Living conditions at Wards were basic with tents for protection against the elements and kerosene lamps for lighting. Food was supplied by the Army once a week and consisted of tinned or dehydrated food though on very rare occastions some fresh vegetables were available. Comments about food supplied show that tinned fruits and jams were excellent, dried cabbage was very good, dried milk, peas and carrots were good, tinned butter was rancid, tinned bully beef and meat with vegetables were fair quality, dried potato lousy, tinned sausages and tinned herrings awful and tinned bacon just passable.
During 1943 a number of crews and aircraft were lost while others were written off or damaged. However the loss of A19-14 'N' on 15 January was significant in that it happened at Wards Strip and was the first fatal accident witnessed by many squadron members, some of whom were within metres of the burning aircraft and powerless to do anything to help the crew.
During February A19-75 and A19-9 were both involved in accidents, however their crews were not injured.
The Battle of the Bismarck Sea took place 3-5 March 1943 (Sometimes noted in American articles in Pacific Time as 2-4 March). A19-53 sustained damage when attacked by a Zero on 3 March, both crew members being wounded during the attack. It made a forced landing at Poppondetta, however the aircraft was repaired. The following day A19-75 suffered engine failure while involved in follow up operations related to the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, it made a forced landing near Dobodura and was written off, however the crew was not injured. Finally the 31 March saw the spectacular crash of A19-96 at Wards Strip. A brand new aircaft written off, but a new crew on a familiarisation flight walked away uninjured. Then at the end of April, A19-5 crashed on take off but the crew was not injured.
In early May, A19-38 'U' was involved in an accident and written off. The pilot was 30 Squadron C/O Brian Walker. After experiencing engine failure he was forced to land in the sea on a reef near Pyramid Point. The end of the month saw two aircraft lost and crews killed. On 27 May A19-24 was shot down and crashed alongside the strip at Lae and the crew killed.
On the 31 May A19-73 was lost along with two pilots when it hit the mast of the SS 'Pruth' during a training exercise.
The month of June saw a number of crashes: first A19-90 'Z' ran off the end of the strip with crew not injured, then a few days later A19-27 made a wheels up landing at Wards Strip and this was followed a few days later with A19-101 again having hydraulic failure. Only a few days later came the fatal take off crash of A19-93 which was witnessed by many squadron members. A few days later A19-102 crashed and burnt on take off when the trim tab control was reversed during servicing, however the crew escaped injury.
A19-90 'Z' off the end of the strip, 1000 pounds worth of damage to aircraft (Photo DC Kirkwood)
On 18 June, after having been CO for just over 12 months, Brian Walker was replaced by W/C Clarrie Glasscock.
Soon after W/C Glasscock took over the Squadron moved to a new base at Vivigani on Goodenough Island where it began operations on 28 July. These operations were focussed on attacking air bases in New Britain and to blockade Japanese sea bourne communications with the focus on attacking barges carrying supplies from Rabaul.
During an early morning take off on 11 August, A19-74 crashed into the sea and the crew was killed.
On 5 September A19-33 was shot down and the crew killed. On 9 September A19-132 ditched in the ocean and the crew was lost. Walrus A2-19 was sent out to assist in their rescue but was also shot down. On 19 September the Squadron suffered a severe loss when the new CO of the squadron was killed when A19-133 was shot down near Cape Hoskins.
The following month of October saw the loss of only one aircraft when A19-97 and its crew went missing near Rabaul. Flight Lieutenant Derrick Robert Stone (Pilot) and Flying Officer Edward Burford Morris-Hadwell (Wireless Air Observer) flew with a large force of allied aircraft involved in an attack on Tobera airfield, a Japanese built aerodrome located near Tobera, Keravat, East New Britain. They were last seen climbing to attack a Japanese fighter on the 12 October 1943. The accounts of other crews on the raid indicate they turned back to help another Australian aircraft that was under attack from a number of Japanese planes. They were lost in the ensuing fight (see update in Footnote 1).
The squadron moved from Vivigani to Kiriwina in the Trobriand Islands and began operations from there on 5 November 1943. These operations were focussed on shipping strikes and barge hunting. On 25 November A19-139 was lost and its crew killed (see update in Footnote 2), then on 29 November A19-53 went missing with both crew and aircraft lost.
A few weeks later and a week before Christmas on 17 December 1943, A19-141 also went missing on the north side of New Britain. It was last seen by others in the flight after they completed an air to sea strike on a Japanese vessel near Cape Koas. Despite several extensive searches over enemy territory during the next few days, the fate of the crew and their aircraft remained a mystery. Both crew were due to be flown home on leave just weeks earlier and tragically their tour of duty was extended for an additional month. They were the last casualties of 1943 (See update in Footnote 3).
