Chapter V. The Church Carries On
Letter from the Rev. J. Benson, Gona.
February 2nd, 1942.
As you have long since learnt, the balloon has gone up with a vengeance all over the S.W. Pacific and it looks now that Gona will soon be in "No man's land." I am writing at 8 p.m. and in the seven o'clock news we learnt that two planes this morning bombed Port Moresby.
Yesterday we had our most historic day, when eleven great canoes came from the far north. They were like an armada strung out across the bay, and they carried 33 poor white [25/26] men bombed out of Salamaua, way up in the Mandated Territory. It was my first sight of a refugee, and as they had been ten days out with merely the things they stood up in, plus many bags of rice and cases of tinned meat and soup, they looked a sorry lot of ragamuffins, despite the fact that they numbered some of the highest government and commercial officials amongst them, and a doctor and one woman--a nursing sister. They were all wonderfully cheerful through salt encrusted, cracked and sunburnt skins. I hope the picture I took of them will turn out good.
Sister Hayman and Miss Parkinson--the teacher--are to join them at Buna, and we are hoping for some sort of big flying boat picking them up and landing them safely in Australia. When that is accomplished, I shall be able to settle down for the duration, unless the Japanese roof me out in the meantime. I only pray to be spared internment camps--loathsome things.
Letter from the Rev. V. Redlich, Sangara.
February 2nd, 1942.
There is a rush chance to get a mail home, so here goes for a few lines to let you know all is well with me. I imagine you have heard on the radio all about the attacks on the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. So far nothing has occurred in this Territory, though, of course, we never know. It looks as though we may find ourselves more or less isolated as regards mail and supplies, but we guess we can survive. Both the lady missionaries and myself are agreed we will stay put whatever happens. That is the general mission policy, and I am sure is a right one. Four of the mission staff from the coast arrived the other day for us to make up their minds. The natives get somewhat agitated at times, but that is natural. Anyway, the station is running normally.
Territories under Martial Law.
Martial law was declared in the Territories of Papua and New Guinea on February 12th, 1943. The officer commanding the Eighth Military District, which comprises Papua and New Guinea, assumed complete control of these Territories, with power over civilians as well as members of the forces.
He may, in the words of the regulations, "cause or direct to be done any act or thing which he thinks [26/27] necessary for the purpose of meeting any emergency arising out of the war or for the purpose of providing defence."
It was announced on February 14th that the whole administrative machinery of the two Territories had passed into the hands of the military and that the Administrator of Papua (the Hon. Leonard Murray) was proceeding to Australia.
Letter from Bishop Henry Newton, aged 78, formerly Bishop of New Guinea, who retired in 1936, and returned to the diocese, when his health allowed, to continue the work of preparing Papuans for ordination.
All stations where there is native work done, manned and womaned. Staff, white and Papuan, "stay put." We can keep essential work going: Sacraments, Services, Teaching, Dispensing (so long as drugs last), and so have less lee-way to make up when peace comes. Work reduced, e.g., school hours, so that teachers have more time for gardens. Food problem for natives difficult, so boarders sent home. School here reduced from 150 to 60, nearly all Wedau children. Three postulants for diaconate here. Jennings at Taupota could not take over. Food problem there difficult. Here Wedau people have given them land which can be irrigated, so in a short time they will have food--one is son of Peter Rautamara, whom I prepared for diaconate in 1913 or 1914. I take them for two lectures with a deacon preparing for Priesthood. He had begun these, but lacunae can be filled in later. We got fair supply of stores from deserted Samarai. When these are finished we must live on the country. Others fare worse than that! Food for Papuans a problem. The Bishop has had an anxious and worrying time. He decided to close the Training College as little land there and not much good. But, "man proposes ..." Some boys developed dysentery and so none could be sent away. Now thev cannot go for two months, so perhaps something will turn up to make it possible to keep college going. I hope so. Jennings was very ill. Better again. Brady is at the College now. Gill salvaged some parachutes from a crashed 'plane and has made silk shirts and pyjamas of one; sent another here. We have had refugees from other Territory passing. Six a week ago in a small launch; 34 up north, travelling inland, ate one station out of white flour! and had done the same at two [27/28] other stations. Country under military control. Matthews, Chaplain to the Civil side of Military Administration, in Port Moresby. We have not heard of Sherwin, but I think all from Wau have been evacuated. No one at Samarai, of course; that place is dead for good and all. For years it has been felt that the Island is too small.
