Recollections of ANGAU: Tom Grahamslaw
Tom Grahamslaw, who died at the age of 73 in 1973, spent 45 years with the old Papua and Papua New Guinea administrations, retiring in 1960 as PNG’s Chief Collector of Customs and a member of the PNG Legislative Council. This is his account of his wartime experiences with the then newly formed ANGAU, exploits which won him an OBE (Military). The account first appeared in the March, April and May 1971 issues of the now defunct Pacific Islands Monthly, and an edited, condensed version has been appearing in recent issues of the Association’s quarterly journal Una Voce. The following complete 27,000 word account has been supplied by Tom’s nephew and PNGAA member, Derek Baldwin.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, I was Collector of Customs, Shipping Master and Postmaster at Samarai. By the end of that month all commercial activity had ceased, and the European women and children were being evacuated to Australia on a directive from the Federal Cabinet in Canberra. In many instances they were accompanied by their menfolk. Despite the falling off in the volume of Customs and postal work, I had an extremely busy time as representative of the Royal Australian Navy in my capacity as Admiralty Reporting Officer. Each day coastal ships from the neighbouring Mandated Territory of New Guinea, as well as Papuan coastal vessels, arrived at Samarai en route to sanctuary in Australia. As well as reporting their arrival and departure to the Navy in code, I had to give each master instructions on his route, which altered day by day.
On 27 January 1942, I received advice that all able-bodied Europeans in the territory under 45 years of age were to be called up for military service. And I was instructed that, thereafter, all ships were to be routed to Port Moresby so the Army could enrol the men on board. Civil Administration was suspended on 14 February 1942. Then followed an instruction from Army HQ, Port Moresby, for the remaining civilians at Samarai, who were mainly officials, to proceed to Port Moresby. We set off on the Administration vessel Elevala, but, dogged with engine trouble, it took us ten days to reach there. My last duty as a civilian was to hand Elevala over to the Navy. I then offered my services to the Navy. But I was told by Commander Hunt that all recruitment was controlled by the Army, and thus it came about that I joined the Army – and for the second time. The first time had been when I attended the first recruiting meeting at Port Moresby, at which thirteen of us enlisted. But because I was a senior public servant, the Administration refused to let me go – a prohibition that applied to all public servants except the junior ones. My lucky star must have been shining at that time. The other twelve chaps were posted to Brisbane, where they were absorbed into the ill-fated 8th Division sent to Singapore.
Now, before joining up for the second time I wandered around the town in my civilian garb. It was very noticeable that morale amongst the troops was at a very low ebb. Because I was in civvies and thus presumably knew something about the Territory, I was frequently asked by soldiers for advice as to the best way to get to Daru, en route to Thursday Island, when the Japs landed. Many of these troops were untrained lads of 19 or so. Their equipment was inadequate and their officers, particularly the junior ones, were inexperienced and lacked control over the men. It was no wonder the men were disorderly and undisciplined. Port Moresby was deserted at night because of enemy bombings, for the troops slept in the bush, returning the following morning. With this sort of example it was not surprising that there was also a general exodus of native labourers after the first air raid. The civilian population had been evacuated to Australia, leaving their household possessions behind. Looting was rife, and apparently the military police did nothing to prevent it. This attitude, no doubt, was due to the widespread feeling that the Japs would soon invade the place. For the first few days after my arrival in Port Moresby I stayed with Arthur Wardrop, in the cottage on Port Road immediately above the powerhouse. This was because Wardrop had been employed by the Administration as an engineer in charge of the powerhouse. On suspension of Civil Administration he had joined the Army, and when I met him he had the rank of private, although he had been promised a commission. By this time the powerhouse was manned by Army personnel comprising an officer, an NCO and about ten privates. But as Wardrop was the only who possessed sufficient knowledge to keep the plant operating at full capacity, he was the one who issued the orders. At sundown each evening Wardrop and I would sit on the veranda and watch RAAF men trudging into town from the Marine Base, each of them carrying a large empty sack. An hour or so later we would see them staggering back to the Marine Base with laden sacks of goods looted from civilian homes. These goods were subsequently flown to Townsville in RAAF Sunderland flying-boats, which would otherwise have been returning empty. Rivalry between RAAF and Army looters was pretty keen, but I would say that, overall, the Airforce chaps were more successful because they had a more reliable method of transporting the stuff to Australia. The Army looters, on the other hand, had to smuggle their stuff out by ship, trusting to the honesty of others, namely the ship’s crew, that it reached its destination. It was not surprising that in many instances the final owners had no connection whatever with those who did the looting.
The majority of Territorians absorbed into the Army in early 1942 remained for some time as privates and a number were employed on tasks such as unloading transports in Port Moresby harbour. However, it was not long before the Army found a better use for their talents. Following the suspension of Civil Administration, law and order amongst the native people was quickly disintegrating. Practically all the natives employed in Port Moresby deserted after the first enemy bombing, and. coastal ships were stranded because of the desertion of their crews. Gaols were opened and prisoners released, and all these people returned to their villages. Soon there was a feeling abroad that now the government had gone the people could do as they pleased. Reports of inter-tribal fighting and killings commenced to trickle into Port Moresby. As maintenance of law and order was now an Army responsibility it was decided to create a special unit that would be responsible for the administration of native affairs, and for the recruitment and control of indigenous people employed by the armed services. Major Sid Elliott-Smith, who had been a senior Assistant Resident Magistrate in the Papuan Administration, and was acknowledged as one of its most capable officers, played a major part in the planning and creation of the new unit. The military organisation that resulted was first designated as the Papuan Administrative Unit. It subsequently became the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit, known as ANGAU.
When Brigadier D. M. Cleland became DA and QMG, after a distinguished record in the Middle East, one of his first tasks was to issue an Administrative Instruction which set out the functions and organisation of ANGAU, and which was instrumental in giving us the direction and unity of purpose essential in any unit if it is to give of its best. The functions of ANGAU were defined by him as follows:
(a)Operational: To take its place in the order of battle against the enemy in accordance with any orders of Headquarters, New Guinea Force, or of the particular Commander of the area in which ANGAU personnel may be located, including US Commanders where US forces are operating in any part of the Territories.
(b)Administrative: To carry on the Civil Administration of the Territories, including the control of the Native population, administration of justice and education of the Native people.
One of ANGAU’s first tasks was to persuade native labourers and ships’ crews to return to their jobs. Lieutenant A. H. Baldwin was placed in charge of this task. Baldwin was a fluent Motu speaker who has spent most of his life in the Territory. Before joining the Army he was employed by the Australasian Petroleum Company as its Superintendent of Native Labour, with 1500 natives from various parts of Papua New Guinea under his control. He was liked and respected by the Papuan natives and in the early days of ANGAU did more than any other man to induce native workers to return to Port Moresby and remain there, despite the frequent bombings that took place. The immediate need was to man the seven districts in Papua with Army personnel who had experience in native administration. My experience at Daru and other outstations, which included service as an Assistant Resident Magistrate, made me eligible for a responsible posting. Elliott-Smith kindly gave me the opportunity to volunteer for a district. I nominated the Northern District. And as ANGAU was in its formative stage, and because of the chaotic conditions prevailing at the time, I was told to make my own arrangements getting there. Fortunately, however, I was also given a free hand to select my personnel from the men who had already joined the unit and were awaiting postings. Thus it came about that Lieutenants Peter Brewer and Gerry Brown became members of my team. Then I had to obtain a ship. I applied to the Naval Officer in Charge (Commander Hunt), who gave me a choice, but suggested the Elevala as being the most suitable. I gladly accepted. Obtaining a master was the next problem. This was resolved when I met Captain L. Austen, who was awaiting repatriation to Australia because of his age, about 60. He was a master mariner who had served in the Royal Navy in World War I and had been employed by the Papuan Administration as Controller of Native Coffee Plantations, with headquarters at Higaturu, in the Northern District. He had no wish to leave the Territory and readily volunteered for the job as master.
The problem of finding an engineer was met when I ran into Warrant Officer Oberdorf who, in civilian times, had been working as engineer in the desiccated coconut factory at Gili Gili. He had a tropical ulcer on his leg and was awaiting movement to Australia for medical treatment. Oberdorf also had no desire to leave the Territory and he willingly agreed to come along as engineer. Finally, the original native crew of the Elevala, who were mainly from the Samarai area, and were now billeted in a temporary camp outside the town, gladly rejoined the vessel. At this particular time Port Moresby harbour was full of small coastal craft the Navy had taken over from civilian owners. Owing to shortage of personnel, the Navy was unable to adequately man the craft and many were left unattended. As a result, these ships received the attention of looters. Thus it was that when we boarded the Elevala we found that everything moveable had been taken. I reported this to Commander Hunt, who expressed regret that the Navy would be unable to provide replacements for some considerable time, but gave me a broad hint that the missing equipment might not be very far away. I took the hint, and an opportunity soon came. At that time Port Moresby harbour lacked protection from bombing raids, and whenever there was an alert the practice was for the ships’ crews to make their way to dugouts ashore and stay there until the siren sounded the all clear. The very next day Port Moresby was visited by nine bombers with a cover of Zeros – the biggest air raid so far – and there was a hasty exodus from ships in the harbour. This gave us the opportunity to board certain small craft, where we had no difficulty in finding the equipment we were looking for. A similar method was adopted when loading the Elevala with rations. When Civil Administration was suspended, the Burns Philp store was filled with many of the good things of life, such as tinned fruits, asparagus, marmalade, fancy biscuits, condiments and a wide variety of canned meats. A decision had been made at the highest level that BP’s stock were to be reserved for the Army “higher-ups” and to ensure that this was implemented a strong armed guard was kept in the store. However, our investigations revealed that whenever an air raid alert was sounded the guard retired to dugouts in the vicinity, leaving the store unattended. With sound organisation – i.e., with Elevala berthed at the nearest jetty, a borrowed truck, the native crew and our own willing hands – we took advantage of the next air raid and were able to remove a good load of groceries to the holds of Elevala. As there was still a little stowage space left in Elevala, we decided to cash in on the next air raid. Unfortunately, however, the raid was of short duration and we were caught red-handed by the guard. The officer-in-charge, a captain, gave me a thorough dressing down, took my name and particulars, and threatened me with court martial. What really worried me, however, was that I was wearing a lieutenant’s pips before I had actually received my commission – because I had decided it was quite impossible to get anything done unless one had officer status. We were made to return the goods from the partly-loaded truck and the captain’s last word were that if he saw me in the store again I would be arrested on the spot! Fortunately, he was to remain unaware of our first load.
On the night before Elevala’s departure for the Northern District a sergeant and eight privates arrived on board with instructions from OC Signals for me to establish them in pairs at selected places along the north-east coast, where they were to operate spotting stations. The average age of these lads was 20, and all each was equipped with was a rifle, a few rounds of ammunition, one change of clothing and rudimentary cooking utensils. The job of equipping them with adequate utensils, medicines, mosquito nets and rations thus became my responsibility. The things I did that night with a view to properly equipping the spotters, would have got me into trouble in normal times, but in the circumstances I felt it was a necessary part of my war effort. When I enquired if there was any mail for Administration officials who had remained at their posts on the north-east coast, and for Anglican missionaries who had chosen to remain at their stations there, I was informed that all mail arriving for civilians was being returned to Australia. However, further enquiries revealed that much mail for civilians was left strewn about in the post office. On the day before our departure Brewer, Brown and I went through all the mail in the post office and succeeded in collecting several bags of letters and papers. So finally, on 28 February 1942 we left Port Moresby loaded to the limit with stores and personnel. As we steamed past HMAS Laurabada (formerly the Administrator’s yacht), its commander, Ivan Champion, engineer Jim Ritchie and the Papuan crew gave us a rousing cheer. Laurabada, with the intrepid Champion still in command, subsequently evacuated hundreds of Australian civilian and Army personnel from New Guinea under the noses of the Japanese. We, however, had barely approached the passage through Port Moresby’s reef when we sighted a number of enemy aircraft, who soon concentrated on targets in the harbour area. We later learned they sank three Catalinas lying at anchor off the Marine Base. They must have used up all their ammunition on this task, as Elevala was unmolested as we headed down the coast for Samarai.
Pre-war Samarai was well kept and beautiful place, its houses surrounded by flowering shrubs of every conceivable hue, and all its thoroughfares and paths lined with crotons, hibiscus and other colourful shrubs. I had counted on Samarai as being a place where deficiencies in equipment could be made good, only to find that most of the town had been destroyed by the Army in accordance with its scorched earth policy. The Samarai I knew, with its two excellent hotels, its cricket ground with a surface like a billiard table, the adjoining tennis courts, and the swimming baths where the water was always clear and fresh because of the currents sweeping through the China Strait, was an ideal place for the sport loving man. It was known as the “Paradise of the Pacific”, and I always looked forward to my tours of duty there. Now, the few remaining houses on the hill at the back of the town were empty. The evidence of the town’s death was there for all to see. Charred timbers from the wharf were tumbled into the sea. A tangle of twisted iron and crumbled concrete, with burnt galvanised roofing, were the sole remains of the business section. The sight of its ruins and desolation filled me with a great loneliness. Samarai has never recovered its pre-war beauty or gaiety.
In the Elevala we continued on to Milne Bay, where Lieutenant Alan Timperley was in charge of ANGAU activities. Timperley, a man of quiet courage, carried out a number of difficult and dangerous tasks during the next few months. One of his achievements was to proceed to New Britain in a small 4 knot launch, to assist in assembling European evacuees at a pre-determined embarkation point for Ivan Champion in Laurabada to rescue. His task completed, Timperley returned to Milne Bay in the same launch after braving the elements and enemy aircraft that dominated the skies at that time. Timperley had had the foresight to transfer substantial stocks of stores and equipment to Milne Bay from the Burns Philp, Steamships and Bunting stores on Samarai before carrying out Army orders to destroy the buildings. We unloaded Elevala at Gili Gili wharf. Then all hands set to on the task of making a balanced supply of stores for each spotting unit, to cover a period of three months. Similar action was taken in respect of the Government stations at Tufi, Buna, Kokoda and Ioma. Deficiencies were made good from stores under Timperley’s control.
While at Milne Bay we heard over the air that Salamaua had been occupied by the Japanese. This gave us the uneasy feeling that if we didn’t shake it up the Japs might reach Buna before us. So we worked all that night reloading the Elevala, and dawn found us heading to East Cape and the North East Coast. Baniara was to have been our first place of call, but I had learned from Timperley that the ADO (Mac Rich) had transferred his headquarters to the mainland. After locating Rich and attesting him for service in the Army, we continued on to the Anglican Mission at Dogura. Ours was the first ship to travel up the North-east Coast after suspension of Civil Administration. Naturally we received a warm welcome from the missionaries and officials who had stayed put. The mail we brought was the first they had received for almost three months. At Tufi we were met by the ADO. Lieutenant George Andersen, who reported that everything was under control. While at Tufi, the Anglican Mission vessel, McLaren King arrived from Buna with the Bishop of New Guinea (Reverend Philip Strong) on board. The Bishop told us that the McLaren King had been shot up by a Japanese float plane while lying at anchor at Buna the previous afternoon. The plane had strafed the station before it turned its attention to the ship and the Bishop had a narrow shave. He was in the cabin when the plane attacked and it was penetrated by a number of bullets, one of which pierced the prayer book near his right hand. Another left a gaping hole in a tin of Sal Vital on his table. The ADO, Alan Champion, had an equally narrow shave. When the plane was shooting up the McLaren King he endeavoured to call Port Moresby on his radio set. This must have attracted the attention of the plane, for it returned and shot up the office building. Bullets whistling through the roof and past his ears made him postpone transmission until the plane had departed. The Bishop’s news caused me to decide to do the remainder of our travelling at night. We left Tufi in the late afternoon and arrived at Oro Bay at first light. The native village at Biama was deserted, but we were able to contact some of the village people at their garden places. As they were uncertain of the situation at Buna, I decided to leave the Elevala at anchor while, accompanied by Brewer, I pushed on to Buna by canoe.
