The Kiaps Compendium – Part 2: World War II
Operational overview | Papua Infantry Battalion | New Guinea Volunteer Rifles | Ian Downs OBE | The last Papua Gazette | ANGAU | Peter Ryan MM | Coastwatchers | Ian Skinner MC | Les Williams MC | Jack Read | ANGAU to civil administration | Recollections of ANGAU
On 14 February 1942 Civil government was suspended in the Territory of Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, by regulations under the National Security Act of 1939 after Japanese forces occupied much of the two territories. The two Territories were to be jointly administered by the Australian Military Forces until the Papua and New Guinea Provisional Administration Act 1945.
The Japanese began bombing Port Moresby in February 1942. On 23 January they landed troops on Rabaul, and at Lae and Salamaua on 8 March. They greatly outnumbered the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR) who opposed them. After a skirmish the NGVR withdrew into the jungle from where they kept the Japanese under close surveillance. It was not until May 1942 that reinforcements were finally sent to Port Moresby. But despite the fact that there were now veteran AIF brigades available in Australia, the brigade sent was a militia brigade – the 14th. Australia was therefore sending members of one of its lowest graded brigades into ‘some of the most difficult country in the world’ to confront ‘some of the best equipped and most experienced troops.’
One of the important elements of the campaign was logistics. With only 1 or 2 transport aircraft available, the only alternative was native bearers. A bearer could carry enough food for one man for thirteen days – with Kokoda an eight-day march away, a bearer would consume most of his load in transit. And food was only one of the many supplies essential to the campaign.
Another was the support of the natives. Many of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) took to the bush as the Japanese closed, but some loyal members continued to patrol, collecting information and killing Japanese or the natives who sided with them. Other natives toiled under immense difficulties to supply the forward troops, and to carry out some of their wounded. The latter were faced with a gruelling 8-12 day march in terrible conditions.
The battalion, formed at Port Moresby on 1 June 1940, saw action in Papua between July 1942 and April 1943, New Guinea between May 1943 and November 1944, and Bougainville between May 1945 and August 1945.
Act of remembrance honours Papuan Infantry Battalion
An act of Remembrance was held on Wednesday 17 October 1945 in honour of fallen members of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB). The Battalion was formed at Port Moresby 1 June 1940.
The roll of names of those who died in service, both indigenous and non indigenous, was read out in their honour.
The service was conducted in both Motu and English with the address being given by the commanding officer Lt Colonel S Elliott Smith. This address included the following:
“We soldiers have seen much and learned a lot which we did not know before. We have learned to work together. Men from all languages and all tribes have fought side by side and learned to trust each other, and to be friends. We must remember that when we go back to our own country.
“We must tell our village people that we soldiers have found out that Papua is one country and one people, and that we can make our country a better place if we think first for Papua and afterwards for our village or District.”
An address by the unit chaplain included the following words: “It is possible that one man still lives who was a child when Dr Lawes landed in Papua in 1871, so that, in the life-time of one old man, you Papuans have learned much. First you learned to live at peace with each other along the coasts and also between coast and inland. So you were able to travel around freely in peace and you saw that others were your fellow Papuans. Now you have fought together as one people.
” What you learned in peace, you have proven in war, so taking one more step to being truly one people. Just as you learned to live at peace with your fellow Papuan, so it is the will of God that all shall learn to live at peace all over the world. But peace just not just happen. It has to be carefully built, just as people have to take care in building a house to put the right parts in the right place, and so the house stands. They give though and work to making it; and we must give thought and work to building peace, not alone in our own land, but in all lands. That is the will of God.
” First thing to learn, the biggest thing of all, is that we must each think of others just as much as ourselves. God grant that we may have the strength to live even as they had the strength to die.”
Submitted by the son of NX165149 Warrant Officer Albert RR Davis of 2nd Mountain Battery RAA.
Information from brochures issued by Pacific Press
The New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR) 1939-1943: A history is a book by Ian Downs, who until his death on 24 August 2004, aged 89, was a member of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia.
