They Also Served – Joan’s Story

 

Joan Mary Bell

My mother was very different from my grandmother. And hers is a different story. Yet again a story of heartache, despair and loss, exacerbated by the Japanese invasion of New Guinea in January 1942.

Her antecedents are clouded; born to Molly, an unmarried mother in Cottesloe, W.A. in 1914. The circumstances of her birth haunted her in later life. When she met my father she was Joan Mary Ifould of Boram Plantation, T.N.G., adopted daughter of plantation owner Tom Ifould, a WW1 veteran of Gallipoli and France, Military Medal for gallantry. Prior to that she’d been educated in Sydney, studied art and drawing, enjoyed the social whirl of the big city.

Tom Ifould didn’t appreciate the attention being paid to his only daughter Joan by then schooner-master Lincoln Bell. His consent to a marriage was violently refused. So Joan eloped with my father.

Not quite as easy as it sounds.

Bilola

In about 1981 I received a handwritten note and photograph, given to a friend of mine for me from an old bloke in a local pub “just passing through”. Part of it reads, referring to the photo of a schooner in a bay –

“Lincoln Bell’s ketch Bilola at Sib Sib (Sek Island off Alexishaven) after he eloped with Joan Ifould from Boram.

Tom Ifould chased them in the Manuan but Manuan was too slow.

 

Lincoln married Joan and Franz Maeder, a quarter caste, married Maliss a native girl who was brought up European style with Joan. Both eloped….Sorry photo so small.”

Repercussions of the elopement and the chase, armed with guns, reverberated. Tom Ifould cut his adopted daughter off and never spoke to her again, would have nothing to do with any of the Bell family.

So at 22, still haunted by her birth and traumatized by her father’s reaction, my mother’s life changed again. From the plantation to a schooner. Some good and exciting years, years that must have softened the pain – until I arrived!

So now we have a young mother in Kavieng, where she and my father made their home.

But the drums of war were beating. Japan was swarming over S.E. Asia on its way to Singapore. Its attack on Pearl Harbour brought home the reality. War was coming to my parents’ piece of paradise.

All too soon, invasion was imminent. Evacuation orders were received and like other women my mother left New Guinea on short notice, with few possessions, one three year old and little money. We went to Tasmania, first to Sandy Bay, then to Oatlands where Joan’s mother Molly and her then husband Nick Carter operated the Midlands Hotel.

My father, Lincoln Bell, and I at Kokopo, PNG

Not a good move. Molly eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver and Nick enjoyed a glass or two. My mother’s vulnerable state succumbed to alcohol. She must have felt very alone in Oatlands.

Her husband’s family was geographically shattered, her home taken over by an invading enemy, her father wouldn’t talk to her, stories of Japanese atrocities were circulating, her husband Lincoln was somewhere in New Guinea as one of Eric Feldt’s coast watchers, eventually prominent in Feldt’s iconic book “The Coast Watchers.”

To add more stress to the separation, she could learn nothing about my father. She didn’t know whether he was alive or dead. No government department could or would let her know where he was, how he was. Bureaucracy in the form of the major in charge of paying allotments to wives of servicemen initially refused to pay her Lincoln’s allotment. Why? Because he hadn’t signed the form! Of course… No matter that he was in mostly Japanese occupied territory.

All these pressures must have combined with the other stresses in my mother’s life.

My mother and I in Tasmania @ 1942

I remember one day in the Midlands Hotel kitchen. My mother was leaning back against an open green metal breadbin. The telegram boy came in, handed her an envelope. The kitchen went deathly quiet as she tore it open. It was, of course The Telegram, the one nobody ever wanted to receive. My mother passed out and fell backwards amongst the bread, feet in the air. She went to her bedroom for a long time, days. At the time I had no idea what had happened.

My mother took me to Cairns in 1945 to be with my grandmother Ethel, both women coping with loss and lack of information. We lived in a flat in Sheridan Street opposite the old Polar Star Iceworks, later a house in Lake Street. Money must have been very tight for them, both battling government departments for their entitlements. Both wondering what was going to happen.