On arrival at Buna we were greeted by Champion and Lieutenant Jesser, who was in charge of a detachment of PIB based at Buna. A signal was sent to Elevala to proceed to Buna forthwith. She arrived at sundown and departed before daylight the following morning, after being unloaded. Elevala became the mainstay of the Northern District until the time of the Japanese landing at Buna on 21 July. She brought stores and mail at six-weekly intervals. Captain Austen left her after the second trip and returned to Higaturu, where he got the native coffee industry going again. Elevala was sunk by the enemy at Milne Bay during August 1942. Shortly after my arrival at Buna, Lieutenant Clen Searle reported for duty, after walking overland from Port Moresby. Prior to the suspension of Civil Administration Searle was a rubber planter whose plantation was situated at Awala, which was about half way between Buna and Kokoda. My instructions from Elliott-Smith were to set up district headquarters at a centrally situated place, from where I could maintain close contact with the other sub-stations of Kokoda and Ioma, as well as Buna. Searle suggested that I base on Awala where I could make use of his plantation buildings to accommodate both European and native personnel. He pointed out that good native track led from Awala to Ioma. Searle’s advice was sound and his suggestion adopted.
One of my first tasks was to make Awala headquarters of the district spotting stations, of which there were nine in number. Warrant Officer Jack Mason, who had been a planter before he joined up, was placed in charge of communications. Jack was an enthusiastic radio Ham, and he possessed an intimate knowledge of teleradio sets. It was quite astonishing what Jack could do with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. In addition to keeping the station set in tip top condition, Jack always had a spare set in full working order for instant despatch to any of the spotting stations for which we were responsible. The arrangement we had was that if any station was off the air for 24 hours we would despatch a replacement set from Awala, with relays of carriers to ensure that it reached its destination as quickly as possible. The defective set would be brought back to Awala for repair by Jack.
My first important Court case at Buna was the trial of a Village Constable named Kenneth, whose village was situated in the Sangara area. Shortly after the fall of Rabaul a party of European men and women led by the New Guinea Director of District Services, the late R. M. Melrose, proceeded by small boat from Salamaua to Buna. The Resident Magistrate at Buna, the late O. J. Atkinson, assigned Kenneth to accompany Melrose’s party on the walk to Kokoda where the nearest aerodrome was situated. Kenneth took good care of the party. He saw to it that carriers, accommodation and foodstuff were readily available. On arrival at Kokoda one of the European members of the party presented Kenneth with a ring as a token of appreciation of his services. Kenneth spoke English fluently. Listening to the conversation of some members of Melrose’s party, coupled with the obvious fact that they were fleeing from the Territory, must have convinced him that the Japanese would soon be taking over. When Kenneth returned to his village he announced that the King of Japan had appointed him as King of the Sangara region. As evidence of his appointment he displayed the ring which he said had been sent to him by the King of Japan. Kenneth called a meeting of his people and informed them that when the Japanese came they would require an aerodrome for their planes and barracks for their soldiers. He then appointed a number of men as “Captains” and placed them in charge of villagers, who began to build barracks and clear land for an airstrip. When the news reached Alan Champion at Buna he arrested Kenneth. The charge was sedition. Kenneth was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. As I felt he would be a dangerous man to have about the place in the event of an enemy landing, I sent him to Port Moresby to serve his sentence. I mention this case to illustrate the thinking of some elements of the Orokaiva people in those days. The people from Kenneth’s village and adjacent areas subsequently assisted the Japanese in many ways and were responsible for the betrayal of missionaries and other Europeans to the Japanese.
From the middle of March 1942 until the Japanese landing at Buna on 21 July, I was almost constantly on patrol. In addition to regular inspections of Buna, Kokoda and Ioma, I visited all spotting posts. Each of these posts was manned by a Corporal and the other a Private, each about 20 years of age. Theirs was a lonely and largely monotonous job. They had to keep a 24 hour watch for enemy aircraft and shipping. I found that regular visits by ANGAU patrols did much for the morale for these men. On my first patrol to Kokoda I was within an hour’s walk from the station when I witnessed the shooting down of a Japanese bomber by two Australian Kittyhawks. The bomber was one of a number returning to New Britain from a raid on Port Moresby. They were flying in perfect formation with a Zero cover when the Kittyhawks dived out of the clouds, attacked the leading bomber, and then darted back into the clouds with the Zeros in hot pursuit. I watched the bomber crash into a mountain behind Kokoda station. On arrival at the station I found Brewer was about to depart with a small party of native police in search of the bomber, so I joined him. At nightfall we pitched camp at 6000 ft, without having discovered any trace of the crashed bomber. The following morning we met a Village Constable who was on his way to Kokoda to report that he had actually seen where the bomber crashed. With the Village Constable as guide we climbed another mountain (Mount Bellamy) and found the remains of the bomber and its crew at approximately 7000 ft. We made two discoveries which we felt would be of major interest to Army intelligence. The first was a code book with English numerals. The other was an excellent map of the Territory and northern Queensland. The part, which related to North Queensland had several ringed markings on it, we thought had some special significance to the enemy. Another interesting find was a machine gun, which appeared to an exact replica of the Lewis gun held at Kokoda station (we subsequently found that its parts were interchangeable with the station gun). Our first action on return to Kokoda was to despatch two police runners overland to Port Moresby with the code book and map.
In those days most of us had the feeling that it was only a matter of time before the enemy landed. It was deemed advisable to prepare the native population for this possibility. We made our propaganda as simple as possible. The gist of it was that the Japanese were a land hungry people who wanted to settle in New Guinea, and that in addition to taking the natives’ land they would kill off the menfolk and take the women as wives. We stressed that if the Japanese did come, we, the ANGAU officials, would go to Port Moresby and then lead back large numbers of soldiers to drive the enemy away. One problem was how to give a description of Japanese to people who had never seen non-native people, other than Europeans, before. The best we could do was to describe Japanese as being similar to a half caste in appearance. The problem was simplified when we acquired our first Japanese prisoner in April 1942. He was captured by Lieutenant Eric Turner (who subsequently became Manager of Burns Philip Ltd., Samarai), who was patrolling in the Small Goilala country at the time. Turner was on a routine patrol about a week’s walk in from Ioma when some natives ran up and said a white man was coming. Turner was wondering who could possibly be in such a remote place without his knowledge, when they met face to face. Turner aimed his rifle as the Jap tugged at his revolver. Turner’s quandary was that if he fired there would be other casualties as the Jap was in front of a line of natives. Fortunately, a Village Constable who was accompanying the Jap sized up the situation in a flash and seized the Jap’s arm. Turner brought the prisoner to me at Awala where I kept him for several days so that the natives could come from far and near to inspect him. This solved our problem of explaining to natives what a Jap looked like.
Interrogation revealed that the Jap was pilot of a Zero. He had made a forced landing at Woitape after his plane had been damaged by allied aircraft near Port Moresby. When the natives offered to escort him to the nearest Mission station of Fane he refused and indicated the direction of Salamaua. With the assistance of natives, who believed him he was another kind of European, he was making good progress when Turner captured him. Lieutenant Brown was entrusted with the task of escorting the Jap overland to Port Moresby. He was the only member of his race to completely traverse the Kokoda trail. He, of course, did it as a prisoner. This Japanese also had a map in his possession which had marking on it similar to the one found on the crashed bomber.
Early in May I was returning to Buna in a powered skiff after inspecting the spotting station at Ambasi when Constable Christian Arek drew my attention to two large vessels, which appeared to be steaming in the direction of Buna. The ships, which looked like transports or supply ships, were obviously Japanese and my first thoughts were that they were part of the invasion force, with Buna as their first target. However, to my great relief, they changed course in the direction for the D’Entrecasteaux group of islands. I thereupon cancelled my plan to stay the night at the Gona Anglican Mission station, and decided to proceed to Buna forthwith to report the sightings to Army Headquarters, Port Moresby. Buna was completely blacked out at night, and the station was supposed to be under constant guard. We arrived in pitch darkness at about 8 p.m. and I found my way to Champion’s quarters without being challenged. Incidentally, disciplinary measures were introduced forthwith to ensure that guard duties were performed more efficiently from then on. Within minutes, Station VIG at Port Moresby had received my coded message. I particularly requested that its contents be transmitted to Commander Hunt, Naval Officer in Charge, with the advice that the ships had been seen by me personally. We knew each other quite well and I believed that he would regard the information as authentic.
In April 1943, when enjoying my first Army leave in Sydney, I ran into Commander Hunt at the Members’ Bar at Randwick Racecourse. (In those days commissioned members of the Armed Forces were permitted to enjoy the privileges of the Members’ stand). I asked him if he had ever received the message I had despatched from Buna. “Christ, yes!” he replied. He informed me that as soon as he read this message he telephoned Army and RAAF Headquarters. According to Hunt, reconnaissance aircraft sighted a number of enemy ships the following morning. Thus, it seems clear that Christian Arek was one of the first discoverers of the approach of enemy ships which took part in the Coral Sea battle.
The day after sighting the enemy ships I took advantage of the arrival of Elevala from Port Moresby to travel on her to Tufi, on her return journey. George Andersen had been asking awkward questions when acknowledging signalled instructions of a military nature. He had got into the habit of asking me to quote the relevant Ordinance under which to act. I decided that a personal discussion with him would clear the air. It so happened that the enemy made it easy for me to make things clear to George, for the day before my arrival, Tufi was bombed by an enemy plane. The plane dropped anti-personnel bombs, which made a mess of the coconut trees and the Station buildings. Fortunately, George and his native police were absent at the time, and so there were no casualties. The Station women and children had been evacuated to their villages some time previously. The damage caused by the aircraft made it almost unnecessary for me to explain to George that in wartime military necessity was the reason behind directions, which sometimes were not covered by civil laws. On my return to Buna I received a coded message instructing that a search be made for enemy survivors from the recent air-sea engagement (subsequently known as the “Battle of the Coral Sea”). I thereupon joined the Lieutenant Jesser and his detachment of PIB. Jesser succumbed to an attack of malaria and was left at the Gona Anglican Mission for treatment. I then took command of his detachment. We scoured the coastline as far as the mouth of the Waria River without incident. It was during the course of this patrol that I formed a high opinion of the qualities of Sergeant Katui, a Goaribari man who served in the Royal Papuan Constabulary before enlisting in the PIB. On my return to Gona I resumed my previous endeavours to persuade the Reverend James Benson to send the two Australian Mission sisters back to Australia. The most telling point I made was that if the enemy landed, lives of ANGAU personnel could be endangered while endeavouring to rescue the womenfolk. Benson said that he had already taken the matter up with Dogura and had received the reply to the effect that the women could go if they wished, but the Bishop considered it was their duty to remain. Miss Hayman and Miss Parkinson, being dedicated women, elected to remain. This, as it turned out, was a tragic decision.
Shortly after I assumed control of Northern District, I received instructions from Headquarters at Port Moresby to recruit 500 native labourers and send them overland. The instruction stated that their rate of pay would be 6/- (shillings) per month. The minimum rate in Papua had always been 10/-, as compared with 6/- in the adjoining Mandated Territory. Exaggerated stories were rife amongst the native people of the effects of enemy bombing of Port Moresby. This in itself made it difficult to obtain recruits for service there. To expect them to engage for a reduced wage would have made recruitment impossible. When I queried the wage rate I received a peremptory reply confirming the quoted rate, and instructing me to give top priority to recruitment. Attempts to obtain recruits at 6/- per month failed, and I thereupon took it upon myself to engage them at 10/- per month.
Each sub-district was given a quota and in early April the required number of recruits were assembled at Kokoda and sent overland in charge of Lieutenant Brown. He also took a letter from me setting out my reasons for engaging the recruits at the higher rate. Nothing further was heard on the matter. Another instruction in May for a further 500 recruits was fulfilled with considerable difficulty. It took all the persuasive powers of Brewer, McKenna, Searle, Champion and myself to convince the native people that the services of their young men was a necessary part of their war effort and that Port Moresby was not a place of death and destruction. The second lot of recruits was also sent overland via Kokoda. Lieutenant Searle had charge of this lot. I took the opportunity to make it clear to Headquarters that quite a lot of resentment was felt by the native population at so many of their young men being sent away to work. I expressed the hope that the Northern District would not be called upon to provide any further recruits.
In April I received a report from the ADO Morobe, Lieutenant Costelloe, concerning the arrival at Morobe of a launch from Salamaua with enemy troops aboard. Costelloe had removed his headquarters from Morobe to a place inland some time previously. The launch was boarded by natives from a nearby village. Included in their number was an ex-Sergeant of Native Police who did not disclose his former status to the Japs. He acted as spokesman for the natives and it was the information gleaned by him that was reported by Costelloe for transmission to Port Moresby. The Japs were seeking information about Buna and the road from Buna to Kokoda and across to Port Moresby. After it was explained to them that the local people had no contact whatever with Buna and no knowledge of the place, the launch departed for Salamaua. This rather convincing evidence that the Japs were about to return their attention to Buna was transmitted to Headquarters in Port Moresby without delay.
Early in July advice was received that a company of 39th Battalion troops under the command of Captain Templeton were to march across the Owen Stanleys and that I was to meet them at Kokoda. At the same time I received a signal advising that stores and ammunition for the Company were being shipped to Buna by the auxiliary vessel Gili Gili, and that I was to make the necessary arrangements to have them transported to Kokoda. At this time enemy aircraft were making daily reconnaissance visits during which they paid much attention to the Buna – Kokoda road. In view of this increasing enemy aerial activity I deemed it advisable to discharge the Gili Gili in the small harbour at Oro Bay, instead of the open roadstead at Buna, where she would be more conspicuous. There was such a feeling in the atmosphere, as it were, that something was about to break that I decided to transport all the Gili Gili’s cargo in one move. We worked it out that there would be 1500 carrier loads. McKenna at Ioma and Brewer at Kokoda were instructed to provide 800 carriers between them, while I assisted Champion to obtain the remainder. McKenna was the first to arrive with his quota. He strode into my office at Awala with blood in his eye to demand an explanation as to why I should make such a savage demand on the already denuded manpower in his sub-district. Jack readily appreciated the situation when I explained it to him, and he gave invaluable assistance in organising the three-day carrier haul from Oro Bay to Kokoda.
