Project Canterbury

South Sea Epic: War and the Church in New Guinea

Compiled by Ruth Henrich

London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1944.

Chapter III. War in the Pacific

Native Reactions to the European War.

Even before the war flared up in the Pacific, New Guinea felt some reverberations of the general world unrest.

[15] We are able now (June, 1941) to see some of the changes which war has brought to Papua, and its effects upon the Papuans. It is a significant fact that now, for the first time in its history, Papua has soldiers stationed in its territory. For more than fifty years the Territory has been under British rule, and, until this present war, soldiers and military rule were unknown to the Papuans. It was the boast of Sir William MacGregor, the first Governor of Papua, that he had never had to call in the military to his aid. The fighting forces now stationed in Papua are not here to protect European settlers from native marauders or uncivilized tribes, for there is no need of that to-day, but to protect both white and brown from a professedly civilized foe.

There is no doubt at all but the war at first was a great shock to the Papuan mind. It filled them with perplexity that the white man who had taught them not to fight, was now engaged in a life and death struggle with other white men. The immediate cause of Britain's entry into the war was not difficult for them to understand when they knew that Germany was taking away from the Poles their lands and their homes, and that Britain was championing the cause and rights of a weaker nation. They knew how, under British rule, their own lands and homes have been preserved to them inviolate. They know that at the time of the annexation it was solemnly pledged to them in the name of the Crown that their lands should be secured to them for all time, and that this pledge had been faithfully adhered to by successive administrations, so that Europeans desiring land can only obtain it through the Government, and then only if the natives who own the land are willing to sell it. There have been and are many who criticise this policy, and would like it altered in a way which would give the white man greater freedom and enable him to force the natives to part with any land he may want. The fact, however, remains that a pledge has been given in the name of the Crown, and any tampering or whittling away of its implications would be compromising the honour of the Crown and the reputation of British justice, which stands so high at present in the native mind and is the basis of their loyalty.

The coming of the fighting services to Papua does not directly affect our mission area at present, but it does so indirectly, because the movement of natives between the Port Moresby area and other parts of Papua is much greater [15/16] to-day than it was in days gone by. Consequently the impact of our civilization, with its vices and moral dangers, upon the Papuan has now greatly increased.

The Papuans in all parts of the Territory have helped by their gifts in a most surprising way the war efforts and war charities. Many boys from our mission area, notably from the Sangara, Isivita and Gona districts, have joined the Papuan Infantry Battalion, and are now serving as soldiers in Port Moresby. Some of these are Christians, but the majority are catechumens and hearers, whose course of definite Christian instruction in preparation for baptism will now be indefinitely interrupted. Others of our boys whose work is in Samarai are, in their spare time, serving in the local Defence Force. The war has also brought some changes in regard to native labour.

Bishop's Report, 1940-41.

Mission Work on the Eve of War.

Letters from the Rev. Vivian Redlich, missionary priest at Sangara in the north of the diocese, to his father in England.

August 26th, 1941.

Life is full of surprises--I've had two lately. I had given up hopes of getting to Dogura for Jubilee and Conference; then a few days before and at a day's notice I was given the chance of going by air with the Administrator of Papua and the Federal Minister for External Territories. Did I jump at it! Jubilee and Conference was all most enjoyable. All the white staff, native clergy and teachers, and crowds of delegates from all over the mission were there and we all had a jolly time--and I met many old friends from Taupota and Gona. I was Conference Secretary again, and treated them to 26 foolscap pages of minutes and quite a few laughs.

