LEST WE FORGET

Leading Aircraftman John Townsend Thorpe GEAPPEN

Service No: 31289
Born: Hobart TAS, 9 August 1908
Enlisted in the RAAF: 21 July 1941
Unit: No. 43 Operational Base Unit, Milne Bay PNG
Died: Ground Operations, Milne Bay PNG, 29 August 1942, Aged 22 Years
Buried: Unrecovered
CWGC Additional Information: Son of James Herbert and Celia Maud Geappen; husband of Jean Grace Geappen, of Launceston, Tasmania
Roll of Honour: Unknown
Remembered: Panel 10, Port Moresby Memorial, PNG
Remembered: Panel 113, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT

Late on the night of the 29th a new and highly disturbing element was introduced into the battle. Japanese naval units, which had again sortied into Milne Bay, began bombarding the shore area. By good fortune all the shells burst harmlessly in the hills beyond the base. The crew of a RAAF crash-launch stationed in the harbour acted on instructions to move to Mullins Harbour. Manned by five men under Corporal Turner, the launch was making its way towards the harbour entrance when the enemy ship that had been bombarding the coast caught and held it in the beam of a searchlight. Immediately the Japanese opened fire. The fourth shell hit the launch sinking it and killing Turner and two others. The two survivors were an army signaller, Private Farrar (1), and Leading Aircraftman Donegan (2). Farrar got ashore at a point 23 miles from Gili Gili. Donegan, wounded, drifted across the bay for 18 hours. Natives saw him, helped him ashore and tended him secretly in enemy-held territory, hiding him under an up-turned canoe. Later he returned to the base.

(1) Signalman Gerald Neild Farrar (WX29006) Killed in an accident: 22 July 1943
(2) Flight Sergeant John Francis Donegan (41879) Discharged from the RAAF: 9 October 1945

Extract from Gillison, D.N. (Douglas Napier) (254475) Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1962 – Page 614

Those killed on the launch were:

Leading Aircraftman John Townsend Thorpe Geappen (31289)
Private Joseph Munro Madden (QX28452)
Corporal Harry Turner (11854)

References:

Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records
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, 166/9/319 (Enclosure 266A, Pages 147-8)

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