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Preserving World War II History

By: Anonymous

Gusap in the beautiful Ramu Valley of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a service town for the growing and refining of sugar by Ramu Agri Industries (RAI). During World War 2 it was one of a number of airfield bases constructed by American Airborn Engineers in the Markham & Ramu Valley’s as the Allies advanced against the Japanese in PNG. At Gusap amongst the sugar cane fields you can still see evidence of these activities from nearly seventy years ago – aircraft revetments, marsden matting, Caterpillar D4 tractors (disassembled & flown in), fighter plane drop fuel tanks, discarded fuel drums but slowly a lot of this history is being lost.


I visit Greg who works for RAI at Gusap every 6 months for business. Greg has been very actively conserving the WW2 history of the area and a few years back I mentioned my metal detecting hobby and we quickly agreed that during my next visit we would spend the weekend seeing what we could find. Greg had some spots he thought would be interesting to explore.

My E-TRAC quickly became part of my luggage to PNG for the next few trips – the shafts and coil neatly fit into my suitcase and I pack the control box & headphones into my carry on luggage. I ensure the battery is taken out so it does not accidently get turned on during flights.

On our first day of detecting we agreed that we would not use a pick as the chance of setting off live ammunition was a concern – so it was gently, gently with spades and we soon found lots of clips of live ammunition to warrant our caution. But we became very excited later in the day when we unearthed a US Airforce jacket metal button in a cane field which cleaned up nicely. Close by we also found two Australian pennies (maybe a two up game?), belt buckles, aircraft parts and more ammo. The E-TRAC as usual was excellent in discriminating out the iron rubbish and allowed us to concentrate on digging the more interesting targets.

Later we drove to an area in search of the site of the air control tower and I pointed out to Greg what turned out to be an aerial bomb crater in front of a aircraft revetment. Greg had driven many times past this area but had not noticed the crater as it was usually covered with thick vegetation but recently it had been burnt off. To prove our suspicions the E-TRAC was switched to all metal and at the bottom of the crater we found many very heavy, jagged iron pieces from the bomb from what we suspect was a Japanese plane trying to destroy the parked American planes. We could only imagine the destructive force of this bomb and how frightening it would have been to have been close to this explosion.

Greg with the aid of RAI has set up in the social club house some display cases to exhibit our (and others) finds as well as having a excellent pictorial display telling the story of the Battle of Shaggy Ridge that occurred near Gusap. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can add to the display during my trips next year as we try to preserve the local history.

One last word, if you are considering going to PNG to explore and metal detect ensure you have the permission of the land owner(s) and that they accompany you. All PNG land is owned by someone or some community and it can get a bit heated if you are seen to be trespassing.