And then two days before we left the Bishop sprang the other surprise on me. I had expected to go to Boianai--a large station near Dogura with a frantic mountain district and 12 outstations. Instead of that he has put me as Priest-in-charge (i.e., a permanency this time) at Sangara, in the northern part, and about 30 miles inland from Gona. There are two fine ladies here, Miss Brenchley (nurse) and Miss Lashmar (teacher), but up till now no resident priest, ministrations being from Isivita, seven miles off. It is a pretty and a busy station, about 1,000 ft. up on the slopes of Mt. [16/17] Lamington--school over 300--very rainy--big local population. One hundred and forty Christians and many catechumens nearly ready for baptism. It is in the heart of the coffee growing area--a big Government and native co-op, affair, and there is rubber nearby too. We can even get from the beach to within 20 minutes of the station by motor truck. The people here are a very fine type--with a language different from, though related to, that of the coast. However, we manage with the same liturgical language, Binandere, so I can manage all right for services. I hope to teach them to sing the Communion Service. I had a "Church Council" meeting last night, so my room still has a faint aroma of coconut oil (skin polish) and trade tobacco!

December 8th, 1941.

When I got here I found 140 catechumens overdue for baptism--I've had a lot of work with instruction and final preparation and am now baptising them in batches of 20 or so. On top of this I have had to cope with an outburst of sorcery, or rather sorcery hunting, which has meant that some leading Churchmen are under discipline. On top of it all, and interlocked with the catechumen work, there is a Government patrol in progress, and we are likely to lose about one-third of our adult population for a while. Some villages have no one left. A lot of my catechumens have fallen by the wayside, and half our pupil teachers.

The other night someone burnt down our local rest-house over the Travelling Medical Assistant's head. I've had to outfit him with clothes. Luckily he saved his microscope and the census.

I am doing a lot of building work. I have under construction a swanky new hospital (nearly finished), and a teacher's house. Soon I have to build a new wash-house, stores for coconuts, firewood, boxes and garden tools, and my house and workshop. My electric plant is now going very well. I've made lots of new parts and alterations, mostly out of scraps of oddments and tin cans.

January 20th, 1942.

Events have flared up in the Pacific, all women, barring missionaries and nurses, have been evacuated from both territories, this and New Guinea. Rabaul, capital of New Guinea, has had several air raids, and we hear to-night on the radio, a proper one to-day. So far no shortage of supplies, [17/18] though liquid fuels are now rationed. I've just had a few days away. Lorry to the coast. Borrowed a bike and let my carriers go another way. All the creeks and rivers had suddenly come down in flood. I had a great (?) time getting village assistance and being rafted or swum over them! Found the missionary at Eroro building a huge and insecure church, and tinkering about with his engine, and then returned on the S.S. Maclaren-King. I've finished my new hospital, and for a native one very nice it is--even electric light (it's wired with fence wire). Now I am trying to chase up my church councillors to repair the church roof, which leaks like a sieve.

Letter from the Ven. S. R. M. Gill, Archdeacon of the Mamba, in the extreme north of the diocese.

October 9th, 1941.

. . . For months I have been very much engaged, as far as this typewriter is concerned, with typing out my work on the new Wedauan Liturgy which has been the absorbing concern of the last nearly-three years. It has been through five revisions. I was able to finish fair copies of the fifth, together with an English version of it, in time for the Bishop's Visitation a few days ago. He has now left for Australia for Provincial Synod, and has gone armed with one of the English copies in order to press its claims upon the Archbishop and others. The Arch's permission is really necessary before it could become a Use for this Diocese. . . .

Letters from the Rev. James Benson, missionary priest at Gona, in the north of the diocese, to his sister and brother-in-law in England.

October 1st, 1941.

We have had an anxious and trying three months or so. Pneumonic flu in two main waves. One before we went to Dogura for the Jubilee in July-August. Then in early September the village of Eruada, about three hours' walk inside, was practically wiped out before we got word of it and brought in the remnants that were left--five, of whom two died. So all that is left now are two women and a child. Then it broke out on the coast and closer up at Napapo and Jenati, an hour's walk away. The deaths on the station caused terror in the hearts of most of the poor dears and it [18/19] was a dreadful job to persuade them to come in when sick. Sulphanilamide--the new drug--was great in some cases and useless in others. The Government Officer at Buna sent, two native medical assistants to help, and Sister Hayman worked amazingly, till she went down with a gastric ulcer and was nursed by Mrs. Atkinson, the wife of the magistrate at Buna. Fortunately one of the Government Medical Patrol officers--a fellow as good as or better than most doctors--was at Buna and diagnosed Sister's trouble and put her on a diet. By this time, however, our worst cases were well on the mend. When the Bishop arrived for the Jubilee visitation of Stations I was able to get away to be with him at the coastal outstations of Ambasi, Katma and Bakumbari, at each of which there are new churches to bless. So I came on here to Mamba, where I now sit writing from the hilltop. The Bishop was away up the Gira River for three days. I intended to spend lots of time writing. Instead I conceived the idea of making a lino-cut Christmas card for him. This I did on Monday and on Tuesday I printed 200 of them. One print on airplane paper I enclose with my greetings to you.