I proceeded to Kokoda to meet Captain Templeton and his men of B Company, 39th Battalion. On arrival, I found that Lieutenant Brewer with his customary efficiency had provided adequate accommodation for the troops. I spent several days at Kokoda. During this period Templeton left for an inspection of Buna. On 21 July I walked from Kokoda to Awala arriving there about 2.00 p.m. Captain Templeton said he wanted to visit Morobe and agreed to go with him. I explained that as we had no ships it would be necessary to walk and that the return journey would take about three weeks. We were discussing ways and means when Jack Mason, who was crouched over his beloved radio, called out that Corporal Hanna of Ambasi was on the air with an urgent message. I took over from Jack. Hanna informed me that enemy ships were shelling Buna. I instructed him to have a good look at the ships and what they were doing, and report the results to me. He came on the air about ten minutes later with as much information as he could glean, which I immediately transmitted to Station VIG, Port Moresby. I instructed Hanna to stay at his post as long as he considered it safe to do so and to call us at hourly intervals, or any other time he had anything to report. I assured him we would maintain constant watch. In the meantime, Templeton signalled his troops at Kokoda to set out for Buna forthwith and he himself left Awala to join them. Templeton was killed by the enemy a couple of days later. Templeton’s Crossing, on the Kokoda Trail, is named after him. McKenna, Brown, Mason and myself took it in turns to listen throughout the night, but nothing further was heard from Ambasi. We also made efforts to call Buna, but without success.
Months later I learned that Hanna and Holyoake had left Ambasi shortly after Hanna had spoken to me. On the following day they caught up with a party comprising the Gona missionaries (Rev. Benson, Miss Hayman and Miss Parkinson), a detachment of PIB commanded by a Lieutenant Smith, a European Sergeant whose name I forget, and several American airmen whose aircraft had been shot down. The party was endeavouring to make its way inland when it was attacked by Japanese troops, who were guided by Orokaiva natives. All the members of the party, with the exception of the Rev Benson, were able to escape. He was elderly and made no attempt to avoid the Japanese. Presumably because of his age his life was spared and he was taken to Rabaul where he remained as a POW until released in 1945. The party, with Lieutenant Smith in charge, made its way to a village in the Sangara area (name forgotten), where it was provided with food and accommodation by the village people. The people professed friendship and even offered to provide the party with carriers on the following morning to transport foodstuff and equipment. When morning came the Village Constable explained that the carriers had not arrived, but would be available later that morning. His explanation did not satisfy the native members of the PIB who informed their European supervisors that they suspected treachery. Unfortunately, the Europeans did not believe them.
Later that morning Japanese troops, led by the village people, appeared and opened fire. The native members of the PIB detachment, who had been expecting trouble and in consequence were prepared, were able to escape. Several of the Europeans were killed in he first burst of fire. Two ran into the bush where they were pursued and speared to death by the village natives. Lieutenant Smith, who also got away into the bush, was made prisoner by the Village Constable, whose name was Embogi. Embogi acted in a friendly manner towards Smith for the first day or so, providing him with food and shelter, before handing him over to the Japs for execution. Miss Hayman and Miss Parkinson were captured by the Japs who took them to Popondetta. They were kept in one of the coffee buildings for at least a day before being executed. Mavis Parkinson was an attractive young woman in her early twenties. She was engaged to a Lieutenant in the Australian Army who was stationed at Port Moresby. Miss Hayman, who was several years older, was engaged to an Anglican Missionary named Vivian Redlich. They were high-spirited intelligent young women and it was always a pleasure to call on them during my occasional visits to Gona for discussions with the missionary in charge, James Benson. Redlich lost his life several weeks after the enemy landing at Buna, when he walked overland from Kapa Kapa in a courageous but abortive attempt to rescue his fiancée. He joined the party led by Captain Austen and the Reverend Henry Holland of Isavita Mission. It was not until several months later that I got the horrible details, in an unexpected manner, of the murder of the two women missionaries, but I will tell it in its proper place. I am already ahead of my story.
At first light the following morning, July 22, a party consisting of McKenna, six natives and myself departed in the direction of Buna to endeavour to find out what the enemy was up to. We met Champion, Yeoman, Signallers Harper and Hill and a PIB Lieutenant and his detachment shortly after 7.00 a.m. [Frank Hill joined the Australasian Petroleum Company (now Oil Search Ltd) as a Senior Field Assistant after the war and remained with that company until the late 1950’s. Note by Derek Baldwin.] Champion explained that the first knowledge he and others had of the enemy’s presence was the sound of shells whistling over the station. It soon became apparent that the enemy would be landing in force, so the decision was taken to evacuate the station. I instructed Champion to report to Major Watson, CO of the Papuan Infantry Battalion, who was the Senior Officer in the area. Watson and his troops were at Wasida at the time. Yeoman and several of his police were added to my party and we continued on in the direction of Buna.On arrival at Hagenahambo, where WO Bitmead was stationed in charge of the Native Hospital, I instructed him to send his patients to their village forthwith and then fall back to Wasida, where he was to report to Major Watson. I emphasised that when fighting took place his services would be needed to attend to the wounded. However, Bitmead (a dedicated man) prevailed on me to let him send his assistant back to Wasida with the medical supplies and instruments, while he remained behind to shepherd his patients to their homes. With Bitmead’s knowledge I stationed a police constable on the track about half a mile below Hagenahambo, with instructions to run back and warn Bitmead if he saw any sign of the enemy. Unfortunately, it transpired that the constable’s courage deserted him and he fled to his village (he was a local man). The result was that the Japanese walked in on Bitmead and captured him. (Bitmead’s escape is another story).
We continued to Arehe Creek crossing. By this time it was early afternoon and we were feeling in need of a meal. Our journey had been interrupted a number of times by Zeros which were flying up and down the track, at a height of a few hundred feet. Whenever we saw one approaching we would leave the track, sit down in the undergrowth, and resume our journey when it departed. In order not to attract attention from either enemy aircraft of troops, we moved about 200 yards up stream around a bend, where we lit afire under a canopy of trees. At Arehe the road branched off in two directions – one to Buna and the other to Popondetta. Two constables, one of whom was Christian Arek, were posted on the Buna Road and two on the Popondetta Road, about a quarter of a mile distant, with instructions to squat in the undergrowth and watch for enemy movements. If they saw any sign of the enemy they were to report back to us. If circumstances did not permit this to be done, each was to fire a warning shot and then decamp. Tea was made and we were relaxing in the shade – McKenna seated on one log and Yeoman and the police on another log, with the open tucker box between us. Before we could commence, without warning, we heard two shots which were followed by a terrific burst of firing. Months later I learned that the leading elements of the Japanese were on bicycles, and they were almost on top of the police before being seen. All the police could do was to fire a warning shot and then flee into the jungle. The Japs must have thought they had run into an ambush and hundreds of them opened fire. Unfortunately the fusillade caused someone in our party to panic, and before I could do anything about it, McKenna and I were left to our own devices. We became separated in the undergrowth after I had a fall, which took my wind and prevented me from calling out.
Shortly after nightfall I made a cautious inspection of the main road some miles on the Kokoda side of Arehe Creek crossing. By this time the main body of enemy troops had passed. They were being followed by native carriers brought from Rabaul by the Japs. The carriers were in groups of what appeared to be between 20 and 30, with Jap guards at the front and rear of each group. The natives were silent but I could distinctly hear the guards calling out to each other. Perhaps they were doing this to keep about the same distance between each group. It was quite an experience listening to voices gradually becoming louder and then just as gradually dying away. Deciding this was no place for me I crawled back into the jungle and then proceeded to walk in what I hoped was the direction of Sangara Mission. I had no compass to guide me and the dense rain forest country prevented me from seeing the stars.
The following morning I found myself near the main Buna-Kokoda Road again, which indicated that I must have walked in circles during the night. I could hear Japanese voices and the sound of marching footsteps.As I squatted in the undergrowth pondering what to do, I heard a rustle and saw an Orakaiva native crawl past in the direction of the road. I subsequently found that it was common practice for natives to do this, and they usually succeeded in observing what was going on, without themselves being heard or seen. I was tempted to make myself known to the native, but decided he might panic and attract attention to me. By this time I was in no condition to make a speedy exit. I waited for a lull on the road and then had a quick look at it before crawling back into the undergrowth. In the late afternoon, finding myself at Arehe Creek several miles above the crossing. I suddenly remembered the tucker box, which our party left behind when we fled. By this time I was very hungry. I made a cautious approach along the creek and was delighted to find the tucker box intact. Hearing noises at the crossing around the bend, I investigated and saw a number of Japanese manhandling a motor truck, which had bogged down when partly across the stream. I crept back to the box and was crouched over it helping myself to a packet of Army biscuits when two shots whistled past me. Apparently I must have been seen while investigating the crossing. I gave a convulsive leap and dashed back into the jungle, with the sound of shots spurring me on. I kept going until sheer exhaustion caused me to drop to the ground and fall asleep. The following morning I came to the Ambogo River, which enabled me to get some idea of where I was in relation to Sangara Mission. I followed the course of the river until I came across a native track. This led me to a garden where I saw a native woman with a baby at her breast. When I spoke to her she started to shout, and almost immediately a man materialised with a tomahawk in his hand. I spoke to him in the Motu language but he shook his head and advanced on me with the tomahawk. I then drew my revolver and he backed away. As I couldn’t get any sense out of him I stood aside and allowed him and the woman to depart.
I was now reaching the stage where hunger, instead of self-preservation, was dominant. I helped myself to a cob of corn, adjourned to the track leading into the garden and seated myself in the undergrowth, a few feet from the entrance, feeling reasonably certain the owners of the garden would investigate me when they learned of my visit. Soon afterwards, I saw two men approaching, with pig spears in their hands. I waited until they were within a few feet of me before showing myself. They turned and ran while I kept calling after them in Motu. Fortunately, my words penetrated and they stopped. Then there was a welcoming shout from one of them. He turned out to be a Mongi village man named Peter (I forget his native name) whom I had known in Samarai when he worked for a European carpenter named Young. Peter told me that the Japs had already been to his village seeking carriers and food. His people had fled and were living in their garden places. When I told about the incident in the garden, Peter excused himself and went to look for the man concerned. He returned with a large group of his village people, including the man, woman and babe. It turned out that the man could not speak Motu. He had never seen me before, and my unshaven and dishevelled appearance caused him to conclude that I was Japanese. After Peter heard my story he readily agreed to guide me to Sangara, and further inland if necessary.
We reached Sangara Mission in the mid afternoon to find it deserted. However, we were able to contact several native children who told us that the European missionaries had departed for Isavita the day before. The children also told us that the Japs had visited the Mission that morning and fired a number of shots into the buildings. Sure enough, the evidence was there in the form of bullet holes in the corrugated iron tanks, and the roofs of the Mission buildings. Peter and I continued on to Higaturu, which was also deserted. Sunset found us in a small village from which the people had fled. We helped ourselves to some taro from a nearby garden, cooked and ate it, and slept in one of the native huts.
The following morning Peter and I walked to Seapareta where we found Captain Austen, McKenna, a half-caste named Anthony Gors and Austen’s boss boys from Higaturu. Austen had brought a supply of stores from Higaturu, which he said would last about three months. McKenna informed me that he had experienced no difficulty in getting to Higaturu within a few hours after we became parted. He had been stationed at Higaturu for several years and possessed an intimate knowledge of the area. On arrival at Higaturu he had teamed up with Austen. McKenna had no knowledge of Yeoman’s fate but believed that the Buna police, who were with him at the time, would have got him out of trouble (this proved to be correct). McKenna and I decided to go to Kokoda, which we hoped was still in Australian hands. However, we abandoned that idea when word was received later that day that the Japs had occupied Kokoda. Natives informed McKenna on the previous day that Bitmead had been captured and killed by the Japanese. McKenna and I came to the conclusion that no useful purpose would be served by remaining in the district without the ways and means to function with any degree of effectiveness. We decided that the only practicable way to reach Port Moresby was by way of Abau. Austen declined to accompany us. He was stout and elderly, and felt that the walk would be too much for him. He was sure that his supply of stores would last him and his party until such time as they could be rescued. Austen gave me a message to the Naval Officer in Charge, Port Moresby, requesting that a launch be sent to Pongani in September to pick up him and his party. I duly delivered the message, but was informed by Commander Hunt that the request could not be granted. In any case Austen and the non-native members of his party were all dead by then.
McKenna and I left the following morning. Peter guided us as far as Bofu. He explained he had a wife and child to think of, and that in those troubled times his place was with them. Peter was a friend in my time of need, and his name lives in my memory. McKenna and I duly reached Natunga in the Managalasi country. That evening a Village Councillor from Bofu arrived with a note from Bitmead, in which he advised that he had been captured by the Japanese but had escaped and was befriended by two of his medical orderlies from a nearby village. Bitmead also advised that he had been joined by two Americans whose aircraft had been shot down in an encounter with Zeros. These two men – the pilot, Captain Bender, and a sergeant named Thompson – had parachuted to safety and had been found by natives who took them to Bitmead. Bitmead said that he and the Americans had reached Bofu with the view to making their way to Pongani, when natives informed him about me. He then decided to write to me for instructions. I replied that I could see no point in going to Pongani as they would most likely be stranded there and picked up by the Japanese. I told him that McKenna and I would wait at Natunga for his party to join us. The following afternoon a native guide and Sergeant Thompson arrived with a further note from Bitmead saying that he was on his way but was making slow progress because Captain Bender had a flesh wound on his leg and had to be carried. Bitmead said that the few medical dressings he had been able to obtain from the medical orderlies were almost used up. Furthermore, he was experiencing difficulty in obtaining stretcher-bearers for Bender.
In view of this development McKenna and I decided that one of us should press on to Abau to obtain help for Bitmead’s party, and the other would remain behind to take charge of the party. I reasoned that McKenna, who had made several patrols through the Managalasi country and was well known to the people, would be able to do more for the party than I could. He readily agreed. I set out the following day, accompanied by a Dogura Mission native whose name I forget. He had been teaching at Sangara Mission and was separated from the European missionaries when the Mission was evacuated. The journey across the mountains was quite an experience. There were times when I longed for the comfort of a normal patrol with police protection, rations and equipment. Travelling on my own and having to pay for food and services with promises (later fulfilled) gave me sufficient incentive to maintain a pace which enabled me to complete the journey in about half the time it would normally have taken. Coaxing village officials to provide a guide from one area to another was not always easy. The people who helped me most in this regard were the Village Councillors. On the whole they were more helpful than the Village Constables, some of whom were inclined to doubt my bona fide’s when I informed that that I was the “Big” government official sent from Buna. On arrival I would demand the production of the Village Constable’s register. I would then write something in it to impress the Village Constable. Incidentally, four years had passed since the previous patrol by Mac Rich from Tufi.