In Cairns my mother learned the fate of my father. I quote from Eric Feldt in “The Coast Watchers” –

“The natives were impressed by the Jap numbers and terrified by the savage punishments meted out to those … who disobeyed. A few remained loyal to the Coast Watchers…but some openly assisted the Japs. Bell, Laws and Shultz…left (Saidor) for Bena Bena on 2nd May 1941. Bell and Laws had come through much more dangerous situations, and this, merely to walk out to safety (from the Rai Coast to Port Moresby! -Ed.) appeared to be the easiest assignment they had yet been given. For a year however, nothing more was heard… after the reconquest of that part of the country, it was learnt that natives had treacherously killed them. The natives met them in friendship and were carrying their equipment, when…they turned on the three and killed them. The loss of Bell and Laws was a severe blow. Bell was of the courageous, self-reliant breed of whom there never could be too many.”

From the Pacific Islands Monthly, September 1945 –  “…(Lincoln Bell was caught in an ambush, and was killed by a shower of arrows at close range.”

This was too much for my mother. She became addicted to alcohol and slowly disintegrated, physically and mentally.

With increasing alcoholism came a change I didn’t as a child understand. I often had to help my grandmother roll my mother into bed, but my grandmother bore the brunt of the clean-ups, the irrational tantrums. My relationship with my mother deteriorated. It had no chance – a traumatized woman sliding into alcoholism and a boy old enough to be aware but too young to understand or provide much-needed support.

She told me several times I had a sister younger than I, but the baby was taken by a crocodile. She had a photo of where it happened. I can’t confirm this; it may have been an alcohol generated delusion. But whatever, it was real to her. Yet another demon for her to struggle with.

In Cairns, my mother and grandmother learned of the loss of Don on the Montevideo Maru. He’d been captured in Rabaul. More pressure on my mother’s foundering psyche. Many years later, after my grandmother died and my mother was beyond caring, the true story of the Kavieng Massacre and the war crimes trials came to light.

My mother’s condition deteriorated in Cairns until things reached the inevitable climax. I was sent off to boarding school. Only communication by letter, and of course in her condition she didn’t write anything. She was involved in an accident, breaking her hip. Later she was court certified, her belongings confiscated by the State and she was confined to a mental institution where she died some 15 years later. Another victim of the trauma of war.

I was the only attendee at her funeral.

My other and I at Kokopo, PNG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

  • ‘The Kavieng Massacre – A War Crime Revealed’ by Raden Dunbar
  • ‘Pacific Islands Monthly’ September 1945

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Eighty Years, Bookended by Kavieng … Part Two

Lissenung Island, Kavieng … continues

One late afternoon two boats took us to a spot in “Eickstedt Passage in the middle of a triangle formed by Nago, Edmago and Usien islands” (from ”The Kavieng Massacre” by Raden Dunbar).

My grandfather John William Bell was one of the survivors of the Kavieng PoW camps garrotted by the Japanese, their bodies weighted with concrete and dumped in this deep water. Convicted at eventual war crimes trials, the camp commandant who issued the execution order was duly executed, others involved sentenced to varying gaol terms.

I wanted our family’s younger ones to be aware of their family’s history in PNG from 1926 to 1951, encompassing the destruction of WW2.  Too few Australians have much awareness of Australia’s close involvement with the country so near to our north.

A quarter century of family history, the wartime deaths of three out of five male family members, the dislocation of so many lives by the Japanese invasion, all given impact and immediacy by being where it all happened.

 

 

 

 

 

Dietmar and Ange organized two wreaths, one frangipanis, the other heliconias weighted down with bits of shell and coral collected by our group.

Under a dramatic sunset sky, clouds changing from pink to purple, we lowered the wreaths into the glassed-off darkening sea. I said a few words covering the Japanese invasion, evacuation, my grandfather’s incarceration, and the massacre.

I touched on the Montevideo Maru, and the loss of my uncle Don Bell on that ship, as well as my father Lincoln’s role as a Coast Watcher, his work in the evacuation from Rabaul, and his death behind the Rai Coast in 1943. Bruce played The Last Post on his bagpipes, the plaintive notes setting a sombre mood, then followed with a bracket of pipe favourites. An emotional time, a poignant history lesson. Wet eyes all round, even the boat boys. A history lesson to be absorbed and remembered.

 

 

Kavieng markets saw a visit. A new experience for the younger ones – and some of the older – who checked out the local artifacts and produce, especially buai. And of course that night at dinner everyone inspected the day’s haul of carvings and ornaments.

We’d booked for a week, but when Dietmar and Ange mentioned a gap before the next guests were due to arrive, we didn’t hesitate. Unanimous decision to stay a few extra days.