This is the story of the courageous civilian volunteers who led the defence of New Guinea in the Pacific War. Between January and June 1942 the 500 men of the NGVR were the only armed force in the path between the Japanese forces and Port Moresby until the arrival of Kanga Force at Wau.
The PNGVR also contained the advancement of the Japanese from the coastal areas of Lae and Salamaua. They rescued 217 soldiers from Lark Force and civilians who did not surrender to the Japanese in New Britain. With less than 500 fit soldiers, the New Guinea Volunteer rifles inflicted casualties and unsettled the Japanese in the early stages of the New Guinea Campaign in 1942.
Yet many of these men were barred from the Australian regular army due to physical disability or nationality requirements, or had exceeded age limitations. On their own they developed jungle tactics and initiatives that became examples for professional commando units. Many of these men stayed on as Coast-watchers or else joined ANGAU until the conclusion of hostilities in 1945.
For the first time their full story is told, in this carefully researched history with over 150 illustrations and maps together with the nominal roll. Noted author Ian Downs has enriched his narrative with numerous first-hand reports from the fighting men themselves – details of their forays and anecdotal stories of the NGVR. It’s an engrossing account of the force that continued to confront the enemy long after the fall of Lae and Salamaua.
Ian Downs began his long association with New Guinea in 1936 when he was appointed as a Patrol Officer in the Government of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. In post-war years, as a District Officer in the Department of District Services and Native Affairs, he played a major part in extending Government influence over uncontrolled areas of the Central Highlands.
During the war, Ian was a RANVR Officer in command of anti-submarine escort vessels and later a coastwatcher behind Japanese lines. After the war he held a number of senior administrative appointments including that of District Commissioner of the Eastern Highlands District.
He oversaw the construction of the Highlands Highway from the coast to the Wahgi Valley. In 1964 he was elected to the first multi-racial House of Assembly with a majority of over 100,000 votes.
Deakin University in Victoria conferred on him the title of Honorary Doctor of Letters, a title that is modestly missing in his correspondence.
The End of Civil Government in Papua, John Meehan, Paradise No 131, January-February 1999
The Government of the Australian Territory of Papua came into being on 1 September 1906 with the publication of Government Gazette No 1, which advised that the new Government had that day taken over the area from the Government of the Colony of British New Guinea.
It should be remembered that the northern half of the mainland and the islands were at this time the Schutzgebiet Deutsche Neu Guinea (German New Guinea). Over the years the business of the Papuan Government continued to be notified in the Gazettes, which in content and format look remarkably similar to our present National Gazette.
The last Papua Gazette however was a single typed sheet of plain paper which advised that the Civil Government had ceased, temporarily, and that the Australian Army’s General Officer Commanding had assumed supreme control of the Territory of Papua. But the Civil Government of Papua had ceased forever. The Japanese Army was in the process of enforcing the amalgamation of the two separate Administrations that had run Papua and New Guinea as virtually separate states since Australia had officially taken control of ex-German New Guinea on 9 May 1921.
The reason for military take-over in Papua seems obvious enough in view of the Japanese capture of a large part of what is now Papua New Guinea. Nonetheless, the events leading up to the decision are worth recounting briefly, as the facts have been largely forgotten and ignored, or overshadowed by military situation in the histories of the period.
The Japanese Armed Forces struck Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, and so began the “Pacific War”. On 13 December the Australian Cabinet decided that all European women and children were to be evacuated from Papua and New Guinea.
Most had gone by the year’s end, but as late as 19 January 1942 the Cabinet decided that civil administration should be maintained “for as long as necessary and possible”. Rabaul was captured on 23 January, and Cabinet decided two days later that all able bodied white males in Papua and New Guinea between the ages of 18 and 45 years should be called up immediately for military service. The Army circulated the call-up notice in Port Moresby on the morning of Tuesday 27 January and advised all concerned to report for enrolment between 2 pm and 7 pm that same day! The call-up effectively ended ordinary civilian life in the town, but the Administrator was still legally responsible for the Territory.
