By EREBIRI ZURENUOC & EHEYUC SESERU
YOUTHS from Bumbu settlement in Lae, are working to preserve World War II tunnels at Mt Lunaman in the heart of the city.
The forgotten tunnels of Lunaman are World War II remains that still lie beneath the constructions and developments in Lae. Lunaman is a small rocky mountain, about 96 meters above sea level.
The local name of the mountain is ‘Luc Wamung’meaning ‘First Hill’, in the local Kawac language spoken by Ahi people. Luc Wamung was a traditional hunting ground for local Butibam people.
Chief of Ahi-Hengali clan, Bart Nako of neighbouring Hengali village said the locals hunted pigs in the forested mountain and caught fish at the Asiawe creek whose headwaters were at the top of the mountain.
“The creek has invisible guardians, but they were in the form of pigs and a crab species with deformed rear-hands.
“Local people hunted there for the day’s protein. Most of the current city was covered with thick jungle and the locals used it for hunting and gardening.Today, looking from atop the east side of the mountain facing the peninsula is a spectacular view; one can see the clear horizon of the blue sky meeting the sea, from Bukawa north east to Salamaua, south of Lae.
Green vegetation and old trees cover that face of the mountain. Houses are built on the foot of the mountain on the south side.
According to Chief Nako, Luc Wamung had a brother called Bombiang, from a local legend of two brothers.
“The two brothers were great fishermen. They went fishing everyday and lived happily but Bombiang usually gave fish bones to his brother and did not share well every time he went fishing.
“Luc Wamung always shared his catches with his brother. With a sad heart, he (Luc Wamung/Lunaman) decided to leave. He moved north until he was not able to see his brother anymore, to the current location.
“Mt Bombiang is off-shore from Siboma village in Morobe Patrol Post, south of Lae,” Chief Nako says.
There are not many historical records written about Mt Lunaman during World War II. However, few written records indicate that the mountain was used as a lookout point by Germans.
It was later used as a lookout point and storage area for the Japanese. When the occupation of Lae by Japanese troops began on March 8, 1942, soldiers landed and occupied the area but the number of soldiers has not been confirmed.
Peter Ryan wrote in Fear Drive My Feet: “The villagers had no clear idea of the number of Japanese in Lae. It is probable that the Japanese did not have a large army camp because at the start Lae was merely an air base and staging point to Salamaua. The Japanese were evenly dispersed in Lae and their centers controlled different parts of the town.
“One section of the Japanese forces had its headquarters where the Lae Golf Club now stands. The Lutheran mission at Ampo across the Bumbu River was a centre of Japanese occupation. The missionary’s residence was used as a medical headquarters and all the smaller outbuildings for the patients.
“There was an original force of 2,500 troops which grew to 6,000 when Lae was attacked by the Allies.
The Japanese had defensive points as far out as Heaths Plantation.
“Communications between Lae and Butibam were easy; the road was open in all weather and the Japanese rode motor bikes and horses.
The Japanese sent out patrols of a dozen troops, comprising one NCO and his platoon to Boana, Nadzab and Chivasing at two-monthly intervals.”
While occupying Lae, the Japanese dug tunnels under Mt Lunaman modelled on their great tunnel complex in Rabaul. The exact date of the construction of the tunnels is unknown. It is believed that the tunnels were used as a supply channel.
Ryan continued; “there was no Japanese trade store in Lae but there were warehouses in which the troops kept goods which came in on large boats. There was a bulk store near Chinatown in a shelter beneath Mt Lunaman. The food in the bulk store was from the market which was held on the bank of the Bumbu River, near the present Bumbu Bridge.”
During the war, many of the local inhabitants left the current villages. Gebob Masawa was one of the young men absent from his village when the war started.
According to the Australian National University’s Pacific Research Monograph II by Neville Robinson, titled Villagers at War: Some Papua New Guineans experiences in World War II: “Gebob was still at Bulolo when the Japanese bombed Lae.
He returned home and found ‘everybody’ was moving inland towards the Busu River about 10 miles from Butibam. They had heard news of the war so they fled to the bush.”
Heavy fighting took place in Lae as recorded by Dr Peter Cahill in a documentation of written materials from the war titled The Allied Liberation of Lae-1943.
“The seventh and ninth divisions fought their way into what remained of the town of Lae…while American bombers were still attacking it. By then the Japanese had given up all hope of retaining the town and withdrew 6,000 men.
“One Japanese officer wrote in his diary ‘… the sight of men being blown to bits was horrible.’”
Towards the end of 1943 the mountain became a hideout for Japanese rearguard soldiers who were later captured on Sept 15, by the seventh and ninth divisions of the Australian Army.
The Japanese occupation of Lae eventually came to an end.
Dr Peter Cahill wrote: “In their haste to evacuate, the Japanese abandoned large quantities of equipment including artillery, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and machine guns.”
The tunnel was later used as a hospital for wounded soldiers to rest and recover.
According to Fred Cook from Morobe Tours, the tunnel was excavated in the late 1990s and remains such as human bones, patrol boxes containing medicine bottles and medical supplies were found.
Philemon Balob who was a pastor of a Lutheran congregation at Bukawa during the war said in Neville Robinson’s Monograph II; “There used to be substantial numbers of relics such as American trucks abandoned in the bush and on the beach. The trucks on the beach have been covered with sand and those in the bush are overgrown by plants.
“Several barges and small landing craft are now rusting on the beaches. Today few relics can be found in the village, although there are iron implements and bits of scrap iron.
The amount of war material left in the Markham Valley close to Lae is now almost negligible.”
Written history further revealed that during the evacuation of the Japanese, wounded soldiers were left within the walls of the tunnels; they refused to go out and surrender.
When the Japanese surrendered, all entrances to the tunnel chambers were shut.
There still are three entrances to the tunnels of Mt Lunaman along the Butibam road, at the back of Lae Pistol Club. Other entrances are believed to be near Angau Memorial General Hospital and along Coronation Drive.
The entrance the youths are cleaning now has been used as a waste dump by city residents, and a haven for drug addicts, street peddlers, criminals and sex workers.
The tunnel entrance is now being cleared by members of the Bombor youth group of Biwat in East Sepik, who reside at the Bumbu settlement.
Twenty members of the group started clearing shrubs, trees and domestic waste dumped by city residents at the entrance of the tunnel last month.
They have done landscaping near three entrances of the tunnel at the back of the Pistol club.
Youth leader Erick Kram said the youths were doing something productive for themselves and the city.
“Most of the youths are involved in betel nut sales. Some are students, but haven’t gone to school because of school fee problems.
“So they have taken the initiative to clean up and beatify the tunnel entrance to keep themselves occupied.”
He said after they started cleaning the tunnel entrance, they talked to one of their relatives working with Lae city council to seek the council’s approval for the youths’ initiative.
Kram said a car park would also be established to enable families to visit. He said the youths would provide security so city residents and visitors need not fear to go there.
“The tunnel does not have a specific history, and by the looks of it, the Japanese have dug through the mountain.
“It is like an endless tunnel, we cannot go through it and we don’t know where it actually leads to.
All we know is that tunnels were dug out during World War II when the Japanese occupied this area.
“We want to make sure people know that Lae is a historical city too and that there is a historical site here and people can come and see it for themselves,” Kram said.