The Storm Grows Fiercer 1944-1945
At the beginning of 1944 the storm of war really burst upon Kavieng. The air forces of Australia, America and New Zealand were now really ready to drive out the false administration of the Japanese. Their aeroplanes bombed Kavieng and destroyed the whole town. The men from the New Ireland villages, from the Tabar Islands and from other islands, whom the Japanese had taken to Kavieng as labourers, ran away back to their villages when they saw the terrible destruction caused by the aeroplanes, and they told us that Kavieng was wiped out. They were very pleased about it, but they could not let the Japanese know that they were pleased, and that they wanted Australia and America to defeat Japan so that the local people could live in peace as they did before the war.
Word came to us that the pastor-teachers in the Namatanai Circuit had been imprisoned, together with their minister, the Rev. Aminio Bale. It was said that we too, the Methodist Church workers and the catechists of the Catholic Church in Central New Ireland, would all be put in prison as well. When we heard those words we took the matter to the God of Hosts in prayer.
Things grew worse and worse at this time. Many Christians lapsed from their loyalty to God. Evil doings increased: stealing and adultery, those two great enemies of Christians; and I saw that the Church members did not all avoid them. The people turned back to the old ways of the darkness, such as magic spells, sorcery, poison and obscene language. The people had to work all the time in the villages occupied by the Japanese, and on Sundays they had no rest, they still had to work. In some villages there were no longer any services of worship on Sundays, because the Japanese took the men away to work for them, and the pastor-teachers were taken with them. The women and the old men were left in the villages, but there were no services and they no longer heard the words of the Bible preached to help them. Because of this, their hearts grew cold and many men and women strayed away from true Christian faith and conduct, losing their faith in God and their fellowship with him. But in each village there were a few people, mainly the older men and women, who stood firm still in their Christianity and in their faith in Jesus Christ.
Joseph Vadalu, a young man who lived in the village of Losu, was firm in his faith in Jesus, and I admired his spirit. He seemed to see, with an inner faith, that the Australians would come back to our country. I write his name here because he was never afraid to preach about Jesus and to talk about Christianity. He always encouraged the young men who had been students at Pinikidu before the war, and the local preachers, not to give up preaching about Jesus Christ and feeding the people with the words of the Bible, because there was a danger that evil would overcome goodness in the hearts of the people. He himself preached regularly to the people in his village, and he helped and strengthened the others who shared in this work with him. He had not been to the circuit primary school, but his father had been a pastor-teacher. This young man helped the work of Jesus, and he was a good helper to me, because the Japanese were making stronger laws to prevent people from travelling around from village to village, and I was no longer able to go regularly to all the villages to see the work of the Church. I was still able to make occasional visits to help the work of the Church in his village, Losu.
When the labourers fled from Kavieng in January 1944, the people in the villages said to each other in secret, 'May England, America and Australia fight strongly and drive away these evil men'. The great majority of the people wanted Australia to come back and administer this country. There were only a few men who were helping the Japanese; some of the village headmen helped the Japanese, but others helped the Australians. There were two good men who were headmen in Central New Ireland, Paulo Bukbuk, a Methodist, and Lubini, a Roman Catholic; both of these helped their people by speaking to the Japanese on their behalf.
During these days the aeroplanes of Australia and her helpers were continually flying over us. There were planes which simply watched what was happening, and others which dropped bombs and fired machineguns. The first things they destroyed were the bridges along the road and the buildings of permanent materials, which they bombed. They set the cars and trucks of the Japanese on fire. They began this slowly at first, perhaps to drive the indigenous people away into the bush, so we began moving into the bush. But we were not all free to escape and hide in the bush, because the Japanese commanding officer sent out a message saying, 'Anyone who goes and hides in the bush will be executed, because he is helping the Australians'. However, we thought of the young children, and we sent them with their mothers to hide in caves in the bush, because we could see that the trenches we had dug were useless when bombs fell. We men stayed in the villages for a while longer.
In February I was ill with a badly-swollen leg, which one of the village men cut open to let the pus out. While my leg was still not healed, the men whom the Japanese had appointed as their policemen came to tell us that all Church workers were to go before a court at Kimadan, and that we would be imprisoned, just as the Church workers in Namatanai Circuit had been imprisoned. Workers of both Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches were to go to Kimadan on the day they named. Our paramount headman, Lubini, told me not to go because my leg was not healed, but I answered him, 'No, I will go too, because my pastors and teachers are going to be tried and I must go with them'.
