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.

Foreword by the Bishop of New Guinea

SOUTH SEA EPIC is a collection of material already made public through the Australian Board of Missions and other agencies in England and Australia relating to the drama that has been enacted in Papua through the interaction of war and missions. On my arrival in England in April, 1944, after an absence of eight years, for a short visit to rally support for the reconstruction and advance of our work in New Guinea, I learnt of the intention of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to publish this book, the material for which had already been compiled, and I was asked to write for it a foreword.

1942 was the most critical of all the fifty-three years in the life of the New Guinea Mission. The Mission had only recently kept its Jubilee, and a little time before there had been the Consecration of the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Dogura, built by the offerings and loving hands of voluntary native Christian labourers as a thankoffering to God for the blessings they had received through the coming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those two outstanding events in the short history of the Church in New Guinea were like peaks from which the triumphs of the Gospel could for a short time be viewed. The end of 1941 brought us sharply down again into the valley of the shadows. There have been many "ups" and "downs" in the history of the New Guinea Mission, and it would seem that there have been more "downs" than "ups." But it is wonderful to see how in spite of this the course of the Gospel never ceased to go forward, and even in the setbacks, the tragic losses and disasters, [6/7] the hand of God has overruled them for good and used them in some new and mysterious way for the strengthening and growth of His Church.

Indeed, it has been marvellously so in the days of war in the Diocese of New Guinea. Nothing could have seemed more terrible or disastrous for this young, tender branch of Christ's Holy Catholic Church than the coming of war, not only to the land of New Guinea but into the very midst of the Anglican Mission area. But none can deny that in a way that could not have been foreseen God has used this tragic time to give to the world a new witness to the power of the missionary work of His Church. Through it He has as it were drawn up a blind and shown that this work is a work, not only vital, but one, too, that is imbued with an invincible power. We can well believe that it was God's care and love for His little Church in Papua which kept back the enemy in the early months of 1942 before there had been time for the marshalling of the defence forces which later in the year were to oppose the Japanese, when, too late for them, they invaded Papua. This saving of New Guinea from being completely overwhelmed in the hour of its weakness saved Australia also; and may well have saved Britain and the whole Empire from many years of war for the winning back of Australia and New Guinea.

Nevertheless, New Guinea did suffer and suffered grievously, and suffered for Australia and the Empire and for the cause of the United Nations. It was in July of 1942 that the enemy invaded the northern part of our Mission area. In the following month eight or nine out of our thirty-six missionaries together with two Papuan missionary workers gave up their lives in the cause of Christ and His Church: we can well feel that they are numbered amongst the glorious company of martyrs. For five or six months [7/8] the whole of that part of our Mission area was in enemy occupation and other parts of it also were in grave jeopardy- Some Mission stations became scenes of fierce battles, before, in the early months of 1943, the land was freed from the invader by the gallant Australian and American forces. There was great anguish and sorrow of heart for the Mission, but through the grace of God the Church had remained steadfast throughout that time of trial and there was no breach in its spiritual walls; indeed it has been enriched by the blood of the martyrs, and by the faithfulness and devotion of Papuan Christians, by their noble service as stretcher-bearers whereby they saved the lives of scores of hundreds of white men, and in their sympathy, gentleness and tenderness for the wounded men of the Australian and American forces manifested the Christlike spirit. Thereby has come to thousands in Australia and America a new realisation of Christ and of the value of the missionary work of His Church.

Some day the full history of these moment us days as they affected the life of the Church and the Mission in Papua must be written as a connected whole. Meanwhile, though there are many gaps, it will meet a need that many have felt, to have here gathered together in this South Sea Epic such accounts and extracts from letters as have already from time to time been published in different places and ways.


July 6th, 1944.

Project Canterbury