Rabaul War Cemetery (also known as Bita Paka War Cemetery) contains 1,114 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War. Of these, 495 are unidentified.
The graves are brought together from the surrounding area. A part of the graves are from casualties of the the campaigns in New Britain and New Ireland, other casualties died in from prisoner-of-war camps or as forced laborers. There are also 32 Australian and German graves from the First World War brought to this cemetery.
Bita Paka War Cemetery is actually much closer to Kokopo and the airport than to the ghost town of Rabaul. Keep that in mind if coming or going through the airport, which is now in Kokopo.
The location of the cemetery dates to World War I, when there was a radio transmitter on a nearby hill that was fought over when the Australians came ashore to conquer Rabaul from the Germans.
Now the cemetery is the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which keeps the grounds lush and well tended. Overall the cemetery is a botanical oasis on New Britain. (Local rainfalls help with the watering.)
There are some markers here for the victims of the ship "Montevideo Maru" in which some 1054 Australian prisoners of war were killed when it was torpedoed near the Philippines. The men of the Australian Lark Force, who surrendered in February 1942, were being transferred to the prison archipelago of the Japanese labor camp system when an American submarine sank the ship on which they were traveling away from Rabaul. (See details here)
The cemetery also has headstones for British imperial soldiers from India and Pakistan, who were captured by the Japanese in the campaign to take Singapore and later transferred to labor battalions impressed into slavery in New Britain.
Without a car or taxi it is difficult but not impossible to get to Bita Paka. (Kind of a long walk in from the main road, about 8 km.) A local bus, perhaps number 9 (but check), goes by the cemetery from the bus terminal in the center of Kokopo. And the taxis at the Kokopo Airport can stop at the cemetery, taking visitors to their hotels around Blanche Bay.
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- Text: Matthew Stevenson + Fedor de Vries
- Photos: Matthew Stevenson