The Promise

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Recently I was asked by Queensland RSL News to write an overview about a children’s book I’ve written, The Promise, and they have kindly published this in Edition 4 of their magazine.

During World War II, Papua New Guinea nurse Maiogaru Taulebona hid a wounded Australian airman in a cave, deep in the jungle near Milne Bay. With two words, “I promise”, she was bound to the task of saving his life.

WORLD War II was in its third year, and the Battle of Milne Bay was raging in Papua New Guinea. On the night of 25 August 1942, Japanese soldiers landed between Waga Waga and Wandula, on the northern coast of Milne Bay. The intention was to seize Milne Bay in preparation for landing in Port Moresby, their final destination.

It was during this time of carnage and confusion that an Australian airman, John Donegan, was fished out of Milne Bay by local fisherman Kidilon Luka. He pulled him into his canoe and took him to a mission nurse, Maiogaru Taulebona, who hid him deep in a shadowy cave so that enemy soldiers could not find him. It was then that she made a promise to protect him and take him to safety.

Maiogaru treated his wounds, wrapping them in banana leaves, and stayed with him until he was well enough to move. Determined to fulfil her promise, Maiogaru placed him in a canoe, concealed under a pile of vegetables, and paddled him through the night to a hospital on the other side of the Island.

Maiogaru one of the brave locals who took an enormous risk by helping injured soldiers in WWII. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) thanked Maiogaru for saving the life of an airman, and she was awarded the Loyal Service Medal.

This is my second book written about a nurse in Papua New Guinea during WWII. The Flying Angels, published in 2021, was my first. The Flying Angels revealed the story of a group of RAAF nurses who were handpicked to rescue injured soldiers from the frontline of Papua New Guinea.

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At the launch of The Flying Angel, a friend placed a Kina in my hand as a gentle reminder of the local Papua New Guinea people who also assisted and helped Australian soldiers in WWII. It was my friend’s passion for PNG’s unsung heroes that encouraged me to start my journey to find this amazing story about Maiogaru Taulebona.

The Promise is a story of courage, resilience, kindness and hope, which celebrates the bond between the people of Australia and Papua New Guinea. It is also a personal story for me as my father, Henry George McGregor, was stationed in PNG during WWII in the Signals Corp. He told me that he would not have survived without the help of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, as they were fondly called at the time. With care and love, these PNG natives became the Australian soldiers’ unsung heroes, rescuing injured Australian soldiers and taking them to safety.

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On the 80th anniversary of the battle of Milne Bay, Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Robert Chipman AM CSC presented copies of The Promise during his official visit to Milne Bay. Nurse Maiogaru’s family and local primary schools were very proud to receive these books. The Chief of Air Force recognises the significance of this story in connecting children in both Australia and PNG, and the significance of their shared history.

This book is a valuable resource for children to learn about their ancestors and how this conflict significantly shaped our history. The Promise also speaks of the bravery of women in the community. I believe there is a great need for authentic stories of local PNG heroes to be heard, and these ancestors will reach out to young PNG and Australian children to show them the way forward with clarity, courage, and hope.

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I enjoy telling little-told Australian stories of WWI and WWII and am available to talk at schools and events about these and other ANZAC stories. vicki@vickibennnett.com.au

Published by Boolarong Press, The Promise is available in bookstores and at www.boolarongpress.com.au or www.vickibennett.com.au

LAUNCH OF CHARLIE’S WAR

I was thrilled to launch my latest book, Charlie’s War at the Queensland State Library last night, here is what I had to say:

I’d like to talk about breadcrumbs … All of us have been handed little breadcrumbs as stories from our families, or ancestors, at some point in our lives. Small fragments of information, or sometimes large pieces of a puzzle.

And you may not have picked up those potential diamonds as yet, or done anything with them, but they are waiting to be discovered, so you can to leave them as a trail for others who come after you. My granddaughter Ruby recently reminded me of the importance of storytelling in families. I was recounting a story to her, about my childhood dog, and as I was leaving, she said, ‘Could you tell me more stories when I come over on Sunday?’

Your children or your grandchildren may not be interested right now, but someday your great-grandchildren, and their children’s children, will come looking to find out where they’ve come from, so they might understand themselves better.

