Project Canterbury

Letter from the Bishop of New Guinea

Sydney: Anglican Board of Missions, 1943.

Reproduced online by kind permission of the Most Reverend the Archbishop of Papua New Guinea, 2006.


Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul,
June 26, 1943.

My dear Friends,

You will, I know, like to have some of the news that I can give you. To do so I must go back a good way. My onward journey back to my Diocese from Brisbane was in its first stage a very slow and uncomfortable process, two nights and two days in the train, and some nine hours late in arriving at Townsville. However, I was told that that was nothing, and that somebody a few days before had been thirty-six hours late; so we have to be thankful for small mercies--or large ones! I was seized on by the Bishop of North Queensland for a meeting at which he presided. This was in Holy Week, and my first two mornings of that solemn week were in the train. I had the joy of celebrating in the Bishop's chapel on the Wednesday morning in Holy Week, the only Celebration I was able to have that week. I ought to have mentioned that during my time in Brisbane, I was able to go out and see Miss Morva Kekwick and the half-caste children from Papua, which I was very delighted to do, and was very glad to find them all well. We also took steps to get Jimmie away to a school, and he is now at St. Christopher's Home amongst boys more of his own age. I was also glad to see Mrs. Newman in Brisbane.

Journeying by Air.

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. For the one and only time in war-time travelling of that kind I was personally in luxury in a lovely comfortable chair, which used to be used by people with plenty of money travelling quickly from England to Australia. It was perhaps fortunate that I was on the first shift, which meant getting up at 4.30 a.m. and leaving about 6.30 a.m., for the second shift ran into bad conditions and never reached their destination, and over half of them perished.

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. He was formerly Vicar of St. Peter's, Ballarat. 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 (chapters 18 and 19), 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 sixty 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, threatening to affect our work and our staff most vitally. I had to spend the whole of the morning of Holy Saturday in an interview connected with this, without getting much further, and for some time it looked much as if we might be checkmated and might not be able to continue our work. I cannot go into the nature of these problems and the ins and outs of them, and you must form your own conclusions, but I can assure you it was most trying, and our dear folk in the mission area were facing vexing restrictions, etc. It was obvious that I must remain where I was for some time, as it was vital to go on pressing for a satisfactory solution and to be at Headquarters on the spot to await any developments, and to be able to deal with them at once and at the source. [1/2] I had, during this time, the sympathy and good help of my friend, General Morris, but he was powerless to be able to alter the decrees which had gone out apparently like those of the Medes and other people of Daniel's time! However, I learnt that a certain event was likely to happen within a few weeks which might be the means of bringing about a change of attitude, and that my best plan was to wait in patience for that event. I had to try and learn the value of verses three to four in St. James' Epistle, chapter one.

Meanwhile there was plenty to do, for even if someone higher in the scale had erroneous ideas about missions and were hard of hearing, the lesser fry might just as well get as accurate a knowledge of the work which missions have done and are doing as soon as possible. So Padre Bell prepared an itinerary for me, and each night I was out lecturing to a different unit, and these were all very well attended and many questions were asked and appeared to give great interest. 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 thirty, though not all were able to attend. However, there was a goodly number. 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 had Communion the next morning at the Convalescent Depot for a goodly number of whites and also some of the Papuan Infantry Battalion boys, and addressed a very large church parade. Then back to the town for a large Confirmation at St. John's, when over sixty 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 to 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 this chaplaincy work. We got over by 'plane in forty 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 corner also. I could not help thinking of the days when "Home Rule" under Mrs. Newman was established there, and realise what a blessed thing it is! However, all was well. Luscombe was very well. His leg was right again, though I have heard since he has had some more trouble with it. He himself was very happy and getting on well with his hosts in his own domain, and medical aid was abundant, and there was an abundance of many other things too, for his hosts come 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. Terence was out there, with Zoe his wife. He had been rather sick and was recovering. 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 had a memorable open-air Eucharist with about 150 of our boys from all parts, now engaged in labour work. Adelbert served. Vincent Moi was there having come down from Ambasi because Clarissa had been sick. She was in the hospital and the Blessed Sacrament was taken to her by Luscombe, who was with me. She [2/3] is getting better now, and was out to see me off. They are hoping to get down to their "ain" place for a holiday before going back to Ambasi, but methinks they will have difficulties in getting there. Leila Osembo also was there. It was Mothers' Day for our "cousins" (American friends), and though I object to keeping this event on any day except the Fourth Sunday in Lent, as the Holy Catholic Church advises us, I yielded to the popular clamour, and on return to the station took a special service with address for some of our "cousins," to whom it means much to keep it on that day. This was in the little chapel which takes the place of the big church, which is being used as a hospital.