Considerable confusion reigned during the next few days. The Administrator asked that men in essential services, e.g. banks, be exempted from the call-up but the Army would not relent. On 3 February, Port Moresby was bombed for the first time but Canberra still dithered, even when bombs again fell two days later. The time for dual or divided control between the civil and military authorities was clearly over, as it was no longer possible for normal civilian activities to continue.
On 12 February 1942 the Australian Government passed the National Security (Emergency Control) Regulations, which legally gave the Senior Military Officer supreme power in any part of Australia (once notified in the Gazette) to do “or direct to be done any act or thing which he thinks necessary for the purpose of meeting any emergency arising … of the war”.
In Port Moresby the Administrator Leonard Murray, and the Senior Military Officer, Major General Basil Morris, had lengthy meetings. Morris proposed to enlist the District Officers and Resident Magistrates and to form two administrative units (one each for Papua and New Guinea) ‘to carry on civil and native administration’ as soon as Murray had left the Territory.
On Saturday 14 February 1942, the typewritten Government Gazette Extraordinary announced the end of 36 years of (relatively independent) Government in the Territory of Papua. The Administrator and the members of the Executive Legislative Councils left the following day, by flying boat, for Australia. General Morris and his Army successors from then on had ‘supreme control’ of the entire area not under Japanese occupation. The two administrative units were soon amalgamated and renamed the “Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit” (ANGAU). This organisation ran the non-military aspects of life in Papua and New Guinea until it finally handed back total control to the new combined Administration of Papua and New Guinea with the handover of Rabaul in June 1946.
Administrator Leonard Murray never again returned to the beloved Papua where he had lived since 1909.
John Meehan, for many years a Public Works adviser in Papua New Guinea, has a keen interest in 19th and 20th century Papua New Guinea history.
TERRITORY OF PAPUA
PUBLISHED BY AUTHORITY
Vol. 37 SATURDAY, 14th FEBRUARY, 1942 No.3
HIS HONOUR the Administrator desires it notified, for public information that, pursuant to a decision of the Commonwealth Government, Civil Government in the Territory of Papua temporarily ceased at noon on the fourteenth day of February, 1942, according to standard time in Papua.
HIS HONOUR the Administrator desires it further notified that, from that time, the General Officer Commanding the 8th Military District assumed supreme control of the said Territory.
(Signed) HW Champion
From a wartime publication, ‘A Patrol Officer’
Organisations such as ANGAU [10 April 1942 – October 1945] – the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit – played a vital role. In World War II the Army called for young men to become Patrol Officers in ANGAU. ANGAU, a name which became familiar to the public, is the abbreviated title of the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit, the section of the Army which carried out the function of the two former civil administrations of the Territory of Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.
When a large part of New Guinea was occupied by the Japanese, some amazing feats of valour and endurance were performed by ANGAU Patrol Officers. They were lonely men for the most part, deprived of company of all other white men and without even the most ordinary comforts of life. Yet, enabled by their intimate knowledge of the natives and the country, they lived amidst the enemy, causing incalculable losses by the intelligence sent to headquarters by wireless.
Life was not always easy for these ‘outside men’. In the uninviting swamps and freezing mountains there were periods of loneliness and physical discomfort which placed severe strains on their physique and character. Nevertheless, despite these hardships, the right type of man derived such satisfaction and happiness from the active and useful outdoor life that it was a wonderful opportunity for him to embark upon a career.