Unfortunately, Stuart and Sharyn with Maggie and George, as well as Lucie and Dan, had work commitments, so couldn’t stay over. They left us in the middle of a blinding rain shower, perfectly timed for a wet trip in an open boat. A trip they will remember.

I’d arranged to catch up with Jim Ridges, and he kindly joined us for a half day bus trip. The bus was ours, and headed off down Boluminski Highway after Kavieng, with Jim pointing out where Les Bell’s engineering (read “New Guinea Engineer” by Gillian Heming Shadbolt) had been, where the hospital I was born in had been until the devastation of war, and other landmarks.

And oral history, delivered from Jim’s extensive store of knowledge, the best way for young (and old) people to absorb. We visited and paid our respects at the memorial to civilians, which includes the names of my grandfather (Kavieng Massacre) and uncle (Montevideo Maru).

We called in on the eels, still run by the same lady as in 2002. Cathy, once a senior air hostess for Air Niugini, had flown all over the world until she came back to New Ireland to raise children village-style. Sixteen years and the eels don’t seem to have changed!

At a stop for lunch, our bus owner driver John Knox (see Knoxies Place Kavieng – accommodation, bus etc) had a razor sharp machete fall on his foot, cutting deep into his big toe.

Our in-house nursing sister Penny had a supply of bandages and medications, and she operated, while Carol held the skin together, and the uncomplaining Knoxie stoically stood there using his mobile phone to photograph the damage.

On our 2002 visit we’d stayed at the Kavieng Hotel and remembered that the food then had been excellent. So on our overnight stay at Kavieng Niu Lodge for the return trip, we booked into the hotel restaurant. Again, the meal was excellent. A lot of changes to the hotel in sixteen years.

 

We flew out of Kavieng for Rabaul the next day at 0630. Not without drama – again just to remind us that this is, after all, PNG – when Carol and I, Lincoln and Diana presented our confirmed tickets at the counter we were told “you aren’t on the manifest” and so couldn’t board the aircraft. After a lot of talking and telephoning, they waved us through.

This was repeated in Port Moresby, where time was an issue due to a 55 minute connecting flight and a busy terminal. Jacquie left us to the luggage and ran to the ticketing counter where she talked us onto the Cairns flight. We made it onto the aircraft well after boarding was called. Not so lucky were Stuart and Sharyn, Maggie and George, when they left a couple of days earlier. On the return trip their plane was diverted to Lae, causing them to miss their Brisbane flight. They were able to get a later flight to Cairns before continuing.

So that was my 80th birthday. Very emotional, and so very satisfying to see all the family enjoying themselves, their company, and the island.

Every night was a “Happy Birthday” night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eighty Years, Bookended by Kavieng … Part One

June 1938 – I first arrived in Kavieng via the hospital, aged 0.

June 2018 – I last arrived in Kavieng via Air Niugini, aged 80.

Where did all those years go?

Early this year several family members decided to celebrate my big 80 in Kavieng. Seventeen were able to attend, a formidable logistical exercise. Transport, accommodation, activities, meals for three generations, only a few of whom had ever been to PNG.

 

Lissenung Island – www.lissenung.com – is 15 minutes by boat from Kavieng. A dedicated dive resort on a stunningly beautiful island, we took over all its accommodation and booked the island for a week. Then the planning began, ten coming from Queensland (two flying out of Cairns, two out of Townsville, seven Brisbane), four NSW, one Victoria , one from the USA and one from Tahiti.

Jacquie shouldered the unenviable burden of coordinating all the flights into POM and on to KVG and return, making sure everyone had their travel documents in order. The ladies at Air Niugini were so helpful in their friendly laid-back manner, and assisted with accommodation in Kavieng pre- and post-Lissening. But this is PNG after all, and the inevitable few hiccups added to the sense of adventure for the younger ones.

The staff at Kavieng Niu Lodge were excellent, collecting us from and returning us to Kavieng airport without fuss and within time. Arriving on the daily late afternoon flight, we stayed there overnight. Next morning they delivered us to the wharf to be collected by the Lissenung boats.

Despite confirmed tickets, Penny, Matt and Bodie didn’t make that flight, being bumped in POM, unlucky enough due to baggage delays to be at the wrong end of the queue to board the onward flight. They had to overnight Moresby, so arrived at Lissenung in the early dark of the following evening.