So we went to the Japanese office at Kimadan, which had been made into a big headquarters for the Japanese soldiers in Central New Ireland, with a high officer in charge. This group was called the Lemetai and was concerned with civil affairs rather than military matters. Their rule was not always harsh, but they had a very cruel form of punishment, a thrashing with a length of cane. If a man failed to provide food for them, he was beaten with ten strokes of the cane. If someone had worked sorcery to harm another person, or given them poison, even if the victim did not die, the sorcerer was given one beating of fifty strokes, and the next few days he would get another twenty, thirty or even forty strokes each day, until his buttocks were all covered with sores. And if they caught someone helping the Americans or the Australians, he would get a hundred strokes of the cane. A few men were strong enough to survive such a beating, but some died from it.
However, the Japanese did not cut off the heads of any people in this area; this is why I say that their rule was not always harsh. But in the Kavieng and the Namatanai areas some of the people had their heads cut off. Man, our situation was unhappy indeed! Some of the men of New Guinea worked as police for the Japanese, and did some of this beating with the cane for them. Some men from the mainland of New Guinea and from Manus were policemen, and they made a lot of trouble for the people in our villages, mainly in the Kavieng and Namatanai areas, and that was why some people were executed there.
Before the Lemetai group came to take charge of our area, there was a high Japanese officer here with many Japanese soldiers under him. He called us before him to be tried, but he was not harsh towards us, and let us go back to our homes. These are some of the rules he told us to follow: 'Australia used to govern these islands, including New Ireland, but now Japan has defeated Australia in the war and has taken charge of you. You must obey Japan, and follow its laws. And these are the things I tell you you must do: If you see an American or an Australian plane shot down, or if you see any papers dropped by a plane, or if you see any Englishman or American, you must tell me about it. If you do not tell it to the Japanese, then you will be put in prison. And now it is your duty to write down the number of pigs and fowls belonging to each person in the villages where you live.' He told us this at a meeting to which he summoned us, at Lamasong, the village where Lubini was the headman, because, he said, he did not want all the soldiers to hear the orders he gave us.
In March 1944 some of the pastor-teachers left their appointments and went to their home villages. A Japanese officer ordered them to go, and the headman Paulo Bukbuk asked them to stay in their villages and come back to their work when the war was over. Therefore I no longer had them to help me in the work. The work of the Church was growing less, and my heart was sad and my thoughts were heavy as I worried about the work of the Church.
In that month, March, I baptised one adult, a fine man, at Pinikidu. Then in April I baptised two small children and two adults at Liba. In May I went to Kontu, on the West Coast, and baptised four babies. In June I went back to Liba again because the catechist was sick with a long illness. I stayed with him for some days, and baptised two adults. On the same day as that baptism, I baptised four adults at Tadis, in a cave in the bush. I then visited Losu and Aba, and baptised some babies there, on my way back to Pinikidu; we were now staying at a place called Sukan in the bush near Pinikidu.
About the second week in July, the Japanese made all the people of the villages in this area stand in line in front of them. Each village had to line up separately, on its own day, and when the people were lined up a Japanese officer would write down the name of each man and would look carefully at his body, face and hands. If he saw any marks, or scars, he would write a description of that man's marks; later on, if anything came up about that man, or he was taken to court, they would see if he was really the right person, or if he was someone using a false name or someone who had run away from another place. They did the same with the women too. They did some other things which were hard for us to understand. And one more thing, they gave each person a piece of paper or pass, which a person had to carry when visiting another village. If a person was caught in another village and could not show a pass when asked for it, that person would be taken prisoner and punished. But sometimes they would not even accept a person's pass when it was shown, and they still punished the person.
Another thing which had us very confused was, which of the Japanese officers should we approach, as the one in charge of the area? For one would say that he was in charge; but then we would see another officer beating him or slapping his face. Of course the really important officers were the ones at the big camps at Kavieng, Luburua, Kimadan and Namatanai. We saw this conflict for authority between officers on our island, and I heard that it was the same in the Duke of Yorks and on New Britain too.