My story was invariably the same: i.e. that after the land hungry Japanese, killers of men and seducers of women, had over-run Buna and Kokoda, I had decided to walk to Port Moresby by the quickest route in order to guide Australian soldiers who would kill the Japanese and restore the land to its native people. The village always provided sufficient food without demur. This was usually sweet potato, which was the staple food in the mountain regions. Sweet potato without the benefit of salt is most unappetising. One’s appetite goes after a few mouthfuls. However, it was necessary to eat about 5 lbs per day in order to keep going. One of the main difficulties was persuading village people to supply enough firewood to keep a fire going at night. I did not possess a blanket and at heights above 4000 feet it gets almost unbearably cold at night. The mountain hamlets (there were no large villages) were built on treeless spurs (for safety reasons) and firewood had to be carried for a considerable distance. Hence, the understandable reluctance on the part of the people to meet my requests, particularly as I was unable to proffer payment. Perhaps the most trying part of the journey was having to retell my story so many times in each village. Men returning from their garden places late at night would insist on visiting my hut to see me and hear my story. It was not good for the nerves to hear stealthy noises and then glimpse silhouetted figures peering at me from the ladder leading into the hut. I would sit up and in a matter of fact voice ask them what they wanted. Then my story would have to be told once again.
More than once on that journey I had the feeling that if I tarried awhile in any place my number would be up. These people were quite primitive and patrols were few and far between. This was the first time a lone white man had appeared amongst them and the temptation to dispose of him must have been felt at times. However, I was aware that primitive natives rarely commit an act of this nature unless they had discussed it among themselves at some length and formulated a plan. I made a point of arriving late and departing at first light. In the high altitudes it was rare to see any signs of activity until the sun’s warmth began to penetrate, and by that time I was well on my way. It was not until I reached Amau Mission on the Abau side of the Owen Stanleys that I relaxed. Amau was established by Reverend Cecil Abel of Kwato, near Samarai. When I arrived the Mission was being run by an ordained native teacher from Kwato. He and his wife were kindness personified. It was lovely to be able to bathe and change into clean clothing, to drink tea and indulge in solid food again.
By a stroke of good fortune Cecil Abel arrived at Amau several hours after I reached there. He had come from Kwato on one of his mission craft and had anchored it in a river about two day’s walk from Amau. When I informed Abel that I proposed to return to McKenna with medicines and food he kindly offered, as an alternative, to despatch a relief party under the control of one of his Mission teachers. I gladly accepted his offer as I felt it important that I proceed to Port Moresby as quickly as possible so that I could take up duty again. Packs were made up that night and the relief party departed at first light next morning. Months later I learned from McKenna that the Mission party got the wind up after the first day’s walk and did not proceed further. Fortunately, however, Lieutenant David Marsh of Abau Station happened to be patrolling inland at the time. When informed by natives of the existence of McKenna’s party and the difficulty they were experiencing because of the two sick and wounded Americans, he lost no time in proceeding over the mountains to their rescue. The privations experienced by McKenna and Bitmead necessitated their repatriation to Australia for a period of several months. Captain Bender and Sergeant Thompson were sent back to America to recuperate. Their experiences received much publicity in the United States and Captain Bender was awarded a decoration.
The final stage of my journey to Abau was made in Abel’s launch, which he kindly placed at my disposal. The ADO at Abau was an old friend Major Lambden. I travelled to Port Moresby by sea in a sailing lugger. The leisurely trip was just what I needed and by the time I reached my destination I was as fit as a fiddle. I reported forthwith to ANGAU Headquarters and during my discussion with Major (Kassa) Townsend, I was informed that a decision had been made to deport Cecil Abel. He had run foul of the ANGAU commander at Milne Bay (Major K. McMullen). It appears that one of the complaints about him was that he got about like a Will-o’-the-Wisp, and no one in authority could say where he was or likely to be. I, on the other hand, believed that the bright and breezy Cecil was worth more than his salt, particularly when it came to maintaining morale amongst the native people of the Milne Bay area and as far afield as Abau. My representations on Abel’s behalf were unsuccessful. However, where there is a will…. Later that day I was called to the HQ of an advance party of American troops who were in the process of being flown in from Queensland. Their Commander told me that it was intended to despatch the American 126th Regiment overland from Kapa Kapa to the Buna area, and he asked me if I could recommend a suitable available person with local knowledge to accompany that outfit as guide and mentor as it were. I immediately recommended Abel on the basis that he was fluent in several languages, possessed ability well above the average and could be depended to rise to the occasion. Abel was duly engaged and, as I expected, his services were of considerable value. He retained his associations with the US Forces after his operational duties ceased and, in consequence, was able to ensure that his mission at Kwato functioned much more effectively than would otherwise have been the case.
On returning to ANGAU Headquarters, I was informed by Major Townsend that because of my first-hand knowledge of Mambare District, I was being attached to Brigade HQ of AIF troops who were to arrive at Port Moresby the following day. Foreseeing that scouting and reconnaissance duties would be required of me, I approached the CO of the Royal Papuan Constabulary, Major (subsequently Lieutenant Colonel) Normoyle, who allowed me to select six of his Native Constables. I proceeded to Uberi to await the arrival of Australian troops, comprised of the 2/14th and 2/16th battalions, fresh from their victories against the French in Syria. They had been taken by truck as far as Ilolo and had marched from there to Uberi. When I reported to their Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Key, he instructed me to give a talk at 1900 hrs, the subjects being the nature of the terrain ahead, how to fend for oneself in the jungle and how to treat the native people. One of the things I stressed in my talk was I believed the country between there and Kokoda would be tougher than anything they had encountered in Greece and Crete. The point I tried to make was that there were no graded tracks ahead of us and it was simply a matter of going straight up and then straight down. However, at that stage, it was clear that no one believed me. They changed their tune the very next day after the long haul to Iorabaiwa. Apart from the steepness of the track, the constant movements to and fro of troops and carriers had converted it into a muddy bog. It was extremely heavy going for men carrying 45 lb packs and that meant all of us from the Commanding Officer down. In addition to my pack, I carried a lantern filled with kerosene, which I had obtained, with some difficulty, in Port Moresby. I reckoned that when we reached Kokoda, I’d be able to get native administration going again and as this would involve paper work, much of which would have to be done at night, a light would be essential. I also had a one-gallon tin of kerosene, which was being carried by one of the native police.
When we reached Iora Creek the Medical Officer, Captain McLaren, borrowed the lantern for use in the temporary hospital he had set up in a building erected from bush materials. This made me feel glad as I had rejected the oft-felt temptation to throw the lantern away on the long hike from Ilolo. I hardly noticed its weight when I started out each morning, but it seemed to get steadily heavier as the day wore on. I was attached to Brigade Headquarters under the command of Brigadier Potts. We reached Isurava without incident. Then followed a stalemate period of about a week. Brigade Headquarters came under mortar fire from the enemy, which meant that we were not allowed to light fires and this, in turn, meant that we had no hot meals. I overcame this drawback by getting up at about 4 a.m. each day and walking back to the nearest ANGAU carrier camp – the two hour journey for a laden carrier could be done in one hour without a load – where I joined the carriers in eating a plateful of hot rice, laced with strips of bully. This was followed by a pannikin of hot black tea with plenty of sugar. I’d be back at Brigade Headquarter by 6.00 a.m. with no one aware of my absence.
It was on one such occasion that I had my first and only experience of a self-inflicted wound. As I was legging it like a bat out of hell, having tarried somewhat at the ANGAU camp, I saw two soldiers alongside the track. One of them had had the war and had prevailed upon his mate to put a bullet through his boot, the idea being to graze the top portion of his big toe at the same time. Unfortunately, his mate’s hand must have trembled because the shot removed most of the toe. Then followed some choice language from the stricken one. No doubt I should have charged the men with having committed a serious offence. However, I couldn’t help reflecting that the wounded man would have a torrid time on the long walk back over the Owen Stanleys. Moreover, I didn’t relish the thought of having to explain to Brigadier Potts why I happened to be there at that particular time. “Mum’s the word,” I said to myself as I resumed my hike.
Brigadier Potts kept me busy carrying out reconnaissance patrols with my native police. Usually I was able to report that there was no sign of native infiltration. On 27 August I set out with my native police to investigate the left flank of the area between Brigade Headquarters and the enemy. The other instruction from Brigadier Potts was to watch out for native runaway carriers. He had received reports of large-scale desertions by Orakaiva carriers, who hadn’t been sighted after clearing out from their camps. The action of these men was understandable because of the concern they felt for the fate of their people, whose country was now under enemy occupation. The patrol split up and spread out and it was not long before we discovered a track, running more or less in the same direction as the main one, which bore evidence of much recent usage. This, we felt, was the route followed by the deserters. We followed the newfound track until we came abreast of the place where the main enemy concentrations had been. Much firing was going on and we judged that there must be a major engagement between our troops and the enemy. We were making a cautious approach to the area of the firing when we got caught up in a bombing attack by allied aircraft. The first we knew about it was when anti-personnel bombs began exploding in the treetops above our heads. This was one of several occasions on which I owed much to the steadfastness of the police. If they had lost their heads and deserted me, dependent as I was on their bushcraft, I would have been in serious trouble.
This incident put an end to our curiosity. In any case, I felt that the information we had gleaned would be of value to Brigade Headquarters, particularly the existence of another track, which could be used by our troops to by-pass the enemy and cut his line of communication. However, it soon became evident that our troops were falling back. We, therefore, kept off the main track and did not re-join it until we reached Iora Creek shortly before dusk. Our troops were pulling out of Iora Creek as we entered. I spoke to Captain McLaren, who was evacuating patients from the hospital. McLaren told me I could have my precious lantern back if I wanted it, as he had left it behind in the hospital. He also told me that there were two mortally wounded soldiers in the hospital whose end was near. I still recall the eerie feeling which overcame me as I entered the hut in the gathering dusk. The lantern was almost empty and its fitful light made little impression. Shortly afterwards one of the men died. I’d heard of the death rattle but this was the first time I heard a sound resembling it. The other lad died a few minutes later. I returned to my native police to discuss ways and means of digging a grave. We had no tools of any kind and by this time it was raining steadily. We were still debating the matter when a burial party of four under command of a Church of England padre arrived with a couple of spades.
That night the police and I slept in a lean-to which, for safety’s sake, we constructed a few hundred yards way in the bush. The following morning we were on the track at first light. The Japs were firing into our deserted camp as we made up way up the track. I proceeded to Kagi where I met up with the remnants of 39th Battalion troops, who had done such a fine job in the early stages of the fighting. It was then that I learned of the deaths of Captain Templeton and others whom I had first met at Kokoda, just prior to the enemy landing. The Adjutant informed me that I was still posted as “missing” in the 39th Battalion records and he kindly said the it would give him great pleasure to bring the record up to date. While at Kagi it was my good fortune to meet Warrant Officer Jack Wilkinson. Jack had served in the Middle East and was now a member of ANGAU. He was at Kokoda with Lieutenant Colonel Owen when the latter was killed and had somehow become attached to 39th Battalion. I sought and obtained permission to add him to my party. Jack and I became a team and he proved his worth in a score of different ways. At Kagi I had my second experience of being bombed by our own aircraft. It was a clear day and we were watching a flight of RAAF aircraft returning from a mission over the Kokoda area. As they were approaching I noticed objects falling which, in my innocence, I thought were belly tanks (which were frequently used by some types of aircraft in those days). Fortunately, the bombs missed the spur on which we were located, and exploded in the depths on the other side. It was then that I noticed I was the only one standing. The others knew what bombs looked like and had lost no time in going to earth!
By this time the troops under Brigadier Potts were falling back from Myola and we were instructed to follow suit. One of the impromptu tasks performed by my party was to make stretchers for wounded and sick men, and to organise carriers for use as stretcher-bearers. Two of my police were carrying 16-inch scrub knives. Making a stretcher took a few minutes. First we would lay down a couple of saplings to the required length. Then we would cut strips of bark off the saplings and use them to sew the two sides of a blanket together. The blanket would then be drawn over the two lengths of sapling, and the result would be a serviceable, if narrow stretcher. We would then intercept a returning line of carriers and select six as stretcher bearers – four to carry and two to act as reliefs. The task of making a stretcher rarely took longer than ten minutes and we made them whenever required. During this period I saw quite a lot of Dr Vernon. Apart from treating sick and wounded soldiers, he was responsible for the carrier lines, and at this particular time he had established a native hospital at Efogi. He became a legendary figure to all who served on the Kokoda Trail.
During August and September the carriers in the forward area were worked to the limits of their endurance. I particularly noticed this at Iora Creek. The carriers who were based at this camp had to do two return journeys to the forward lines at Ilolo each day. As I recollect it, the journey forward for a fully laden carrier took about two hours, and if he came back empty handed (this was frequently not the case because of the need for them to act as stretcher-bearers to carry sick and wounded troops), they could get back in half that time. Because of the exigencies of the situation, they were not allowed any rest days. When they were fresh they could do the two journeys in eight hours without undue difficulty. However, constant exposure to rain and biting cold winds sapped their strength, and towards the end it would be as late as 8 or 9 p.m. before they got back to their base camp, after having been out on the job since daylight. I’ve seen them fall to the ground almost too exhausted to eat. The carriers were mostly coastal people, but the fortitude they displayed in the high altitudes on such rough terrain, and under the most trying conditions, was remarkable. The OIC of ANGAU Labour Camp at Iora Creek, Warrant Officer Lord, did a mighty fine job in keeping his carrier line going. It was during this period that I met Damien Parer, with newsreel camera, and Chester Wilmot, the war correspondent. I was able to do Parer a small favour when he was at Iora Creek. In return he gave me a handful of dried apricots from his kitbag. My system was crying out for vitamins and I could not have wished for a more welcome gift. Wilmot was perhaps the first war correspondent to give an authentic, on the spot, account of the Kokoda campaign. He was an outspoken man and his despatches got him into trouble with the powers that be.
After leaving Kagi I proceeded with my party to Manari, where I reported to Brigadier Potts. Potts and his senior officers were occupying a native hut on the crest of a treeless spur, known as Brigade Hill. I expressed the view that the place was too exposed and could easily be infiltrated by enemy troops, whom we could see in the distance near Efogi. He replied that if I could provide him with a more suitable shelter he would move; otherwise he would remain where he was. In no time my police, two of whom carried 16-inch scrub knives, had constructed a lean-to just below the top of the crest and out of sight if the enemy. The Brigadier and his staff transferred to the lean-to, while members of the “Old and Bold” Brigade Headquarters Guard Platoon moved into the hut. Shortly before dawn the following morning the hut was subjected to a hail of fire from enemy infiltrators, resulting in the death of one of the guards. The crest was under fire all that morning. Members of the Brigade HQ staff took pot shots at the unseen enemy, as did the native police and myself. The Japs cut the track leading from Brigade HQ to the two forward battalions, and things were pretty hectic. This was one occasion when native carriers, from Lieutenant Barney Davies’ camp at Manari, actually collected wounded men under fire and carried them to safety. Bullets were whistling all around Brigade HQ and about the only one who did not duck his head and move at the double when doing a job in the exposed area, was Brigadier Potts himself. He strolled to and fro with head held high. My last task for Brigadier Potts was to investigate a track which it was thought the enemy might be able to use to by-pass our troops. Despite my protests, he insisted that I take eleven troops (a sergeant and ten privates), in addition to WO Wilkinson and my police. I believed that the soldiers would not be much use on such a task and would, in fact, retard the mobility of my party. However, the Brigadier was adamant.
