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The Melanesian Mission in War-Time










Head Office

14 Spring St., Sydney

(Passed by censor)


Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2008



The New Year opened with an air of "expectancy." The news from Hong Kong and the Philippines gave us much to think about, although it was not until 21st January, that---so to speak--the War carne to our doors. That, I think (writing from memory), was the day when Rabaul was occupied by the Japanese, and on the following day their troops landed at Kieta, in Bougainville. At this time, too Japanese planes began to pay us daily visits and bombs were dropped in the neighbourhood of Tulagi and Gavutu. On 25th it was decided to evacuate the Chinese women and children from Tulagi and that, I fear, led to all sorts of "ideas." During the next day there was something of a scurry in the Tulagi area and folk looked round for means to leave the Islands. On Sunday morning (27th), after consultation with those concerned, I decided to send the Community Sisters and the remaining Bunana schoolgirls (who since 7th December had been occupying the College buildings at Taroaniara) to Fauabu where they would be at least clear of the now almost daily air visits--although "visit" does not denote what we meant, by "visitation"!! Miss Stead, with her two assistants and some of her trainees, had meanwhile been carrying on at Siota, but, on this same day we decided that they, too, would be better away from Gela if a surface raid should be contemplated on Tulagi and district. During Sunday night I was aroused from my sleep by the Resident Commissioner, who told me that, in view of information received that afternoon, he had been advised to remove his Headquarters Staff from Tulagi to Auki (on N. Mala), and he was therefore doing what the lewd fellows of the baser sort call "a midnight flit," and he urged me to follow suit as a temporary measure. It turned out to be only that, for apparently whatever might have been on its way down was turned back in view of the disastrous happenings to Japanese naval forces in East Indies waters daring that week-end.

[2] For some days we remained at Fauabu, and I must say that it was pleasant to have folk together--we having been meanwhile joined by Sister Field and Sister Woods. Mr. Hill remained at Pawa--I had been able to pay him a brief visit early in the month, and we had discussed possible situations from all points of view--with some 50 lads. Mrs. Sprott--having paid a short visit to Taroaniara, as a result misunderstanding by a perhaps over-zealous Government officer--had returned to Meringe, determined to remain with her "mothers" come what might. A sharp N.W. blew during the next few days which impeded communications but when, within the week, came news that a ship would be arriving shortly with stores and to evacuate those who wished to leave the Islands, I was able to send across to Maravovo where Mr. Stibbard and Mr. Rowley were ready to carry on whatever happened: and I urged Mr. Isom--whose wife, together with Mrs. Stibbard and young Ruth, had already gone South--to rejoin his wife in Sydney, as it might well be that developments would make Mission printing difficult, if not redundant and in Sydney, he might perhaps be able to take the glare of a younger man anxious to enlist. I also advised Miss Safstrom and Miss Harry to go South for the time being for Miss Stead, with her trainees at Fauabu, would have such assistance as she wanted from one or other of the two Nurses there. Having meanwhile returned to Taroaniara, we awaited the arrival of the ship. She came on Sunday morning--7th February--as scheduled. But alas, as she appeared round the corner of Bunana, a large Jap plane appeared overhead. The ship took cover in "our" Passage, where she was bombed--but at this stage of the proceedings many of us were amazed at the incredibly poor "shooting" of Jap aircraft. But the bombing, unfortunately, led to the issue of orders that no stores were to be landed. Only letter mail came ashore, and 20 drums of Dieseline, which Mr. Bullen, with the help of our boat's crew and the kindly co-operation of the ship's Chief Officer, hoicked out of the hold and on to the wharf. But the non-landing of the stores was most unfortunate--the next supply of stores which most of us were to receive did not reach us until 8th December! Mr. Isom, Miss Safstrom, and Miss Harry were able to get accommodation on hoard and the ship sailed with a very full complement. Therefore the Islands "seemed" very deserted. The Resident Commissioner remained. Local reports were that he had been [2/3] instructed to leave, but had made a most chivalrous protest that he be allowed to stay and permission was presumably given. Later in the year he was awarded the C.M.G. for the work he was able to do during the months that followed the evacuation and during the Japanese occupation. Some of us felt that if Knighthood is the reward of chivalry, such a reward should have been his: for his action "saved the face" of the British Administration in the eyes of these people. With him remained five other Government officers--to function as "coast-watchers." They, too, were volunteers. In addition to them there remained the Bishop, priests, and Sisters of the Roman Mission: Mr. Deck and five of his men of S.S.E.C.: some of the Methodist Staff, up west: and our 16 selves. There were also a few planters and others who chose to remain. In all, we were about 100.