ANGAU – One Man Law, Australian Military Publications, 1999
On reading the book ANGAU – One Man Law, the reader gains an insight of the work carried out by this unit. Alan Powell, Emeritus Professor of History at the Northern Territory University, wrote the foreword: “The Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) was unique. From early 1941 to 1945 this unit of the Australian Army administered the combined Territories of Papua and New Guinea, and through its control of native labour and fighting men, materially helped in the defeat of the Japanese. No other Australian military unit has ruled a war-torn country or been faced with a more complex task. Nor is it likely that greater demands have been made upon young Australians than were asked of those to join ANGAU as patrol officers and carried, often alone, the government word to the remotest areas of Papua and New Guinea. Courage, ingenuity, bold shrewd enterprise, great patience and perception were required of them. They were a special breed and their stories, like the records of those who came before and after them in civilian service, are too little known to other Australians.”
Clarrie James, author of ANGAU – One Man Law and a member of PNGAA, served with the 53rd Battalion and then ANGAU. When he went to war in 1940 with a thousand mates of the 53rd Battalion, little did he know how many of the coming days would be spent alone.
At first the Battalion spent most of its time in Port Moresby involved in labouring work with little time for serious military training. Then, in the period before the Japanese landed in Papua, the author transferred to ANGAU and ended up in the highlands of New Guinea – one lone white man administering “one man law”. His fascinating experiences extended from Goroka to Milne Bay to Misima Island, where he was involved in bringing to justice the murderers of ANGAU Lieutenant Mader.
“At the height of the Coral Sea battle, in the course of preparing Routine Orders, I chanced upon an advertisement calling for volunteers for Patrol Officers in the Australian Administrative Unit. Applications were to be made in writing through our Unit headquarters. Applicants needed to be under 24 years of age and to have reached ‘Leaving Certificate’ standard. As soon as I saw it, I sensed that was where my future lay.” (page 29)
“Whereas the Australian Mandated Territory of New Guinea and the Papuan administrations functioned independently for a time it was realised by the officers and Major-General Morris that the political divisions between Papua and New Guinea could not be maintained if the war was to be successfully prosecuted. As a result, the two territories were amalgamated by the Australian Government and the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit formed under the command of the 8th Military District, which was the fore-runner to the New Guinea Force on 10th April 1942.” (page 32)
Peter Ryan, the author of ‘Fear Drive My Feet’ and a member of the PNGAA, was 18 when he went as a soldier to Papua New Guinea. He was later the General Editor of The Encyclopedia of Papua New Guinea and a regular contributor to the journal Quadrant. In his book he describes some of the adventures which befell him in 1942-43 in the savage country of the Lae-Salamaua area.
Fear Drive My Feet, Introduction, Peter Ryan
The events it describes happened, and the people mentioned in it lived or still live. It treats its subject – war – on the smallest possible scale. It does not aspire to chronicle the clash of armies; it does not attempt to describe engagement of so much as a platoon. It tells what happened to one man – what he did, and how he felt about it.
However, it will be helpful to the reader to have some knowledge of the background against which the story takes place; to supply that necessary glimpse of the wider picture is the purpose of this short introduction.
New Guinea represented the most southerly extent of Japan’s all-conquering Pacific offensive of 1941-42. And it was in New Guinea – at Milne Bay – that the Australians inflicted the first land defeat on Japan. The campaign in the world’s largest island therefore embraced both the nadir of our fortunes and the turning of the tide in our favour. New Guinea was also the stern schoolroom in which we learnt the tactics and techniques – for example, jungle warfare – which led us finally to victory in 1945.
The events described in the following chapters deal chiefly with the period of our unrelieved defeats, when the character of war in New Guinea was most curious and interesting.
The Japanese took Rabaul in January 1942 after heroic, but hopeless, resistance from the Australian garrison. In March they occupied the important north-coast towns of Lae and Salamaua. There was no resistance. What could a few dozen men of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR) do against the Japanese who swarmed in thousands from their landing-craft? In much the same way the Japs helped themselves at their leisure to the greater part of the north coast. They made an assault on Port Moresby itself which came very near to success. There is real fascination in this early period of hopeless inferiority in numbers and equipment.