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, Fr. 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 Rev. John Livingstone Yariri (Papuan Priest).] and Veronica (his wife) were living in the village with Godfrey and Josephine, and Horace and Hannah, and also dear old Harry. Albert had died at Ambasi some weeks before. (R.I P.) [South Sea Island Teachers.] I went out in the opposite direction from the station to see them first and found John Livingstone very sick. He had been very sick since Easter, but was getting better, though very weak. The trouble is that nothing much could be done for him. One felt so helpless under present conditions. 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. I found great di[ffi]culty in finding Dambaradari. It is largely a crater, as also Kikiri. 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 to give and maintain spiritual life, 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 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, as I have said, is non-existent, and the part where dear old James Benson lived, just a huge crater.

Communion on the Old Site.

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. John Livingstone could not get there, but the others did, and besides those I have mentioned, there were Simon Peter, Michael and Gideon, assistant teachers, and they are all well. I have instructed them to do what they can in carrying on the work in the villages with the taporono (Church service) and such school as they can manage. Arnold, Roland and other Gona boys I saw in different places in [3/4] labour camps. Many were the enquiries about the St. Aidan's Training College boys, and they seemed amazed that all was well with them and that they were still carrying on. I told them they had been faithfully serving God during these troubled days, and looking for the day when they can come back and raise up God's work again in their own area. How thankful we must be that we have had these northern college students all through the year. 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 forever, for it is HOLY GROUND, and one felt it still to be so. The marks of holiness are upon it, which all the efforts of the powers of evil have been unable to erase; and indeed it has added holiness to-day because of the graves of those who rescued it again out of heathen hands and won it back so that it might again in time be put to its former use. There may be practical difficulties because part may have to be a cemetery, but details await the future. HOLY GROUND IT IS AND MUST REMAIN. 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. That journey was a short one, but not without its adventures, too. Then a long inland journey to Captain Austen's old home, which is now A.N.G.A.U., taking the place of the Government station at Buna. I passed through the Sangara Mission Station, which was the Rev. Vivian Redlich's, Sister Margery Benchley 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 near by it was pathetic when I was recognised, as a similar scene had been the previous morning as we lay off Gona. At the Sombo village the children poured out and clung to me: "BEESHOP! BEESHOP! OH, BEESHOP!" etc. 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, etc. Yet what lovely faces, and what genuine joy mingled with sorrow to see again someone connected with the mission. I returned with Padre Bell to the station for Evensong. Not many came.

At the Graves of some of the Martyrs.

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 body [Papuan Teacher.] 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 had come over from Isivata 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 already been 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 (play ground) 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 [4/5] 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 it 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 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 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 (a 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 though 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 all 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! Andrew and Vernon 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 that we knew, but a good many from sickness.

Faithful Papuans in Charge.

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." Robinson and Moses had both been snapped up for army work. I have got their release, and have decided to put Vernon in charge of Sangara with Robinson to help him, and Andrew in charge of Isivita with Moses to help him, and to do what they can to start work again. They will have great difficulty in the matter of school, because there is not school material and we cannot get it now, but it is important for the children to be got together again. Archdeacon Thompson is sending up what school material he can from Dogura. I was much relieved to be assured by Mr. Humphries, who has been doing all the investigations, that not one Christian 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, and 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 Christians 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. [5/6] 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. I visited Buna, the place were 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.

James Benson.

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 visited him at his request in the place were 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 very wide area, giving Communion and 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.

Port Moresby Again.

