There were only about eight of us left by then, and one of the other blokes said, ‘They’re taking prisoners back to Rabaul,’ and then – boom, boom, again – they shot at us.

Barney Cain, Lark Force and Tol Plantation massacre survivor. Read his story.


The Gazelle Peninsula is a large peninsula on the north-east tip of New Britain. The peninsula is around 100km across at its widest, but narrows to only 30km at the isthmus, known as "The Neck", where it joins the rest of the island. The Allies used this to their advantage when retaking New Britain from the Japanese.

The Gazelle Peninsula is the most populated part of New Britain. Rabaul, the provincial capital, is also the former capital of the mandated Australian Territory of New Guinea. It was the first town in New Guinea to be captured by the Japanese, on 23 January 1942.

After the fall of Rabaul

After Rabaul fell, hundreds of Australian soldiers and civilians fled along the coast. About 400 escaped, while the Japanese captured around 1,300 as prisoners of war. Most didn't survive.

The 400 soldiers who escaped spent the next three months trekking across the peninsula, trying to be rescued. They had to cross the Baining Mountains, including many rivers. Some escaped by boat to neighbouring New Ireland.

At Tol Plantation, 160 Australian soldiers were massacred by the Japanese. Their bodies were left in the jungle.

By April 1942, 150 soldiers and civilians had escaped to Palmalmal Plantation. There, they were sheltered by Father Edward (Ted) Harris, a Roman Catholic priest. They were eventually rescued and evacuated to Port Moresby on the HMAS Laurabada. Father Harris was later executed by the Japanese.

The strategic importance of the Peninsula

In 1943 and 1944, Allied troops undertook a campaign to retake New Britain. Around 100,000 Japanese army and naval troops were based at Rabaul.

Rather than attempting to retake the town, Australian troops formed a cordon across the narrowest part of the Gazelle Peninsula. The Japanese garrison in Rabaul remained isolated for the rest of the war.

Papua New Guinea
1942 to 1945
Image caption
Bainings Mountains, Gazelle Peninsula, New Britain, January 1942. Australian troops retreating from Rabaul after the successful attack by Japanese forces on 23 January 1942 take a rest on the track through the Bainings Mountains. This photograph was taken in late January 1942 by Les Robbins as his party made its way south to Palmalmal Plantation and rescue in April 1942.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM P02312.007. Photo by L.I.H. Robbins.

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