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The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
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15 January 2017

Memorial service for 2/22nd Battalion / Lark Force

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Dan Tehan will today lay a wreath at a memorial service commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of New Britain at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.

"We recognise the service and sacrifice of those who defended Rabaul, and the more than 1,000 Australian military personnel and civilians who died in the following months," Mr Tehan said.

"Of the 1,400-strong Lark Force, which mostly comprised the 2/22nd Infantry Battalion, only about 400 made it back to Australia, having escaped overland and by sea in the most desperate of circumstances.

"There is no doubting the courage and fighting spirit of the Australians who defended the town against overwhelming odds."

The Australian garrison at Rabaul, on the island of New Britain, was known as Lark Force. It was comprised of the 2/22nd Infantry Battalion, members of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, an Australian coastal defence battery, an anti-aircraft battery, an anti-tank battery and a detachment of the 2/10th Field Ambulance, which included six nurses. Members of No. 24 Squadron RAAF, also part of Lark Force, were withdrawn following a devastating Japanese air attack on 20 January 1942.

On 23 January 1942, about 5,000 Japanese troops landed in the vicinity of Rabaul and took the town in a matter of hours. Most of Lark Force were captured and all but a handful subsequently died. About 160 were massacred by the Japanese at the Tol Plantation. Most of the remainder drowned, along with about 200 civilian internees, later that year when a US submarine sunk the Japanese transport ship, the Montevideo Maru, off the Philippines.

Norm Furness OAM and Andy Bishop, two surviving members of the 2/22nd, will be present at the service. The day also marks Mr Furness’s 95th birthday.

Media enquiries:

Minister Tehan’s Office: Byron Vale, 0428 262 894
Department of Veterans’ Affairs Media: 02 6289 6203

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). VVCS is a service founded by Vietnam veterans.