New Guinea Islands
In 1933, Rev. William Daniel Oakes and his wife, Marion, travelled by ship to Rabaul and then on to Ulu in the Duke of York Islands, only a short distance from Rabaul, between New Britain and New Ireland. (The Rev. George Brown established the first Methodist Mission in the New Guinea Islands at Port Hunter, in the Duke of York Islands, in 1875.) Before the Methodist Mission was established on Ulu, this island was uninhabited for it was the common feasting ground for all the people in the Duke of York Islands, which comprise 9 small islands. The Methodist Mission had on Ulu the Mission Headquarters for these islands, a hospital, schools and a coconut plantation.
In a letter to Frank Mason, Dan described the timetable for the Central Mission School at Ulu. For week days - from 6 to 6.30am - physical jerks; then lessons from 6.30 to 8am and again from 9 to 10.45am. Afternoons were usually spent in garden work, housebuilding, etc. Twice a week, Dan had to supervise their gardening for the students grew their own food. On Wednesdays and Fridays the boys had to work in the big gardens belonging to the Mission and some of this produce was sold to maintain the general work. Dan was also responsible for some three thousand coconut palms for the production of copra. The school students really only had Saturday afternoons off for leisure when they usually played football and cricket.
On 25th January, 1934, I was born at Vunairima Methodist Mission Station near Rabaul. My mother then took me back to Ulu, where we remained for 1934.
In early 1935, Dan and family were transferred to the Pinikidu Circuit in central New Ireland. The Mission Station at Pinikidu had been established for some time but was noted to be the most difficult circuit to look after in the New Guinea Islands. The Mission Station was established away from the coast and did not have a running creek nearby, so there was a reliance on water tanks. (It is interesting to note that after the War, the Mission Station was not re-established at Pinikidu but at Kimadan about 8 kms to the east and situated near the coast and on a creek.) The Pinikidu Circuit also covered a vast area including the Lihir and Tabar Islands and the Lelet Plateau which has an altitude of nearly 1500 m. The mountainous area could only be reached by walking. Dan took all this in his stride. Coastal work was sometimes done in a whaler rowboat or in a small launch with an 8hp Kelvin motor. In regard to one trip in bad weather, Dan wrote to Frank that they were in total darkness but 'fortunately, the rain was so heavy it helped to keep down the big waves.' In another letter to Frank he referred to walking journeys where he did 140 miles in 12 days. Around the Mission Station Dan had to be carpenter, housebuilder, plumber, roadmaker and bridgebuilder -there was always something required to be done. Dan built 2 concrete underground water tanks attached to the Mission House - one 4,000 gallons and one 5,000 gallons.
In 1936, Dan and family went to Sydney on 6 months furlough - however, this was not all holiday. For 3 months Dan had to do deputation work by visiting various circuits and talking to the people about the work of the Mission in the Islands. For this deputation work Dan used lantern slides prepared from his photographs. This apparently raised much enthusiasm for the people helped his cause by various useful gifts, such as a lantern with 300 slides, a duplicator and a medical box for use on patrols. Dan also spent some time attending courses at Sydney University including Anthropology. During this furlough, my younger brother, Edward Parker Oakes was born on 27th May at Dulwich Hill. Later, in 1936 we all returned to Pinikidu.
Dan continued his Mission work over the next three years at Pinikidu.1n January, 1937, Dan wrote to Frank Mason and told him of a new concrete church which they had built, which was unique in the area as most churches were built out of native materials. He also described his home in detail, pointing out that it was then 30 years old and describing the rooms in it, particularly his study which then contained 550 books. During this time, he met and became a great friend of Rev. Tom Simpson who was the Methodist Missionary on New Hanover.
In November, 1939, we all went on a second furlough to Australia. Dan was again in much demand for deputation work. In February, 1940, Dan was the Guest Speaker at the NSW Methodist Conference Overseas Mission Rally when he addressed 2,000 people. He then did 6 weeks itinerary of lecturing and preaching which took him hundreds of miles and to 12 Church Circuits.
In 1940, we returned to Pinikidu, and although Dan was well aware of what was happening in Europe he did not suspect we would have problems in the Pacific. In July, 1941, mother and us two boys said goodbye to Dan, and sailed to Sydney on the Macdhui. We did not realise at the time it would be the last time we saw him. Dan continued to look after the Pinikidu Circuit, but after the missionary at Kavieng resigned and went back to Australia, Dan went to Kavieng and took over the running of the Kavieng Circuit. At Pinikidu, he left Hosea Linge in charge. Hosea was later to become the first indigenous ordained Methodist Minister from New Ireland. Whilst at Kavieng, Dan also became part time Chaplain to the 1st Independent Company. In his last letter he said that as his leave was not due, he would stay with his people. He and others were unaware of what the future held for them and there was no provision being made to evacuate the men from the islands.
When the Japanese landed at Kavieng we believe Dan was in Kavieng. He must have later been moved by the Japanese to Rabaul as we next hear about him from the Rev. John May who was Chaplain to the Lark Force in Rabaul and who saw Dan regularly until they were marched out of the Prisoner-of-War camp early morning on 22nd June, 1942. (See the letter from Rev. John May to Rev. G.E. Johnson written November, 1945) We believe he was on the Montevideo Maru. We heard later that Dan received a facial bullet wound whilst still in New Ireland.
© George Daniel Oakes, 2003