Lark Force survivor looks back on the Fall of Rabaul

Centenarian Barney Cain escaped from the Japanese when they successfully attacked Rabaul in January 1942. He is possibly the last member of the 1400-strong Lark Force alive today.

1 April 2021

Barney, who was born in the Victorian town of Rye on 6 June 1920, joined the Army on his 20th birthday.

In 1941, he was sent to Rabaul on the north coast of New Britain as part of Lark Force where he served as a gunner with the 17th Anti-Tank Battery.

When about 5,000 Japanese landed at Rabaul on 23 January 1942, the small 1400-strong Australian garrison was quickly overwhelmed and around 800 personnel were captured. Most of those subsequently died when the Montevideo Maru on which they were being transported as prisoners of war was sunk by a US submarine.

About 400 troops, including Barney, evaded capture. 

‘We were running from the Japanese and you had one thing on your mind – feet, do your duty,’ he says.

Barney spent the next three and a half months evading the Japanese in the harsh jungles and mountains of New Britain. Eventually, he reached Port Moresby by boat in April 1942. 

Barney is possibly the only member of Lark Force still alive today.

In November 2020, the Australian War Memorial published a long article on Barney and his experiences in the Second World War. Visit the AWM website.

More information on the Fall of Rabaul is on the Anzac Portal.

Elderly man smiling in a museum

Barney Cain at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.