From the Northern Churchman, July 1st, 1942.
As the war approached nearer to Papua, the Bishop and Australian authorities were gravely exercised as to whether they ought to insist on women missionaries leaving New Guinea.
In the last issue of the Review reference was made to the decision by the staff, both men and women, of the* New Guinea Mission to remain at their posts in Papua. This, they believed, was their highest duty no matter what the future might hold. The Bishop mentioned that he has felt a grave responsibility in the matter, and wondered whether he ought to insist on the women going. "However," writes the Bishop, "they stand like a solid phalanx by their vocation and their desire to serve under all circumstances." The Bishop states that the Rectory at Samarai has been closed, and Archdeacon and Mrs. Thompson have been transferred to Dogura, where stores and fuel have been accumulated. There would now be no regular communication with outside places, including Australia, so that only occasional mails would get through. It may be that with Papua placed under military control, the women missionaries may even now be deprived of the "privilege" of remaining on their stations; but so far no news of any change has been received. A radio which appeared to have been despatched from Dogura about the middle of February stated that all was well. . . . Our missionaries remaining in Papua now include fifteen clergy, two laymen and fourteen women.
A.B.M. Review, March 1st, 1942.
Events move so rapidly that what seems reasonable to write to-day may easily sound absurd and ill-informed within twenty-four hours. The only news received from the Bishop and staff of the New Guinea Mission since their brave decision to remain on their stations, and the transfer of the Samarai office to Dogura, has been by radio. The nature of the radios seemed to indicate that all was well. Doubtless there [28/29] are many letters en route and waiting for a suitable opportunity to be taken to Port Moresby, and from there brought to Australia.
A.B.M. Review, April 1st, 1942.
The Bishop's Travels.
After moving diocesan headquarters to Dogura, the Bishop set out in the Maclaren-King to visit all the stations in the diocese. While in the northern district he narrowly escaped death by machine-guns from a Japanese plane.
Letter from the Rev. J. Benson, Gona.
April 20th, 1942.
As you doubtless heard on the wireless the other day, in the account of the Battle of Buna, the war has actually touched us on the north-east coast, but I think I had better begin my story a little earlier.
After the move from Samarai there was a hectic week or so at Dogura sorting things out and getting the office in working order, and then the Maclaren-King came along the coast with the Bishop, calling at all our stations. She was here at Gona on the 2nd March, arriving just before sunset, and left again at midnight for the Mamba, travelling at night because of the many 'planes passing over here between Rabaul and Port Moresby. I took the opportunity of going with her as far as Ambasi, where we arrived at 3 a.m. on a lovely night under a full moon.
Next day at 4 p.m., while I was scribbling some letters in my hut at Ambasi, there was a terrific explosion, and I rushed out to find Vincent the teacher and his family hopping about in great excitement. There were three 'planes about seven miles away to the north, and apparently they were being chased by a fourth 'plane, but what caused the great explosion I could not say--it was certainly not shooting. The Maclaren-King returned next day to pick me up, and they had heard the explosion near the Mamba--20 miles or so away.
We got to Gona at 9.30 that night, and after a Confirmation and various other doings next day, the Bishop left for Sangara by foot on the following morning, which meant that the M.-K. was anchored in a quiet bay nearby for the week-end. Quite unexpectedly, as I was going to church at 5.30 a.m. on [29/30] Tuesday, 10th March, the Bishop returned with Mr. Duffill from Buna in my lovely little launch The Salamaua--newly painted and all! The Bishop wanted to consult me further in some after-thoughts of his concerned with the present situation. They were able finally to get away at 9.30 back to Buna on the old M.-K., and a lovely sight she looked as she lopped along southward to Buna. About one and a half hours later, a great Japanese seaplane came directly over this station, only about 200 ft. up, and even then I never thought of any danger on this coast. One naturally thought of them making for Port Moresby, even though the direction was not quite right. At 11 o'clock, during the school recess, there was a great cry and the children rushed down the road near the beach, I with them.
