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 X. After the Fighting

In September, 1942, the Japanese advance across Papua was stemmed, and Japanese troops were gradually driven northward until the whole territory of Papua was free. In the Spring of 1943 the Bishop was able to revisit the northern districts of his diocese where the fighting had taken place.

Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul.

June 26, 1943.

. . . You will, I know, like to have some news that I can give you. My onward journey back to my diocese from Brisbane was in its first stage a very slow and uncomfortable [77/78] process, two nights and two days in the train, and some nine hours late in arriving at Townsville. . . .

On Maundy Thursday I had to be content with spiritual Communion, and spent the time in the high ether going through the solemn services of that sacred day in spirit . . .

At Port Moresby.

At Port Moresby, Padre Bell, the Assistant Chaplain-General, met me, and all my time in that region he has been most helpful, and I have enjoyed very much my close fellowship with him. It was a joy indeed to be back in the diocese, as I had hoped, before Good Friday. I was present at the Ante-Communion in St. John's Church, Port Moresby, on that morning. The church was packed to its utmost with many standing. We had the whole of St. John's Passion read for the Gospel, and the stillness and attention during the reading by Padre Bartrop of that solemn and dramatic story whilst that big congregation of men stood without a cough or movement was most moving. I gave the address at that service, and I remained at the church and conducted the Three Hours, which about 60 men attended, a few remaining for the whole time. On Easter Day there were over 350 communicants in St. John's at the various Celebrations, and on both days the church was filled to its utmost capacity many times over, for services were going on all day to meet the needs of all; and on Easter Day it was reckoned that over 700 worshipped there alone. That, of course, takes no account of the many services all over the area conducted by the Padres in their own spheres. On Easter night I was with the Air Force.

I had, however, come back to meet a host of troubles of a very worrying and perplexing kind, and it was obvious that I must remain where I was for some time. Padre Bell prepared an itinerary for me, and each night I was lecturing to a different unit. . . . One night I went to speak to the Negroes, and we had a very ceremonial church parade with Negro spirituals thrown in! One day, too, in that Easter Week, I conducted a Quiet Day for our chaplains, of whom there are about 30, though not all were able to attend. On the Saturday I went out of town to a Convalescent Depot and dedicated a very nice church of native materials that the Padre had got the men to build, confirmed some of his men, and visited the native jail, where I found, alas! some of our boys, and [78/79] had Communion the next morning at the Convalescent Depot for a goodly number of whites and also some of the Papuan Infantry boys, and addressed a very large church parade. Then back -to the town for a large Confirmation at St. John's, when over 60 men were confirmed, and another Confirmation at night at the Air Force. So Easter week was a busy week.

Back in the Scarred Diocese.

As it seemed that I must possess my soul in patience for a few weeks yet before we could get our problems resolved, and I could then get back to Dogura, it seemed an opportunity to get over the other side of the mountains to visit our afflicted and stricken stations. I was very glad indeed when Padre Bell said he would like to come with me, and could combine it with some of his chaplaincy work. We got over by 'plane in 40 minutes. I had set off not knowing how long this visitation would last, but anxious, if possible, to cover all the ground and contact all about whom we have been concerned. It took a full fortnight. After about two days, with many adventures, we managed to reach the Rev. R. L. Newman (Luscombe). The adventures and roughing it of this trip must be left out of the description for another time, for it might contravene the bounds of what is possible to tell in these days. We had about five days with Luscombe at Eroro. The whole of that area is unbelievably transformed, but that again cannot be told in detail. Luscombe is living in a top corner of his own house, which is no longer his, and we put up our camp-beds in the same corner also. He was very well and happy and getting on well with his hosts in his own domain; medical aid was abundant, and there was an abundance of many other things, too, for his hosts came of a generous stock--generous, that is, with their President's pura-pura (goods). We did a good deal of going about, and visited labour camps and gave ministrations to our boys, and also went to see the village people in their gardens where they now have to live. Luscombe is doing a magnificent work, and though there have been difficulties, some of which I had tried to straighten out at Port Moresby, most are deeply appreciative of what he has done and is doing. On the Sunday morning, Good Shepherd Sunday, we were with Claude Champion, who is in charge of a big Australian New Guinea Administration Unit establishment some way away, and we [79/80] had a memorable open-air Eucharist with about 150 of our boys from all parts, now engaged in labour work. . . .

Gona Re-visited.

