSL & ADF restore & rededicate Taurama army graves in ‘Keith Jackson & Friends:PNG ATTITUDE’)
Port Moresby Sub Branch of the Returned and Services League of Australia
Re-Dedication of the Taurama Headstones and Plinths
Wednesday 25th September 2013
Master of Ceremonies (Mick Rice):
On behalf of the President and members of the Port Moresby Sub Branch I welcome you here today on this solemn occasion of the rededication of these Australians at rest here in Taurama Barracks. The Sub Branch recognises the tireless and combined efforts of Ian Loftus, son of Captain Robert Loftus, Captains Daryl Bachelor and Jake Osborne the previous and current Australian Defence Liaison Officers attached to 1 RPIR and Jason Daniels from the Office of Australian War Graves all of who have worked towards the common goal of making this important event to occur.
Chaplain (Major Philip Maxwell): We have heard with our ears, O God – our fathers have told us – what work thou didst in their days, in the time of old. Surely I will never forget any of their works. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. We call upon you, O Lord, in the day of trouble as thou sayest, “I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me.” Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the fountain of the world. Amen.
RSL Sub Branch President (Glenn Maitland): Not for fame nor reward, Not for place or for rank, Not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity, But in simple obedience to duty as they understood it, These men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all. This is their final Bivouac, their eternal sleep as they rest under this Hallowed Ground. “Strike the Tent”, for we will “cross over the river and rest under the shade of the tree.”
Australian Defence Attaché (Colonel Dick Parker): The earth hides their human frailties from our sight for ever. Soon we too will fold our hands in peaceful repose and lay down beside them. There shall be no awakening until the bugler plays Reveille and shall rouse the slumbering millions to answer to their names before the Great Creator of the Universe on Resurrection Day. Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee that it might be displayed because of the truth.
MC: I now invite Major Deslea Maxwell to uncover the headstone of Judith Margaret Barrett and lay flowers.
I now invite Colonel Dick Parker to move forward and uncover the headstone of Captain Robert Loftus.
I now invite Glenn Maitland to move forward and uncover the headstone of Warrant Officer Class 1 Fredrick Wilson and his wife Vera.
Chaplain: Closing prayer.
End of Service