A Christian had run up from Basabua, a village two miles down from Buna, lathered with perspiration like a racehorse, to tell us: "Two bombs on Buna, Buna he finish, everybody killed!" He was followed by women coming to take their children away from school. In any time of danger, New Guinea folk want to go to the bush--to their garden houses. Well, we pacified the women and I took them off back to their villages, reassuring the few people that I met as we went along. There were no able-bodied men in the villages, they had gone to Buna. At first I thought this was an indication of heroism, until someone told me that Elijah's father had gone to Buna to bring back Elijah's body. So I got the hang of the thing. A few weeks ago there had been a number of recruits to the local constabulary, and lads from almost every village were involved. Consequently, if "Buna finished, everybody killed," well, the parents and brethren had to go to pick up the bits! Of course, gradually, they came to realise that I was possibly right when I said that perhaps the bombs had not hit Buna at all, as nobody had seen it, they had only heard it.
During the afternoon we got the first eye-witness account, and this--as the old lady said--was rather "gargled": M.-K. mast shot off but nobody killed. At midnight Mr. Duffill returned by chance, with a full account and a letter from the Bishop. Two bombs had straddled the M.-K., fifty yards on either side, both in the sea; she was anchored close inshore. The crew and the old Captain--Edward Guise--took to the water and were swimming ashore when the 'plane circled and came back, machine-gunning them [30/31] and the ship. Doubtless the diving tactics of the lads saved their lives, but the M.-K. took a few bullets away as souvenirs, fortunately none in a vital spot. It was apparently at this stage of the game that the Japanese spotted our little Salamaua approaching the beach on the other side of the little bay. The Bishop and party had just time to leap ashore, when the guns of the 'plane lined the launch from 50 yards up from stem to stern, narrowly missing the Bishop lying on the beach. The 'plane now settled on the water, and from her sitting position again played her guns on the Bishop's party. The Bishop had moved by this time higher up into the bush, and this second burst of machine-gun fire riddled the place where he had been lying. In this burst she riddled the little launch again from side to side. By now, rifles, etc., were firing from the shore at the sitting 'plane, and fearing a bullet in a vital part, the Japanese soon made off. So ended the Battle of Buna, the first engagement on the N.E. Coast of Papua. And be it noted, it was the Church which was under fire! All who saw the action were agreed that the Bishop carried himself with true courage throughout. Mr. Duffill and the native boys told us that when the 'plane had gone away, the Bishop knelt on the sand with them around him and thanked God for a safe deliverance. The M.-K. left at six that night, intending to travel at night and lie-up in the day-time until she reached Dogura. We have heard nothing since. We hardly expect to see the M.-K. again for the duration of the war. Since then our radio has gone "phut," and our hopes are pinned on a government man 30 miles away, who may be able to fix it for us.
Letter from the Rev. V. Redlich, Sangara. April 14th, 1942.
Yes, I'm still alive, and all goes well. The country is now under a military administration, and the only civilians left are missionaries. We are still carrying on--though at times we feel the people are a bit jittery--or have been. We had a good day on Good Friday on the whole--quite a fair crowd for the Three Hours--but Easter Day was definitely poor.
Buna and Kokoda each had a raid. (This comes over the air so it won't be censored.) At Buna they tried to shoot up the Bishop, who was out in a launch--but only spoilt the launch and the Bishop's Office Book. He had just been in to see us, and brought us fair stores--so we are not worried, [31/32] especially as I gather the Administration will see we don't starve.
I'm hoping to open a new outstation soon--the snag now is that the promised teacher can't come as his wife is ill. He was a nice boy and a former head teacher who had been in trouble in gaol, but the Bishop took him back.
The Bishop was able to get to Port Moresby for Easter, and describes his visit in the following letter:--
The first day was spent almost fully in going into matters affecting the Mission. Then I spent a day establishing contact with many units and contacting the various chaplains. I stayed that night in town in order to give some of our Papuan boys, whom I discovered working there, their Communion on Maundy Thursday in St. John's Church, as they had not been able to receive for some months. Then I called on the Major-General and got his practical sympathy and help for Good Friday and Easter services, and there was a very full day fixing all these up with the various units.
The whole of Good Friday, from first thing in the morning till dark, was spent going round to different units in the field and having with them there and then, in the open, short services of an informal nature, of remembrance of Good Friday and all that it stands for. Altogether I had eleven services that day, and wished that the day had been twice as long, as the response was so encouraging and they seemed so appreciated, but the distance to be covered was so great, and transport is slow and difficult.