We hadn’t been going very long before the track swung back in the direction of Efogi. We followed it for some hours before deciding that there would be no point in continuing. From then on we investigated track after track, all of which petered out in obscure native hamlets. We started out with three days rations. I put the party on half rations the first day out. However, we were able to obtain some food, mostly yams and sweet potatoes, from native gardens. At no stage were we able to contact natives. Fortunately, I had been able to obtain a small supply of twist tobacco from the ANGAU labour camp before departure, and whenever we helped ourselves to food from a garden, we would leave some tobacco behind in payment. We tried to join the main body of troops, only to find that Manari was occupied by enemy troops. We followed native tracks where practicable, but there were times when we had to cut our way through the jungle. Six days after starting out from Manari we made a cautious entry into Iawarere Plantation and were relieved to discover that it was not in enemy hands. The only person on the plantation was a half-caste named Peter Solien, who was able to tell me that the Japanese advance had halted at Iorabaiwa. I also learned that Army HQ was situated at Sogeri Plantation, about 10 miles back. By this time I’d just about had it. Lack of balanced diet, constant patrolling in difficult country where it rained almost every day and mostly without adequate shelter at night, had taken toll. In those days we wore shorts and shirts with short sleeves. The numerous scratches on my arms and knees had festered, and by the time I reached Iawarere Plantation I was suffering from dysentery,
On arrival at Sogeri I reported to Major General Allen who, after listening to my report, kindly took me to his tent where I imbibed two stiff whiskies, my first alcoholic drinks for many months. That was the last thing I remembered. Apparently I passed out when I left the General’s tent. When I came to I found myself in a casualty clearing station at the 15-mile. Whilst being treated there I was visited by an officer from ANGAU HQ who informed me that, if I wished, I could be granted compassionate leave. Territory civilians who had been absorbed into the army after suspension of civil administration were granted special leave to proceed to Australia to settle their private affairs. I had not taken advantage of this provision. In my weakened condition I could imagine nothing better than a break in Australia. Accordingly, I applied for leave and received a reply granting approval.
Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, particularly sulphanilamide tablets I was back to normal within a fortnight. When I reported to ANGAU HQ preparatory to departure, I learned that New Guinea Force HQ was seeking the services of an officer with first hand knowledge of the Northern District to take charge of a party to investigate enemy dispositions and activity in the Buna area. All the experienced officers, particularly Brewer, McKenna and Champion had contacted severe bouts of malaria during the hardships experienced following the enemy landing at Buna and, as a result, had been evacuated to Australia. My duty was clear so I volunteered to join the party.
Then followed an interview with Colonel Le Vial of New Guinea Force. His idea was that my party should fly to Oro Bay in a Catalina where we would disembark. I explained that, because of the necessity to carry some stores and equipment, plus a heavy teleradio set, battery charger fuel, etc, it would take perhaps an hour to transport personnel and gear ashore in the small rubber dinghy provided by the Catalina. The interview terminated abruptly with an instruction from the Colonel to report back to him the following day.
When I returned he informed me, to my great relief, that the Air Force would not agree to expose a Catalina to the risk of making a landing in an area where the enemy still had mastery of the air. He went on to say, however, that the US Air Force was prepared to provide a DC3 to take us to a new airstrip which had just been cleared by Lieutenant Anderson at Wanigela on the North East Coast.
I was given a free hand to determine the size and composition of my party. My first selection was Jack Wilkinson. Lieutenant Colonel Normoyle, of the Royal Papuan Constabulary, readily permitted me to take any native police I wanted. I selected six, including constable Sanopa (who subsequently rose to the rank of Sergeant in the post-war RPC). Sanopa, who hails from Sinema, near Buna, was with me on the Kokoda Trail and I had found him to be both loyal and courageous. I approached my old friend, Major Watson, CO of the Papuan Infantry Battalion. The man I wanted was Sergeant Katui; Katui had made a name for himself after the Japanese landing at Buna and was subsequently awarded the Military Medal for his exploits. Although understandably reluctant to release such a valuable man, Watson appreciated the nature of the job ahead of me and granted his permission for Katui and a private, whose name I forget, to join my party. The two other members of the party were Corporal Craddock and Private Russell, who were provided by the Army Signals Unit to operate the communications set.
Our departure on 8 October was not without incident. Shortly after taking off, the American co-pilot informed me that enemy Zeros were reported overhead and that the aircraft was taking evasive action. This consisted of flying so close to tree level in mountain valleys that I expected the plane to crash. Instead of flying straight across, we diverted to the coastline near Abau and then followed the coast all the way via Milne Bay, mostly at a height I thought was dangerously close to sea level. I, for one, was greatly relieved when we reached Wanigela, after a flight which took two hours instead of the usual 35 minutes. I reported to the RAAF CO at Wanigela. When informed of my intention to travel by canoe as far as Oro Bay he warned me not to travel in daylight, as instructions had been given to aircraft to shoot up anything seen moving on the water. The only canoes obtainable were small dugouts each with a single outrigger. It took six of them to accommodate our party. We paddled at night and laid up in the undergrowth above highwater mark during daylight hours. On arrival at Fona I learned from the Village Constable that his village had been visited by a party of Japs in a barge. The Japs cut down a coconut tree for the coconuts and shot six pigs for food before departing. At Sebaga village the Village Constable reported that a small enemy ship had anchored off his village about a week before, in the early hours of the morning. It shone its searchlight on the village for a time and then departed in the direction of Buna, without making contact with the shore.
On arrival at Pongani I was informed by the VC that the majority of people of Eroro and other villages adjacent to Oro Bay were actively assisting the enemy. However, VC Elijah of Eroro had refused to cooperate with the Japanese. Together with others who remained loyal, he fled to the Pongani area. At Mendaropu I made my first contact with the natives who were able to give me a little firsthand information about enemy dispositions in the Buna area. On 16 October we arrived at Kida Point, where the temporary village of Umini was located. The village was built by the Biama people, who transferred to it en masse from their former home at Oro Bay. I learned that the Biama had befriended a number of Americans whose aircraft had been shot down. The Eroro people had tried to persuade the Biama people to hand the Americans over to the Japs. The Biama folk refused and led the Americans to the nearest ANGAU station instead. Knowing full well the kind of treatment they would receive from the Japs, the Biama people left hurriedly.
It was Umini that I met VC Elijah, who was able to furnish useful information about the enemy, which transmitted to Army HQ by signal. I also had a joyful re-union with Constable Christian Arek and two other natives who had served with me at Awala. These men, together with two PIB privates who had become separated from their detachment at Buna shortly after the enemy landing, were added to my party. At Umini I caught up with native police constable named John (I forget his native name), who had been sent from Port Moresby via Tufi to report on enemy movements. John’s village was situated in the Buna area. John had been at Umini for four days. He impressed me as being an intelligent straightforward man. Although he was aware that his people were under enemy influence (their proximity didn’t give them any choice), he was confident they would not betray him. He believed that, if he went to Buna in the guise of a local village native, he would be able to make his way back to me. After a thorough briefing from Katui and myself, John departed. Together with Katui and a few native police, I accompanied him as far as the Oro Bay area, where we had to leave him to his own resources. If we had gone any further the local natives would have betrayed our whereabouts to the Japanese, and this would have ruined our chances of obtaining reliable information.
John’s mission was very successful. He contacted his people, bound them to secrecy, and accompanied some of them right into Buna. The information he gleaned from his own observations and from his people included details of anti-aircraft positions, barge hideouts and area in which large bodies of troops were concentrated. John returned on the eighth day, and no time was lost in transmitting his report by code to Port Moresby. John brought back some invasion money with which the Japanese had paid him and his fellow worker for the bananas and taro, which they had taken into Buna for sale. I had already heard from the people of Umini that the Japanese had been paying as much as 10/- for a bunch of bananas. This contrasted with the payment of three sticks of tobacco (worth less than 1/-) which was the standard rate of payment. I pointed out to the people that the notes were worthless and would not be accepted when the Japanese were beaten, and stores re-established. “Have the Japanese built any stores from which goods may be purchased?” I asked. As the answer was in the negative, the natives looked thoughtful, and were inclined to agree with me that the Jap money was indeed worthless. At that stage I could not know that when the Americans came in their thousands they would regard invasion money as curios and pay good, highly negotiable dollars for them!
I learned that Japanese patrols rarely penetrated beyond Oro Bay. In view of this, and to ensure our whereabouts did not become known to the people on the Buna side or Oro Bay, who at that time were very much under the enemy influence, I decided to base on Mendorupu and do my patrolling from there. On the few occasions we came across natives from villages under enemy influence, we seized them and sent them back under escort to Tufi, where they were detained until it was deemed safe to release them. On 18 October, shortly after I had retuned from a patrol, some of my native police sighted two ships approaching from the direction of Tufi. They dropped anchor off Pongani, where they were in clear view of us. The ships were crowded with troops wearing jungle green uniforms. When I left Port Moresby our troops were still wearing khaki, and as far as I knew the Japs were the only ones garbed in jungle green. Furthermore, the headgear of the new arrivals looked much the same as that worn by Jap troops. While we were somewhat uneasily speculating as to the identity of the new arrival we sighted an American bomber, with its markings clearly visible, hovering over the ships and obviously trying to identify them. The ships immediately opened fire on the aircraft, which responded by dropping several bombs, after which it made one strafing run and then departed.
All this made me believe that the ships were Japanese and I thereupon informed New Guinea Force by signal, after which I transferred the communication set to a more secluded place several miles inland. On resuming contact with HQ I learned that the ships were American. Accompanied by Wilkinson and several police I made a beeline through the bush to Pongani, where we were accosted by an American patrol. These troops believed they were in enemy occupied territory and they regarded us with suspicion. However, I was able to establish our bona fides when I met their commanding officer, Colonel McKinney. He had been informed that an ANGAU reconnaissance party was somewhere in the area. I learned from McKinney that two members of his force had been killed and fifteen wounded by the bombs dropped by the aircraft. One of the dead men was the a US War Correspondent named Brian Darnton (I’m depending on memory for his name) and the other was Lieutenant Fahenstock, who was CO of American Small Ships at Milne Bay. I gathered that it was Fahenstock who gave the order for the ships to fire. On making contact with the Pongani natives the Americans handed out a number of presents with a view to inducing them to unload the ships. The natives accepted the presents and then disappeared from the village. On hearing the story from Colonel McKinney I issued instructions to my native police. Within a couple of hours about 150 natives were busy unloading the ships. The Americans were amazed. Actually there was no problem. All I did was to send the police to the garden places where I knew the people would be living. They came to work without demur.
The following day Pongani men, women and children, working under the supervision of Jack Wilkinson, cleared a strip behind Pongani village, which could be used by DC3 aircraft. Jack also supervised the construction of a temporary jetty, which could accommodate smallcraft of up to 50 or 60 burden. About this time I learned from native sources that a party comprising one European and six native police was making its way through the Asingi country in the direction of Buna. The party’s movements were being watched by natives, who alerted other villages along the route. When the news reached Inonda, the people reported the matter to the Japs at Buna. The latter despatched troops, accompanied by natives guides, to lie in wait for the party as it approached Inonda. I conveyed this information, in code, to New Guinea Force by signal and requested particulars of the party’s call sign, so that I could warn it. A reply was received saying that nothing was known of the existence of such a party, but enquiries were being made and I would be informed of the result. As I was convinced of the genuineness of the information I had received, I despatched Wilkinson with a squad of native police, under Constable Christian Arek, to warn the party of the trap laid for it and to render any assistance that might be required. Several days later a signal came from New Guinea Force advising that the party had been despatched by Milne Force on a mission similar to mine and that it was led by Lieutenant Beharell, who had been a Patrol Officer before he had enlisted. The signal also advised that the information received from me had been transmitted to Beharell. Wilkinson duly caught up with Beharell to find that Beharell had succumbed to a bout of sickness and was confined to his tent. Wilkinson took charge and sent Christian Arek and his police to contact Beharell’s police who were patrolling ahead. When Christian Arek found them they mistook him and his outfit for Japs and there was an exchange of fire before each side established its identity. Wilkinson rightly decided that any further efforts to obtain information of military value would be abortive because of the hostility of the natives from Bofu onwards who, at the time, were under Japanese influence. He therefore decided to return to Pongani. Beharell was flown to Port Moresby for hospitalisation and his police were added to my party.
General McNider, Commanding Officer of US 32 Division, arrived at Pongani several days after the incident between the ships and aircraft. He obtained permission from New Guinea Force to utilise my services. This curtailed my patrolling somewhat until a few weeks later Lieutenant Ivan Hoggard was added to my party. The Americans wanted to base at Pongani but readily agreed to move to Mendaropu when I pointed out that the latter would be more suitable for several reasons: it had a plentiful supply of fresh water; had been deserted for some time and therefore the houses would be available to accommodate troops and a track led from there to Oro Bay. I accompanied Colonel McKinney on the first American patrol to Oro Bay. We had become fast friends by then and he rarely made a move without consulting me.When I informed General McNider that the nearest concentration of enemy troops was at Boreo (several miles from Buna), he obtained permission to move his base to the Eroro area. By this time we had about 300 natives working for the Americans. On 16 November I accompanied General McNider on the first vessel which proceeded from Eroro to Hariko (about 3 miles from Boreo). The general and his staff disembarked at Hariko to await the arrival of the first lot of American infantry who were marching along the beach from the Dombada-Eroro area. He was several hours ahead of time and was taking a risk in view of the proximity of the Japanese troops at Boreo. I rejoined the vessel and returned to Eroro in mid-afternoon with instructions from General McNider to Colonel McKinney that all ships waiting there (some had arrived from Porlock Harbour that afternoon) were to proceed forthwith to Hariko. The vessels were laden with arms ammunition, equipment and foodstuff. Colonel McKinney wanted me to accompany him on the last vessel to leave but as I had been up since 4 a.m. and had other matters to attend to he agreed to my suggestion that I join him the following morning. An ANGAU NCW, W. Osborne and forty native carriers were sent on one of the ships. The vessels had only travelled a few miles when they were attacked by eighteen enemy aircraft. In a matter of minutes they were blazing wrecks. Darkness soon fell and the wrecks gradually sank. We were unable to render any assistance because we had nothing, not even a dinghy or canoe, with which to put to sea.
