022 – Private Joseph McAuliffe

Private Joseph McAuliffe Killed in action
January 1942

Out the outbreak of the First World War the military authorities were keen to enlist men from the Boer War, knowing that they could handle a rifle etc and could cope under battle conditions. At the outbreak of WW2 many men who had fought in the First World War also thought it was their duty to enlist again if possible—the enemy being closer to home this time.

Joseph McAuliffe was a 20 year old single labourer from Wynyard when he volunteered for service in May 1918. He was allotted to the 1st to 3rd (WA) and (Tas) Reinforcements that departed Sydney on the HMAT A14 Borda in June 1918. Whilst training at Fovant, England he was allotted to the reinforcements for the 12th Battalion. In July 1919 he was detailed to the Australian Graves Detachment for two months before returning to England in preparation tor return to Australia.

In May 1940, McAuliffe was living at Leongatha, Victoria when he enlisted again. This time he stated his was 38 years old, still single and working as a labourer.  On 30 May 1940 he was posted to 2/14th Battalion. Four months later he was transferred to 2/22nd Battalion.

The Battalion arrived at Rabaul, New Guinea on 26 April 1941. Its role was to protect the airfields at Lakunai and Vunakanau and the seaplane base at Rabaul. “Lark Force” of which the battalion was a part, was ill-equipped and likely to be over-whelmed by an enemy attack. But still spent the next months constructing defences and training for operations in the tropics.

With the destruction of the airfields and planes by the Japanese on 22 January 1942, Lark Force withdrew back to Rabaul. The 1,400 men of Lark Force were no match for the 5,000 Japanese and the order was given to withdraw the following day on the basis of ‘every man for himself’.

Approximately 160 Australians were massacred whilst trying to escape having been captured. Another 836 were interned. Just what happened to Private Joseph McAuliffe is not recorded on his service record except to note that he ‘became missing and for official purposes presumed dead’. Was he one of the 1,053 prisoners and civilians drowned in the sinking of the Montevideo Mauru . The name of Private Joseph McAuliffe is among those listed on the memorial at Rabaul.