I began my extensive journey to Charlie Bird’s story through a breadcrumb my father, George told me many times throughout my life. George’s story is about how as a little boy, between World War I and WW II, he and his friends at the Middle Park State School in Melbourne, used their pocket money to help rebuild the Victoria School, in Villers Bretonneux in France.

 This narrative ignited a fascination within me, leading to the creation of five ANZAC children’s picture books,

  • Following Two Pennies I found the story of The Little Stowaway, where a little French orphan was saved from the battlefields of France in WW1, then hidden in an oat sack, and brought him to his new home to Jandowae, Queensland.
  • Next came The Flying Angel – where agroup of handpicked nurses rescued injured soldiers from the frontline of Papua New Guinea WW2, and brought them safely back home to Australia.
  • The Promise, another children’s picture book, is also set in Milne Bay Papua New Guinea in WW2, where a local mission nurse cared for a wounded Australian airman and brought him to safety.
  • And now this book, Charlie’s War.

All of these books tell stories of determination, love, courage, kindness, compassion, and showcase how one persons’ action can make a profound difference.

My next step with these stories began when I wrote and co-produced a documentary, Never Forget Australia. This film sheds light on seven lesser known, yet poignant stories which emerged from World War 1, and reminds us of how Australian soldiers stayed to help rebuild villages in France after WW1 and as a result, the love and affection which grew between these two countries, Australian and France.

One of the significant chapters in this documentary unveils the stories of Australian Aboriginal soldiers who enlisted in this war, and through my research, I had the privilege of meeting Des Crump, and interviewed him for this documentary.

It was then that Des told me about a welcome home ceremony that was given to Charlie Bird, and George Bennett, and held at the Euraba Aboriginal settlement on the Queensland-NSW Border. He said it was one of the few welcome home ceremonies for aboriginal soldiers after The Great War. Charlie’s experience stuck with me, and together with Des, we crafted Charlie’s War, this amazing story of hope, resilience and community.

My personal connection with WWI began when I was a little girl sitting in my grandfather’s vegetable garden. Grandpa William McCauley, told me about a friendship forged in the trenches between him, and an aboriginal solider who fought alongside him in the Somme.

So when Des first told me about his Uncle Charlie, I wanted to think that Charlie Bird and William McCauley may have met somewhere on those battlefields of France, and we were connected somehow through our ancestors, unfortunately that was not to be. This story is a tribute to the 1,250 aboriginal soldiers who fought in The Great War.

The Promise

The story of The Promise begins at a launch of my previous children’s book, The Flying Angel in 2021.  It is my second book written about a nurse in WW2. 

The Flying Angels tells the story of a group of RAAF nurses who were handpicked to rescue injured soldiers from the frontline of Papua New Guinea in WW2, and transport them safely back home to Australia. These nurses where known for their courage and compassion, and this story was inspired by the life of one of these remarkable nurse’s, Sister Marie Craig.

At the launch of The Flying Angels, I was seated next to Terry O’Neill, who during his 50 years of living and working in Papua New Guinea and the Asia Pacific, had the desire to support vulnerable communities which have been impacted by war and social disruption. He placed a silver Kina in my hand as a gentle reminder of the local Papua New Guinea people who also assisted, and helped our Australian soldiers in WW2. They were called the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

Immediately I thought of my father Henry George McGregor, who was stationed in PNG during WW2 in the Signals Corp. He told me that without the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels that he, and indeed I, would not be alive. With care and love, these PNG natives became the Australian soldiers’ unsung heroes, rescuing injured Australian soldiers and bringing them to safety.

Terry’s passion about these PNG’s unsung heroes, encouraged me to start my journey to find this amazing story about Maiogaru Taulebona. A Papua New Guinea Mission Nurse, who was one of those brave locals who took enormous risks to help injured Leading Aircraftsman, John Donegan, and with the risk of grave personal danger to herself, cared for his wounds and secured him away from the enemy. 

Maiogaru Taulebona was awarded the loyalty medal by the Royal Australian Air Force. The Promise, is a celebration of the bond between Australia and Papua New Guinea. 

This is the story of courage, resilience, kindness and hope. It is the first of a series of books I have been asked to write about Papua New Guinea heroes.

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