We had to leave Eroro that Sunday night, and spent the whole of it under the most uncomfortable conditions imaginable, travelling bogei (viz., by sea), not without its adventures, and in the morning found ourselves off Gona, Father James Benson's former station. Our going ashore had some thrills, and it was wonderful to see the joy of the locals when they recognised me, and saw someone connected with the mission again after having suffered so much and being cut off and bereaved of their missionaries. I learnt that John Livingstone Yariri, the Papuan priest, and Veronica (his wife) were living in the village with some of the teachers. ... I went out in the opposite direction from the station to see them first and found John Livingstone very sick; but he was getting better, though very weak. He had carried on his sacramental ministrations right up to Easter and the time of his illness, and had obviously been faithful and done good work. I have since heard that he is getting better. We then set off back in the other direction to visit the station. I was, of course, prepared for it to be terrible, and it was, and very sad and heartrending. It took me some time even to get my bearings, and to be able to place where things which I once had known so well had formerly stood. . . . On the mission station side, the only thing remaining is the great station cross. It is truly miraculous that this has survived, and it is marked with dark red marks where bullets have grazed it, and can be seen for a mile away towering up over this fearful scene of death and desolation. I found two other things, and was deeply moved at doing so. One was the concrete platform, or predella, upon which the altar had stood in the once beautiful church, and it was surrounded with natural flowers; and away in the undergrowth I found the stump of the font still standing. It seemed to me most significant that the only three traces of the mission should be such: the signs of the two greater sacraments of the gospel with their gifts of grace, and the Cross from which all grace flows, and which is itself the symbol -of Hope, Resurrection, Revival and Victory. How easily these might have been swallowed up in bomb-craters as the mission house and other buildings have been, of which hardly a trace can be found. Near [80/81] Dambaradari are a number of graves of Australians, mostly South Australians I think. On the hospital side, marvellous to relate, the hospital building has survived absolutely intact, and is being used at present by those in occupation, and only has some bullet-marks. Kikiri is non-existent, and the part where dear old James Benson lived, just a huge crater.

We decided we would stay and "pig it" for the night, and I told two boys that I was going to celebrate the Holy Communion on the site of the old church in the morning, and asked them to tell the people in the villages. In the morning there must have been some 300 present, and there were 250 communicants. . . . That Eucharist was a real Easter Eucharist! I felt that this station must be rebuilt in some way or other, and not left to be a mark of the beast for ever, for it is Holy Ground, and one felt it still to be so. How wonderful it is to realise that God's work on this and the other stations was carried on right up to the moment of the Japanese landing!

On to Sangara.

I then had a journey wagei (viz., by boat) with a cousin of the President; he is a son of the former President of the same name. I passed through the Sangara Mission Station, which was the Rev. Vivian Redlich's, Sister Margery Brenchley and Miss Lilla Lashmar's old home, and stayed to pray by the graves of May Hayman and Mavis Parkinson. The church is utterly destroyed, but again the place of the altar and font remain, naturally clearly marked. The schools remain, or rather one does; the hospital is completely demolished except for the concrete floor. Vivian's workhouse and engine place are also ruined. His house has gone and the Bishop's house partially so. The mission house still stands, but is not liveable in, and is all riddled. Of the teachers' houses, one is intact and is being used by men, and another is semi-liveable. Altogether it is a sorry sight, yet much beauty still remains there. As we passed through the villages nearby it was pathetic when I was recognised, as a similar scene had been the previous morning when we lay off Gona. At the Sombo village the children poured out and clung to me: "Beeshop! Beeshop! Oh, Beeshop!" And one said, "Oh, I am sorry for you." Poor darlings! how sad it all is, and how different many of them look with their sores. Yet what lovely faces, and what genuine joy mingled [81/82] with sorrow to see again someone connected with the mission. I returned with Padre Bell to the station for Evensong. Not many came.

The next morning I offered a Requiem in the schools, as the church site was too overgrown. There were a good many there. Then I proceeded to the graves of the two sisters, dedicated them and said over them the Church of England Burial Office. Just when I had finished, I was told that Lucian's [Papuan teacher] body had been recently brought up from the place of his martyrdom and laid there at the side of the others, but outside the fence, and that Vernon [Papuan teacher] had come over from Isivita at the time and had said the Burial Office when his body was committed. So I had the railing extended to include his grave also and a cross erected with his name on it. Then I vested again and blessed his grave and said some prayers in Wedauan for the committal of his soul, as his body had been already committed. The cross over one of the graves was shooting and already had green leaves, so also some of the sticks of the fence round the graves. They were not buried in the Christian cemetery which had been consecrated--I am afraid this has been allowed to become overgrown and almost unrecognisable--but on the debadeba (playground) beside the path which runs through the station, on the opposite side of the path to the church and parallel with it, in what was the playing ground. The authorities wanted to put them in the war cemetery at Soputa, but Mr. Humphries insisted on their being buried at the mission station. He had no Prayer Book, but said the 23rd Psalm from the Bible, and later that day, I am told, an American Chaplain came up and said a service. I could not make out what denomination he was, whether Roman Catholic or Methodist.

At Isivita.

On that same day I went on to Isivita, dear old Henry Holland's place, and got very wet in doing so, and stayed the night in the old Government Rest House with some who were there on a job. There, too, the church is gone. The mission house still has a riddled roof on it, but no walls, and is littered with papers, dear Holland's letters, bits of translation work, and bits of marriage registers, etc. There would have been more than a day's work to go through it all, and much will already have blown away and perished or been [82/83] taken--I fear all by local natives. Nothing is left. I started to go through some of it and to try to sort it out, but it was a job beyond me, and I had to instruct Andrew [Papuan teacher] to put all into a sack to await another day. I fear there are years of work gone there, but I doubt if we should find much that would be of value, so great is the litter and so trampled over.