In October 2000, the wreck of A19-97 was finally located 57 years to the month after they went missing in 1943. A RAAF searcher party went in to retrieve any remains of Flight Lieutenant Derrick Robert Stone (Pilot) and Flying Officer Edward Burford Morris-Hadwell. After identifying the Aircraft as the missing 30 Squadron Beaufighter, RAAF forensic specialists worked with local people to clear and investigate the crash site in a coconut plantation.
The crew’s remains were recovered very close to the wreck of Beaufighter A19-97 that crashed 40 kilometres south-east of Rabaul, New Britain. Both airmen were positively identified and the crash site was marked with a memorial plaque
The Air Force located a number of their relatives and brought them from as far as Perth, Western Australia, to attend a funeral with full military honours at Bita Paka (pron. bitter parker) War Cemetery, 57 years after they were reported missing in action. They included Flight Lieutenant Stone’s daughter, born only a few days after his death, and two of his grandsons. Flying Officer Morris-Hadwell’s two nieces and a nephew were also at the grave side.
Also on hand was one of Ted and Derrick’s old squadron mates including Flight Lieutenant George Robertson (d. May 2012 Rockhampton, QLD) who represented the Squadron, and the bond of comradeship with those who did not return.
42 years later, in 1985, a villager reported a crash site up on the Kuru River behind Kimbe in West New Britain to a helicopter pilot and geologist working in the area. This information made its way very quickly to their friend Brian Bennett who works, among other things, as a consultant with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI) that seeks to locate MIA sites of US Servicemen.
It would be another 10 years before he would visit this crash site in a helicopter ten minutes inland from Kimbe in October 1995
In Brian Bennett’s own words,
“In 1985, a geologist and helicopter pilot were working in that area, and got a report from a villager about a crash site. They reported it to me, but I had no way to get there.
Ten years later, another helicopter pilot asked me if I wanted to go there to investigate it. The three of us, Rodney Marden, Tony Aldred and I went there and found the same villager who had reported it in 1985.
We found it, including its Hercules engines, and knew it was a Beaufighter. We found the serial number, and the RAAF came out a few months later and the rest is history."
Almost 52 years after being declared K.I.A., a RAAF Searcher Team visited the crash in 1995 and successfully recovered the remains of the crew. On the 25th November, 1995, they were both buried at Bita Paka War Cemetery east of Kokopo, south-east of Rabaul. Chapple is buried in H. D. 11 and Coates at H. D. 10.
A propeller from A19-139 currently forms part of the San Remo Memorial on the north coast of New Britain. An engine was also recovered for display at the Memorial. A portion of the aircraft's instrument panel is displayed at the PNG Museum in Port Moresby. The rudder pedals and armour plated glass are at the Kokopo Museum in Rabaul, East New Britain.
Winding forward almost 62 years from when it mysteriously disappeared and ironically on the holiday that Australian's recognise the men and women lost defending and serving our nation, Anzac Day long weekend in 2005, the wreckage of A19-141 was found. When palm oil plantation workers were clearing the jungle from a hill top South of Kimbe on New Britian's northern coastline they came across the wreckage that had laid undisturbed for almost 62 years. The airmen had in fact bailed out over enemy territory.
Also discovered around the time their aircraft was uncovered, the terrible fate of the aircrew of A19-141. Both crew had become separated in the dense jungle after bailing out of the aircraft. One reportedly landed in a crocodile infested swamp, but safely made it out. The other coming down out of sight some distance away in the jungle. They endured several lonely days and nights on their own. Just before the close of 1943 natives gave their positions away to the Japanese who then quickly captured one just before Christmas Day and the other almost a week later.
After interrogations they were reunited in the very poor conditions of a prison camp. There they met other POW's, one of them a Captain in the Coast Watchers. A body of lies from their Japanese guards that Colin Wein and Donald Kirkwood had been killed by their own pilots in an allied air raid on the POW compound was proven to be untrue. This was revealed by the Coast Watcher, John Joseph Murphy, who witnessed their last sighting in early March 1944. The two men disappeared shortly after they had been walked off into the nearby jungle by their Japanese guards along with a few other prisoners. It is believed they were executed minutes later by these guards who returned shortly after with bloodied weapons. A total of 35 men were marched off into the Jungle that day from the compound. Such was the tragic fate of 100% of all captured Beaufighter aircrew in the Pacific. Lest we forget.