When the Japanese landed at Lae and Salamaua the few New Guinea Volunteer Rifles’ men retreated to hide-outs in the bush or fell back on the township of Wau in the mountainous goldfields inland. The NGVR had been civilian residents of New Guinea – gold miners, planters, government officials. They were joined by a single Australian commando unit, the 5th Independent Company, and the two units were grouped under the name of Kanga Force, with its headquarters in Wau. In parties of a few men they conducted a fantastic campaign of patrolling and harassing the enemy from behind both Lae and Salamaua. Everywhere they were outnumbered hundreds to one, and their communications spread out over a hundred miles of tracks.
In the Lae sector they had to face all the text-book conditions of jungle fighting – dense growth, swamps, malaria, steamy heat, crocodile-infested rivers, and so on. In the Salamaua area the main problems were mountainous terrain – probably as rough as any in the world – dense rain-forests, cold and damp.
The enemy was strong enough to have taken Wau, with its important airfield, any time he chose, but the aggressive activity of our patrols bluffed him for a whole year and kept Wau in our hands. All this time Kanga Force was short of supplies. There were no transport aircraft to fly in material from Port Moresby or Australia. Stores therefore had to be carried round the south coast from Port Moresby to the mouth of the Lakekamu River by steamer. There they were trans-shipped to pinnaces and transferred into whaleboats and canoes for a two-day journey upriver to Bulldog. At Bulldog all stores were made up into fifty-pound “boy-loads” and sent off to Wau on the backs of carriers, nearly seven days’ walk over mountainous heart-breaking in their height and steepness. To reach our troops in the Lae forward area another four days’ carry was needed.
In sober truth this was probably one of the most extraordinary lines of communication in military history.
Somehow Kanga Force held on, patrolling, harassing and watching enemy movements. Elsewhere on the north side of the island, behind Finschhafen, Madang and Wewak, the position was even worse. There was no regular military force in the rear of the enemy. Our only contact was from small special parties, often one white man and a few trusted natives. They lived – often in conditions of frightful privation and danger – in the jungles and mountains behind the enemy’s coastal bases. At last, in January 1943, the Japanese decided to make an assault on Wau. Reinforced by a fleet which had landed troops early in the same month, they set out from Salamaua and very nearly achieved their objective.
Our air transport was now good, but the 17th Australian Brigade, ready to rush to Wau to stem the advance, was held up in Port Moresby by bad weather. When they arrived in Wau, their planes landed among Japanese fire on the aerodrome. But they saved Wau and pushed the Japanese back to Salamaua. Within the next seven months, combined land and sea operations with the Americans gave us back Lae and Salamaua. There was much hard fighting still ahead in New Guinea – two more years of it – but after Wau the issue was never really in doubt.
The whole character of the war had now changed. Superbly trained, supplied and equipped, our troops attacked an enemy who, though fanatical and tough, was increasingly embarrassed by ever-weakening communications as our offensive by land, air and sea mounted all over the Pacific. Gone was the day of the lonely white man maintaining single-handed contact with the enemy. By the end of 1943 we went where we pleased, and we went in force.
From the Coastwatchers website
The inscription on the Coastwatcher Memorial at Madang, Papua New Guinea – “They Watched and Warned and Died That We Might Live”. When the Japanese landed the Coastwatchers withdrew into the jungle with their portable radio transmitters and loyal native helpers. The Coastwatchers found vantage points, often high in the hills, from which they could monitor Japanese military activity and especially the movement of enemy aircraft and warships. This vital information was passed back by radio from Coastwatcher to Coastwatcher, and ultimately to Naval Intelligence in Australia.
In addition to observing and reporting Japanese military activity, the Coastwatchers played an important role in rescuing those at risk of capture by the Japanese, including downed Allied airman and sailors whose ships had been sunk.
When the Allies went on the offensive against the Japanese invaders of New Guinea and the Solomons in 1943, the Coastwatchers acted as scouts for Allied troops. They went behind enemy lines before the troops landings to gather intelligence, and set up radio stations to provide warning of Japanese aircraft attack, and guided the troops through the dense jungles.