On Easter Day we had six open-air Celebrations at different centres, which Matthews and I shared between us, and which kept us going until lunch-time. The Major-General was at the first one, which I took by the side of the road. We had some 160 communicants that morning, and that does not include the communicants which two other Church of England padres had in their respective spheres, and also those we have had on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings this week, when we have provided for those we could not reach on Easter Day. Altogether there will have been, I think, nearly four hundred Communions this Easter up to the present, and we have still a number of places to go to. On Easter Day after we had had a rest--as we were pretty tired after such a morning following on some very full days in the week before--we went off in the late afternoon to one of the [32/33] big hospitals, and I conducted a short service in each of the wards, so that that day I gave eight addresses and ten on Good Friday. We followed that up this morning, when we had Easter Communion at the hospital with over thirty communicants.
On Easter Monday we had a Confirmation in St. John's Church, which is not without visible tokens of the bombing which this district has had in recent weeks; fifteen candidates from the Forces were confirmed then. The following morning the church was not big enough to seat all who attended a Church Parade Service there, when a number also received their Easter Communion; and I followed this by conducting a Quiet Day for the Church of England padres--three in number. We camped at the Rectory for the purpose.
I do not know how long I shall be here--a few more days I expect; and then I shall be trying to find some means of getting back to the mission area, which, like the coming, will probably be a slow, tedious and uncomfortable business.
It has been a real evangelistic Holy Week and Easter here, and something peculiarly appealing about the simple, informal, and primitive nature of the services in the open air with strange and unusual surroundings.
From the A.B.M. Review, June 1st, 1942.
Problems and Incidents.
The question of how to get supplies to the mission stations was solved by the news that the military authorities would provide for them.
With the closing of Samarai, one of the problems which seriously troubled the Bishop of New Guinea was the question of supplies for the staff when their stocks gave out. He mentioned that Archdeacon Thompson, with considerable foresight, had been able to accumulate sufficient for three months, or even four months with care, but after that they would be compelled to depend on the produce of the country--tropical fruits and food from their own and native gardens. It was possible to take a more hopeful view early in April, when news came that the military authorities were interested in the matter and intended to see that the needs of the Bishop and the mission staff were supplied. The reasons given for this unexpected development were that the authorities [33/34] admired the missionaries for remaining at their posts, recognised the great value of their work, especially as a stabilising influence among the natives, and considered them worthy, therefore, of all possible consideration.
A.B.M. Review, May 1st, 1942.
News of the staff was very scanty for some months.
We feel justified in making the announcement that we have good reason to believe that all the members of the New Guinea Mission Staff are well. The Bishop states (April 6th) that, whilst they have had periods of deep anxiety--even of gloom and foreboding--these have passed, at least temporarily, and the situation is now brighter than they dared even to hope a few weeks ago. The Bishop says that each day that passes convinces them more and more of the rightness of their action in remaining at their posts.
A.B.M. Review, May 1st, 1942.
Archdeacon Gill, in the northern district, reported a number of incidents.
The Rev. S. R. M. Gill has had some visitors--a plane crashed on the coast. Two of the crew got to the station, and a canoe was sent to bring two more. None were seriously hurt, and Mr. Gill was able to patch them up before they left. He also had a large party of refugees from the Mandated Territory--thirty-four in all--for half a day and a night.
A.B.M. Review, June 1st, 1942.
Letter from Archdeacon Gill, Mamba, to a brother in England.
(First 23 lines excised by Censor. He speaks of his radio receiver having suddenly gone dumb, May 6th). It's a valve or condenser or something that has gone wrong. I fear there will be no chance of getting it put right--perhaps for the "duration." So now 1 am back on the old footing, or rather far more back than that: in the old days there was at least the M.-K. every six weeks, and the chartered boat in between; that meant news from local people with sets, and also mails. Now, well, you would have to stretch your imagination a lot to realise exactly how one is situated now. I will say just [34/35] this much, a certain amount of stores were dumped here some time ago with no guarantee that more would be forthcoming. The luxury of the last year, with its news and talks and other attractions every few hours has rather spoilt one for the condition under which I am now placed. Also, one did have an idea as to what was happening all around one here and in the near vicinity. However, there it is!
