The Memorial takes the form of an avenue of stone pylons leading from the entrance building to the Cross of Sacrifice. Bronze panels bearing the names are affixed to the faces of the pylons. A central stone lectern at the commencement of the avenue carries a bronze plate.
Between 1884 and 1914, New Britain was known as New Pomerania and part of German New Guinea. On the 11th September 1914, in one of Australia's first actions of the 1914-18 war, its troops seized the German wireless station at Bitapaka near Rabaul. After the war, the island became part of the Territory of New Guinea, which was an Australian mandated territory. The site of the wireless station became the War Cemetery. In January 1942, after three weeks of air bombardment, Rabaul was attacked by the Japanese from the sea, and overwhelming odds soon broke the defence. It is estimated that against the original garrison of 1,400 the Japanese landed 17,000 men in the immediate vicinity of Rabaul. The defenders split into small groups and while some 400 managed to escape by sea a great number were killed or captured. Of the latter, some 160 were murdered by the Japanese near Tol in February, whilst most of the remainder, plus some 200 civilians, were drowned when the ship, the Montevideo Maru, was torpedoed and sunk whilst moving them to the Philippines. Nevertheless a number of the original garrison ran the gauntlet of the Japanese patrol and reached Australian territory in small vessels, overlooked when the Japanese commander sent destroyers steaming up and down the coast smashing all the boats to be found. Small forces on New Ireland, which lies near and north-north-east of New Britain, had been attacked and overwhelmed on January 21st, 1942. It was not until November 1944 that New Britain was again the scene of fighting, when the 5th Australian Division landed at Jacquinot Bay, and the 11th Division at Wide Bay. The two Divisions cleared the north and south coasts and bottled up the enemy in the Gazelle Peninsula. Here the Japanese were contained until the final surrender in August 1945, when the number of their troops was found to be nearly 90,000. The Rabaul Memorial commemorates over 1,200 members of the Australian Army (including personnel of the New Guinea and Papuan local forces and constabulary) and the Royal Australian Air Force, who lost their lives in New Britain and New Ireland in January and February 1942 or who were lost as a result of the sinking of the S.S. Montevideo Maru in July 1942 and those in New Britain from November 1944 to August 1945, who have no known grave. Men of the Royal Australian Navy who lost their lives in the south-western Pacific region and who have no graves but the sea, are commemorated on Plymouth Naval Memorial in England along with many of their comrades of the Royal Navy and other Commonwealth Naval Forces.