Although many Coastwatchers and their native helpers were captured, interrogated under torture, and executed by the Japanese, the intelligence provided by them played a vital role in the ultimate defeat of the Japanese invaders.
Una Voce No 1 1993
Ian Skinner trained as a patrol officer and in 1937 went to the Territory of New Guinea. He returned to Australia in 1940 and enlisted in the Australian Army, serving in the Middle East with the 2/4 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 9th Division AIF. He fought at El Alamein and achieved the rank of Major.
Returning to Australia in 1943 he transferred to the Australian Coast Watching Service, operated behind Japanese lines in New Britain for almost a year and was awarded the Military Cross for outstanding bravery.
During his post-war career in Papua New Guinea, Ian served in Talasea, Wewak, Lae, Madang, Mendi and Port Moresby. In 1955 he was appointed District Commissioner and served in that capacity in the Western and Southern Highlands. In 1965 Ian was appointed Director of Civil Defence and Emergency Services for Papua New Guinea, the office he held until he retired to Australia in 1970. Ian passed away on 4 February 1993, aged 78.
Una Voce No 2 2001
Les Williams was appointed a Cadet Patrol Officer in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea on 31 October 1938. His first posting was to Madang. Like many other officers his career was interrupted by World War II. He enlisted in the AIF and was in the newly formed Armored Division when he was transferred to the Inter Allied Services Department (ISD) for special duty in New Guinea and then to the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) for Coastwatching inside Japanese occupied territory.
Les had a distinguished war record culminating in the recapture of New Britain when Coastwatchers emerged from hiding to direct a New Guinea uprising against the Japanese ensuring the final assault on Rabaul by the AIF in August 1945. Les was awarded the Military Cross for a “high disregard for personal danger … in a dangerous undertaking”. After the war Les returned to Papua New Guinea and served as a District Officer and District Commissioner in several districts.
Les was the Secretary of the Retired Officers’ Association for many years and became a Patron in 1992. He passed away on 24 March 2001 aged 84.
Emeritus Professor James Griffin, The Age, 8 August 1992
One dawn in September 1942, Jack Read surveyed the Japanese occupying force in Buka Passage from his observation post and gave orders to his men to strike camp for a more secure eyrie in the mountains of North Bougainville. Read did not know that, the day before, the Americans had counter-attacked for the first time in the war. They were about to capture the former British administration headquarters at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands and had landed 11,000 marines at Guadalcanal.
Read was unaware also that his fellow Coastwatcher, Paul Mason, 120 kilometres south, had that day observed 27 Japanese bombers flying to the battle from his post on a hill near Buin in south Bougainville, and that, thanks to his timely signal, the Americans had been forewarned and only a fraction of the enemy aircraft had returned.
Around 7.30 am, Read lined his carriers but, before dismantling his tele-radio, he decided to tune in to his usual early morning schedule in case something was happening. Aimlessly, he twiddled the dial to the seven mega-cycles frequency and heard American accents indicating that the action for which he had kept silent for months was now happening. Communications between aircraft carrier and its planes told of the fall of Tulagi.
Read was absorbing this and had packed his gear when, at 8.20, his alert police sergeant, Yauwiga, heard a dull roar of engines. Firstly, 27 torpedo bombers raced over the break in the trees followed soon after by another 18 only 500 feet above him. The wireless was broken out again and after some fumbling and cursing, Read, at 8.40, tried to signal Port Moresby. He had to use voice because his Morse operator had gone. With his transmitter putting out maximum signal, he did not raise even static.
Exasperated, he tried a general attention call to anyone on X-frequency. Another Coastwatcher in eastern New Guinea picked it up. It was a model of succinctness: FROM JER: 45 BOMBER HEADING YOURS. It was relayed to Port Moresby to Townsville to Canberra to Pearl Harbour and back to Guadalcanal by 9.10. This gave ample time for ships to arm the guns and manoeuvre in the Solomons slot, even for an early lunch, and for the heavy-plated Grumman fighters, less agile than Japanese Zeros, to stack up at the highest possible altitude and, when needed, to pounce.
