World War II


The shock waves produced by World War II convulsed Bougainville at the time. At war's end the principal agents of colonialism - Australian Administration, Christian missions, and white-owned plantation and commercial firms-returned to re-establish their respective controls over indigenous affairs, but neither they nor the islanders were to remain as before.

The events of the war that had the most far-reaching local consequences were the following:

December 1941. Japan attacks Pearl Harbor and moves towards Australia and the Pacific.
January 1942. The Japanese occupy Rabaul and attack Buka.
March 1942. The Japanese occupy Tulagi, British Solomon Islands.
August 1942. The United States forces land on Guadalcanal.
November 1942. Japanese counter-attacks against United States forces in the central Solomon Islands terminate in failure.
November 1943. United States and New Zealand forces establish beach-head at Torokina and consolidate the isolation of the Japanese forces on Bougainville-Buka.
October-December 1944. Australia taken over occupation of Torokin a from Japanese forces on Bougainville-Buka.
August 1943. The Japanese forces surrender.
March 1946. Australian civil Administration is re-established on Bougainville-Buka.

During the twenty-six months between the German attack on Poland and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, life on Bougainville-Buka went on much as before. A few of the younger Australians in the islands left for home to enlist, and a small detachment of Australian soldiers was posted at Buka Passage to guard the air-strip being built there, but for the rest of the population, indigenous and expatriate, the European war was a very remote and irrelevant affair, or was not thought about at all. Locally, the most important event concerning the approaching Pacific war was the setting ip of an intelligence network involving a handful of resident expatriates. After World War I the royal Australian Navy devised a plan for reporting the appearance of unusual sea- and aircraft among the islands north and east of Australia, and in September 1939 the plan was put into effect. coast-watchers, as they came to be called, were appointed at strategic points along the chain of islands, from the Admiralties to the New Hebrides. They were supplied with tele-radios and a simple code, and were linked with naval headquarters in the south through the island centres of Rabaul, Port Moresby and Tulagi. At the beginning most coast-watches went civilians - chiefly planters, traders, and Administration officials - but in time they were given naval ranks.

The coast-watchers of Bougainville were a remarkable breed of men. for months or years during the war they lived in the island's interior keeping watch over enemy ship and plane movements, cut off from to her Europeans except by radio and an occasional air drop of supplies, existing under conditions of extreme physical privation, supported by some indigenes but turned against by others, and in constant danger of capture and death. To a degree that few other individuals can claim, they contributed to Allied victories in the Solomon campaigns. And though they were not there for that express purpose, their presence in enemy-occupied areas for months or years after the flight or evacuation of most other Europeans, provided evidence, if any Bougainvillain wanted it, that Australia had not wholly abandoned the two islands tot he the Japanese.

At the beginning of the Pacific war, coast-watchers were deployed at several key observation spots on Bougainville-Buka; at Kessa, Buka Passage, Inus plantation, Numanuma plantation, Kieta, and Toimanapu plantation. The heroic exploits of those who managed to survive sickness and capture will be recounted. Soon after Pearl Harbor, most of the non-official white residents were evacuated to Australia. Of the white missionaries, however, the two Methodists on duty remained, as did all the Marists priest, brothers and nuns. Then, in late January after the Japanese had captured Rabaul and had begun to reconnoitre Bougainville-Buka by air, the D.O. (District Officer, the top Administrative officer of the Bougainville Districts, along with his staff and most of the remaining white civilians of east Bougainville, commandeered a small mission ketch and made for Port Moresby. Those still remaining were a few soldiers, coast-watchers in the territory then serving indentures on local plantations or employed by the Admninistrat6ion). The cynicism and bitterness provided among Bougainvillians by this flight and 'abandonment' have endured ever since.

During March 1942 Japanese ships called at Buka and north Bougainville, killed an elderly planter suspected of spying, and captured two other whites - a Marist priest and the sole remaining Methodist missionary. (The latter, along with 1100 other persons, were eventually lost at sea in the Montevideo Maru, which was torpedoed by a United States submarine while en route to Japan. On 30 March Japanese forces landed and occupied Buka Passage and Shortland Island and shortly thereafter the Buin coast as well. Meanwhile the surviving coast-watchers and the small army detachment had established their bases inland and were reporting on enemy dispositions and movements. The army detachment, twenty-five men trained as commandos, was led by Lieutenant J.H. Mackie. The coast-watchers, W.J. Reed, assistant district officer at Buka Passage, and P.E. Mason, the proprietor of Inus plantation, by now held naval rank. From their observation points - Reed overlooking Buka Passage and Mason overlooking first Kieta and then Buin and the Shortland Islands - these two were able to observe and report Japanese movements from Rabaul and Buka towards the north and central Solomon Islands, a contribution of immense value to the Allies' subsequent Solomon campaigns.