Of the "evacuation"--loosely so called--I would like to say just this. There was, I believe, no compulsory evacuation by the Administration of any but some womenfolk, early in December, from Tulagi, and some supposedly redundant officers, in February. The Resident Commissioner did, indeed discuss the matter of our women with me, but such decision as had to be made had to be made by me, and all our women were anxious to remain: and all did, except the two whom I urged to go South. For us--both men and women--I think the position was clear. Any man would be anxious to save women from some disasters which might--in ease of an enemy occupation--befall then. But such occupation was by no means certain, and, in fact, at the beginning of February the enemy were still a matter of 400 to 500 miles away and, as it turned out, three months away in point of time. We knew our folk would be faithful in case of occupation: the bush of Mala would provide quite adequate protection from the enemy unless he deliberately set out to round up "whites," and I think we rightly concluded that he would have other more important things to busy himself with: and being British, we all had a firm belief that before very long there would be a turn of the tide which had swept so disastrously swiftly down through Far Eastern waters. I, for one, did not believe that the Japanese would ever be allowed to come so far! At any rate, some of us regret the "heroics" in which some writers have indulged about "missionaries who remained at their posts." Shepherds do not merely lead their sheep by the still waters: Fathers--and so our priests [3/4] are called--do not leave their children to shift for themselves when troubles come: and it is the glory of womanhood that women shield those who are dependent upon them most securely in the times of the greatest danger or need. We do not criticise those who went South. Some went because they were so ordered: others, who were their own masters, went for their own convenience: others felt there was no purpose in remaining and every reason for going away. The only criticism I might make would be of those who, with large numbers of native labour dependent upon them, went off with seemingly no thought whatever for those who had served them well--and that criticism does not apply to all.

The remaining weeks of February--we were most fortunate in missing anything much in the way of N.W. winds--were spent in making good this failure of some employers and managers. Every available schooner was used in a big effort to repatriate all indentured labour to their own homes. It was regrettable--but I think, understandable--that there was some looting here and there: but I think the greatest credit is due to District Officers and Native (and other) skippers and crews who within an incredibly short space of time returned to their own islands some 3,000 labourers, and that without mishap.

During March, rather like Brer Rabbit (whom later we were to imitate in other ways), we "lay low." At Fauabu everyone did his or her job day by day "in quietness and confidence." The Sisters of the Cross made preliminary arrangements to transfer themselves and such girls as could not be sent to their homes (from Sikaiana and the Reefs, for example) to a village well in the bush, where, in the eight months that followed they were able to do some amazingly good work among the villages which ordinarily cannot be well cared for. The Nurses prepared a secondary "dispensary" in a village some miles inland from Fauabu: and the Doctor and Mr. Buffett prepared a "cache" on the hill above the Hospital, where they could sleep if things became "warm" and have a good start on any party of Japanese who might happen to land in Coleridge Bay. Mr. Bullen went off to Cape Marsh on a Government mission and spent a day at Maravovo where, on his return, he reported "all well and happy--busy as usual."

[5] By the end of March it did seem that nothing further would happen, and we were cheered when we heard that a ship would be arriving--the hush-hush date was actually 4th May. I therefore set off to pay what has of recent years been my habit, an Holy Week and Easter visit to Pawa. I spent some days on S. Mala, eight days or so at Pawa, and on Ugi generally (dedicating during the week the beautiful new chapel at Alangaula School), a few days on San Cristoval, and then returned to Fauabu via Ulawa, S. Mala and Maka. Meeting Mr. Reynolds at one stage of the journey, I arranged with him to visit some places I hadn't the time to reach, and we agreed to meet again on 2nd May at the port of call of the expected ship--I meanwhile to put in a week on Gela--and then he should take Maravovo stores and visit Guadalcanar and I, with Mrs. Sprott's supplies, should pay a long overdue visit to Ysabel. But man proposes! I had a very busy--and happy--week on Gela, visiting all round the island, mostly on foot, with the Patteson "helping out" in places. While I was in the Sandfly district on the Thursday, I heard very heavy bombing, and, indeed, some "left overs" were dropped in that area by Jap planes returning rather more quickly to their base than they had anticipated. On Friday evening I returned to Taroaniara where Mr. Bullen had spent some days supervising a new lay-out for the gardens. We needed no alarm clock next morning for Nippon was over early and made a lot of noise. I had a Confirmation at Bola arranged for 8.30, and thither I went, while Mr. Bullen went off to R.A.A.F. Headquarters at Gavutu to get news. He arrived back just as I had finished the service, and told me that the Japs had landed in Thousand Ships' Bay--near Mara-na-tabu--on South Ysabel, where they were reported to be clearing some of the islands--presumably for dumps of sorts.