Read stayed tuned. His men cheered as they heard ‘Orange Base’ instruct pilots to refuel for “an expected bomber attack on the transport area”. Then, two hours later, came a jubilant, blow-by-blow description of the air-naval battle culminating in: “Boys, they’re shooting them down like flies, I can see one, two, three, four, six – eight, of them all coming down into the sea together.”
The battle was over in ten minutes. The Americans lost a destroyer and a transport. Only eight Japanese planes passed over Read on the way back to base. Read later wrote modestly in his splendid debriefing report of some 140 single-space foolscap pages, the best of the Coastwatcher’s writing: “Although at that time, I was on the easy end of the line, I felt that I had played some part, however minor, in the successful repulse of that attack.”
In fact, Read and Mason continued their reporting until Guadalcanal was secure in November. In later presenting them with the American Distinguished Service Cross, Admiral “Bull” Halsey said categorically that the intelligence signalled from Bougainville had saved Guadalcanal and that Guadalcanal had saved the South Pacific.
Yet Read was never honoured by his own country, although he was “mentioned in dispatches” later in the war. Mason was at least honoured by Whitehall with a DSC with the fatuous citation, “For good work in the Far East”.
Two days before he died, aged 87 on 29 June 1992 at Ballarat, Read, a sardonic but not a bitter man, could still laugh at the “bum-polishers” at Naval headquarters who were so grudging to “irregulars”.
Read’s exploits have been overshadowed by the temerarious Mason, who relished his loner’s role and was eventually pursued throughout the island by Japanese and the local warriors who supported them.
A Tasmanian with a background in journalism, Read had taken a cadetship in the New Guinea field service in 1929 at the age of 24. As a Kiap, he was noted for his hardiness, ability to get on with villagers, and thoroughness in desk work which was almost pedantic.
Unlike Mason, a planter, who had walked through Bougainville since 1924, Read hardly knew the place and had been posted to Buka Island as an Assistant District Officer only in November 1941, a few weeks before Pearl Harbour. He had tried to enlist in the AIF but had been told by his superiors that he would not be re-employed if he did so, and would forfeit superannuation entitlements.
Before the Japanese took control of Buka Passage in March 1942, Read had prepared to evacuate to Australia. In February, he was asked by radio by Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt, who had set up the Coastwatching Service, to stay on. After the Japanese began to occupy Bougainville and concentrate naval forces in Buka Passage and the Shortland Islands as part of their Solomons campaign, the two Coastwatchers were ordered to consolidate their posts and keep silent until needed.
The Japanese, however, knew that Read and particularly Mason were there. So why did they not link them sooner to the disasters of Guadalcanal or, if they did, why did they not try to root them out until the end of 1942, when it was too late?
One explanation is that there was a lack of coordination between the branches of the Japanese services so they did not deduce that the Americans were always forewarned of their intentions. There was also the doubt as to how many troops the Australians had inland. One Coastwatcher, who admired Japanese courage in set-piece battles, also maintained that their troops were often terrified of moving in the bush except in large numbers. But there is also the intriguing fact that a Japanese, named Tashiro, who had lived in Bougainville from 1929 till March 1941, had been sent back to Kieta as political officer.
Tashiro, who was a Christian, had migrated to Rabaul in 1917 at the age of 16 to trade in copra and engage in coastal transport. On Bougainville, he had been a popular trochus sheller and trader. He had also been a friend of Mason. Read, who took a down-to earth view of his own plight, always maintained that Tashiro could have caught them if he had really wanted to because he had the trust of many Bougainvilleans. “A bloody good Jap in my book,” said Read.
By December, however, the Japanese were aware that Coastwatchers on Bougainville might hold a key to their reverses further south-east. Feldt also realised the danger. Tashiro was ordered to pursue Mason and his party.