The Japanese made another law in July 1944, that each man must write down a list of all the things in his house: how many boxes, how many laplaps, how many cooking pots, how many spoons, how many books, etc. A man had to tell the Japanese clerk everything that he owned, even the smallest things. I was ordered by the Japanese officer to make such a list, of the few things which our family owned, and to send the list to his office at Kimadan; so I did this. Then during the following months Japanese officers and their policemen were often calling at my house to count our things, to see if we only had the things which I had written on that list which was now in their office at Kimadan. If they had seen any new thing, which was not on that list, they would have said that I had got it from some Americans and Australians, whom I was helping to hide in the bush, and they would have put me in prison. This was their reason for making us give them those lists.
My family and I were now living in the bush, with the people of Pinikidu village, at a place called Sukan. An old man named Sinau had invited us to stay with him and his group of people. The people from Pinikidu had now split up and were living in eight separate groups in the bush; some were in caves, but some of us were living in houses which we had built.
On Sundays I was busy going around to each of the places where the people were living, and preaching to them. The Pinikidu people belonged to two Churches, the Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The catechist of the Roman Catholic Church had gone back to his home village, so I preached to the people of both Churches. I told the Roman Catholics that as there was a war on, and their catechist had left them, I would conduct Christian worship for them; and when the war was over, they could go back to their own Church. They were perfectly happy about this.
In August we were told of a very strong law, that it was now forbidden for anyone to visit another village; everyone had to stay just where they were. The only ones allowed to move were those who were taken away to work for the Japanese. This law was like a sharp pain in my mind, I worried so much about the work of the Church and about what would happen to the people.
War is a terrible thing because it harms the people's welfare, it destroys towns and villages and their good buildings, and the people's belongings. And we know that those who cause wars are themselves destroyed by them, as that powerful government in Germany was destroyed. God had already seen that the Japanese were going to impose a worse punishment upon us; for afterwards they made a rule that we had to dig pits in the ground, and although they hid the reason for it from us, it was so that they could take us to the pits and shoot us in them. But God in his great love was ready to save the ignorant people of these islands.
In November and December 1944, and in the early months of 1945, the war became even more dangerous and violent. The explosions of the bombs and the firing of machineguns increased in fury, we had not known anything like it before, and our ears were constantly filled with the sound. We were very frightened, we shook and trembled, and we were miserable indeed. We no longer felt like adults, we were all like little children. On many nights the planes would drop flares over the beaches and the bush, and the bright light of the flares made it as bright as day; then they would drop their bombs. Europeans have some very clever inventions.
When the war was so terrible, the bombs were exploding and the machineguns firing so hard, I prayed like this: 'Lord, please make the things you showed me in dreams come true'. I often prayed like this; of course I was troubled and frightened, but I did not believe that the Japanese would hold on to this land. And after I had seen those three dreams, my thoughts were not confused any more and I had no doubts, I firmly believed that God would make this come true.
The Japanese spread some false stories around among the people, and the people came and told us about them. They said that they had defeated the Australians and the Americans, and that the Australians and Americans had no planes and no ships left. These lies encouraged those who were on the side of the Japanese; but most of us did not believe these stories. But it was very hard for us to express our thoughts openly to everyone, because we did not know who might be a traitor and go and tell the Japanese what we said. However, we expressed our thoughts freely to those whom we knew we could trust.
We could see quite clearly that those things the Japanese said were untrue, by signs such as these: (1) They killed some Tabar men who were working on New Ireland, because the Australians and Americans had landed on Tabar, and the Japanese feared that those Tabar men might go to Tabar and tell the Australians and Americans about the Japanese camps and positions on New Ireland. (2) They smashed the canoes of the New Ireland people. (3) We now only saw Australian planes flying overhead; they shot some down and executed the pilots. (4) The Japanese were now forced to live on local foods; they ate all the edible foods from the bush, and we had no rest from supplying them with sweet potato. (5) We no longer saw all those many ships which the Japanese had had at the beginning of the war. (6) Just a few of the Japanese, perhaps two or three, who were kind men, said secretly to New Guineans with whom they were good friends, 'We will not be able to hold on to this land; Australia and America will take it back from us'. They told their friends not to tell anyone else what they had said; but those whom they told did not keep it a secret, and the word was passed around to those who could be trusted with it.
Some Japanese carried bones or ashes taken from the graves of their dead, to help them when they went to war. They carried these in a little pouch, together with some ginger. It was exactly like the old custom of the people of these islands (see section (k) in Chapter 2). If one of us asked one of them about it, he said it was a sacred thing.