  

 

Delivered by the boat boys from Kavieng wharf to the island’s beautiful sand beach and crystal water, we were welcomed by Dietmar and Ange, the resort owners, who proceeded to spoil us for the next week. Accommodation was clean, cool and tropical. Elevated and flyscreened, native materials, ensuites, we could not have wished for better. Each hut has two bedrooms and is separated from the others for privacy. Thankfully no television and only limited internet. Sand paths, raked continually, link the huts and the restaurant, office, other buildings.

Everyman’s idea of a tropical island paradise, Lissenung is a jungle covered atoll, surrounded by reef and sandy beaches. You can swim around it, snorkelling over beautiful coral and masses of coloured fish, or walk around it, stepping into the sea here and there to negotiate leaning jungle trees festooned with orchids, ferns and Ant Plants. Every day a large school of Big Eye Trevally patrolled the main beach and the house reef, maybe a thousand (you ever tried to count fish?) or so. A pet Eclectus parrot flits unrestrained through the trees, drops into the office to say hullo and cadge something to eat.

All those suitably qualified went diving, everyone snorkelled every day, Dietmar organized a fishing trip for those keen, and even a crabbing expedition.

All the younger ones had dive tickets, and their excitement after each dive was contagious. Crystal clear water, ship and aircraft wrecks, glorious coral, colourful fish and streamlined sharks, what more could a diver want?

I’ve spent a lifetime diving, and watching the next generations enjoying the pastime in such a setting made a special birthday even more so.

The kids decided that “Lissenung” means “Paradise.” Fabulous setting, hosts and staff wonderful, weather perfect – blue skies, calm water, occasional afternoon showers, breezes came and went. Evenings delightfully cool for a group including third, fourth and fifth generations born north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Clear water. And no stingers! No Irukandji, no Chironex Rex. Nor any sandflies, and we struggled to find a mosquito. Paradise indeed.

The sand floored dining room is a great setting for a party…  every night! Our hosts turned on a magnificent birthday dinner, complete with chocolate cake and candles.

All meals surprised us in quality and variety, especially considering the remoteness of the island and the logistics of feeding so many. Lobster, fish, crab, salad, veggies – we have two vegans, yet they were catered for too.

Every meal was excellent. The shy kitchen girls must have been on a mission to fatten us up, because second helpings appeared unrequested for the insatiable 20-year olds.

There wasn’t one meal of the nearly 400 that deserved any form of complaint. And my chocolate birthday cake disappeared like snow on the beach.

A visit to nearby Enuk Island, the home village for Lissenung staff, enabled us to meet and mingle. Holiday time, many locals had gone to Kavieng to watch the football, so the school was closed.

We didn’t get to meet the kids in their classroom, but touch footy games were running, and we joined the watchers.

We’d brought with us some fifty-odd tennis balls, eagerly caught by laughing children. We’d tested our AirNiugini baggage limits with a heap of school supplies – books, pencils, erasers etc – and left these with our hosts for later distribution.

In 2002 Carol and I and son Lincoln went to Kavieng for the PNGAA memorial establishment. While there we took a banana boat with Scott and Margaret (also Kavieng born) Henderson, to Enelaua where my liklik dokta father Lincoln Bell as district GMO in the 1930’s established a leper station. I’m indebted to Jim Ridges for his research paper detailing this. Then over to Ranmalek on Lavongai, where Margaret’s father Tom Simpson (“Yours Sincerely, Tom” written by Margaret) ran a mission prior to WW2. We passed Lissenung back then, never imagining we would one day stay there.

Sixty-eight years separate me from grandson George. With no one else in our group under twenty, he busied himself creating a video from edited stills of his sand-built race track, and struck up a friendship with Elijah, the young son of Boston and his wife Margaret from Enuk.

 

Both parents work at Lissenung, Boston on the boats. He was in charge of our mudcrabbing expedition. “Women’s work,” he claimed.

 

 

 

 

Peni, another of the island’s boat/diving crew, ever helpful, kept everything running smoothly during tank dives.

Possessed of a wonderful ability to calm the over excited nerves of our newbies – and some not so newbies – for the deeper dives, his natural air of calm confidence turned each experience into something magical.

 

 

 

 

continued in Part Two …

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Sayonara to the Land of the Sakura

From Niigata we catch the bullet to Tokyo, passing snow clad mountains and many tiny farms.