On 21 December, Mason was ordered out of Buin and was soon pursued by a force of 40 troops and some 60 locals known as the ‘Black Dogs”. If the Australians returned, they would be severely punished for their looting and disloyalty. Only intrepidity saved Mason, who signalled his plight to Townsville. He was told on 12 January to go north to Read.
After an arduous trek through the mountains, Mason reached Read’s hideout on 28 January. They had met only briefly twelve months before. In their respective reports, they pay tribute to each other. Mason arrived, wrote Read, “only in what he stood up in – shorts and singlet – and with haversack and revolver at belt – and barefooted” – and with septic wounds.
e was impressed with Read’s austerity: “A couple of thatched lean-to shelters; bedding down was a litter of sticks raised a few inches clear of the damp ground, and somewhat softened by layers of leaves; the bare furnishings of table and seating similarly improvised from bush material”. Mason wrote: “I now realised the greatness of his achievement not only as a Coastwatcher but as a public official and District Officer.”
By then, Read had already organised the first evacuation of 29 civilians by American submarine. By February 1943, the Japanese had been driven from Guadalcanal but this meant only more vigorous operations in the northern Solomons. The die was not cast against the Coastwatchers and their supporting troops.
Read organized further evacuations in March and April. He and Mason refused to be repatriated themselves until they were sure that their own scouts were looked after. By July 1943 their position was untenable. Read’s hideaway was destroyed by the Japanese. It would have been suicide to stay.
A rendezvous was organized with SS Guardfish on 24 July, which Read pretended he could not meet. It took Mason off and as many as could be fitted in. But no provision had been made in Australia for Sergeant Yauwiga and his men without whom, said Read, they could not have survived. “There was no way I was going to leave without them,” he said. So Guardfish had to return, four days later. Now there was space for Yauwiga, eight other “native” police, nine “loyal native” civilians, two Fijians plus Read and another European officer. Read went on to become a major in the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit, ANGAU. Post war, he was appointed District Commissioner and later, until Independence in 1975, a Commissioner for Land Titles.
I saw Jack Read two days before he died in Ballarat. He was bedridden and tired; “ready to go”, he said. He shrugged off the idea that his own country might, even at this late stage, honour his wartime achievements.
My first ANGAU posting was to Salamaua where I remained till October 1945, when civil administration was restored from military government in Papua and the former mandated Territory of New Guinea south of the Markham River.
The Transfer Authority from Lt-General Sir Horace Robertson and Major General Basil Morris to the incoming Administrator J.K. Murray was to have taken place in Port Moresby with some ceremony. Murray and party, who had all the relevant documents, were to have flown from Lae to Moresby on the appointed day, but could not do so because of bad weather and it was hurriedly decided that Murray should go by trawler to Salamaua where the District Officer, Major Kyngdon, would deputise for the generals as the documents had to be signed on the soil being transferred. However, radio communications between Lae and Salamaua were out and Kyngdon could not be advised so Murray set out anyway. Nor did he know that on that day Kyngdon had decided to go from Salamaua to regional headquarters in Lae, and his trawler passed Murray’s on the way. So, fellow patrol officer Bert Wickham and I, being the only ANGAU officers available, as humble lieutenants, got to sign those important historical documents on behalf of the Generals.
As a matter of interest, Murray’s party included Bill Lamden, the father of Alison Marsh and Graham Lamden. About a fortnight later, the first District Officer of the Provisional Administration, Raleigh Monash Farlow (a godson of the famous World War l, General Monash) arrived to take over from Major Kyngdon in the Morobe District. He was accompanied by Reg Rigby, Assistant District Officer, Salamaua, Lloyd Hurrell, Assistant District Officer Wau, Ian Downs, Assistant District Officer, Mumeng, Hal Evans, Native Labour Officer and Syd Young, Chief Clerk.
The Administration in Papua ceased on 25 October 1945 when I handed over to Colonel JK 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 RM 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 livable 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.