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 IX. The Work Goes On

Despite the risks and difficulties of life in a war zone, the work of the Church continued.

Communion Wine for Dogura.

A letter from Bishop Newton, Dogura, to the Bishop of North Queensland, who had sent a case of Communion wine for the Cathedral at Dogura by an R.A.A.F. 'plane.

November 26th.

A bird came last Monday--sat down and laid an egg--a case for me. No coming down like a thunderbolt or a big hailstone from the sky. ... I discovered that it was pro bono publico. I believe that for the day before--one Sunday--we had had to get a bottle of wine from the College. If you remember that big flat space behind the Cathedral--known as Topana, there is a good open stretch, and once before a bird came and sat there for a little while and flew off again. The fact is that supplies of that necessary commodity were sent from south, some little time ago, but they have not reached us yet, though we have had some rice and wheat-meal--which, by the way, makes College prospects brighter. [69/70] I am afraid we have to accept the reports about Benson and his party, though I have hoped against hope. The reports came from natives, and they did not tally. I cannot understand how they got to the place of the tragedy. I know the country and from their hiding hole I cannot see how they got there. Tracks do not lead to it so far as I know.

Romney Gill wrote on September 23rd. We have no idea how the letter came. It took about nine weeks. He was then back at his station again, after some days in the bush--where shelter was inadequate. It rained all the time, blew hard at times, trees falling about. Fires were kept going all the time for "dryness"--yet smoke had to be doused, not to give the spot away. His station was machined-gunned one day, bombed the next--no casualties--then he decided not to be at home for more such visitors. Then he came back to his station, and all his teachers, his Papuan priests and their families, with him safe. Of course one does not know what may have happened since September 23rd.

Here we carry on and have not been disturbed. Work reduced, of course. Boarders sent home, local children only at school: but, with teachers, some work boys, ordinands and so on we can put a team in the field that has won every match. Now our women and the half-caste children have been sent away, so we are mere males. We have a boy who is an excellent housekeeper and cook and he does us well. Supplies still hold out and we do better in the tucker line than you do, I feel sure. College has moved three miles or so nearer to us. Brady in charge, with a family all told of about 41, including wives and children. So far they have had far more native food than we dared to expect, and if we can get some more rice, etc., there is no reason why College should not continue to function. Here, as I think I told you, I have four ordinands. One for priesthood, who will, I suppose, be ordained in Advent. Three for the diaconate. They need another year. One of the three is the son of Peter Rautamara, our senior Papuan priest. For the benefit of any visitors, we have English Evensong and Sermon on Sundays. They come and go, now more, now less. . . .

Visitors find our lounge and library make a good "rest hut," wireless, gramophone, ping-pong, cards, draughts, reading and writing, loafing in easy cane chairs, all popular--especially the lounge. They use it more now we are mere males. In fifteen months with the ordinands we have lost [70/71] only two days from lectures, and those for ordinary reasons. There are many who have had their ideas--if they had any--of missionaries and their work changed in the last twelve months. . . .

Quoted in the Northern Churchman, January 1st, 1943.

Evacuation of Women Missionaries.

During October, 1942, when the Mission area became an operational zone for an Allied offensive against the Japanese, the remaining women missionaries were sent back to Australia by order of the Military Authorities, until the fighting should cease.

It is now generally known that the remainder of our women missionaries have arrived safely in Australia. The Military Authorities ordered this temporary evacuation. We all understand that as free a hand as possible is needed in dealing with the enemy on the north-east coast, and that the task of the forces would be made more difficult if the women remained at their posts, as, of course, they desired to do. It is clear to me that the Bishop fully realised this and that the position now is entirely different from what it was at the beginning of the year. I am not surprised, therefore, that he advised the women members of the staff to comply with the demand. They have come back on extended furlough and we must all thank God for their safe arrival. But let us be increasing in our prayers for the men missionaries. Some are quite isolated. All are facing danger. They must indeed be relying upon our faithful comradeship in prayer. . . . The inspiring and thrilling thing is that they are carrying on despite all hardship and inconvenience, and are showing the Native Church in both areas the meaning of Christian love and devotion.

Chairman of the A.B.M. in A.B.M. Review, November 1, 1942, and December 1, 1942.

Wartime Ordination.

A Native deacon was ordained priest in the Cathedral at Dogura on December 21st, 1942.

Letter from the Bishop of New Guinea.

You will be interested to hear that on St. Thomas's Day one more Papuan priest was ordained in the person of Lester [71/72] Raurela, bringing the number now to eleven, if those in the north are still alive. Bishop Newton was to have preached the sermon, but owing to indisposition Archdeacon A. J. Thompson took his place. Three white priests and five brown priests assisted in the laying-on of hands. It is likely to be a long time before we are able to have another ordination of a native priest--some few years in the ordinary course of events if those now preparing for the diaconate continue satisfactorily and are ultimately able to be admitted to that office. It seemed something of a triumph to be able to have this ordination in the face of the enemy, and that God should so permit His Church at this time to be strengthened in the best of all ways by the increase of the native ministry. Lester is the youngest Papuan ever to be advanced to the priesthood and it may be the time is coming when we shall be able to have younger men ordained.