That night the Europeans in our party took turns to stay with the carriers, about 250 in number, who were very jittery. We were very conscious of the fact that the troops at Hariko would soon run out of rations, perhaps ammunition. All they had was what they carried with them. Large dumps of American stores and ammunition had been established at Eroro. During the night I located the senior remaining American officer and got him to determine the nature of the carrier load for despatch the following morning. As dawn broke Hoggard, Wilkinson and I had all the carriers lined up with their loads, preparatory to departure. They were just moving off when the sound of aircraft was heard. Wilkinson investigated and then called out that they were “Yellow Bellies”. I was in the process of instructing the carriers to take cover when we were attacked by seven Zeros. I was caught in the centre of the open part of the village and all I could do was to throw myself to the ground. I could feel the plok, plok of bullets al around me. After the attack ceased, Hoggard and Wilkinson, who had been watching me from the shelter of trees, said they expected to find by body riddled with bullets! There were some casualties amongst the American troops but the only member of our party to be hit was a PIB private whose skull was creased by a bullet. Unfortunately, all of our carriers had fled. The majority of them were from the Baniara and Tufi areas and I felt reasonably sure they would keep to the beach instead of fleeing inland through unknown and hostile country. I accordingly sent a signal to Captain Faithorn at Pongani to apprehend them and send them back as a matter of urgency. Leaving Hoggard and Wilkinson and native police to push into nearby native villages to recruit carriers, I departed along the beach with Sgt. Katui to report to General McNider. Within an hour we came across bodies, which had floated ashore during the night. These included four of Osborne’s carriers. Katui and I buried the carriers in the sand above the high water mark. We also deposited the bodies of several Americans on the surface above high water mark for subsequent burial by the US authorities. We reached Hariko, which is about 13 miles from Eroro, to find that General McNider’s temporary headquarters had been bombed that morning. McNider had a narrow escape, but his ADC and his cook were killed and a number wounded. The General was particularly upset about his cook, whom he had known for about 20 years.
I was profoundly relieved to find that Bill Osborne was alive and intact. He had swum a distance of a mile or more to reach the shore. At that stage Bill wasn’t sure how many of his carriers were missing but he believed the majority had swum ashore. I was distressed to learn that Colonel McKinney had been lost. He was a fine man and I had become quite attached to him. When I explained to the General what had happened that morning, he instructed me to return to Eroro forthwith and concentrate on the job of obtaining carriers to transport food and ammunition to his troops. I returned to Eroro in the late afternoon to find that Hoggard and Wilkinson had recruited about forty carriers. The following morning I received a signal from Captain Faithorn advising that the runaway carriers had been picked up and were returning on an American small ship which he had been able to contact. Within a couple of days the Baniara and Tufi carriers, somewhat shamefaced, were back. There were no reproaches. I explained to them how vitally necessary their services were and they, for their part, assured me they were anxious to make good. From then on the carriers did an outstanding job. The journey to Hariko and back was about 26 miles along a sand beach with numerous streams to cross. Walking on sand is heavy going at any time, but with a 50 lb. pack it is particularly hard, especially when the load had to be held above the head when crossing the mouths of rivers and swiftly running creeks. For almost a month these carriers did the return journey each day, without any time off and regardless of weather conditions. We Europeans had it much easier, one day on and one day off. Wilkinson and Hoggard would accompany the carriers one day and Craddock and I would go with them the next. There was plenty to do on the days we were not walking, including checking on intelligence reports from natives, and medical treatment of carriers who had cracked up.
Conditions on this route were not as arduous as the Kokoda Trail. Nevertheless the carriers were called upon to work to the limit of their capacity, and they responded in a way that did credit to them. They were dive bombed by enemy aircraft on several occasions but they carried on and there were no more desertions. During this period I was called upon to provide natives with local knowledge to pilot American small ships on the last stage from Oro Bay to Hariko. The ships would leave Porlock Harbour in the late afternoon, call at Oro Bay to pick up the pilot who would travel on her to Hariko, which would be reached about 1 a.m. The ship would depart about 3 a.m and be back at anchorage about daylight in the hope of avoiding enemy aircraft. Not all the ships succeeding in doing this. One was sunk by bombing and several others damaged. One of the native pilots was killed and another wounded. In the circumstances, it speaks volumes for the courage of these civilian natives, none of whom received danger pay, that I was always able to obtain a volunteer for each ship that wanted one. There were never any free moments for me in those days and, as a result, I did not send any report to ANGAU headquarters. About the middle of December, Elliot-Smith, now a Lieutenant Colonel, arrived at Oro Bay. He informed me that ANGAU Headquarters was displeased with me for not having paid attention to native administration matters in the areas recently freed from enemy control. When I explained the nature and volume of operational duties I had been called upon to perform, he commended me. However, he advised that Headquarters had instructed that I must resume duty as District Officer, and that a number of ANGAU personnel, including McKenna and Champion, had been posted to the district. He agreed to my suggestion that Higaturu would be the most suitable place for the temporary district headquarters.
Captain Faithorn had been instructed to take over from me. After handing over to him I proceeded to Higaturu and set up headquarters. The first task was to despatch patrols to all the areas which had been released from enemy control. Apart from “showing the flag”, they were to take possession of quantities of arms and ammunition left behind by the retreating enemy, which had come into the possession of village natives. Disturbing reports were coming in of natives using weapons to pay off old scores. Within a few days I received a personal signal from General E. Harding, who had taken over as GOC American 32 Division after General McNider had been wounded by enemy mortar fire. General Harding said that 7th Australian Division had 3,000 carriers but would not release any of them to the US forces, despite the fact that the latter only had 300 carriers. He requested me to provide as many carriers as I could obtain. Appreciating the urgency of his need, I set off immediately to an area that had not experienced any appreciable drain on its manpower. I arrived back on the morning of Christmas Eve with 300 carriers, and was feeling quite complaisant about my effort, which had taken about half the normal time for such a task. I was looking forward to a complete rest on Christmas Day. But that was not to be. A signal was waiting from Headquarters ANGAU instructing me to proceed to Popondetta airstrip the following morning to Lieutenant Colonel Baldwin. Baldwin had already arrived when I reached Popondetta after the rather pleasant seven-mile walk from Higaturu. He informed me that, as a result of a direct request from General MacArthur to General Blamey, there was to be a more equitable distribution of carriers between American and Australian Forces, and that I was to be attached to Advance Headquarters of the New Guinea Force, under the command of General Herring, to implement the decision.
Then followed an extremely interesting period at Dobuduru. I was present at the morning conferences of senior offices presided over by General Berryman, when the latest situation reports from all the areas of fighting were discussed and tactical decisions made. Berryman expected 100% efficiency and saw to it that he got it. Officers who didn’t measure up were smartly “Bowler hatted”. My direct superior at Dobuduru was Colonel Legge. He would preside over a conference at 8 o’clock every night and, amongst other things, would deal with the latest request for ammunition and stores from each sector where fighting was going on. I would work on the loads on the basis of 50 lb per carrier. Then I would return to my tent and from there would telephone the OC of each ANGAU Labour Camp and give him his instructions. While this was going on, another officer would telephone the appropriate supply depot. This system worked without a hitch and all the carrier lines would be in motion in the early hours to ensure that the loads reached their destination at first light. The ANGAU camps were located as near as practicable to the areas where fighting was taking place. There were, of course, times when changes in the fortunes of war necessitated a hasty alteration in the list of requirements. For example, an SOS might come in from one of the American sectors for substitution of mortar shells for rifle ammunition. I soon became conditioned to the telephone alongside my stretcher ringing at all hours of the night. I’d phone the ANGAU camp concerned. There would be a muttered curse and then action. The men in charge of these camps – Dick Humphries, Alistair Mclean, Macgregor Dowsett and others, and their carriers – did a particularly fine job under difficult conditions, and with no rest days. As on the Kokoda Trail, overwork and exposure affected the health of European and Native alike. These men made a worthy contribution to the campaign.
My tent at Dobuduru was alongside the one occupied by Colonel Chave, Senior Intelligence Officer. After completing my evening duties he kindly permitted me to read the translation of Japanese diaries, totalling over 100, which had been recovered form the bodies of enemy dead. These made fascinating reading, depicting as they did the experiences, hopes and fears of the writers. It was while reading the transcription of one of these diaries that I obtained the first authentic knowledge of the fate of Captain Austen and his party. Garbled accounts had already been received from native sources, which indicated that the party had been wiped out by the Japanese, after betrayal by certain natives. The diary in question made two separate references to Austen’s party. The first entry recorded that natives had brought in nine Australian prisoners comprising five men, three women and one child. The writer was most impressed by the beauty of one of the women, Louise Artango. Louise was part Filipino and part Papuan. The other two women were Miss Lashmar and Miss Brenchly of the Sangara Mission. The second entry in the diary, made on the day after the party was handed over, stated that the nine Australian prisoners had been shot and beheaded. The writer said that when the time came for the beheading of Louise Artango he felt quite sick. He made only passing reference to the killing of the others. I also found a mention of Austen’s party in the transcription of another Japanese diary. This particular Japanese had served in a number of areas – Hong Kong, Singapore, Java, Rabaul and Buna – before meeting his end at Milne Bay. One of the interesting things mentioned in his diary was that his countrymen had established a shrine near one of the volcanoes at Rabaul, where they went to pray. His diary made two references to Austen’s party. The first recorded the date (which coincided with that shown in the other diary), and the number and sex of Australians brought into the Japanese at Sinemi; the second entry made a brief comment on the shooting and beheading of the nine prisoners on the following day.
During this period sizeable number of New Guinea natives, who had been brought from Rabaul to carry for the Japanese, had either escaped or had been released by our troops as the enemy fell back to their last strongholds at Buna and Gona. These natives, after convalescing in the hospital-cum-convalescent camp run by Dr Vernon at Popondetta, very willingly joined the ANGAU carrier lines. I received a report that about 500 New Guinea carriers had escaped early in the campaign and had made their way to the Waria region, where they were being fed by the local people. A patrol was despatched to fetch them in. They were in good fettle on arrival at Dobuduru and were put to work immediately in the carrier lines, a task they undertook with great gusto. One of my duties on behalf of Army Intelligence was to interrogate New Guinea natives recently released from the Japs. Although reasonably fluent at Motu, which is the lingua franca of Papua, my knowledge of Pidgin was extremely limited. I was making heavy weather of it one morning when I received a visit from G.A.V. Stanley, a well know Territorian, who was staging through Dobuduru at the time. Stanley, who was serving in a hush-hush unit, spoke Pidgin almost as well as he did Motu, which is saying a lot. I gratefully accepted his offer to take over from me.
The majority of natives employed in Rabaul and in plantations in New Britain came from other districts, such as Sepik, Madang, Bougainville, etc. These natives farmed themselves out amongst the Tolai villages when the Japanese occupied Rabaul. Several months later the Japs sent out word that if these “foreign” natives came into Rabaul they would be sent back to own villages. The natives fell for the offer and something like 2000 reported to Rabaul for repatriation. Instead they found themselves transported to Buna to work as carriers. These carriers had an exceedingly bad time. After the first day in from Buna the Japs compelled them to forage for their own food. This involved raiding village gardens, which did not endear them to the owners of the gardens. In point of fact, a number of unfortunate New Guinea carriers were speared and killed by Papuans when caught raiding gardens. Jap stragglers who raided gardens also met with the same fate.
Within a few days of my arrival at Dobuduru I began to receive visits from officials of native villages ranging as far back as Bofu. All of them had stories of hardships resulting from the enemy occupation. However, the answers they gave to my questions convinced me that the Japanese had treated them reasonably well. Apart from demands for foodstuffs, which was paid for in invasion money, about the only other pressure exerted by the Japanese was for carriers and guides and this mainly in the early stages of the invasion. The Japanese made it clear to the natives that, if they assisted the Australians and Americans in any way, they would be severely punished. However, with the exception of a few isolated instances the Japanese left their womenfolk alone.
It was not long before I received disturbing reports that several of the Village Constables, now eager to be of service, had taken a major part in the betrayal and killings of Anglican missionaries, Australian soldiers and American airmen whose aircraft had been shot down or had made forced landings. I duly noted the reports but decided to take no action until such time as our troops had achieved victory. In any case because of my operational duties and lack of field personnel, I was not in a position to conduct an investigation.
One morning when I was in my tent receiving a delegation of village officials, I heard sound of approaching aerial activity. We dashed out of the tent in time to witness an American DC3 cargo place being chased by two Zeros, which were firing at it. The DC3 was flying so low that it actually dislodged treetops, some of which fell about us. Several minutes later we heard an explosion, which caused me to conclude that the Zeros had made a kill. The village officials then departed. They returned three days later with advice that the aircraft had crashed near their village, killing three Americans. They handed over watches and other personal belongings taken from the remains of the Americans, which I duly passed on to the American authorities. I arranged for the Village Constable to accompany an American burial party to the scene of the crash.
In those days there was a ban on the possession of alcoholic liquor. The only man in the area who was able to overcome this prohibition was the ADMS, Major X. He had three 4-gallon kerosene tins in his tent labelled, if my memory serves me correctly, “Methylated Spirits”. However in actual fact the tins contained O.P. rum. The Major and his cronies, mostly of the same rank as himself, and several more senior officers, but not including the top-ranking ones, used to partake of the contents, on a strictly rationed basis, each evening. Although of the same rank as the Major, I was not a member of this select circle, much to my regret. This state of affairs continued for several weeks until Major X received a posting, which necessitated his departure by air the following morning. He came to my tent on the afternoon before his departure and requested me to deliver the two remaining full tins to Brigadier Wootton at Soputa, 10 miles away. In view of the fact that they would be going to a fighting outfit, I assured him that I would be happy to oblige. The tins were placed in my tents and I arranged to have them taken by native carriers the following morning with two of my native police as escorts.
My capable assistant, Lieutenant Neil Proud, formerly of Wau, who had been an interested listener to the conversation between Major X and myself, suggested that, as a matter of equity, I should levy a commission for undertaking such an important task. Such commission to be in the form of a token quantity from each tin. My moral code is a reasonably strict one, but in circumstances such as this a rigid adherence to normal precepts seemed a little out of place. I admitted that the suggestion intrigued me, but at the same time I shuddered at the thought of offending the Brigadier, who was a very forthright man. “If those tins are not intact when they are handed over,” I said, “there will be one hell of a row.” “Leave it to me” replied Neil, who had not served in the Middle East without learning his way around. Neil departed and in a short time he returned with three empty pickle bottles, a soldering iron and some solder. We duly extracted enough from each tin to fill the bottles and our pannikins, replaced what had been taken with clear river water and soldered up the holes. I carefully rubbed dirt on the solder marks and the surrounding area until I was satisfied that the tins would pass the most elaborate scrutiny. At the crack of dawn I received a visit from a young Lieutenant and four privates who had been despatched by Brigadier Wootton in the early hours to take delivery of the tins. The Lieutenant, obviously believing it would be impossible for something not to happen to such a precious commodity, shook and re-shook each tine suspiciously, until I pulled rank and asked him what the devil he meant. I accepted his rather incoherent apology and graciously offered him carriers and a police escort. I sensed he had a feeling that he could not altogether trust his men to refrain from succumbing to the temptation to broach the tins on the walk to Soputa and he gladly accepted my offer. The police duly returned and reported that the tins had reached their destination safely. All’s well that ends well.
