9 May, 2024

Warplane discovery

ANZAC Day was an extra special occasion this year for the Grigg family, which has had connections with Wamuran.

Warplane discovery - feature photo

Some particular information about a missing plane in Papua New Guinean waters was finally released after being shrouded in mystery for about 80 years.

The day after Anzac Day, 40 descendants of Russell Grigg came from a mix of places around Australia, the USA and Canada for a memorial service at Amberley Air Base.

Born in 1909, Russell was the youngest of Mr E.J. Grigg’s seven children, after Russell’s father moved to Wamuran in the early 1900s and built some of the early houses in the town.

Russell married Chrissie Copeman and had three children: the late John Grigg (of ‘Bethonga Pines’ in Wamuran), Mary Peden (OAM) and Frank Grigg (OAM), with the latter two among the attendees at the April 26 service at Amberley Air Base.

Russell had enlisted in the RAAF on March 2 1941, and qualified as a navigator in November 1941.

In August 1942, Russell was posted to 22 Squadron in New Guinea, flying Boston aircraft.

Russell returned to Australia for more training, and in June 1943 he was stationed with 100 Squadron at Milne Bay, New Guinea, flying Beaufort bombers.

Russell was among a crew of four on Beaufort bomber A9-186, which was shot down by the Japanese on September 5 1943.

Astonishingly, the crew members and the wreckage were never discovered until 2020.

In 2022, the Grigg family received a letter from Dr Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest.

In the letter, ‘Twiggy’ said his uncle David was 22 years old when he piloted his RAAF Beaufort bomber into another attack on the Japanese-held air strip at Gasmata, West New Britain, in the early hours of May 21, 1943.

“These night missions - so critical in stopping the Japanese from establishing Rabaul as a base to attack Australia & the Pacifi c - were frequent & incredibly dangerous,” the letter said.

“My Uncle David & 3 other young Australians aboard A9-188 did not return.

“Their aircraft , taking damage over the target, & the wreckage still never found.

“The 7 Beauforts lost in the battle for Gasmata, & the 28 brave Australian who flew them, deserve our deepest respect & gratitude.

“For the last 2 years, I & my team have searched the waters & jungles around Gasmata in an eff ort to identify the 3 Beauforts that were not yet located, partly in the hope of providing my father & our family some peace and closure with our loss.

“We identified many wreck sites and recently discovered a previously unrecorded RAAF Beaufort wreck site in 43 metres of water in the ocean south of Gasmata airstrip.

“As you know, this aircraft was Beaufort A9-186, the aircraft that your relative was a crewman aboard. I write to not just pass on my sincere condolences for your loss, but also to let you know how deeply personal this search is for me.

“Our kin were brothers-in-arms in 100 Squadron; and almost certainly knew each other. I am grateful that A9-186’s discovery may provide your family some small comfort or sense of closure; and will continue our search for my Uncle David.

“These young men gave their lives to ensure our way of life, and we must never forget.”

Former Wamuran resident and warrant officer Russell Grigg.
Former Wamuran resident and warrant officer Russell Grigg.

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