Marist Bishop Thomas Wade's decision to keep his mission members at their various posts was based partly on a tradition 'that did not disdain martyrdom', and partly on the hopeful belief that the Japanese would deal tolerantly with non-combatant missionaries. For a while this hope was realized, but as time passed and Japanese reverses in the Solomon Islands increased, more and more restrictions were imposed upon the Marists, including internment and worse.

At the beginning of the occupation the Japanese forces adopted friendly, even fraternal, attitudes toward the Bougainvillians, presenting themselves as their deliverers from white oppression and as ethnic cousins and partners in the glorious new Co-prosperity Sphere. On Buka, where contact was earliest and closest, schools were set up to teach Japanese language, customs and songs. Indigenous officials were presented with Japanese titles and impressive new insignia, and were frequently consulted. The populace was encouraged to revive the ceremonial veneration of their ancestors. There and elsewhere the invaders were at first scrupulous in their bartering for food and payment for labour, and the molesting of indigenous women was firmly and effectively forbidden. Also, on Buka at least, the Japanese deliberately sought to win over the affections of the population at large by a show of friendly egalitarianism. Visitors were hospitably welcomed at the military camps, and friendship between soldiers and indigenes was encouraged.

The initial reactions of the Bougainvillians to these events differed widely. On Buka the Japanese were at first ceremoniously welcomed by much of the populace. For the devotees of the cargo cults, the flight of the whites and the immense resources of the newcomers spelled fulfilment of the former cult leaders' promises. This was reinforced by the Japanese, who deliberately encouraged ancestor worship, through which it was considered that Christianity would be weakened and a bridge provided to Japanese State Shinto. Even non-cargoists and adamant anti-cargoists were seemingly impressed with the newcomers' military might. Knowing only what they saw, it must have struck them as highly unlikely that whites would ever again return to become their masters. Belief in continued Japanese mastery was also promoted around Kieta by the statements of some Marist clerics of German nationality, but this was offset somewhat by their (American) bishop; though pro-Allied in sentiment, he insisted for pastoral reasons upon his missionaries' neutrality. Kieta had also been the scene of looting just after the precipitate exodus of the Administration officials, but coast-watcher Reed hurried there from the north and managed to restore Administration authority, which lasted until the Japanese occupied the site.   

Elsewhere on Bougainville Island during the first half of 1942, the indigenes had only sporadic contact with the Japanese, or no contact at all, and their attitudes towards whites and Japanese seemed to have varied according to their own individual pre-war relations with the former. some of them gave heroic proof of their loyalties to a specific missionary pastor or former employer, while others evidently delighted in the discomfiture of some or all whites. And even those without commitment to one side or the other were realists enough to accept the new order, since it appeared destined to remain.

On 7 August 1942, United States forces attacked and captured Tulagi and established a beached on Guadalcanal. during the following words the Japanese counter-attacked with large numbers of ships and planes from their bases in the north, but by mid-November the counter-attack was called off, in failure. The part played by the Bougainville coast-watchers in this crucial Japanese setback can hardly be overestimated. As wave after wave of Japanese aircraft flew south to destroy the exposed United States bases and the unloading, sitting-duck supply ships, they were spotted and reported by the coast-watchers in time to permit fighter planes to meet and down most of them before they reached their targets. Japanese ships carrying supplies and reinforcements were similarly spotted and met the same fate. To the coast-watchers and most other remaining whites the turn of events was welcome indication of an eventual Allied victory, but it led the Japanese to the strengthening of their defensive forces on Bougainville and Buika. Buin was built up into a major land base, and several other posts were established or reinforced around the islands' coasts. Whether the ordinary Japanese soldier or sailor viewed these developments as hopeful or otherwise is not reported. for the Bougainvillians themselves - except possibly those close enough to Europeans to share their perspectives - the Japanese defeat on Guadalcanal was either unknown or uncomprehended, and was outweighed by the visible local evidence of increased Japanese strength.