The Orakaiva natives could never understand why we treated the Japanese prisoners so well. There were times when an instruction to carriers to act as stretcher-bearers for sick or wounded Japanese prisoners almost met with open rebellion. I happened to be passing an American Dressing Station one morning when I heard a hullabaloo centred around a group of Orakaiva stretcher-bearers. The American Medical Officer and several of his men were shouting at the Papuans, who were shouting back, neither group being able to make itself understood. The cause of the commotion was a dead Japanese lying on a stretcher. He had been very much alive when the stretcher party had departed the American forward lines and the MO obviously suspected foul play. He drew my attention to a large recent lump on the side of the Jap’s head. The carriers strenuously denied the MO’s accusations. Knowing my Papuans I dispensed with preliminaries. “Why did you kill him?” I said. “He tried to get off the stretcher and run away, so we gave him a little hit on the head with a stick to keep him quiet” was the virtuous reply. From then on whenever it was necessary to carry a Japanese patient, a police constable accompanied the stretcher in order to ensure the safe arrival of the occupant.
One morning when making the ten-mile walk for Dobuduru to visit ANGAU native labour camps at Soputa, I witnessed the bombing of an American field hospital by Japanese aircraft. The hospital was situated in a clearing with the usual Red Cross markings to distinguish it. Considerable damage was done and a number of the patients and staff were killed or wounded. On arrival at Soputa I learned that the Australian field hospital had also been dive-bombed by enemy aircraft and that those killed included several doctors. The Japanese claimed that these bombings were in retaliation for the bombing of a Japanese field hospital. Whilst making my way to the ANGAU set-up I came across a tent which was occupied by my old friend Captain Lea Ashton. There were several bomb craters alongside the tent and the tent itself was riddled with bomb splinters. Fortunately, Lea happened to visiting another tent when the bombs fell. As I recall it, Lea told me he was a member of Commander Eric Feldt’s coast-watching organisation. He was in charge of a small party of native police, which had been engaged on a reconnaissance mission in the Buna area similar to the one I had carried out. Lea’s party had penetrated as far as Inonda. It had already passed through country where the attitude of the natives was far from friendly, but it was not until he reached Inonda that his party encountered open hostility. Several of his police were attacked by local natives and had to fight their way out of trouble. As it was obviously impossible for Lea to obtain any information of military significance, he joined up with Australian troops and was awaiting his next posting when I met him. That afternoon on the return walk to Dobuduru, I was wading across the Giruwa river, which at Soputa is wide and shallow, when I got a grandstand view of an aerial battle between American Lightnings and Japanese Zeros. There were many of them and they crisscrossed the sky at such a rate that I was unable to watch everything. However, I saw four Japanese and two American aircraft shot down. According to the radio news that night, 18 enemy aircraft had been shot down for the loss of two allied ones. It was scene worth remembering. One of my recollections of the encounter was that the Lightnings were much faster that the Zeros but lacked their manoeuvrability.
Early in January Advance Headquarters found itself with 300 Japanese prisoners on its hands. Many of them were patients from a Japanese hospital, which had been captured by Australian troops closing in on Gona. Brigadier Legge instructed that I was to be responsible for the safeguarding of the Japanese prisoners until such time as they could be sent to Australia. I received the instruction in the morning and was told that the prisoners would be arriving in the afternoon. Prompt action was necessary. By this time I had been in the Army long enough to be reasonably expert at passing the buck. So I sent for Lieutenant Harvey Morton who was in charge of a nearby ANGAU labour camp. “I want you to construct a barbed wire stockade to accommodate from three to five hundred Japs and the job must be completed by this afternoon”, I said. Harvey’s reply was unprintable. “It’s an order and it’s up to you to see that it is carried out”. I knew Harvey before the war when he was a plantation assistant and was aware that he was an enterprising chap who could cope with emergencies. Sure enough, the stockade was finished that afternoon. It was made from bush timbers and ringed with barbed wire obtained from Army engineers. It even had a roof over much of it to provide shelter from the nightly rain. Harvey was made OC of the stockade and my native police were assigned to him to act as guards. Fortunately, the Japs were a docile lot, which was not surprising when one considers the privations they had endured. Harvey was able to account for all his charges when the time came to hand them over for transport to Australia.
Organised enemy resistance in the Buna area ceased on 26 January 1943. Advance New Guinea Force folded up and I found myself attached to the American 41st Division, which was entrusted with the task of mopping up the remaining Japanese troops, estimated to be about two thousand in number. I received a request from the American Command for ANGAU personnel to act as guides for mopping up parties. As this meant combat duty, I decided to call for volunteers from the ANGAU labour camps, about seven in number, ranging between Soputa and Oro Bay. Many of the men in these camps had served in AIF units in the Middle East and Greece and had been transferred to ANGAU after the Japanese invasion of the Territory. Some of them complained to me that they had enlisted to fight and not to be condemned to mostly non-combatant duties such as required by ANGAU. My invitation met with the desired response and the ANGAU volunteers, supplemented by volunteers from my Native Police, were duly attached to American patrols. Unfortunately, two of the police were killed in one engagement near the mouth of the Giruwa River. The ANGAU Warrant Officer with them managed to escape by swimming the river under enemy fire. Lieutenant Fred Bannigan (pre-war Wau identity) was perhaps the most reckless soldier under my command. He accompanied several American patrols and had hand to hand encounters with the enemy. By the time fighting finished, Fred had an enviable collection of Japanese souvenirs, which he acquired the hard way, i.e. by first disposing of the enemy. The souvenirs ranged from swords to watches.
Before his departure General Vasey decided to commemorate the work done by the carriers who had accompanied his troops across the Kokoda Trail by presenting them with Loyal Service Medals. As I was the senior ANGAU officer in the area, I was instructed to translate his speech. On the morning of the day when the awards were to be made, I reported to Colonel Canet of the 7th Australian Division and sought his advice as to the nature of the speech which General Vasey would make to the carriers. I explained that I would appreciate a preview so that I could memorise as much as possible for translation into the Motu language. Canet informed me that it was his job to write the speech and that he would be doing it that afternoon. He suggested that, in the meantime, I join the official party of Australian and American Generals and other high ranking officers who were about to make their first inspection of Sanananda after its capture. Accompanied by an American Major, I joined the official party. The Major had a jeep and driver and we were able to travel in it for about six miles from Soputa in the direction of Sanananda. Heavy fighting had taken place in the area and the bodies of enemy troops, some of whom had been dead for weeks, and others who had been killed a day or two before, littered the track. The stench was indescribable. The last stretch of seven or eight miles had to be traversed on foot and a man needed a strong stomach to avoid being sick. The official party was protected by a strong guard, which was necessary because pockets of the enemy remained on both sides of the track. It was necessary for me to commence the return journey ahead of the official party so that I could get back to Colonel Canet in time for a look at General Vasey’s speech. Neither the American Major nor myself relished the thought of making the journey by ourselves. He got the brush-off from his superiors when he asked them for a bodyguard. However, he was man enough not to leave me in the lurch, so we started off on our own. After walking several miles we saw an Australian officer with a Tommy gun approaching us. We had almost reached him when he suddenly pointed his gun at an object near the track and shouted out a command to surrender. We rushed up with drawn revolvers and saw a Japanese with arms raised. The only weapons he possessed were two grenades. The Australian yielded to the American’s request to keep the prisoner and it was a proud Yank who returned to his jeep with the prisoner in tow.
When I got back to 7th Division Headquarters, Colonel Canet had just completed the General’s speech. It was a very good one. It praised the carriers for their loyalty and meritorious contribution to the war effort and it conveyed the thanks of our Sovereign. The only part that worried me was where the General said that his troops would be returning to Australia to recuperate, and his speech finished with the wish that the carriers would also be sent home for a well earned rest. I knew that there was not the slightest possibility of us being able to release the carriers for some considerable time to come. The General duly made his speech to the assembled multitude of more than three thousand carriers and hundreds of Australian troops. Then followed my translation, which was listened to in complete silence. It was a faithful translation until I got to the part where the General wished they could be sent home to rest. My rendition was that the Australian soldiers, who had fought with great loss of life to preserve Papua and its native people, were going home to recuperate so that they could come back and resume fighting until the enemy was beaten and that in the meantime it was necessary for the carriers and people like myself, who belonged to the Territory, to remain at our posts. I had some doubts as to the reception that would be accorded to my concluding words, and it was an enormous relief when the natives broke into cheers of approbation. Then followed the presentation of medals to the ten selected carriers. The General read each citation, I translated it, and then he placed the chain to which the medal was attached over the recipient’s head and round his neck. All went well until he came to a Mekeo (from the Yule Island hinterland) with a large thatch of frizzy hair. The General’s struggle to get the chain around the Mekeo’s neck caused a lot of amusement to Native and European spectators alike, and it was on this note that the ceremony ended.
I was released from operational duties towards then end of March 1943. After 24 days of Army leave in Australia I resumed duty as District Officer, Mambare Division. There was much to be done in the district, which had suffered severely from the ravages of war. Headquarters ANGAU gave the district priority in respect of staff and the provision of facilities necessary to enable us to undertake the task of rehabilitation. Capable and experienced officers such as Claude and Alan Champion, Jack McKenna, together with keen newcomers like Peter Kaad and Ron Galloway, who later made a name for themselves in the post-war administration, were posted to the district. Intensive patrolling became the order of the day and within a few months the whole of the district had been covered by our patrols. It was good to learn that the propaganda carried out by ANGAU officials prior to the enemy landing at Buna, to which I have already referred, paid dividends. We learned that the bulk of the native population, including most of the officials, had heeded our talk and accordingly refrained, as far as they were able, from giving assistance to the enemy. As was expected, a number of natives did go over to the enemy. The Europeans in the district were few in number – not more than forty – and the enemy came in their thousands. It was natural that the people would soon be convinced that there was a new master in the land and it was understandable that those with a grudge against the Government, or against Europeans generally, would flock to the service of the enemy. Then there were the opportunists who thought they saw a chance to obtain positions of power and authority for themselves. One of the first things the Japanese did in the Buna area was to appoint a representative in each village. The representative was accorded the rank of Captain. All directions to village people were transmitted through him and the Japanese punished those who did not obey his instructions. Some of the captains behaved like autocrats during their few months in office. Others had accepted office with reluctance, and only because the Japanese insisted on having a representative in each village. Shortly after native administration was re-established in the district and the people were satisfied that the Japs had been defeated, they seized the captains and brought them to Higaturu for punishment. My problem was to mete out justice to these men, to the satisfaction of the village people. They could possibly have been charged with an act of treason under the Criminal Code. However, I did not think it would be right or proper to apply this law to people who had no knowledge of its existence. The captains were taken into protective custody to shield them from the wrath of their people while I referred the matter to Headquarters for decision as to what should be done. A reply came from Headquarters to the effect that my reasoning was concurred with and that as there was no law under which a charge could be legally sustained the captains should be released. My quandary was that the village people were adamant that they should be punished. In a number of instances they asserted that if the government did not act they would mete out punishment themselves.
After much deliberation I thought I had the answer. I assembled the captains, about forty in number, and suggested to them that an honourable way to make amends for their treachery would be by signing up to work for the Army for two years. My suggestion was seized upon with relief. These men had been expecting some dire form of punishment and were glad of the opportunity to get away from the wrath of their people and allow time to cover up the scars, as it were. The erstwhile captains were duty signed on to be sent overland to Port Moresby to work for the Army as carriers, etc., in the forward areas. Shortly after restoration of native administration ANGAU officials arrested an ex Village Constable named Embogi and a number of his compatriots for the betrayal and killing of the Ambasi potters named Hanna and Holyoak, the Gona Mission teachers Miss Hayman and Miss Parkinson, two European members of the PIB and several American airmen. Embogi and four other natives from the Sangara area were sentenced to death.
One morning the ADO, Captain Frank Moy, and myself were in our newly constructed office at Higaturu preparing reports for Headquarters, when a jeep arrived from the airstrip at Popondetta carrying a passenger with the rank of Captain. The back of the jeep was piled high with rope. Frank looked at me and called out “Here comes Neck Ketch”. It took me a moment before the significance of his remark sank in. The new arrival introduced himself as Ron Hicks of RPC (Royal Police Constabulary) Headquarters. He produced copies of warrants for the execution by hanging of Embogi and the four other condemned men. Hick wanted to know if we had a gallows. I replied “No” and at the same time pointed out that one could not be constructed at short notice as the only tools on the station were one hammer and one saw. We had no nails. Hicks then announced that a tree would have to do. Accompanied by Captain W. R. Humphries, who was at the time conducting investigations into major crimes committed during the period of enemy occupation, he went in search of a suitable tree. They arrived back a couple of hours later sweating but successful. Hicks was anxious to get the job over and done with. However, I informed him that, firstly, I would not act until the originals of the warrants had been received and secondly, the condemned men would have to given the opportunity to bid farewell to their relatives.
The hangings took place several days later in the presence of thousands of people from nearby villages. I addressed the multitude in Motu, which a number understood, explaining fully why the men were being executed. To make sure that the words sank in, the Station interpreter repeated what I said. It was a grim experience, which I shall never forget. Each man was given a chance to speak and each elected to do so. Embogi’s speech had a profound effect on all present. He had a sonorous voice and was obviously a gifted orator. The gist of his speech was that he went wrong because he was uneducated and did not know better. He freely admitted his crimes and said that the punishment he was about to receive was just. He concluded by enjoining his people to heed what the Government said and to obey its laws.
Embogi was one of the first people to report to me after our troops entered the Buna area and I had taken a liking to him. However, it was not long before I heard whispers that he had been on friendly terms with the Japanese, had played a major part in the betrayal of the Europeans and had actually participated in the killing of the PIB Lieutenant and others. He was obviously a bloodthirsty type but he met his end like a man. The other four also spoke up like men. They freely admitted their guilt and said they were prepared to pay with their lives. I lay awake most of that night listening to the drums beating and the wailing of the mourners in the villages adjacent to Higaturu and re-living the events of the day. I had seen death in various forms during the preceding twelve months but nothing affected me as deeply as the hangings of Embogi and his fellow murderers. Perhaps it was the courage they displayed when the time came for them to die. Be that as it may, the punishment meted out to them was in accordance with their own tribal code of “an eye for an eye…”
In the first half of 1943 there were many trials of natives charged with murders of Europeans during the period of five months following the Japanese landing on 21 July. Those murdered included several Australian soldiers who had been separated from the main body of troops. Others were American airmen who had parachuted to earth after planes had been shot down in aerial combat with Japanese aircraft. The pattern of murder was usually the same. In the first place, the soldiers or airmen, after having made contact with the natives, would be taken to a central place in the village, usually a rest house where they would be given food and drink. Then, as they were relaxing in the belief they were amongst friendly people, they would be attacked from behind and killed. Within a few months of resumption of civil administration in the district, we had particulars of the majority of the murders committed during the period of enemy occupation. In a number of instances the murders were reported to us by the village officials. There were cases where the officials and people deliberately withheld information. However, in such instances, there was usually someone who surreptitiously passed the word to the authorities. In one instance, a patrol officer got a lead on the murder of an American airman when he noticed a small child in a village playing with American notes of large denominations.