Big improvement weather wise from our inward journey. The elegant old Tokyo Station is visible from our hotel, so we can’t get lost here. Can we?

We lashed out to hire a guide for 6 hours. A lovely young mother of two, Yuka speaks perfect English, knows her city, and we have a whirlwind of alleys, fish market, subways and an old park.

 

 

 

In the middle of a major metropolis, the park struggles to compete with some of the more regional ones we’ve seen, but still manages to produce cherry blossoms and carefully manicured eye-scapes.

In an open area, hundreds of plastic markers are being laid out to control queues expected for the afternoon brief baby panda viewing. Poor panda, patient patrons.

Nothing to her, Yuko walks deceptively quickly, and I wonder how she can take such long steps. We go through the very old and soon to be relocated fish markets, the biggest in Japan, where motorized trolleys driven by formula-1 drivers hurtle around the congested walkways.

Authentic sushi for lunch – every item delicious.

Then through a maze of narrow streets and old buildings. Everything clean and neat. So many people.

Left to our own devices the next day we succeed in getting lost, but delightfully so, in the centre of this busy city. Navigation technique…let’s  go this way, that way, every way, look at it all, then when weary grab a cab home.

Tomorrow it’s back to Oz, and we’ll  see how Cyclone Iris treated us.

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A Crane in Kyoto?

The 8th century capital of Japan continues our cherry blossom overload. The short lived petals are beginning to fall, in delicate pink-tinged white showers.

We check out the Golden Pavilion, Kinkajuji Temple, a Zen temple and world heritage site. It’s Easter, holiday time and we learn the meaning of mass tourism. Sardines in a school of seemingly millions. The temple, covered in gold leaf is crowned by a golden rooster, dates from the 14th century.

 

We wrongly identify a large heron reflected in the mirror-like lake. It wasn’t  a crane after all. Eventually the sheer numbers of people get to him, and he flaps ponderously away.

 

Along with the seething hordes, we walk and gawk at the huge bamboo forest, before visiting the 1603 built Nijo Castle.

This ancient and sprawling cypress building oozes power, the strength of the Tokugawa clan.

 

Incongruously, we come across a concours d’elegance…half a dozen beautiful Alfa Romeos in a courtyard, with movie cameras filming models promoting the beautiful vehicles.

Sorry sir I didn’t see the red rope that we climbed over to see the cars!

 

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Hagi … Cherry Blossom Capital, Japan

Back out of the Inland Sea and into the Sea of Japan that has the decided it’s  been too kind for us.

I have spent all my life on, and in, the water … in boats from 12 feet to an aircraft carrier, and I’m  seasick for the first time ever. Damn, it was such a nice breakfast, too.

Quickly recovering, we arrive at Hagi. Now I’m  no travel agent, however put this place on your bucket list for when the cherry blossoms are blooming.

Apparently this is the best flowering for many years and we are here right at the peak of it.

Words cannot do these flowers justice, so I’ll  let the trees themselves do the talking in pictures, other than to say – visit Shuzuki Park, Hagi Castle, with between five and six hundred trees in full bloom.

We visit, too, the Samurai quarter, where Japan’s ancient revolution began.

But my mind can’t  go past the ‘chelly brossoms‘.

Miyajima2

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Magnificent Miyajima (Itsukushima)

Still in the Inland Sea, we anchor off the tiny island of Miyajima, population about 15,000.29893621_754637861401186_86831860_o

A bit like Airlie Beach, the approaches are shallow so we Zodiac into a sandy beach at high tide, and walk along the foreshore.

Around a little headland we are presented with an absolutely beautiful little town, cherry blossoms blazing.

Its main feature is an open winding wooden structure built over the water (at high tide) used for functions, weddings, and just wandering around.

A traditional wedding is under way as we walk around.

At low tide fresh water bubbles up through the exposed sand, forming small ponds.

The gate leads to the Itsukushima shrine, so we climb up to this old structure and its incredibly detailed gardens.

The buildings are reminiscent of Bhuddist shrines in Tibet, and prayer wheels form central handrails to the stone steps.

Known as The Shrine Island, Miyajima boasts one of the three most beautiful views of Japan, the floating Tori Gate, dating back to the 6th century.

Built of camphor wood from huge trees, it presents a maintenance problem because every old camphor tree in Japan that’s  big enough for the job is separately heritage listed.

 

And the cherry blossoms…