With their entrenchment on Bougainville-Buka, the Japanese also adopted a sterner attitude towards the remaining whites. The missionaries were increasingly restrict5ed in their activities, until the point was reached when some were taken captive and others, including the bishop, led fugitive lives. Patrols began to harry the coast-watchers, but these jungle-wise veterans were able to elude them and continue with their work. As for the islands' Chinese settlers, some had long since been interned and others sought refuge in the jungle. The larger Japanese presence, and their more active efforts to turn the indigenes against all whites, were accompanied by some change in Bougainvillians' behaviour towards the opposing alien sides. Throughout the larger island the coast-watchers and fugitive whites began to be treated by the indigenes with indifference or unfriendliness' in some places the latter actively sided with the Japanese as spies or guides. This mood of hostility was most evident around Kieta, where bands of coastal villagers calling themselves 'Black Dogs' conducted murderous raids against inland, and presumably neutral, villages, and joined with the Japanese to hunt down fugitive whites and Chinese. Lest one be disposed to blame the Japanese overmuch for actively enlisting the Bougainvillians' assistance in that non-indigenous conflict, it should be pointed out that the coast-watchers did not hesitate to execute indigenes who endangered their own activities by aiding the Japanese.

On Buka, Japanese efforts to Nipponize the indigenes continued until the end of 1943. The schools they established proved attractive to young people and quite successful in inculcating anti-Allied sentiment. After a while, when Allied military success began to reduce the flow of supplies, more and more demands were made by the Japanese on the indigenes for labour and garden produce, but this was done in the name of shared sacrifice against a common enemy. These demands took some of the bloom off the Buka Islanders' earlier enthusiasm for their new masters, but evidently did not dispose them more favourably towards their former ones.

Under the pressure of Nipponization and general anti-white sentiment, Christianity undoubtedly suffered a relapse on Buka. but if the pagan leaders of the local cargo cult had hoped to profit by this, they were to be disappointed. As described earlier, the initial appearance, and for awhile the movement flourished widely and publicly. But for reasons that are not clear this florescence did not endure. According to some reports it was actively suppressed by the Japanese, who beheaded three cult leaders who were about to kill one of their opponents as a human sacrifice to the cult's guardian spirits. Another more credible interpretation of these executions - which did in fact occur -is that the victims were suspected of pro-Allied behaviour at a time when Allied air attacks were increasing.

During the early months of 1943, the position of the Japanese forces on Bougainville-Buka worsened through shortages and increasing air attacks from the Allies. The lot of the remaining Europeans and Chinese became correspondingly perilous, and more and more indigenes turned from friendliness to indifference, or from indifference to hostility towards them. by June nearly all the non-military whites and some of the Chinese had been evacuated by US submarine. Even the stout-hearted Marist bishop, Thomas Wade, was finally persuaded, or rather commanded, to depart, leaving only those members of his order who were unable or unwilling to escape. finally, in July, the surviving coast-watchers were evacuated, their existence having become so imperilled by more aggressive Japanese patrolling and increasingly hostile indigenes that they were unable to carry on their reporting; moreover, by this time the Allied forces had moved so much closer that coast-watching was no longer as useful.

On 1 November 1943, United States forces landed at Torokina, on Bougainville's west coast, and quickly established there a beachhead of fifty square kilometres. The purpose of the manouevres was not to conquer the Japanese in direct combat, but to isolat4e and neutralize them still further, while using the base for intensified air attacks against the major Japanese concentration at Rabaul. somewhat later these measures were reinforced by the Allied occupation of Nissan Island to the north of Buka, and by beachheads on New Britain itself, so that the Japanese on Bougainville-Buka were effectively cut off from all outside help and left to 'die on the vine'. The dying on that particular vine turned out to be slow and tragic affair.

When the Americans landed At Torokina there were an estimated 65,000 Japanese on Bougainville-Buka, the major concentration being at Buin and around Buka Passage, with smaller detachments at places along the east coast and strategic points in the interior. In March 1944, the Japanese mounted a determined counter-attack against the United States base at Torokina, but when that failed and the Americans gave no sign of attempting to enlarge the base, the Japanese settled down, the more hopeful of them to await supplies and reinforcements, the more realistic to stay alive until the war's end. In October 1944, Australian forces with some New Zealand reinforcements were sent to Torokina to relieve the Americans, who were destined for other missions in islands nearer Japan. by this time the Japanese forces had been reduced in number to about 37,000 to 40,000, some 25,000 to 28,000 having died during the American's eleven-month stay there. About 8000 died in combat and twice that number from sickness and starvation. In fact, by the end of 1944, with large-scale military encounters on the islands at a virtual standstill, hunger had become the Japanese garrison's principal foe.