There are so many of you in England, that the manxome foe can hardly be expected to take individual notice of you or your private dwelling-houses. That is not so here; every white settlement may become a "target "--and there is no mistaking them from the air, either! However, here I stay, it would be unthinkable to do otherwise, and that's how all the Anglican Mission thinks.
May 24th (Whit Sunday). Well, we are still here, though indeed an hour and a half ago I was wondering whether the beginning of the end was about to take place. . . . Interval here, as just at that moment the familiar droning got louder; it's gone now . . . however, speaking for myself, I have never felt happier or more content. . . . It's our mission women that I admire, they had every chance to go--in fact pressure was brought upon them to do so--when others left; but here they are carrying on just as usual on their various stations.
Life in the Northern stations, after various alarms and excursions, became almost normal in the early part of 1942.
Extracts from a letter from the Rev. J. Benson, Gona, to his relatives in England.
June 6th, 1942.
The address (new one, observe) would call from our American friends a "Say, mister, you have sure said a mouthful," but there it is. Old British New Guinea ceased ages ago, and now Papua is no more, neither Mandated Territory, and we blossom out as Australian New Guinea, which sounds very good and sensible.
As we happen to have battle 'planes roaring overhead from time to time, and as also from time to time soldier boys come and go on their apparently endless walking to and fro in the earth, we are reminded that we are in a war area and hence the military nature of the new address.
 The Japanese, as you know, are in most of the old Mandated Territory, though Wau, Bulolo and other inland places are still fighting back and appear likely to preserve themselves as useful spring boards when the glad time comes to re-occupy the coastal places. In old Papua thus far there have been no Japanese landings, except forced ones, from which I gather that sundry sons of the sun goddess are in custody and kept away from pocket knives and other things that might tempt them to Hari kari. Also there are bones and wreckage scattered about mountain tops and in nasty oozy swamps: but most of this has happened far away from us, and except when on March 10th a Japanese reconnaissance 'plane tried to get the Bishop a few miles away, that time my nice new motor launch--a gift of the Salamaua refugees--was riddled, we have not seen a yellow face in these parts.
Actually we might say we are back to normal. In the first days of the Pacific Blitz (contradiction in terms, what?) there was rather a stampede of Europeans making back for dear old Australia. Planters, traders, miners cleared out, sometimes leaving signed-on boys to shift for themselves hundreds of miles away from their homes. A great piece of work was done by Canon Needham's brother-in-law and a government officer, who in the former's launch repatriated hundreds of natives from Misima to the mainland and other islands. So for some weeks there were bands of men moving about the country; we had some of our local boys come back from the other side near Port Moresby, having walked right across the Territory and over the great ranges. Naturally in such circumstances, there was some looting, and spots of trouble here and there, but we saw nothing of it. There was, of course, a good deal of unsettlement in the villages, and scares when first the planes began to come over, coming to a head in great style when we heard the bombs which tried to get the Maclaren-King and the Bishop. Most of our people went into the bush, that is they went to live in their garden houses, for you must remember that the Papuan is of the landed gentry, in that each has his "town house" and his "place in the country." So station and school life was rather flat for a couple of weeks, but now they are "as you were," and when 'planes go over in formation we just look up and the keen eyes count them, and we wonder if they are ours or Japs, and that's all there is to it.
Later we might get a note from the Government people [36/37] telling us: "Port had a raid yesterday and we brought down a bomber and two fighters. Our chaps were over Rabaul again and Salamaua and Lae got another plastering." This dependence on Government for news will indicate to you our major tragedy, that is our good Philips radio has gone dumb on us. Woe, woe is me! This happened about a couple of months ago. So we know little of the outside world. However, we expect something up the coast in a few weeks and I am hoping for the necessary gadget to make the Philips vocal once again.
Even our domestic life goes on as usual. As you know, the staff here is now made up of myself, with Sister Hayman and Miss Parkinson in hospital and school. Miss Hayman also does the housekeeping, a most happy arrangement. But I feel it a great responsibility; lately, however, with the increasing evidence that we intend to hold New Guinea, I have been less worried. . . .
