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John Van Duis
Confessions of An Aircraft Scrapper
After WWII, hundreds of abandoned aircraft were left all over the Pacific. In the late 1940's scrap operations melted this debris down for profit. The memories of war were fresh and in most cases, there was no interest in the aircraft as historical relics. He shares his memories about scrapping in post war New Guinea.

IN MEMORY - Van Duis passed away March 17, 2002

Tell a little about yourself
My father was a civil servant in the former Dutch East Indies. He spoke Indonesian, Dutch and German. I am a product of my father's second wife, an English woman who was tutor to an aristocratic Indonesian family. My father's first wife, a Dutch lady, died in a car crash two years before I was born.

What brought you to PNG after WWII?
My family barely escaped Japanese imprisonment. My mother had several friends forced into prostitution under the Japanese occupation of Dutch East Indies. She only spoke of this once before her death. She kept diaries of the time leading up to our evacuation to Australia. I started reading them once, when I was a teenager. They were too distressing. I burned them when she died. After the war I needed to sew wild oats. I traveled all over the Pacific, including time as a scrapper in Dobodura and Nadzab. I was too young to serve in the war, 14 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

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What were the airfields like?
There were hundreds of airframes at Nadzab, less at Dobodura. I never thought about it then, it was a job. I was paid well, in Australian Pounds most of which I saved in a Commonwealth bank account in Sydney, Australia. Nadzab was green kunai grass - miles and miles of it. Dobodura was hotter . . . and more humid. More trees at Dobodura - and more snakes.

What discoveries were interesting?
Little Chief Cockeye was the most memorable aircraft I saw - the noseart was amazing. i have since found out that it was a copy of some middle-ages art piece - don't know which. I remember thinking - with this art, this aircraft meant something special to someone. It is a piece of history and we should not simply melt it away. Michael Claringbould gave me the history of this aircraft to me only recently. It meant little to me - I did not understand the history at all to be honest. You should look at this through my eyes - I was in New Guinea only for one year. I had no historical sense at the time, and I did not fight in the war. The key issue here is that everyone around me was trying to forget about the war.

What wa scrapping work like?
I don't recall the 'value' of the scrap. i was paid a weekly wage by my boss - an Australian who had fought in the Ramu Valley in 1943 (or so he claimed). When he got drunk he would get emotional about the war. We would just say, "that's Bill". Bill Riley would never mention the war except when he was drunk. He hated the Japs, something about what they did to a friend of his. We never got the full story from him. The aircraft were cut up and fed into a smelter. Natives helped us. It was a hot, dirty and thankless job. But it paid well. I saved a bucket of money in 1949. I never found live ordnance. One day i was pulling off a tailplane after unbolting it. A giant spider leapt out onto my shirt. I think the whole valley heard the scream. My reflex action caused me to bump my arm against the tailplane. Nearly broke it.

Did you locate any buried Gear?
No, this type of story was never around in my time. These types of stories seem to have originated only in the past ten years - dreamers perhaps? What you must remember is that there was no reason to bury this material.

Speak about your life after PNG
I became a fitter and turner after the war. I had trouble getting an apprenticeship in Australia at the time - I was considered too old at 25, but I think they took pity on my Dutch history.

Parts from B-25D "Little Chief Cockeye"
I kept the parts in several boxes and thought nothing of them. I am not getting younger. When I saw Aerothentic website, and I explained what I had. I hope the parts get to the right families. I collected these bits as I though someone, some day, somewhere, would be interested. I lead a quiet life now. My wife died eleven years ago. Thank you for the interview.

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