During this period a tall, breezy young American named McCauley was attached to our staff at Higaturu to gain first hand experience of native administration. The idea was that the knowledge acquired would be useful when the Marshall and Caroline Islands had been captured from the Japanese, leaving the Americans with the task of governing the native population. Accompanied by McCauley I set out on a patrol and was about two days inland when a messenger arrived from Claude Champion at Higaturu advising that instructions had been received from Port Moresby to construct a gallows. Claude also advised the receipt of warrants for the execution of seventeen natives convicted of wilful murder. I replied telling Claude to go ahead with the gallows and at the same time I fixed a date for the executions which would allow sufficient time for the relatives and fellow villagers of the condemned men to reach Higaturu. By the time I returned to Higaturu, Claude, with the able assistance of the station clerk, Nansen Kaisa, had constructed a gallows with two trapdoors from bush materials in accordance with specifications received from Headquarters. It was a very good job although not a labour of love. With good reason they regarded it as a disagreeable duty. The gallows were situated in the centre of what could be described as a natural amphitheatre several miles below Higaturu. Higaturu and its environs were crowded with natives as far afield as the mountain country above Kokoda. News of the approaching executions had reached the American Forces in the Dobuduru-Oro Bay area, of whom there were about 20,000. Fearing that there would be an influx of Americans wishing to see the spectacle, I requested the Commanding General to place our area out of bounds to his troops. He kindly acceded to my request. The day before the hangings relatives and friends of the condemned men trooped through Higaturu wailing and beating drums. These groups included women who had gashed their foreheads and cheeks until the blood welled. As a group reached the flagpole near the office their wailing would suddenly cease and they would pound the earth in unison with their feet. These expressions of grief accentuated the feeling of depression, which permeated Station personnel, Europeans and Native alike. On the morning of the executions the hillsides surrounding the gallows were packed with thousands of natives and there was a hushed silence as we appeared.
The procedure was as follows: The condemned men would be led two at a time from the station to the gallows. I would then mount the gallows and inform the multitude of the crimes they were being punished for. The men would then be asked if they wished to speak. With but two exceptions they elected to do so. On conclusion of the speeches the men would mount the gallows where they would be blindfolded before being led on to the trapdoors. These would then be released and the bodies would disappear. I might explain that the gallows were built on posts about 10 feet high. These posts were surrounded by hessian to ensure that the dangling bodies could not be seen. The detailed instructions from Headquarters, based on old English rules, provided that each body had to hang for 30 minutes after which it was examined by a medical officer who had to declare that life was extinct before it was cut down. The bodies would be moved out of sight before the next lot of two condemned men were led down. In some instances, where the relatives so desired, the bodies were handed to them for burial. Otherwise, they were buried in the station cemetery. With but one exception the condemned men who spoke recanted their evil ways when addressing their people. In one instance, the speaker attributed his acts to his lack of education and the fact that he was not a Christian. He called upon his people and Village Councillors in particular, to ensure that thereafter the children were brought up as Christians and that all went to school. The exception was a man who had been a Village Constable. His speech was short and to the point. He said, “The Government is about to kill me. My wives must follow me.”
The whole grisly job lasted from about 8 a.m. until the late afternoon. When it was over, Jack McKenna and I moved around the village people. “Do you agree that everything is square now?” we inquired. “Yes we agree” they replied. I spoke to the two wives who had been instructed by their husband to kill themselves. One was elderly, the other quite young. “He was a bad man who has been made to pay for his crimes and you should take no notice of his talk,” I said. I then spoke to the Village Constable and to the village elders and requested them to watch the women to make sure they did not kill themselves. Some time later I received word that the young woman had hanged herself. The village elders had kept an eye on her for about a week and then relaxed in the belief that the danger period was over. It transpired that there was no need for concern about the older woman. She made it clear that she regarded his execution as good riddance.
Late in 1943 I received a list of from ANGAU Headquarters containing names of five Orakaiva natives who were required to give evidence concerning Japanese atrocities to the War Atrocities Commission. I was instructed to collect these natives and accompany them to Port Moresby. On arrival in Port Moresby I was informed that I was to take these men and several others to Mareeba in North Queensland where the Commission was sitting. The additional members of my party were Captain H.T. Kienzle, who had done so much on the Kokoda Trail and Warrant Officer Robinson who was the sole survivor of the Tol massacre in New Britain. The head of the Atrocities Commission was the Chief Justice of Queensland, Sir William Webb. He was assisted by a panel of four including a Queensland barrister named Stanley who subsequently became a judge. Sir William was very wroth with the Army authorities for its refusal to permit the Commission to take evidence at Port Moresby. The reason given was that Port Moresby was still classified as an operational area. However, Sir William was kindness itself to me and I gladly accepted his invitation to stay with him at the Lake Eacham Hotel, Yungaburra.
Kienzle and I took it in turns to translate the evidence given by the native members of our party. We had to be particular with our rendition as the only evidence admissible was what actually had been seen by the witness. Perhaps the most harrowing evidence was that given by a native from Kakendatta (near Popondetta) concerning the killings of Miss Hayman and Miss Parkinson. This man was lying in the undergrowth near the coffee buildings at Popondetta observing the movements of Japanese troops stationed there. (As mentioned previously, Orakaiva natives would do this without being seen or heard by the Japs) when he saw the two European women being led out from one of the coffee buildings. As I recall it, the witness said that the women had been incarcerated in the building for a full day and night. He was unable to describe what happened in the building but saw a number of Japanese enter and depart. When the women came out a Japanese stepped forward and seized Miss Parkinson and started to hug her. She pushed him away. He thereupon drew a bayonet or dagger and stabbed her in the throat. She gave a slight scream and dropped dead. Another Japanese, who was standing near Miss Hayman, drew a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her indicating at the same time to blindfold herself. She did so and then stood with head upright facing the Jap, and without speaking. The Jap then bayoneted her and she fell dead. The bodies were buried in a shallow grave at Popondetta. This, to the best of my knowledge, was the only factual eyewitness account of the death of those two dedicated and courageous Australian women. Incidentally, the Kakendetta witness had previously reported the matter to ANGAU and he led Dr Vernon to the place where the bodies were buried.
I also have a vivid recollection of Robinson’s account of his ordeal. He was a member of the Australian garrison at Rabaul when the Japs landed on 23 January 1942. After putting up a spirited resistance, the survivors escaped from Rabaul, but many were subsequently captured. Their hands were tied behind their back with wire and they were marched single file to Tol Plantation where they were massacred. Robinson, however, escaped while en route to Tol plantation. The prisoners were being marched through tall kunai (grass) country, when Robinson threw himself sideways into the grass without being seen by the Japanese guards. Robinson’s fellow prisoners closed the gap and his absence was never noticed by the guards. For several days Robinson stumbled through the undergrowth and along native tracks until he was rescued by village natives who untied his hands and took him to ADO Keith McCarthy. Twenty-one months later when giving his evidence at Mareeba, Robinson’s wrists bore deep scars resulting from the wounds made by the wire with which his wrists were bound.
On Christmas Day 1943 I visited the headquarters of 11 Aust. Division, Dobuduru, in response to an invitation from General Boase to have Christmas dinner with him. On arrival there I was greeted by the General with the heart-warming news that I had been awarded the OBE (Mil.) for my services in 1942. In January 1944 advice was received that, for the purposes of administration, the Territories of Papua and New Guinea were being split up into three regions. I received advice that I was to be posted to Port Moresby as second in command of Southern Region, which comprised all the districts in Papua. On arrival in Port Moresby I learned that there would be a delay of several months before Southern Region came into being. It so happened that Major Thomson, District Officer Lakekamu District, was about to go on leave. I applied for and received permission to relieve him. For many years I had wished for the opportunity to visit the Goilala country but had never believed that I would get the chance to do so. This was my opportunity and I seized it.
Leaving Capt Jim O’Malley in charge at Kairuku I set off on a patrol, which lasted 28 days. On the fifth day we reached Fane, which is about 5000 feet above sea level. Here I was greeted by a jolly Frenchman named Father Bachelior. The good father, with good reason, was very proud of the church he had built at Fane. It was a lovely building constructed solely from local timbers. The fancy work around the altar was done by natives and incorporated their own art. The result was both beautiful and unique. Fane was practically self-contained. Almost the only foodstuffs they found it necessary to import were flour, sugar and salt. There was no wine or other imported alcoholic liquor because of the exigencies of war. However, the resourceful Father had overcome that problem by making a potent spirit from coffee beans, which banished the cold from my bones as is by magic. At Fane I saw a cinchona tree for the first time. This particular specimen was quite large. Quinine is made from its bark.
From Fane I proceeded to the pre-war Government station at Goilala (Maini), about 7000 feet. I spent several days there trying natives for indictable offences. In the absence of civilian judges, judicial functions exercised by District Officers included the criminal jurisdiction, and powers of punishment of the Supreme Court. However, sentences exceeding six months in duration were subject to confirmation by the GOC New Guinea Force. From Goilala I walked to Kambisi where Captain Phil Hardy was in charge. This one-man station, the height of which exceeds 6,000 feet, was one of the loneliest outposts in Papua and it was only on rare occasions that it was visited by Europeans. My next important place of call was the mission station at Ononge where I welcomed by Father Dubuy, who was a noted road builder. Ononge possessed a very fine church, which, like Fane, was built of local timbers. I believe that at the time it was the only church in Papua which possessed a spire. Embedded in the spire was a large clock, which actually worked. There was some sort of mechanism attached to the clock, which caused the church bell to ring at half hourly intervals. I remember that the bell tolled the exact number of hours registered by the clock. The church had been shot up by two Japanese planes on a Sunday morning in 1942. Fortunately, most of the congregation had left the church. Many bullets pierced the wall but not a soul was hit. This was the second church in the mountains which had been damaged by enemy aircraft. The other one was at Oba Oba, where most of the bullets found lodgement around the altar. The priest in charge at Oba Oba told me that on another occasion a Jap plane had circled low as the people were streaming out of the church. However, the pilot was a friendly fellow and all he did was to wave his hand at the people. The graded mule racks around Ononge were made under the supervision of Father Dubuy. He told me that it was his ambition to construct a road from Ononge down to the coast at Kanosia. Before my departure he extracted a promise from me to send him a supply of explosives for his road building work. After leaving Ononge for Kanosia I travelled over some exceedingly rough terrain, which made me realise the magnitude of the road-building job Father Dubuy had set himself. Months later, when I became Regional Commander, I remembered my promise to Father Dubuy and sent an NCO, who understood explosives, together with a gang of natives to assist him in the task of putting the road through. However, it was a major job and there was insufficient time in which to complete it before ANGAU folded up. After reaching Kanosia I enjoyed the easy going on level roads to Kairuku. Included in the major recollections of my patrol were the dedication of the missionaries in the remote mountain areas, the wonderful panoramic views from Goilala, Kambisi, Ononge and other places and the extraordinary fine singing voices of the mountain natives.
My last function as District Officer, before taking up duty as 2 IC Southern Region, was to try a number of natives who had been committed for trial at Port Moresby after being charged with indictable offences. The most interesting case concerned a Mekeo native who was charged with attempted murder. This man had come to Port Moresby from Kairuku to take a job in an ANGAU labour camp. He was assigned to the native hospital at Gemo, where he worked as an orderly. One morning when walking through a ward he stopped suddenly, then rushed outside and returned with an axe with which he struck an elderly Koiari patient. The blow caused a sever gash in the Koiari’s skull. The Mekeo was disarmed before he could inflict another blow. The case had been hanging fire for some months, until such time as the patient, who had been hovering between life and death, recovered sufficiently to give evidence. The Mekeo declined to make a statement in the Lower Court. However, he willingly gave me his story after I had spoken to him in Motu for a few minutes. He explained that he had been employed as a carrier on the Kokoda Trail in 1942. When our troops were being pushed back from Lake Myola he and seven other carriers from his tribal group decided to desert. They left the main route and were proceeding in much the same direction along one of the Koiari tracks when they met three Koiari natives. The spokesman for the Koiaris was an elderly man. He told the Mekeos that his people would provide them with food and would show them the way towards the coast. He explained that he would send the other two Koiaris ahead to inform their people and to arrange for food to be prepared. The two young Koiaris then departed. After talking to the Mekeos for a while the elderly Koiari said it would be time to get going. Shortly afterwards, as they were passing through a belt of trees, they were ambushed by spear-throwing Koiaris. The accused man was the only one to survive the attack. He received a superficial wound, but being young, strong and agile, he managed to escape. He made his way to the Brown River country behind Port Moresby where he was befriended by a Village Constable and the village people. After recovering from his wound he continued on to the coast west of Port Moresby and finally reached his village. As desertion was an offence punishable by imprisonment, he hid whenever an ANGAU patrol visited his village. However, after being hiding for about eighteen months, the urge to see the outside world overcame him and he sought employment with ANGAU under another name. While walking through the ward of the hospital at Gemo he saw red when he recognised the elderly Koiari patient as the man who was responsible for the ambush. This case was of particular interest to me because I believe it threw some light on the fate of other coastal carriers who deserted on the Kokoda Trail and were never heard of again.
I succeeded Major Vertigan as Regional Commander in July or August 1944. From then on our main task was the rehabilitation of the native population in the areas which had suffered most because of the effects of the war. We were able to concentrate on the normal functions of native administration. The result was that, from a native administration viewpoint, Papua was in pretty good shape when the time came to hand over to the Provisional Administration. During my term as Regional Commander, I was able to visit all districts in Papua. With an eye to the future progress of the Territory, I made it my business to utilise whatever facilities were available for road construction. In addition to the Ononge-Kanosia project to which I have already referred, we had sizeable gangs working on a road from Rigo to inland plantations and on the Buna/Kokoda road. Unfortunately, lack of heavy equipment prevented us from getting significant results. However, towards the end of our regime we had approximately 500 labourers working on the road from Buna to Kokoda. I recall an amusing incident when on tour of inspection of Mambare District. Captain Ian McDonald, the capable ADNL at Regional Headquarters, accompanied me. He acted as my ADC in addition to inspecting the various native labour camps. One of the places we visited was the Headquarters of the American Armed Forces. Ian was a fine soldierly figure and his appearance was enhanced by a magnificent moustache. The three brass pips he wore on each shoulder positively gleamed in the sun. As we were waiting to be ushered in to meet the American GOC, a WAAC sergeant came across and struck up an animated conversation with Ian. She took no notice of me. When the time came for us to be led into the General, the WAAC said “I guess the folks back home won’t believe me when I tell them I have met a real 3-star Aussie General!”
ANGAU administration in Papua ceased on 25 October 1945 (I’m depending on memory), when I handed over to Colonel J.K. Murray. The handover was effected without ceremony of any kind because I had no prior knowledge of Colonel Murray’s appointment as Administrator. The first advice I received was a telephone call from a RAAF Warrant Officer at Jackson’s airstrip, who said, “A man in civilian clothes has just arrived who says he is Colonel Murray and that he is the new Administrator. What shall I do with him?” Neither R.M. Melrose, who had arrived several weeks previously to make preliminary arrangements for the handover to civil administration, nor myself, had been given any information whatever concerning Colonel Murray. I picked up Melrose and we drove to the airstrip in ANGAU’s only staff car. Colonel Murray readily accepted our explanation of the situation. And fortunately, I had taken the precaution to have Government House put into a liveable condition by our Works Section, and to have native staff in readiness. I drove Colonel Murray to Government House and verbally handed over to him while we lunched together. Then I handed over the staff car and he was in business.