Dear Grandpa, Why?

Dear Gandpa, Why?
Reflections from Kokoda to Hiroshima

Dear Grandpa, Why?

by John L Read

This lovely and heart-warming story relates Read’s efforts and very often positive experiences throughout 2011 when he started seriously trying to find out something about his grandfather he had never known or even seen.

With the help of his mother, brother and the internet he was able to piece together this story well worth knowing, not only for his family but everyone interested in what made young men and women sign up and volunteer to fight for Australia. How did they cope and what mental and physical scars did they suffer and had to live with when it was all over?

The little Read did know about his grandfather was that he was born as Edward Tompson Mobsby on 12 October 1910 in Hints, Staffordshire, England. As a ten-year-old boy he arrived in Adelaide and was educated at Pulteney Grammar School, where he was known as earnest, smart and accurate – a good lad. He later found employment as a bank clerk.

After his marriage he had twin daughters, born in Adelaide in 1939 and on 6 January 1941 enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. Apart from these basic facts Read’s mother, one of the twins, had a box full of letters, documents and the RAAF flying log from her father. From that log he found that his grandfather, during his training, had flown 558 hours and ten minutes from airstrips at Deniliquin, Essendon, Bankstown, Nhill, Mount Gambier and Port Pirie.

Having completed his training, Edward Tompson Mobsby served in New Guinea where he was attached to an American bomber crew fighting the Japanese. He was shot down on 26 July 1942 and presumably died after the plane crashed near Kokoda. Armed with this information, Read and his family checked out hand-me-down family stories, diaries, letters, newspapers, Australian War Museum documents, books about the war in New Guinea, RAAF records and the internet.

Imagine his surprise when his brother typed in their grandfather’s name. Detailed material came from America through a link up with Wally McCollum, who was looking for the Mobsby twins and had gathered important information about their father. Wally had been looking for his uncle Walter Cook who had also died in New Guinea. As it turned out Mobsby had been a co-pilot on Walter’s plane. Waler Cook and his crew were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their extraordinary heroism in action.

Unfortunately Mobsby missed out on this decoration as he was not an American. One American crew member wrote that their Aussie mate was respected, greatly admired and loved for his sense of humor, energy and willingness to serve. All this did not sit well with Mobsby’s wife and his daughters who for almost 70 years tried to have that rule changed. Wally now sent a request to the Australian archives for Mobsby’s files and was thrilled to receive photos of Mobsby signing bombs destined for the Japanese. With more and more information coming to light, emails went back and forth between America and Australia.

After further research in both countries it was established that Mobsby’s plane was shot down about 60 kilometres from Buna. The wreckage of the plane was eventually located by two Australian war historians near Isoge. It was soon decided that the Read brothers and their mother would go to visit the wreck. Meanwhile Read had kept up his reading of war histories and came across much information he had never known about. One disturbing fact being that when the Japanese captured Singapore on 15 February 1942 as many as 1800 Australian troops were killed and 15.000 imprisoned by the Japanese.

Read now started to look for answers to different and pertinent questions such as; Why did his grandpa enlist, would he do it again, did it make any difference? What about the Japanese? Didn’t they have the same rights as the British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Russians, Australians and others? They all had invaded other countries at times to shore up resources for their country.

Other questions he would like answered were: Why did it take two nuclear bombs for Japan to finally surrender, or was it the only way to make them stop the carnage in the East? As the Hon. Sir Eric Neal, AC, CVO wrote; That, and many other, questions have been asked many times over by descendants of those who have died in war but John L Read placed his energy into actually seeking an answer to his own question.

On 24 July 2011 the Read family left Adelaide for New Guinea and it was at Popondetta that they first saw an old B-25 bomber in which their grandpa had flown. Later that day they sighted the wreck of the plane, or what was left of it, in which the American crew and Mobsby had died. It fuselage peppered with holes. According to the locals nobody had survived the crash. The next day they visited the site where Mobsby had first been buried. All in all it turned out an emotional and harrowing day, especially for his mother. They also visited the War Cemetery where Mobsby had later been interred.

John Read’s quest for information and an apology for the death of his grandfather had taken the family from Adelaide to startling discoveries in New Guinea. Back in Australia Read should have concluded his ruminating about his grandfather and his sacrifice, but it hadn’t. If anything he had been reflecting about him, about war and peace and international relations even more. He also wanted the know what the Japanese thought about their involvement in the war.

To find out about the other side of the story Read goes on to relate how he came to know the granddaughter, Miyuki, of the Japanese pilot who shot down his grandfather’s plane. This pilot, Saburo Sakai, became one of the 180.000 Japanese who died in New Guinea. Miyuki was involved with the Japan Youth Memorial Association which is dedicated to returning to Japan the remains of Japanese soldiers who had died in the Great Eastern War, (WWII).

She, and her mother, also went to New Guinea to look for her grandfather’s grave. After many emails Read visited Miyuki in Japan. During their talks they learned of their different points of view about the war, its history, motivations and repercussions. What they agreed on was that above all they wanted peace. This part of the book also makes for some very interesting reading.

Even more interesting and immensely satisfying is the last chapter which details the struggle and frustrations of Read’s family to get the Distinguished Service Cross awarded to his grandfather. This was finally achieved, with the help of General Carlisle and President Barrack Obama, on 14 March 2014 in Canberra. At the ceremony, attended by more than 100 family members and officials, General Carlisle read excerpts from the official US transcript and stated that Mobsby had been a giant and today we honour his gallantry in action. And so we should.

Review by Nic Klaassen

Dear Grandpa, Why? PB, 184 pp. and photographs
is available at $24.95 from
Wakefield Press
Telephone 08 8352 4455


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