Treading on a dark path


The alarm of World War II was relayed by telegram from Australia to its patrol officers in the various posts and warning sounds scattered throughout the country like a joke.
Few young native men left their homes to look for adventure and to protect their motherland, so they were able to join the Allied forces.
Bengari Sou was banished from his village due to a marriage problem. A common saying of the Zia people of Waria Valley in Morobe, when sending those who violated traditional laws went something like this: “You have defied rules so go and die on your own.”
The poor young mani gathered his belongings and sailed out on a government trawler to the provincial headquarters of Morobe in Lae.
He did not know where to start and what to do as he was running away in fear of his society’s traditional laws.
He got a job at the government store house in Lae but not long the Australian government officers were recruiting young Papua New Guineans to join the Allied force to protect their own country.
Sou was recruited in Lae and was sent over to Port Moresby to join the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) A Company in 1940.
I still remember his words.
“We did not train like the soldiers nowadays. There were only two tests given for us.”
At first, he was told to walk across a wire bridge as a machine gun blazed ahead of him dropping bullets a meter close to him while he walked over to the other end of the bridge.
The second was to shoot an empty can that was thrown on the river and he did shoot the can.
I watched the feeble old man supporting himself with a walking stick and many questions entered my mind at Waisoduna hamlet of Kobo Village in the Morobe Patrol Post area.
The brave man stood for nothing but simply to live another day and hopefully to return back to his beloved home in the Waria Valley.
I asked him why he always went to church to ring the bell for the church goers. “What’s the difference between fighting the war and going to church?’’ I asked.
Sou just laughed and said it was just like King David in the Bible.
“The killing of people had nothing to do the natives; it was the white men’s war that came to our land and destroyed our ancestor’s livelihood,’’ he said.
Port Moresby was bombed by Japanese aircraft on the morning of Feb 3, 1942, the first of many heavy air raids. Allied air defences were almost non-existent, and the raids significantly reduced civilian morale, while several PIB recruits deserted.
Following the bombing of Port Moresby the civil administration in Papua was replaced by military control. The Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (Angau) was formed to administer both Papua and New Guinea in a unified military government, following their hurried amalgamation.
Sou recalled the first taste of war and described it as hostile and inhuman leaving loved ones and facing a lonely death; a miserable ending of life without support.
The old man told me when I was a 15-year-old boy and I still remember his strong words.
“War has no family, no reunion but you must be born with your father’s flesh and bones to fight in a war. War comes to kill and destroy everything that is on its way,” he told me.
The PIB was subsequently employed in scouting, reconnaissance and surveillance patrols against the Japanese.
Meanwhile, elements of the US Fifth Air Force began arriving in Port Moresby, commencing bombing operations against Japanese positions at Lae, Salamaua and Rabaul, with the PIB tasked with search and rescue for downed airmen.
Throughout March, April and May the PIB continued patrolling, while men not involved in these operations were employed at the quarry and the aerodrome in Port Moresby.
Yet despite initial Allied patrols and engineer reconnaissance into the area, the Japanese had ultimately been able to move faster, seizing the initiative.
As a result, these small parties would ultimately be the first to make contact with the Imperial Japanese forces upon their landing in Papua.
Near the end of the war, Sgt Bengari Sou was promoted to warrant officer Level II, one of the highest ranking officers in the country, who was in charge over the Japanese prison camp in Rabaul.
He was tasked to take care of and transport the war prisoners back to their country.
Some of his war stories were only told to the people in the Waria Valley and are off the record like the killing of a Japanese war prisoner in Rabaul.
As the officer in command of the natives in Rabaul Sgt Sou was brought to face court marshal and he eventually escaped the death penalty after winning the case.
“All of us (the natives) were in the camp when we heard a gunshot and after hearing sounds of a car and anaeroplane, we were told that a Japanese Army colonel was shot dead.
‘’The white men blamed the natives for killing the Japanese Army colonel but there was no evidence to prove their guilt,’’ he said.
Sadly, during the 21 gun salute at 10am on April 25, 1996 the great warrior of the Waria Valley drew his last breath. There was no news sent to government authorities of his death. He was peacefully laid to rest in the white sandy beach of Hercules Bay at his favourite home in Waisoduna Village.

Joseph Dawai is a freelance writer.

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