During 1945 the war got worse and worse, and nobody was allowed to visit another village unless sent by the Japanese. I could not go around the villages any more, to see the work of the Church and to visit the pastor-teachers. I had to work for the Japanese, planting big gardens of sweet potato and tapioca. By now the Japanese were eating pythons, sea snakes and grubs, and their condition was becoming pitiful; they were very miserable. They ordered the people to cut down the sago palms, which belonged to the people, and then forced them to make sago for the Japanese.
There was always a lot of work to be done on the main East Coast Road, because the aeroplanes kept bombing the road and the bridges. The planes chased the trucks on the road and fired their machineguns at them until they were set on fire. Many Japanese died here on New Ireland and perhaps in the Duke of Yorks too, and I hear that many died around Rabaul. When the people heard of some Japanese being killed, they would say, 'Good, good'.
Our clothing wore out and we could not get new clothes. Some people sewed together pieces of old cloth, and you would see someone wearing a laplap made with a bit of red cloth and a bit of white cloth sewn together, both pieces being old and stained. Others wore a piece of blanket as a laplap.
When we were living in the bush we badly needed coconuts. At about half past five in the afternoon we would go down to the coast (where the coconuts grew) and we would stay the night there; and early in the morning, at about half past five, we would hurry back to the bush before the planes arrived. We also ate coconuts from the plantations belonging to the Europeans. The people of some villages were all right, because they were able to stay close to the coast, where there were caves in the rocks near the coast. But others had to stay in the bush, and some lived far into the bush.
During the war many of our people died in the bush, but they were not buried in the bush, they were taken to the village cemeteries for burial. We no longer had any pigs, because the Japanese had taken them all; so we were not able to prepare the funeral feasts for those who died. After the war the people carried out their duty to the dead and held the feasts for them.
We did not know that the war was nearly over, or that the Australian and American soldiers had taken back parts of the country and were now close to us. But in August 1945, only a week before the joyful news reached us, two good men from Pinatgin came to see me. One was a pastor-teacher and the other was the congregation's elected representative. The Japanese had sent them to prepare sago, and on the Sunday they asked the officer in charge of them if they could have a day free from work, and they came to me. They asked me about the war, and the three of us took the Bible and looked for a message from Jesus. We read Matthew 24:3-14, and especially the verses 12 and 13: 'Such will be the spread of evil that many people's love will grow cold. But whoever holds out to the end will be saved'. I was very happy at the way they spoke of the Christian faith, and we discussed this passage from the Bible together very fully. I did not do all the talking; they both spoke too, and asked some questions, and all three of us helped one another. Our hearts were warmed, and Jesus was with us. We felt refreshed in mind, and they both went away very happy.
The following week, the village headmen went to Kimadan for a meeting with the Japanese authorities, as they did regularly. But after they came back, they were only home for two days and they were called back to another meeting at Kimadan. We wondered why another meeting had been called so quickly. When they returned, they told us that the war was definitely over. On that day it was as though a heavy load had been lifted from our shoulders, as though we had been released from prison and as though we had awakened to a new day. Our hearts were filled with a great joy. The Christian people praised the God of Hosts, the Lord who is greater than all armies, who entered into the spirits of the fighting men of England, Australia, America, New Zealand and other countries which came into the war on the side of our government. There were many who gave their lives in fighting for our King. And there were a great number who survived the war and are still alive now. We praise God for them, because they were not afraid of their enemies. God strengthened their souls, their minds and their hearts, and made them strong to win the victory. He saved them from the machineguns, the bombs, the rifles and other weapons of their enemies. We give them our thanks indeed. God gave their hands the power to fight and win.
The war actually ended on 15th August 1945, but we did not receive a definite message that it was over on that same day. At half past five that afternoon I went down to the coast to get some coconuts for our family to eat; we were still living in the bush. I heard this talk that 'The war is over', because a Japanese was talking on the telephone and telling it to a local man who was a friend of his. He told it to him as a secret, and forbade him to tell anyone else yet, because the village headmen had not yet gone home from the meeting at Kimadan, at which they were being told that the war was over. On the following day I was at the beach, fishing on the reef. There were many fish there, because we had been afraid to go fishing and we were living in the bush. An aeroplane flew over us while we were out on the reef, but it did not fire its machineguns, so we knew that this talk about the war being over was true.
We went back to the bush; and when the village headmen came back from the meeting they announced to everyone that the war was over now, and peace had come.
Extracts from An Offering Fit for a King with permission from Neville Threlfall