So we returned to Taroaniara, and then throughout the day at intervals we had a grandstand view of the dive-bombing of Tulagi--principally the wireless station, which we knew had not been inhabited or used since late January, three months before! During the afternoon the main body of the small garrison at Gavutu evacuated the place and crossed the Boli Passage en route to the schooners which had been prepared for their get-away--there being no intention of any definite effort to hold Tulagi-Gavutu, or even to delay the enemy. So at 5 p.m., most regretfully, I left [5/6] Taroaniara for Siota, with a view to being ready to cross to Mala. Gordon, who has been No. 1 engine-boy on the "Southern Cross" for the past nine years, readily offered to stay on at Taroaniara and do such caretaking as was possible--two other lads remaining with him. At Siota several other volunteers offered to do the same. So at 7 p.m.--with the sky all lighted up with the burning oil dumps and stores at Gavutu and Tulagi--we set out for Government Headquarters at Auki.

It was a rough passage of nearly seven hours. I admit that I sat with my head over my left shoulder, for I imagined there might be Jap destroyers in Indispensable Straits to cut off any who might be making a get-away from Gela. But nothing untoward happened, and as we entered the passage at Auki, I uttered a profound and reverent "Thank God for that." At this moment. Mr. Bullen, who had travelled with me, "came to'' and exclaimed, "Yes, I thought she (the Patteson, that is) was going right over twice out there in the middle." I fear I had had no place in my mind for rough seas: he apparently had had no care for Japs! We roused the Resident Commissioner from his bed--it was now about 2 a.m.--and I was not ill-pleased to return his nocturnal visit to me of late January!), and reported what had happened, and then made for Fauabu. Moves which had been already provided for were made that day, and, with the two groups of three women removed from the coast--the Doctor and Mr. Buffett remaining close by at Fauabu--I made for Tantalau (to which village I had already removed the Patteson mat, the Selwyn Staff, and the Siota altar silver), so as to be close to the "Hill Residency" and central wireless station which the R.C. had set up in the bush. Mr. Bullen joined the Government as a wireless operator. Then began some trying weeks of waiting. News came in daily from the coast-watching stations on the various islands--stations which were manned and maintained throughout the Japanese occupation; a fine piece of service. I was so able to let the members of the Staff on Mala know what was happening, and I hoped that those at Pawa--Mr. Reynolds had returned there with Mr. Hill when news of the Jap occupation came through--at Maravovo (Mr. Stibbard and Mr. Rowley) and Mrs. Sprott at Meringe would also be kept in touch with the situation by the local coast-watchers. On Tuesday 5th May, the Japs' ships off Tulagi were very badly smashed up by what [6/7] the Japs themselves told the Gela people was a most terrible air attack, which they hoped would never be repeated! Some of the invaders were already ashore and others got ashore from some of the sunk ships. But as far as I can make out, the Japs used this experience as an excuse for pillaging village houses (for calico) and gardens (for food), and most of the Gela folk retired to their hill gardens, where at this stage the Japs did not follow them. It was during this time that our Headquarters at Taroaniara were pillaged. Such furniture as was wanted was removed to Gavutu and Tulagi, and the rest thrown out, and burnt--all our books, china were so treated: pigs, chicken, ducks and all foodstuffs (there wasn't much in the houses!) were taken away. A few days later Siota suffered a similar fate. Later my house and that of the Bachelors at Taroaniara were removed and set up elsewhere.

Some Japs also got ashore on Savo, but did not remain long there. Others were on Guadalcanar, but the big landing there (I gather) did not take place until 5th July, when a very large naval force arrived in the Solomons with troops, detailed to build an airfield somewhere behind the Tasimboko coast--actually at Lunga--which some of them told "locals" they hoped to complete within a month, when they would go on to Vila! This large landing on Guadalcanar almost certainly meant real difficulties for Maravovo, and I sent word to Mr. Stibbard suggesting he should disperse the boys into our church villages along west coast, and that he and Mr. Rowley should take every possible step to avoid capture--word having already come to Headquarters over the air that "it won't be long now." Maravovo's adventures have already been told in an article published in the "Log." Meanwhile there was also a big concentration of Japanese warships in Meringe Lagoon, and Mrs. Sprott got a volunteer crew across to Mala in a large binabina with a report and news of her own safety away up in the hills above Meringe. A few days later the Japs arrived on N. Mala. They visited Auki and Fauabu--where they did some looting (instruments from the operating theatre)--and then established a post on the coast some twenty miles north--where they remained as a nuisance until November, cutting us off from ready access to Dr. Fox and others on the other side of the island.

