by ehistoryadmin on September 8, 2017

The Kildare Observer 15 May 1915

From the Boundary of Civilisation

Naas Man’s Experience

The Story of the Capture of New Guinea

Back from the borders of civilisation with experiences such as fall to the lot of young men of twenty-two, Mr. Peter Lawler, youngest son of Mrs. Lawler, Halverstown, Naas, told me a story during the week, which, for thrills, and as a veracious account of the conquest of the only bit of German territory that has yet fallen to the gun of the British troops during the present war, will be found as interesting as any narrated within the past twelve months. It is a plain, unembroidered story, full of incident and information of the happenings in far-away New Guinea – German New Guinea – dating from the outbreak of war, the tale of how the wings of the Germans were clipped by the sealing up of some of their sources of supply for coal for their ships in the Pacific.

Mr. Lawlor, who is an electrical engineer by profession, left his home for New Zealand some four years ago.  In New Zealand he only remained for twelve months, and as he there developed rheumatics he left for Australia on the advice of his doctor.  Here his worth was soon recognised and within twelve months of his arrival he had secured an important and much coveted position on the electrical engineering staff of the National Insurance Company.  This position he left in August last to join the first Australian Naval and Military Expedition.  And reference to this fact justifies the introduction of a remark which Mr. Lawler dropped in the course of our conversation.  “The Colonies,” he said, seem to me to be much more patriotic at the present time than the old country.  Why, there everybody rushed to the army to help the Empire when the trouble commenced.  Here it seems to require a lot of coaxing to induce men to join. Sydney alone sent sixty thousand men to the colours, and that is something to the credit of a new country.”  But to begin the story –:

“Three days after England declared war on Germany,” said Mr. Lawler, “they called for volunteers in Sydney.  They were looking for marines, but though I was not a marine, I offered myself and was accepted.  Altogether on the first call they got 700 marines and ex-soldiers, and with this batch


five days afterwards in H.M.S. Berrima – which was a P. and O. liner that had been converted into a troopship. Our destination was secret, but proved to be New Guinea.  People at home don’t seem to know much about what happened out there, but elsewhere it was regarded as a very important feather in the British cap that we should have so promptly succeeded.  However, that is by the way, and may I say for the information of those whose geographical knowledge has become rusty that New Guinea is an island lying to the north of Australia.  Having left Sydney, we went along the Australian coast to Palm Island, where we landed and had a fortnight’s training.  Meanwhile the battleship Australia had gone to look for the German fleet, which was known to be in the Pacific.  When she returned to Palm Island we – the Australian fleet accompanied us – moved on to the island of New Guinea, where we landed at Herbertshohe in New Britain. New Britain was at that time a German possession, having been ceded by Britain from some other place and Herbertshohe was a German garrison town.  About twelve miles inland from Herbertshohe was a wireless station, which is


This station we got orders to dismantle, about 100 of us being detailed for the work. We started at 4 o’clock in the morning.  I may mention that marching with the troops through the plantations with the sun 120 in the shade and laden with equipment weighing about 110lbs is no joke.  Added to this the additional consideration that there is no water to be had.  Troops marching there have to carry sufficient water for their needs with them.

“About six miles from the wireless station, that is a mile or so from the first trench of which I shall tell you in a moment, we had a bit of a surprise.  One of our men noticed a German soldier in a tree and about to fire.  He was well up in the tree and one of our men anticipated his intention and fired on him, wounding him in the wrist, and leaving him helpless – his hand was shattered.  It was a lucky thing for us for upon reaching the wounded German and examining the tree we found that there was an electrical contrivance set up in it with a switch.  It was connected with


and portion of our little army had already crossed the mine, which was a trench across the road filled with iron bolts and other metal and a lot of explosives. A touch of the switch and we should have been blown sky high, but the lucky shot of our comrade prevented this.  The man told us afterwards that he had been posted there to explode the mine as we crossed it with our 12-pounder.  Later on we exploded it ourselves as an experiment and you never saw anything like the upheaval of earth there was.  Bolts, earth and stones were hurled into the elements, and trees in the vicinity uprooted by the violence of the shock. Some time later we found another mine, but having seen the havoc produced by the first explosion we didn’t explode this.

“About 5 miles from the wireless station, which it was our duty to tackle, we came across the first trench.  It was occupied entirely by n****** – about 400 of them, native police.  The


and we lost ten men. We were forced to take shelter as they entirely outnumbered us and were no mean shots.  Later we had 150 reinforcements.  This was about 8 o’clock in the morning, and at 3 o’clock that afternoon after a stiff fight we had that trench.  We had brought our 12-pounder gun to bear upon the n******.  The n****** does not mind rifle shooting; he can stand that allright [sic], but the big gun is too much for his nerves.  Those of the n****** who hadn’t deserted the trench and cleared off to other trenches in the rear chucked up the sponge when the heavy gun had fired some shots on the trench and we took 150 prisoners, disarmed them and packed them back to Herbertshohe.