Then, like the angels, I sped back to Port Moresby, where I had started from a fortnight previously. I was sorry to hear that the former Papuan Government Anthropologist, Dr. F. E. Williams, on his way over two or three days before to where I had come from, perished with others who were with him. I found it would still be necessary for me to remain a little longer at Port Moresby, and in due course the event I had been waiting for took place, and 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," which I did bogei (viz, by sea), having the previous day rescued Phanuel (work-boy) from jail after he had been nabbed by a village constable for staying out late at night, and was about to be committed to jail for a month or two and then put on labour lines for a year! I had been roused from my sleep at 1 a.m. one Sunday morning by an agitated cry, "My Lord, my Lord, help me; they are taking me away!" When I came to, at first I thought the boy was having a nightmare and walking in his sleep. I stumbled out and got a light and found Phanuel and the village constable. My conscience would not allow me to let the law be evaded; and I was compelled to tell the unfortunate Phanuel that I could not ask the village constable not to do his duty, and so he had to go off. The next morning I had to intersperse my efforts to take services at different places with visits on Phanuel's behalf; and what a job I had. I even wished that I had used the night hours to get the village constable not to do his duty, but eventually the by now much chastened Phanuel was handed back to me! Lawrence (the Bishop's boy), of course, is above such violations of the law, and was very indignant with Phanuel!! Jack Salzmann had been at Port Moresby all this time in hospital. He had an operation on Good Friday, and it had been quite successful. He was actually ready to return long before, but it was thought expedient, under the circumstances, for him to wait for me and go back with me, which he did. He was glad to get away from the hospital in the end after such a long time of waiting, and it was so far away that I could not often get there to see him. I had Ascension Day at Milne Bay and had a very nice Eucharist for our boys early that day. The weather was appalling. I had [6/7] some Confirmations there, and altogether have confirmed about 170 men of the Forces.

Dogura at Last.

Then on Saturday before the Ascension Sunday I and my two boys, Jack Salzmann and Padre Bell, viewed the Cathedral for the first time from aloft, and reached home after over four months away in "journeyings oft," not to mention others "ofts." It was a pity that old Martin (Lawrence's father) was not there to see his son Lawrence "marei i peu" (coming down from the air). 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, etc. Soon after I arrived back, the Archdeacon was able to pay a short visit to the Rev. F. H. T. Lane, and brought back a very good report of him. The "Una" has been made over to me for the time being, and has just arrived, and I am off shortly to see the Rev. A. P. Jennings, at Taupota, and confirm there (he is well) and to confirm some of Gregory Awui's* [footnote: *The Rev. Gregory Awui,] candidates and some of Mr. Lane's. I shall probably be also going further afield, but have not much time as I have to be in Brisbane for a Provincial Meeting at the beginning of August. Jack Salzmann has gone back to his station at Wanigela. Lucy and Paul Rautamara have a daughter. The new college is rising rapidly, and is very nice, 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. May it be that we have grace to continue to remain on the map of heaven which is more important. All really is well, but it is obvious that when so much of the Church up the coast is unshepherded that the devil is driving in wedges here and there. His activities keep coming to the surface, and he is ever busy. Defeat him by your prayers and by our joint efforts to unite ourselves individually more and more with the Will of God. 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.

Mr. Bitmead was at Captain Austen's old place in charge of a big native hospital, so there will be some care for the sick now in that region. I had hoped to have got over to see Archdeacon Romney Gill, who is now in the cradle of the mission's work near Ambasi, where Copland King began many years ago. Romney's own home is being otherwise used, or what remains of it, which methinks is little. He (Romney) had got back from Australia a few days before I did, and he had gone on from Port Moresby before I got there. There was only one possible means of getting to him, and it would have been a quick one, but unfortunately something of vital importance was missing from it, and they were likely to have to wait a long time before this came up, and the means could not be made serviceable again, so I had to give up the idea. I had, of course, seen Romney in Australia, but would like to have seen the Rev. Simeon Burorosi and Robert and the others, though they might not have been with him, as my visit would probably have had to be short. I have not heard of him since the end of April, and rather think he may not have much means of getting mail away just at present. He was well and in good form when he wrote. Natalie, Copland's wife, at Boianai, died recently--very sad for him and his one child. (R.I.P.)

To you all I send my love and blessing.


NOTE.--Papuan Teachers and their wives mentioned: Terence and Zoe, Adelbert, Vincent Moi and Clarissa, Vernon, Andrew, Robinson, Moses, Robert, Copland, Godfrey and Josephine, Horace and Hannah, John Dow.


[8] [Australian Board of Missions advertisement]


D.S. Ford, Printers, 44-50 Reservoir Street, Sydney

Project Canterbury