Quoted in Church of England Messenger, February 5, 1943.

Christmas, 1942.

Bishop Newton describes (in censor-proof language) visits from Australian and American troops during the Christmas season at Dogura.

On Christmas Day we had nineteen "exiles" to lunch, and forty to dinner. We killed a beast--they provided part of the fare, that is, plum puddings. They let off some fireworks in the evening before the moon rose, to the joy and excitement of the Papuans.

We have many other visitors, mostly "cousins." About three weeks ago eight arrived and were very lucky to get here. They had decided "to turn into ducks" when they sighted the station, which made them change their minds, and in a few minutes they had safely landed. The wet season had begun. We have had some heavy rain and that makes things difficult for "rising in the world." The damaged "bird" hoped to get up to-day, but heavy rain came an hour or so too soon. These visitors live with us on the hill. To-night fourteen sat down to dinner. We have had two fresh joints of mutton; the first I believe for about forty years. We once had a few sheep here, but spear grass in those days was "agin" them. On this occasion our "exiles" provided the sheep and presented us with a shoulder and leg--with mint sauce, too.

[73] We began second year yesterday with postulants for the diaconate after their four weeks' vacation.

Quoted in A.B.M. Review, March 1, 1943.

Letter from the Rev. A. P. Jennings.

Thank you all very much for the kind greetings expressed in your letter. It was good to receive it. We had a very happy Christmas. Some friends had provided a few small gifts and we were able to give little parcels to all the seventy children who were here. The Christmas services were all well attended. Some of our young men who had been away at work returned home on Christmas Eve, and, of course, attended in full force on Christmas morning. It is natural when speaking of these young Christian Native men to say "of course," for that would certainly be their first thought when returning home after being a long time away at work. That is something worth telling the folk down south. They looked so nice in their clean, white calicos and well-trimmed hair and clean hands and faces and bodies, as they came as a matter of course to their Father's House, kneeling together at His Table to receive the spiritual food which is so precious to each Christian soul. I was almost overcome by thoughts such as these, at one point in the service, as the Christmas hymns rang out so joyously.

But the clouds of war hang over us still, and however much we try to put a good face on things, and carry on "as usual," things are not normal, and I do long for the time when they will be. I am rather dreading the coming of the solemn season of Holy Week and Good Friday. How can we keep these deeply solemn times, and the accustomed silence of Good Friday, under present conditions--conditions of which you now know? Well, it simply remains to keep on doing the best we can with God's help. All good wishes to you all.

Quoted in A.B.M. Review, March 1, 1943.

War-time Confirmation.

Letter from the Bishop of New Guinea.

January 7, 1943.

I am at the moment with Robert Jones. He has had a trying and difficult time in the last six months, and, of course, misses very much his dear wife and little boy from whom he has been separated for just over a year. For a long time [73/74] he was in a position of extreme peril, but stuck to his post most gallantly, even though it was the last free outpost of the Mission and he was quite isolated from the rest of us. He has done a splendid work holding up the life of the Church of God in his district, and is most earnest in his priesthood and its work. I am very glad to have been able to spend a little time with him and share his life and all it involves for a time, as I had long been trying to get to him. In these days you have to take what comes when it comes, as we have now no means of our own for getting about. He had a feeling I might be coming, though there was no means of letting him know, and had a number of people there who had come some distance and were ready for confirmation, so I was able to confirm them on St. John's Day, and they had their First Communion before they returned to their homes.

Quoted from New Guinea Occasional Paper, June, 1943.

Church-building in the North.

Early in February Archdeacon Gill was called to Australia, where he had an important mission to fulfil on behalf of the authorities. As his former head-station at the mouth of the Mamba river had been destroyed by bombing, he had, in the meantime, made his new headquarters at Iaudari, one of his out-stations higher up the river.

Letter from Archdeacon Gill to his sister in the Wantage Community at Poona. April 20th, 1943.

I told you some of the bare facts of the happenings which had come upon us during the past seven or so months, so I will say little more on that matter. It wouldn't get to you if I did.

My entire series of journeys from Iaudari to Sydney and back were done in planes--of various sorts, some civilian, some not. I did not set foot on a ship or train.