“We got to the second line of trenches about 5 o’clock in the afternoon.  This was occupied by a mixture of n****** and German soldiers.  We opened fire with the 12-pounder and in the attack lost pretty heavily ourselves.  Somewhere about 8 o’clock in the evening that trench fell to us also, and we took about 40 n****** prisoner.  It was dark by this time and the n****** managed to give us the slip and get away through the scrub.  We then marched on the last trench, which lay between us and the wireless station.  We found on approaching the trench that


There were no n****** there. We rested without attacking and at 4 o’clock in the morning the Germans opened fire on us.  We returned the fire and for about two hours the racket went on in pretty lively fashion.  We had previously entrenched ourselves during the night.  I should have told you that our little force was composed of all tough old soldiers, with the exception of six green ones like myself.  Every time a German head came over the trench we popped at it until about 7 o’clock when


We didn’t advance at once fearing this was a ruse and that their intention was to get us out of our trench so as to have a fling at us. When we did advance on the trench we found it deserted save for the bodies of some 10 dead Germans and some wounded.  The Germans had retreated to a place called Tomo, about 19 miles the other side of the wireless station.  We dismantled the wireless station and proceeded to pick up any wounded there were – 24 Germans and about 50 of our own men.  We had to carry the wounded back to Herbertshohe, which was a terrible job, as we had nothing to eat since we left the morning before, and our water supplies had long being consumed.  We left a garrison of 120 men in Herbertshohe and went about the troopship.

“We landed again at a place called Rebaul, 250 miles from Herbertshohe on the same island.  Rebaul is the capital of the island and was


They had thousands of tons of coal stacked there for their warships. As we entered Rebaul they flew the white flag and surrendered, and we hoisted our flag and read the proclamation.  We marched through the town in company with a lot of men off the Australian warships, and met with no opposition.  At 5 o’clock in the afternoon we returned to the ship, when a despatch rider reached our colonel to inform us the Germans were showing fight at Tomo – the place to which they retreated from the wireless station.  Two hundred men, amongst whom I found myself, were sent back to Herbertshohe on the Sydney, which as you may remember was


We reached Herbertshohe about 12 o’clock that night and anchored outside, as there are no wharves there. We were sent to the shore in boats, and when the boat stranded we had to wade the rest of the way.  We slept on the sands in our kits that night, and at 4 o’clock in the morning we marched for Tomo.  The Sydney kept up a steady bombardment over our heads, but Tomo being so far inland, of course, it could not be shelled from the sea.  The Germans, however, reckoned that no white men could march from Herbertshohe to Tomo in one day.  However, we did it in a forced march and got to Tomo about 3.30 in the afternoon, dragging our 12-pounder after us.  The Germans did not expect us that day.  They drink a terrible lot of beer, believing that it keeps off the malaria, and when we reached Tomo they were


There were only about twenty Germans in the trenches with the n******. But what a trench that was!  We found it quite impervious to our shells.  After firing four shots Colonel Watson, our commander, ordered us to retire, as it was not possible to take the trench that night in the darkness.  We were ordered to retreat to our base, which had been made about four miles back.  On our march back a German soldier on horseback overtook us and told us his Government [sic] wished to confer with our commander with regard to making peace.  Our colonel told him through our interpreter, a Frenchman – for the fellow pretended he could speak no English – to tell his Governor to bring in his men and surrender [the] next day, that that was the only peace he could make.  We marched back to Herbertshohe that night, and next day the German Governor came in with 400 German troops and 500 n****** and surrendered.  The Germans were put on the Berrima and sent back to Sydney.  We took the rifles from the n******,


and sent them back to the bush again, as they were harmless without their German masters.

We returned to Rebaul, where there was a garrison of 300 Australian troops, and we proceeded to a place called Madang [sic] on the mainland of New Guinea.  The German Governor had, of course, surrendered Mandang amongst the other places, but some troops there held out on their own, but their numbers were small and they surrendered without much trouble.  We left a garrison of 150 men there.  We next went to the Solomon Islands – Kieta – where there were only about fifty Germans, and they surrendered.  After that we returned to Rebaul, arriving there just at the beginning of the malaria season, which sets in about Christmas.  We lost a lot of men there through fever.

After that we were sent to New Ireland.  There were six Germans on the island who had not come in.  Information of this was given to us by


The Germans got to know that he gave the information, and when he went back they flogged him, but they paid for it afterwards. The garrison came to relieve us on 1st February and we left Rebaul for Sydney on the 18th February, this is about 400 of us who were left out of 1,500 between fever and bullets.  We had spent six months in New Guinea and around it, and the work and climate told so much on us that hardly one of us was


when we reached Sydney.

I should have told you that Rebaul, Kieta and Mandang were important German coaling stations, and as they were taken by us the Germans had nowhere to go for coal but to Chili [sic].  The Australian fleet followed them there only to find that they had cleared round by Cape Horn, where they were met by the British fleet at Falkland Island and were sunk.

Arrived at Sydney our little force was examined and the doctors said we would be unfit for service for nine months owing to the hardships we had endured.  I thought I would come home for a while.


amongst the force, as far as I know, and I believe I am the only one that has yet reached England after the New Guinea expedition.  We were a small force, but we did some useful work, and many a poor fellow who left Sydney with me gave up his life in the doing.  I escaped without a scratch, and was also extremely lucky in escaping the fever which played havoc with our men.

Back from the boundary of civilisation? concluded Mr. Lawler, referring to my comment, “That’s quite true, for we were quite close to the cannibal country.  I should like to tell you something another time about the n****** and their lives and habits.  I’m sure it will interest you.”

Note: Typed as in the original.

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