I had the Eucharist on the site of the old church in the open air, and an oga tara (meeting) afterwards. At the talks I had to upbraid them for treating the mission station and property so, as well as about some things that Andrew had told me; but, poor things, they can hardly be blamed under the circumstances; they naturally thought it was an end to all they had known. I asked them what they had to say about it, and one of them, the chief culprit, got up in the end and said, "We are ashamed." Everything in the way of records, school materials, etc., is gone from Sangara, Isivita and Gona. Nothing remains except skeleton buildings in some cases. Much has been taken by natives, but much also by the enemy and by our own people. We found a bit of a Gona mission log-book in the hands of our allies, who were going to keep it as a souvenir! The teachers and their families had remained faithful, and were well, though Vernon had lost his youngest child in the dysentery epidemic which raged through that area a few months ago. This caused many deaths. As far as I could learn there were very few violent deaths, from the Japanese, among the natives we knew, but a good many from sickness.

Andrew seems to have been a faithful steward, but had much to contend with during the dark days, and his own life was in danger at the time. He was hunted on one occasion, when some had expressed the view that the white man was finished and would not come back, and Andrew had said otherwise. They asked how he knew. He pointed to a branch of a tree and said, "You see that branch. Well, it depends for its supplies on the rest of the tree; cut it off just there and it will fall to the ground and die. That is what the Allies will do to the Japanese; they will cut them off from their supplies, and then they will all die." Two of the teachers had been snapped up for Army work. I have got their release.

I was much relieved to be assured by Mr. Humphries, who has been doing all the investigations, that not one Christian [83/84] or mission boy had been involved in any of the nasty things that happened during those days of invasion. Some of them certainly looted and took what they could from our stations, and some of them--probably most--proved cowardly and thought of their own safety first; but none of them had any hand in the betrayals of our people or of the others betrayed. Also he was able to assure me that, contrary to the former reports, he had come to the definite conclusion that our women were not subject to violation, and he is the one who has sifted all the evidence and reports. As far as I can make out, the Christian and mission natives remained loyal, and did not go over to the enemy, but most of them kept out of the way in the bush. It is sad to think that the villages which were responsible for handing over our people to the enemy were those very ones in which we had been planning to open work, and which hitherto we had been unable to touch, even though they had at one time asked for the mission; where we should have opened our work long before, and would have done so if the Church in Australia had been more lavish in its gifts of life and money. As it was, those people had been outside the influence of the mission and practically untouched by it.

The Buna Area.

I visited Buna, the place where Mr. Atkinson formerly reigned, and all that area. It is terrible beyond description, and I cannot see that it can ever be restored. It is, in my opinion, far worse than Gona, and must, I think, carry the mark of the beast for ever. I did not see Sanananda, but I believe it is dreadful too, and now inaccessible.

It seems established that James Benson was alive about the end of November, but nothing has been heard or seen of him since. I saw and spoke to those who had seen him. John Dow [Papuan teacher] visited him at his request in the place where he was. He was then alone in a tent with a Bible and Prayer Book, which he was reading, and told John to be of good courage and not to be afraid, and that all would be well in the end. It seems, too, that his captors took him about with them, for he was seen in many different places, and seems to have been permitted to have prayers and blessings at different places with the local natives, but always under guard.

I had a very busy and full time in the vicinity of all the labour camps over a wide area, giving Communion and [84/85] holding services wherever possible, and saw great numbers of our boys from all our different districts. One Sunday I set out at 6 a.m. to cover a great mileage of such visits, and got very wet to start with, but gradually dried during the day at the successive services and Celebrations for our boys. I did not get back to the place that I had started from till 5 p.m., and then had to give an address to whites at 7.45 p.m. Our boys obviously valued greatly the opportunity of the Sacraments, and it was a joy to contact them again and let them see that the Church has a care for them. Then, like the angels, I sped back to Port Moresby.

I was able to get all our difficulties satisfactorily settled, and happily so, with quite a new and different attitude towards missions; I was then able to make arrangements to return to my "See."

Dogura at Last.

On the Saturday before the Ascension Sunday I and my two boys, with Jack Salzmann and Padre Bell, viewed the Cathedral for the first time from aloft, and reached home after over four months away. It was a joy to be back again. I am glad to say all is well. The Rev. John Bodger was in excellent health and form, enjoying life to the full, for there was much of the activity which he loves. Archdeacon Thompson I was glad to find well, and Bishop Newton also, and the ordinands faithful, as also the native teachers. The new college is rising rapidly, and will soon be ready for dedication. The Rev. Oliver Brady is well. We have continuously a constantly changing stream of visitors. We are certainly on the map, and I think much good is being done and new interest stirred up.

I am concluding this on St. Peter's Day. It has been a joy to be at our lovely Cathedral again for this day, and we have much to be thankful for that God has kept it unharmed through these last eighteen months. I am hoping that our two new Australian priests may now be able to come. Arrangements are in hand, and I hope, too, that the three priests who are down on leave will soon be back. The day has not yet come for the return of the women. May God speed that day! Meanwhile may He continue to have you all in His most holy keeping. . . .

(Signed) Philip, New Guinea.

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