Tonga: East Coast of 'Eua 20 - The Grave of LCpl Alan Ernest Yealands

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Ian Stehbens on October 6, 2009


Part 20

Just beyond Makalea Cave is the crest of 'Eua, a scrubby rocky spine with wonderful panoramas over the east coast, as well as clear views to the west coast and beyond to the main island, Tongatapu.

I certainly wasn't the first palangi (white man) to visit Makalea Cave, for this is very accessible and a regular run for the visitors who stay at any of the local resorts, such as Hideaway or Taina's Place.

Private Yealands was here during World War II, too. He was one of a group of signalmen of the New Zealand Army. Evidently, as the Japanese war front did not come as far as Tonga, there was little for Yealands to do but fill his time in 'Eua with fun, fantasies and drinking.

He managed to do it so well, that today on the highest point of 'Eua there is a memorial to this young soldier who was the only casualty of the War in Tonga.

The story goes, and there are many versions of it, some very much embellished, that this young Kiwi and a Tongan companion played a drunken game of hide-and-seek. A gun was hidden by another, and the two agreed to search for it, the finder shooting the loser. Fortunately for the Tongan, he found the gun, which was quite unfortunate for 24 year old A E Yealands. He did not live another day. He is now memorialised on 'Eua's summit, 312M above the sea below!!

Our goal was now to descend to the sea, and the best choice was to descend using the Lokupo Track - if we could find it!

Ian Stehbens on October 7, 2009

Thank you Mira for your thoughtful concern. As I work with people from all over the Pacific, I certainly work with people for whom the tragic WW2 history is still with them and is a deep scar on their national history as well as in their being, even this generation. The history of Banaba and Rabi Islands is just one such savage experience for a people that will always linger. To many, it seems, the offence of the perpetrators was treated with impunity. My role is to teach and initiate reconciliation, for which the essentials are truth, mercy, justice and peace, but impunity belies or denies all that.

But btw, poor Mr Alan Ernest Yealands. I cannot find out who his Tongan drinking mate was!


ƤōƝƓ on October 10, 2009

What a crazy game they played~~~

Regards, w☺rap☺ng《阿鵬》

thor☼odin™ on October 10, 2009

wow every square meter of the earth has its tale---thank you for bringing this strange myth to life...Warm wishes, Peter

A.Lebacq on October 10, 2009

A great shot and interesting series Ian, well done.

Greetings Arthur

Ian Stehbens on October 12, 2009

Thank you, w☺rap☺ng, Peter and Arthur,

Quite a remarkably different way of living and dying. This is the sort of material comedians use to lampoon groups - only this was for real. Embellish the story as you will.

Thanks for coming with me on this little adventure.

Warmest regards,


Miroslav Komar on January 26, 2010

Nice to see images of so distant, exotic place! Greetings from Croatia

Ian Stehbens on January 27, 2010

You are most welcome in my gallery, Miroslav. I have had some wonderful opportunities to travel, and work in other places, so even for me many of my images are of distant, exotic places. I guess my Australian homeland images are also quite distant and exotic for you, too.

Warm regards are sent to Croatia.


rltjtl on February 12, 2010

the photo of a.e. yealands grave is lovely, however the version of this soldiers death is totally incorrect. the court trial documents give a very different account of this very sad affair and the true version would be appreciated by members of alan's family.

Ian Stehbens on February 19, 2010

Dear rltjtl,

I greatly appreciate your gracious response to the photo and to the common Tongan version of the story. What I have written above is what was told to me in Tonga. You may not be aware that the Lonely Planet Guide to Tonga includes a similar version of this story. I would very much appreciate the correct version of the tragic incident to be made known. If you would be generous to provide the correct facts here then we can take steps to correct the legend.

Would you be so kind, please. I too would appreciate the true version being made known. I am sad that this story has tarnished the memory of Alan, not only for the family but also generally.

I will make the correct story known in 'Eua and in Tonga, and will write to Lonely Planet as well, once you provide the necessary information.

Sincerely, Ian

Ian Stehbens on July 18, 2011

At last, the True Story of the death of Lance Corporal Alan Ernest Yealands has been uncovered.

I have received a copy of the diary entries of St/Sgt Birtles L. Kerr, New Zealand Corps of Signals who served in Tonga in 1942-45. One of the sons of Birt Kerr, Murray Kerr, is currently a pharmeceutical chemist serving voluntarily at a clinic in Nuku'alofa, Tonga. We met last week.

Murray has provided me with a transcription of his father's diary. Here are the relevant extracts:

22 Feb (1943) - American forces left island including evacuation hospital. News come through of trouble on Eua. One chap shot dead and another seriously wounded. Don't know race.

23 Feb (1943) - Don't know details of Eua affair. Shorty killed outright and Bob seriously wounded... Met new CO, Lt.Col. Reynolds.

15 April (1943) - Court martial of Tongan for murder and attempted murder.

16 June (1943) - Supreme Court of Tonga hears Bob's murder case today

The true story of the death of L/Cpl Alan Yealands has been recovered from the Archives of the New Zealand Defence Force. It follows in the next entry being corroborated by these brief excerpts from Birt Kerr's diary.

Ian Stehbens on July 18, 2011

In February 1943, two New Zealanders, Bob and Shorty, both Lance Corporals serving in New Zealand Corps of Signals as Coast Watchers on 'Eua Island were accompanied by Tongan servicemen of the Tongan Defence Force.

On Monday, 22 February, 4 Privates from the "A" Company, Tonga Defence Force, were being disciplined for allegedly stealing four torch batteries several days before. The discipline involved intensive drill, which was being taken by Bob, the platoon leader, a NZ Army Lance Corporal. L/Cpl Alan Yealands, also known as Shorty, was in the radio station hut close by, at the time.

During the punishing drill, one of the Tongan soldiers complained of being tired and refused to continue. Bob, the platoon leader insisted he should continue but the Tongan soldier objected and punched Bob in the chest. In the ensuing skirmish, the Tongan grabbed the loaded rifle of the platoon leader, pointing it at him.

By this time, Alan Yealands had come to the scene and both he and the platoon leader tried to persuade the Tongan soldier to put the rifle down. Defying them, the Tongan soldier then actioned the bolt to load a round in the chamber and told his platoon leader not to come any closer.

During his trial, the Tongan soldier, in his defence, alleged that his platoon leader had shown him the loaded magazine of his rifle in response to a mistake he had made with the drill the day before. This provocative act was interpreted by the Tongan soldier as a warning that his platoon leader would shoot him the next time he made a mistake, he contended during his trial.

With this in the Tongan's mind, as the platoon leader turned his head to see what Yealands was doing, he fired at him, shooting the platoon leader in the right leg. Yealands had doubled back around the Tongan to grab him from behind, but tragically, the Tongan aware of Yealands spun around and fired. Yealands was killed instantly.

L/Cpl Yealands was buried on the highest point of 'Eua, a site that is now called Soldier's Grave. This site was where Yealands had requested he be buried should he die while serving in Tonga.

As the site is classified as "unmaintainable grave" by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, a special memorial head stone was commissioned and is located in the Telekava European Cemetery in Nuku'alofa. Alan Yealands grave in 'Eua has been maintained by the Tongan Defence Service and by other visitors, including NZ Defence force personnel.

The Tongan soldier was found guilty of the murder of L/Cpl Yealands and the attempted murder of his platoon leader by the Supreme Court in Tonga in June 1943, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Source: NZ Defence Archives

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