But meanwhile we had none of us been idle. The Bunana Sisters were at Aisasale "carrying on" with life [7/8] enlivened by reports--true and false--of the movements of the Japs. The three Nurses were at OneOne until the Fauabu landing drove them further inland to a place to which they gave a "fancy" name which I have forgotten--actually I thought it would have been far better named "The Water Tower," for it was surrounded by something very like a moat: the paths up to it were usually rushing streams and "it" itself was like Melanesia--more water than land! But it was a good centre from which to work, and sisters Field and Woods undertook many bush walks to "give needles" and attend sick cases, and remained there from the end of July for about a month, when they were able to return to OneOne--Dr. Thomson returning at that time to Fauabu. Sister Stead came on to Tantalau, where the folk gave her a very warm welcome and speedily built good houses, both for herself, her handful of trainees and for a Dispensary and a quite jolly Maternity Ward. From "The Burrow, Stoney Rocks," which was the pseudonym of my house (actually the Schoolhouse, Tantalau), I was able to put in some long week-ends in villages throughout the Kwarae district, and I very much enjoyed my contact with villages which in ordinary times the Bishop cannot hope to visit.

By the end of October, food supplies began to cause us to think. The U.S. forces had landed early in August on Tulagi, Bunana, Gavutu and Gela, and these islands were speedily cleared. On Guadalcanar the Japanese scattered a good deal and caused much trouble not only to the whites in their bush dwellings, but to the native population: and with reinforcements being constantly landed under cover of darkness, on this island they held on with great persistency. Their naval forces, too, were most persistent, and on Sunday, 25th October, from our hillside lookout above Auki we were not a little amazed to see a Jap squadron sail down the Indispensible Strait at 25 or 30 knots "just as if they owned the place.'' But after three great air attacks (for two of which we some of us had dress circle seats), what was left slithered out of sight towards Ysabel and was lost to our sight round the corner. But all of this meant that no "ordinary" ship could yet come to the Solomons with supplies, and we had none of us had stores from South since the previous December. It was wonderful how things did last out, and before "the ravens" arrived on 8th December with stores--very badly "ratted" en route--[8/9] we were most us reduced to the barest minimum. But I think shoes were the greatest problem, and I for one had always to take one Walter Vaitahi with me on my walks to sew on the soles again at various halts by the wayside!

In October, Mr. Rowley arrived on N. Mala with a group of Maravovo boys who had made their way through bush, infested with parties of Japanese, into the American lines, and this group was shortly followed by another and larger group, and Maravovo was re-established at Fiu under Mama Henry Maabe (whom with George Basile and Alan Tinoni I had admitted Deacon during my Easter-tide visit to Pawa), and whom I had brought in from Ugi for this purpose: Mr. Rowley's services being required by the Government for coast-watching.

At about this time the U.S. General on Guadalcanar expressed a wish that all women who had hitherto remained in the Solomons should go South. The brutal murder of two Roman Catholic priests and two Sisters at Tasimboko by irresponsible Jap soldiers was no doubt responsible for this. In actual fact, such a movement suited us, for I had been anxious since August to get the Bunana sisters and the Taina down to Lolowai to rejoin Mother Margaret--especially as all the houses at Bunana had been destroyed and the island itself not likely to be a suitable place for the re-establishment of the Girls' School for some considerable time to come. Miss Field was well overdue for a holiday: Miss Woods wanted to complete her Maternity training: and I knew that Mrs. Sprott needed some medical attention. But it was a matter of weeks before transport could be arranged, and it was not until the end of November that the three Sisters, the three Nurses, and the Taina got away. Mr. Reynolds had meanwhile come in from Ugi and went off to re-open our Headquarters at Taroaniara, whither I followed him when Mrs. Sprott--at the fifth time of "arrangement"--was flown in from Ysabel. Mr. Hill, too, came in on the other launch--the "Mendana"--which with the "Mavis" had successfully hidden in the mangroves down Ugi way: the Patteson had lain hid on the other side of N. Mala: the St. Mary disguised herself near the river-mouth at Fauabu: the Gwen remained in the creek there and the Japs did not interfere with her--except to remove the compass: the "Southern Cross" launch and whaleboat were our only casualties. These the [9/10] Japanese "collected" from near Auki, but neither liked their new owners--the latter broke sway when being towed back to Gela and was later washed up on the Mala coast: the former committed hari-kari when the Jap schooner which was towing her to Tulagi was bombed and sunk by U.S. planes.

