Former Papua New Guinea-based kiap (patrol officer) JOHN FOWKE writes of WW11 in Papua…
In 1958, at the age of 19, I was sent from
At Kikori I worked side by side with men who had fought the Japanese invaders, beginning in 1942 with the invasion of
The Japanese nation, the first Asian nation to industrialise and to build a modern, mechanised military capability, believing in its own superiority and in its destiny to dominate, rule and gain access to all the raw-material resources it wanted, conceived of a vast, militaristic, neo-colonial operation which it named as “THE GREATER EAST ASIAN CO-PROSPERITY SPHERE.” The aim was to invade and take over all of SE Asia, as well as the islands of Melanesia and the Australian continent which lay to the south.The Japanese had already invaded and taken possession of the Korean Peninsula, and had also conquered and possessed the Manchurian provinces of mainland China. The Japanese believed that as they advanced into SE Asia from these bases, any threat from
Thus the East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere campaign was launched in a dawn attack upon the
Unfortunately for the Japanese, but most fortunately for the rest of us, Papua New Guineans and Australians alike, the Americans, impelled by the unheralded and massive attack at
The force which was dispatched to defend
Despite the complaints of the remaining white residents of
These experienced soldiers, together with the young militiamen, a great many of whom were teenagers, referred to contemptuously as “Chockos,” were deployed to the Sogeri Plateau and beyond to meet the Japanese advance. Marching with them as carriers and stretcher-bearers were the Papuan conscripts who would become known as the “Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels.” These two groups had a lot in common, being for the most part young, bewildered, badly-paid, and apprehensive of the immediate future. In the extreme adversity in which they found themselves the two groups of men formed a bond of a kind which neither side had ever known or expected to be a part of. The young Australians initially viewed the Papuans, with whom they could not converse, as strange and unpredictable savages, whilst the Papuans began to recognise that they had much in common with the young white-men, a race which they had been accustomed to view with a degree of awe and even fear; a race with which they had never imagined that they would share a cigarette, let alone a cup of tea and a hardman biscuit. This however, was what happened. From shaky beginnings both groups steadied and became resolved to carry the fight forward to the Japanese, buoyed by growing comradeship and admiration for each other, a regard forged in the raging crucible of extreme danger, death and discomfort. Ultimately, victory was achieved through this spirit of one-ness and the bravery which grew with it. This is the true story of the “Chockos” and the “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels” and the campaign which, together, they fought.They freed Papua from the planned domination of the Japanese Empire, and in so doing they helped to ensure the freedom not only of Australia, but also of New Guinea to the north, and the islands of Manus, New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville.
The Australian soldiers of the Kokoda and allied campaigns were paid six shillings a day, the equivalent today of roughly K 9.00 per fortnight, with rations, blankets, shorts, shirts and boots. The “Angels” were paid the equivalent of K1.50 per fortnight, plus rations, “ramis” - (laplaps) - a leather belt and a kitbag. All were provided with a waterproof cape, a blanket and a mosquito-net. Medical attention was available, with evacuation to a field-hospital for the badly-injured. A stick of tobacco with newspaper cost roughly 5 toea in today’s money at the Army labourers’ canteen in
In recent years it has been stated that the PNG campaigns fought by the Allies and their Papuan and New Guinean fellow-soldiers was something which had nothing to do with the people of this country. It has been intimated that the local people were caught up in fighting which had nothing to do with them.
This theory is quite incorrect as we have seen.
In addition to the older policemen and NCOs of the Kikori detatchment of the R.P. &N.G.C. at Kikori, I also knew local ex-servicemen such as ex-Sergeant- Major Katui, MM, late of the Papuan Infantry Battalion, of the Goaribari tribe, and ex-Sergeant Major Samai of the Kairi tribe, upriver from Kikori. Both served in the Kokoda- Popondetta-Buna-Gona-Sanananda campaigns, both with great distinction.
Of all these veteran Papuan soldiers and policemen, Katui’s picture stays clearly in my mind today, more than fifty years later. Katui, even when approaching old age was a particularly impressive figure of a man, standing some six feet in height, broad-shouldered and big-boned without being heavy. A man with the unmistakeable look of a warrior. Katui, who worked together with the late Tom Grahamslaw in ANGAU, was renowned for his practice, when encamped within known distance of a Japanese outpost, of going out at night clad only in the skimpy garment known as “sihi,” and equipped only with a large, sharp sheath-knife of the type in those days issued to Papuan Village Policemen. Katui would quietly work his way close to the Japanese camp in the early hours of the morning. With patience and skill this big man would slowly inch forward, ever closer to the cold and sleepy Japanese sentry. Then suddenly and in silence, Katui would rise and cover the Japanese man’s mouth, slit his throat, pierce his heart, cut his ears off, and withdraw. Katui’s grisly collection of dried Japanese ears became a legend throughout the Allied forces in the country, and in his own Kikori district he was regarded with awe and great respect up until the day of his passing.