Of course, it means that I have been more than usually tied to the Station. One could not go away for long in the extreme uncertainty. I have since, however, done one trip in which there was a touch of exploration. A few weeks ago I finished a two weeks' walk-about to Ambasi and the Upper Kumusi River, which I approached this time by the little known Opi River. So far as I knew, the Opi had never known a white man and the villagers at the mouth told me of various places where one could sleep. . . . We saw neither man nor beast, there was even no mud nor sand-banks for the crocodiles to bask on for three days. Rather useless sort of travelling, but we saved probably four days of mud and swamp walking, and one can say one has done the Opi once!
Siai, our farthest outstation, on the Kumusi, was suffering a touch of war jitters due to the machinations of a native policeman away at Sangara--two days' walk--who by a system of messengers was doing a bit of fifth columnist work. Partly as a result of my report to Government, the bright laddie is now doing two years. Nathaniel and Cecil, the Siai staff, were doing their job well and keeping steady. This applies to the other teachers and stations at Ambasi, Katuna and Bakumbari. I am sure these little centres of steadiness are very largely responsible for the exemplary behaviour of our Papuan people.
I began a paragraph: "Even our domestic life goes on as usual," but never got so far as the domesticity. Actually to [37/38] me, whose sole connection with the commissariat is the eating part, there has been no visible sign of war economies. But I know it is all due to the skill and forethought of Miss Hayman. Save for a few odds and ends which the Maclaren-King salvaged from the wreckage of Samarai and which came to us early in March, we have had no stores since the first week in January. And yet we have really wanted for nothing, and actually I should think we are living as well as most people in Australia. Of course, there are some things we can never get and often long for--grilled steak and chops, and a nice English potato, or really hard, cold butter. Milk is the only thing we are out of, and the Army has come to our aid in this to feed some babes; whilst for our use coconut milk (that is, scraped coconut on which water is poured and then squeezed) is an excellent substitute for milk in almost everything except tea, and a touch of wild lime juice makes that in delicious Russian style. Fortunately, now that the Army is round these parts, there is a chance that such essentials as flour, tea and sugar may come to us that way. Also, as soon as the war showed signs of coming to us, I immediately greatly enlarged my vegetable garden, and we have at present plenty of lettuce, shallots, and tomatoes. But I have used the last of my seed. I have just finished a strenuous fortnight. . . . Instructions and Retreat in preparation for Confirmation. One hundred and eight people were baptised on Easter Eve. With so limited a knowledge of this strange Binandere language it is all very wearing. The Bishop left yesterday. He was here one and a half days. Now, if we are left in peace, I am looking forward to a few days of recovery--not that I am ill, only a bit tired.
Letter from the Rev. V. Redlich, Sangara.
June 19th, 1942.
I am writing by another route to make sure you get my big bit of news. I am engaged to one of the mission staff--May Hayman, nurse at Gona, my old stamping ground. ... I don't know when we will be married; we both hope soon, but it depends so much on the war situation and on what plans the Bishop is able to make. . . .
Letter from the Rev. A. P. Jennings, Dogura.
Life goes on in the normal routine here--school from Monday to Thursday mid-day; then the teachers have the [38/39] rest of the time for garden work, i.e., every afternoon and all day Friday and Saturday. The village people have their gardens up in the hills, and stay there all the week, coming down on Saturdays for Sunday services.
I spent Trinity Sunday at an outstation. There is no licensed teacher there, but the people are very keen. The station was all cleaned up, the grass cut on the playing field, and the church swept and decorated for the occasion. They asked me to have a Rogation Procession, as there was no priest for them at Rogation-tide. They asked me to pray for blessing on the gardens, the villages, the teacher's house, the new school and the new rest house, just built, and on the playing field. All which we did. It was gratifying to see them expressing such a desire, and I was very glad to comply with their request. A young man, formerly a Dogura schoolboy, takes services here; it was he who made all the arrangements and carried the processional cross. At Mattins I had a Dismissal Service for two boys and a girl leaving school. One of Miss Inman's former school-girls is carrying on the small school, and apparently doing very well. She and her mother live on the station. Altogether it was a very happy and encouraging visit. These people are worthy of your prayers, and surely we should offer a thanksgiving for such faithful ones. There are more students in college at present than we have had for many years. There are 24 altogether. We want newspapers, and illustrated papers, too, if anyone would send them; and could someone send me some war maps? The Leader, I think, publishes a book of war maps which are very good. May God's blessing be upon you all.
Quoted in the A.B.M. Review, August 1st, 1942.