So the end of the year found us temporarily bereft of our womenfolk: the hospital manned by Dr. Thomson and a group of orderlies, with Mr. Buffett supervising the gardens; Pawa school (with Mr. Hill) carrying on its unbroken work: Alangaula still "going strong": Maravovo School functioning at Fiu: Headquarters reopened at Taroaniara: the Brothers still at work in the artificial islands of the Tai Lagoon: the District work on San Cristoval, Ugi, Ulawa, North and South Mala, Gela and Savo carrying on perfectly normally: Guadalcanar still rather in a state of flux: Ysabel reporting from time to time by binabina--Cape Marsh, Ontong Java, Sikaiana, and, of course, the Reefs and Santa Cruz and other islands in that district being still ''out of touch." The great U.S. Naval victory of 14-15th November had considerably "cleared the ground," and although there was some apprehension of a big-scale Japanese effort to recapture Guadalcanar and its airfield early In the New Year, most of its felt that the U.S, Forces had come to stay and there would be no more "enemy occupation."

Since I began to write this Report I have been asked to assess the cost of replacement of property destroyed in the Solomons, and I think it not unlikely that before this Report is published, friends of Melanesia will have seen the tale of our losses--our material losses--and I need not, therefore, re-write of them here. Most of what we have lost can be replaced--in time. None of our "treasures" have been lost, although many of the books of the "Patteson Library" are missing and the Altar furniture from the "Southern Cross" has (as we think at present) mysteriously disappeared. Some of the Staff have lost many--or most--of their personal possessions. Some of our people--on Gela, Guadalcanar, Savo, Cape Marsh, Ysabel (and may be in the Santa Cruz group)--have suffered losses. All these again can be replaced--except perhaps some personal things of rather more than sentimental value. It is early yet to assess what other losses--or gains!--we may have suffered. Some losses, no doubt: but gains, too. I have no doubt. And [10/11] as one by one our Melanesian clergy have told me that in their villages--perhaps after just one or two days of upsidedownedness--daily prayers have gone on, morning and evening, in the village church or in a temporary hutment in the gardens in the hills, I am reminded of a sermon of Archbishop Temple's when he urged us never to forget that behind "it all" is God in His eternal sovereignty and that the events of our life must be regarded as "passing episodes" against the background of His eternal purpose. Church-going may not be everything: but I think we may well be on the way to something greater if day by day--undisturbed by storm and stress--the daily routine of prayer goes on. And I know of one definite instance where the people from surrounding villages, having assembled overnight for their Communion in the morning, awoke to find a large concentration of Japanese warships anchored off shore. The men woke the priest--a Melanesian--and asked "What now?": shall the people disperse? His reply was something in the nature of "I came here to celebrate the Holy Communion and I am going to do so. Why should we fail in our duty of worship when times are difficult?" The Service took place--perfectly normally: and I am told that the people afterwards dispersed with no signs of panic or even hurry, and from then onwards in that district there was everywhere a quiet carrying on--"In quietness and confidence shall be your strength."

In a sense this writing is an Annual Report for '42, although I have not added the usual lists of Confirmations. etc. But it is not a full Report, for I have not written of either the Archdeaconry of Southern Melanesia nor of the North. With neither have I had personal touch, although letters have from time to time reached me from Archdeacon Teall. He, I hope, will later write us some detail of the work in the New Hebrides, Banks, and Torres during this difficult year. It is true, the enemy did not land there, but their presence in these S.W. Pacific waters created many problems in "the South" which, I have no doubt, were met with the same determination and in the same cheery spirit shown by those who remained in the Solomons. Of the North, it is neither possible nor advisable as yet to write a word. Mindful of the words of Lord Halifax at the outbreak of war, at least we can all pray.

'Church of CHRIST The KING'

The beautiful little Church at TULAGI, Solomon Islands, recently built and completely destroyed during recent hostilities. Originally erected as a memorial to Bishop J. C. Patteson, first Bishop of Melanesia; martyred at Nukapu, Reef Islands, B.S.Is., September, 1871.



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