January 8th, 1942.

We had a lovely Christmas, though the Pacific is now part of the vast field of war. Thus far it has not touched Papua, though bombs on Rabaul in the neighbouring territory bring it near. On Boxing Day and for two days after planes from Port Moresby flew all the women and children of the territory back to Australia. Missionaries were allowed to stay and all our sisters elected to do so. ... Actually we are, I think, safer than many parts of Australia, and certainly safer than you, though we may be isolated for a time and short of supplies. As I hear the swish of the waves on the beach and the whisper of the wind in the palm trees, and feel the peace of God which is on this lovely place, I feel there can be no war in such a world as this. The tragedy is that it is not such a world as this; but a good mission station is, I think, a microcosm of the world God would have us make. We feel God at the heart of things here.

In the last week of January it was decided to move diocesan headquarters from Samarai to Dogura, as the former place was being completely evacuated. The [19/20] move is described in a letter from the Rev. J. Benson, written after he had seen the Bishop in April.

April 20th, 1942.

When it became evident in January that Samarai would be completely evacuated, the Bishop wisely decided to move Mission Headquarters to Dogura, and to get hold of as much stores as might be salvaged from a quickly disintegrating business centre. This week Bishop gave us a most vivid description of that week of many journeys between Samarai and Dogura by the steamship Maclaren-King. Any moment the Japanese were expected: there was the great question--Will there be time? All the office things and furniture from the Rectory were piled high on the deck of the little ship on one trip. (After all, you must remember that the M.K. is only a tiny craft.) Then there was need to get stores for all the eighteen mission stations up the coast, with no promise of any further stores later. The ship did three trips; also the Bishop managed to secure another ship to do two trips. They brought supplies of most of the essential things--cases of meat, flour, tea, sugar and trade tobacco. On the last trip they hoped to land a full cargo of rice, but were disappointed to find that by that time a lot of looting had taken place.

Now here is a remarkable thing. In all this coming and going not a Japanese 'plane had been seen, and Dogura you must remember is a 12 hours' sail from Samarai.

They left for the last time on Friday, 30th January, and the very next day a Japanese 'plane was "spotting" over Samarai; a week later the Japanese returned and bombed it. Long before that, of course, it was quite deserted. There was a hectic week or so at Dogura, sorting things out and getting the office in working order, and then the M.K. came along the coast with the Bishop, calling at all the stations.

The Australian Board of Missions Review of February 1st, 1942, commented thus on the situation:--

It will be known to most of our readers that the Commonwealth Government ordered the evacuation of all women from certain areas of the Pacific, where the danger was believed to be great. Exception was made in the case of missionaries and nurses, and the first cause for thankfulness is the fact that the value of missionaries as a source of strength to the native peoples in such a time of crisis was clearly recognised [20/21] by the authorities. The second cause for thankfulness--even greater than the first--is reported to us by the Bishop of New Guinea. It is that whilst the women missionaries of that diocese were left entirely free to make their own decision, they decided, with the single exception of a mother, who felt a grave responsibility for her child, to remain at their posts. Perhaps nothing could so clearly reveal the high and selfless motive which animates our missionaries than this determination to carry on God's work to the end, regardless of what physical dangers may threaten. At the same time there will be mingled with our pride a deep concern for those at work in these areas, and a genuine sympathy with friends and relatives anxious on their behalf.

A.B.M. Review, February 1st, 1942.

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