Papua New Guinea Kiap
In memory: David Pennefather passed away January 1, 2021.
spent most of his adult life as a "Kiap" (Patrol Officer)
and businessman in Papua New Guinea (PNG). During
his travels, his interest in wartime history blossomed, and
his travels to remote villages lead to the discovered of many
relics and wrecks, including several aircraft discoveries.
He shares some of his recollections and work in New Guinea
late 1960's until the late 1980's.
Tell a little about yourself and
People ask me, where am I from. I
reply that I was born in Western Australia, was raised and
educated in Victoria, have lived most of my adult life in Papua
New Guinea and now reside in Queensland. I guess that makes
me a gypsy. These days I still research but my subject matter
is my families genealogy.
Of late this has led me to the American Civil
War in which three members of my extended family fought. Two
for the North and one for the South. One was killed at Five
Oaks, one was blinded and captured at The Crater and of the
Southern lad I have no knowledge of his fate. I have now become
quite fascinated by the Civil
War, what a blood letting.
My interest in the war, battle sites and relics
long predated my arrival in PNG. As I grew up in Australia
in the 1950’s and 60’s it seemed that every adult
I knew had served in either one, or both, of the World Wars.
Many of these people were relatives of mine. The 1950’s
and 60’s also saw the publication of many of the great
books on the second world war: The
Dam Busters, Reach
for the Sky, The
Colditz Story etc.
All of these books, and more, I devoured with
relish. So the bug was well and truly planted in me long before
I set foot on the fertile soil and jungles of war ravaged New
Guinea. In my last year of school I vividly recall reading an
article in an English magazine about a visit to one of the old
WWI battlefields in France and me thinking how fascinating it
would be to visit such a place.
What brought you to Papua New Guinea?
I went to PNG in 1966, aged 19, as
a Cadet Patrol Officer and remained in the field service for
eight years. My experiences during that period were many and
varied and are best illustrated by the selection of photographs
that I have posted on the Ex-kiap
website. All Patrol Officers were known to the native population
by the Pidgin English name: kiap.
The word kiap comes from the German word Kiaptan or Captain
bearing in mind that the Germans were the original colonists
of New Guinea. While a kiap I served in the Sepik and Morobe
provinces with a short stint in Rabaul.
Following my resignation from the service I
worked in the wholesale trade. As a consequence I lived in Bougainville,
Rabaul, Kimbe and Madang. Then from 1979 to 1992 I was in the
coffee industry living in Lae and Popondetta. I moved my family
to Australia in 1992 but continued to return to PNG working
on mine sites and oil exploration camps. I was last up there
twelve months ago.
about some of your Kiap postings
My first posting was to the East Sepik
District and to the settlements of Wewak and Maprik. Evidence
of the war was all around you. It was at this time, very early
on in my experience that I commenced researching. I recall seeing
some aircraft wreckage and making inquiry’s about it and
in tern being referred to some drunk in a Wewak bar who told me
a load of bull which of course had to be correct because he had
been resident in ‘the territory’ longer than I had.
I realized instantly that if I wanted to know anything then I
would have to conduct original research myself. Also when out
looking for items of interest I have always worked alone, just
me and my native companions. This way there is no one around
telling you that something can not be done or how nice it would
be to be else where. It was only much latter when I had developed
real friendships with Rod Pearce and Richard Leahy that these two also
became involved along with me. The two of them had for a long
time been doing their own thing as had I. It was just a great
bonus that we all became friends.
Mention your interest in relics
I started out collecting Japanese
swords, rifles and bayonets. The first air wreck I walked into
was an Australian Beaufort, one of two such planes that had
collided in mid air resulting in both planes crashing. I latter
found the second plane as well. It was when I was posted to
Wewak in 1970 that I took on scuba diving. This was the fulfillment
of a long held dream and opened a whole new world to me. It
was at this time that I first met Rod
Pearce, a skinny blond kid just out of school who wanted
to dive on everything. Richard Leahy I had first met about a year before when I was stationed at
Ambunti on the Sepik river. Richard was on his honeymoon. These
two friendships have truly stood the test of time.
I then began researching wrecked ships as well
as crashed aircraft. Where ever I would go I would talk to the
natives and ask them about wreckage on land and under water.
A reader of these notes may think that to find an air wreck
all you have to do is march into the jungle and with luck you
will find an aircraft. Not so. You will only find an air wreck,
or any other sort of wreckage for that matter, if the natives
take you and show you where it is. I was extremely fortunate
because during my kiap years I walked into many isolated villages
where I would talk to people constantly and for ever ask them
questions. It is like a game. I have been to some villages at
least three times before I was ever shown anything.
How did Papuans
assist your searches?
In one instance people were very reluctant to
show me an air wreck because there were human remains in the
wreckage and they thought that they may get into trouble. There
is an air wreck some where near Sim in the Wau area that I have never been
to where natives say the burnt remains of the aircrew were cannibalized
by the natives that first came across it just after the plane
crashed. The story goes that having had a meal on the crew branches
were pulled over the wreckage to hide it from the air. No one
ever came forward offering to show me where this plane was.
I have come across a similar
story in the upper reaches of the Markham valley. Again a report
of cannibalism followed by a reluctance to show me anything. In
this case they made it easy for themselves claiming that the plane
crashed in a river bed and the wreckage had long since been swept
away by flood waters.
Tell about the visit of Richard E. Smith to his P-38
I went to Popondetta in 1985 to buy coffee.
In my first two years there I visited about 24 different air wrecks
many of them B-25s. I did not keep a diary but I did keep a map
of where everything was that I came across. The natives became accustomed
to my weekend wanderings around the old airfields and the battlefields
of Kokoda, Buna, Gona and Sanananda. This was rich country for someone
like me. In the course of my travels I became befriended by a local
man named Frank Egiembari who lived near the Girua Airport. Frank and I became good friends.
(Initially I think Frank saw me as a potential son-in-law but we
got past that) It was he who, in about 1987 or 1988,
told me that a relative of his had the wreck of an aircraft on his
land. So we investigated. [Read full story ].
What was the most significant
The most significant of my experiences
whilst at Popondetta, that belongs to a C-47 "Swamp
Rat" 41-38601. Popondetta resident, Frank
Egiembari led me to this wreck at about the same time as the
above events were unfolding. Human remains were found in the wreckage.
As it turned out two American and one Australian. The remains
were subsequently recovered by the US Army but because the remains
could not be separated one from the other all three were interred
in a joint grave at Arlington. The Australian, named Milne, being
the only Australian buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Do you have photos or additional information to add?