I left here on February 1, and I got back again on April 3 to find all going well, and Robert and others holding down their jobs--just faithfully carrying on, in fact. Shortly after our arrival here--and that was just in time for Christmas--I started a class of Catechumens on their final preparation for Baptism. Usually we have had the classes every day for [74/75] several weeks, but on account of the enormous demands being made upon the people (as far as N.G. is concerned it is Total War) I decided to have the classes twice a week only, and to spread the time of final preparation over three months. While I was away Robert continued with the classes. On my return I found that the attendance, and the attitude towards their preparation by the candidates, had been really very fine. The exigencies of the War, and much sickness had caused a certain amount of irregularity on the part of some; however, last Sunday, Lent VI, we had the Baptism with a feeling of confidence and happiness. Twenty-two adults were baptised (10 will have their opportunity in a few months, I hope) and ten infants were also baptised; all village people of these parts.

Also besides the baptism class which we started almost directly after we got here from down the river, we began on the building of a new village church here. I say "village," but the whole village might almost be taken to be a properly constituted mission station, so keen are all the people. That, too, I had to leave for them to carry on with. And a very fine piece of work they have done. I designed the church on rather a new principle, for us; somewhat on the lines of what I imagine Eric did for Blundell's School. . . . The people love the new feeling of being all round the altar, as they now can be. There is an added sense of intimacy and loveliness at the daily Eucharist. And, as you will notice, the communicants kneel round three sides of the Sanctuary. The touch of having nothing but mats for the general congregation is an inspiration I got from your Christa Seva Sanga! Ae! We had the Dedication Service on Lent V, and it was followed by the Dedication Eucharist.

For a time most of the out-station work was badly disorganised and there was a certain amount of backsliding. All our coastal work is for the time still in abeyance--in fact both Manau and Dewade are in ruins (as is All Saints, on the Hill). The only active work on this river is to be seen here at Iaudari, though the teachers make trips down the river from time to time for services, and to do what they can. On the next river westward things are better. Four of the stations are operating, and Father Simeon is now in charge there, stationed at Ainsi. The station on the next river westward of that is not at the moment occupied. The only people left in the villages of the whole area, in fact of the whole of the [75/76] country, you might say, are those who are too old or too young, or too sick to be called up.

It may perhaps occur to you to wonder how we manage for stores. Well, as a matter of fact I am still using what is left of those which the M.-K. brought on her last trip up the coast ten months ago. We made the conservation of food one of the first things to be considered in all our peregrinations. Robert husbanded supplies marvellously while I was away. However, we are now able to call upon the army for rations--though I have not yet put that into operation. And we have had some very welcome "windfalls." But such things as kitchen hardware, stationery, in fact anything and everything outside the eating line is absolutely unprocurable.

Our tools for building, etc., consist of an old hammer, a rusty old saw, an ancient chisel (which seems to have been used often as a screwdriver and a tin-opener) and such nails as we can find from burnt-out buildings at the nearby places where friend Dick and others used to represent His Majesty. But it is marvellous what one can do with native materials, and how much can be tied with lawyer cane strips that used to be so carefully screwed and counter-sunk. Two of the village boys have made me a really first-class desk with a set of shelves in this my temporary mission house, and the only materials used in its construction are young saplings, split palm, lawyer cane, an old blackboard from one of the out-stations, and seven case-nails. I don't think there are a dozen nails in the new church. . . .

During my stay in Port Moresby, which amounted altogether to about a month, I was able to get a fair idea of the picture as a whole, and then while in Australia I saw something of the Bishop both at Brisbane and at Sydney, and from him learned much that had hitherto not been revealed to me of the fortunes and misfortunes of many of the rest of the staff of the diocese, of our stations, and the country generally. There has been much real heroism shown by vast numbers of our people. Speaking generally, the men of New Guinea have risen to the occasion magnificently.

Much of what is known here in New Guinea about the fate of some of our missionaries, and others, has been published in the papers. It seems now almost certain that our staffs at Gona, Sangara and Isivita were all killed. The bodies of the two girls who were at Gona were recently found and re-buried in the Christian cemetery at Sangara.

[77] Hospital Orderlies still at Work.

Miss Townson, one of the evacuated women missionaries, reports on the work being done by Native orderlies.

Our nurses from the mission field are in Australia, so the normal work of the hospitals and dispensaries in Papua has been suspended for the time being. Reports are constantly reaching us of the splendid work being done by the native medical boys. David, a Wamira boy and hospital orderly in Samarai for many years, has been accepted as the "Medical Adviser" by one Australian camp somewhere in Papua. His quiet air of authority, his gentleness and tender care of the sick, combined with his efficiency in the treatment of malaria, septic wounds, etc., have amazed our Australian soldiers.

David is only one of many, quietly carrying on, each doing what he can for those who are ill in his own district, and helping our troops when the occasion arises. Daily we hear stories of the native stretcher-bearers. Their courage and calm endurance are becoming a byword in Australia to-day.

Is this due to mission influence and teaching? I venture to believe it is. On every mission station for the last fifty-two years, boys have been trained as hospital orderlies, and some of them attain to no mean skill. Most Papuans have a natural tenderness and patience towards those who are ill and infirm, and the training has taught some of them how best they can help their own people.

A.B.M. Review, March 1, 1943.

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