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Part II – The Guillotine

As our launch approached the ship in the distance her silhouette grew to a surprising scale. Once onboard the magnificent ship, we were handed a cold towel and a fresh cocktail. None of us were prepared for the luxury our vessel would offer. With a crew of fifteen, the 262 ft long sailing yacht was built by the Pendennis yard in Falmouth England and was dressed in the finest Makassar wood and shagreen interiors by the English design firm of Redman Dixon.

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With our internal time clocks unwound I shuffled to the top deck the next morning to find many of my shipmates already waiting for the tropical sunrise to breach the horizon, and we weren’t disappointed when the clouds lit up a brilliant peach color as the embraced the morning sun like a sail does the breeze.

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Voices below catch our attention as we look over the rail to find young natives had swam the distance to the boat aboard floating debris.  Suddenly the boat shudders as the engines begin moving her mass silently through the ultramarine water.  Our destination this morning is Raboul, the Pacific headquarters of the Japanese army at the very end of their push towards Australia during the Second World War.

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White wisp of smoke from the volcano in the distance marks Raboul’s location at the northern end of New Britain. We glide by the Beehives, a rock formation marking the entrance to the harbor, rusting hulks of ships line the shore. We find nothing much is left of Raboul. First bombed onto oblivion by the Americans in the war, the omnipresent volcano had buried the town in ten feet of ash in a massive eruption in 1994. As we drove the barren dusty streets our guide would point out the landmarks of the past, “to your right was Victoria Park; to you left, the Raboul golf course and country club.” All we saw was volcanic ash.

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One surviving structure, the New Guinea Club, was a concrete building- the bones of what was once a handsome clubhouse from German Colonial times. Now, the building housed relics of the war; Japanese zero wing tips and rusty bombs.

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Nearby, we explore the bunkers that once housed Japanese commanders as they conducted their failed campaigns in the New Guinea theater of war. Other tunnels housed a hospital and mess hall deep within a mountain; others still, rusting hulks of landing craft, secreted away from the American’s rain of bombs. Outside, a guillotine remained as a sentinel- the pit is all that remains of the stand that saw the end to the lives of many of the slaves used to build the tunnels; those from India, China and even, America. The owner of the land says the spirits that remain deep within the overgrown hole give the children nightmares during the night.

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We ended our tour at the still smoldering volcano. At the edge of the jungle, the ground grew bare, and as we walked, the souls of our shoes began to scorch our feet. We arrived at the hot springs generated by the magma deep below to find a local boiling eggs in the water. A flimsy plastic tape flipped and flickered in the breeze above the boiling sulfuric liquid- a warning to go no further. It was here that the Americans hung 79 Japanese war criminals for their unimaginable cruelty during the brutal conflict in the South Pacific.

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To be continued…next week Mac brings us something for the holiday, but look for more in parts 3 & 4 after the holidays…