SMALPAGE Reginald Clement 17462

LEST WE FORGET

Corporal Reginald Clement SMALPAGE

Service No: 17462
Born: Broad Arrow WA, 24 October 1900
Enlisted in the RAAF: 17 August 1940
Unit: No. 24 Squadron, Rabaul, New Britain
Died: Prisoner of War, New Britain, 4 February 1942, Aged 41 Years
Buried: Unrecovered
CWGC Additional Information: Son of Mordaunt Hunter Smalpage and Elizabeth Smalpage; husband of Janet Lillian Smalpage, of East Fremantle, Western Australia.
Roll of Honour: Unknown
Remembered: Panel 36, Rabaul Memorial, PNG
Remembered: Panel 97, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT
Remembered: Cenotaph Undercroft, State War Memorial, Kings Park WA

From a series of evacuations from the Rabaul area, there were now only three members of No. 24 Squadron about whose safety there was doubt. Warrant Officer Kelly (882), a service photographer, was in hospital at the time of the withdrawal and was too ill to be moved. He remained behind and, with other patients and the gallant members of the hospital staff who stayed to care for them, was taken prisoner. Flying Officer Lempriere (1), the Squadron’s Intelligence Officer, had risked being left behind to ensure that the signals office and its contents were destroyed. He reached Put Put after the main party had left and was captured some time later off Gasmata while trying to escape in a launch. The third man who had not escaped was Corporal Smalpage, a signaller who voluntarily returned from the Warangoi River to endeavour to find a box of secret documents believed to have been left behind. He was not reported again and was later listed as missing.

(1) Flying Officer Geoffrey Raoul Lempriere (262789) PoW: Discharged from the RAAF on 22 February 1946.

Extract from Gillison, D.N. (Douglas Napier) (254475) Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1962 – Page 362 (This extract refers to events that occurred in the Rabaul area during late January and early February 1942).

On 22 January 1942, Corporal Smalpage a Wireless Telegraph Operator, was NCO in Charge Signals at Rabaul Air Operational Base, New Britain, engaged in the evacuation of Rabaul before the occupation of Rabaul by enemy forces.

On 6 May 1942, Leading Aircraftman Frederick Mervyn Stean (33478) reported that “Corporal Smalpage got out with a RAAF evacuation party and was with us for the first 20 miles of our overland trek. Here we called a halt and found that some very secret documents had been left behind at our last stopping place about three miles back. As he was in charge of Signals, Smalpage went back to recover those papers while we waited. He had only six miles to go but he did not return. There were no Japanese about in the district at the time and his disappearance was a mystery to us.”

In 1946 Flying Officer Lempriere reported that “while trying to get out of Rabaul before he was captured, he met Smalpage and endeavoured to persuade him to accompany him. This Smalpage did but only as far as Toll where he remained, as he had sustained a sprained ankle, and Lempriere did not see him again.”

The Japanese landed at Toll, New Britain, on 3 February 1942. No one escaped from Toll after the Japanese had landed, and with the exception of five Australian soldier survivors. All the Australians there were killed by the Japanese on the 4 February 1942. One hundred and forty seven bodies were recovered from the massacre at Toll, but only eleven of those could be identified, and Smalpage was not among those eleven. As Corporal Smalpage had become separated from his RAAF party of which he was a member, and had joined a party of Australian Military personnel, there is no official record of his presence at Toll, but it was considered that the evidence of Flying Officer Lempriere established this beyond doubt. It was presumed that Corporal Smalpage had lost his life on 4 February 1942.

References:

Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records (RAAF Casualty Information compiled by Alan Storr (409804))
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A705, 163/162/188