In an effort to replenish their diminishing food supplies, the Japanese planted large gardens near their bases, and requisitioned more and more of the indigenes' own food. In addition to depriving the latter of their existing stocks, these measures reduced their already scarce stable land and, through conscription, took away labour needed for growing their own food. To fend off starvation at some of the smaller bases, the Japanese resorted on occasion to raiding indigenous gardens; and instances were reported - difficult to authenticate but circumstantially credible - of desperate Japanese soldiers resorting to cannibalism. The Bougainvillians' reactions to all these events varied from place to place. In the vicinity of the larger Japanese bases, in Buin and around Buka Passage, they had no recourse but to remain hungry and nurse their resentments in silence. In other places they actively resisted the Japanese, with bloodshed on both sides. Some of those most caught up in this new phase of the war managed to find refuge within the Allied perimeter at Torokina, where they were fed and housed and, if able-bodied, given jobs. In more remote mountain areas, out of reach of both Japanese and Allies, the war continued to be the cause of some deprivation in terms of trade goods and money-earning opportunities; but that was all.

For reasons which appear to have included national pride and military zeal, the Australians decided in December 1944 to break out of the Torokina beachhead and reconquer Bougainville-Buka without waiting for the war to be brought to an inevitably successful end elsewhere. Since this decision was widely criticized at the time and publicly condemned after the war, it requires no further discussion here, except to note that it also surprised and puzzled the Japanese commanders on the islands. Realizing their predicament, and being neither more nor less courageous than soldiers elsewhere, they apparently would have been content to live and let live unless forced to defend themselves. A similar attitude was evidently held by many of the Australians involved in the campaigns, but as the record shows they did not let their doubts and reservations curb their actions when called upon to fight.

The progress of the ensuing major campaigns are indicated in Figure 10. Not shown, however, are the movements and encounters of the various Australian guerrilla parties which reconnoitred and harassed Japanese outposts and patrols from perambulatory inland camps. Leaders of these parties included two experience-hardened pre-war residents of Bougainville, Paul Mason of coast-watching fame and Norman Sandford of Numanuma plantation. The epic adventures of these guerrilla parties and their indigenous supporters provided weighty evidence of the measure of sacrifice and heroism of which Bougainvillians were capable once their loyalties were mobilized. When Japan's capitulation brought an end to these campaigns in August 1945, the Australian forces had captured most of the smaller Japanese bases and were preparing for the final assault on the major base in Buin. by the time Australian casualties numbered 2088: 516 killed or dead of wounds, and 1572 wounded. On the other side, 8500 Japanese were killed during the Australian occupation and another 9800 died of illness. No figures have been p0ublished concerning the total number of casualties suffered by the Bougainvillians themselves in these campaigns, or in direct consequences of any other phase of this calamitous war, the causes and objectives of which most of them did not even comprehend.

Full civil government was restored in March 1946; that is to say, the civilian Australian administrators resumed control of the islanders' lives after an interim of more than five years of military control. What effects did the events of the war years have upon the Bougainvilllians themselves? As was just noted there are no wholly reliable statistics available describing the numbers killed or wounded as a direct or indirect result of the war. They were undoubtedly high, but probably not nearly so high as of those who died from war-induced illness, from starvation, fatigue and lack of medical services. (During the early phase of their occupation, however, the Japanese are reported to have provided fairly good medical care for their indigenous neighbours.)

The effect of the war on the Bougainvillians' material goods - their houses, gardens, groves, house-furnishings, tools, etc. - is difficult to assess, although some estimate may be given by the amount of the war-damage claims which were ultimately paid. In addition, one must include among their losses the almost total destruction suffered by pre-war buildings, both Administration and mission, which bound schools, churches and medical services. Nor can these losses be balanced by pointing to all the camp sites, roads, runways, etc., constructed on the islands during the war, since virtually none of these was of use to the post-war Bougainvillians. However, despite the damages suffered in terms of life or limb, or physical deprivation or goods, the most far-reaching effects were probably psychological. Demographically, the population quickly resumed its tempo of rapid natural increase, and economically their homes were quickly rebuilt. But the changes undergone in the mental attitudes of some of them - towards whites and towards themselves - served to ensure that relations between the two would never again be as they were before the war.

The precipitate flight of most of the whites and the collapse of most white institutions at the beginning of the war must have led even the most unsophisticated of Bougainvillians to question the pre-war colonial status quo. The continued presence of the Marists long after most other whites had gone may have tempered somewhat the general disenchantment, but in the end most of the end most of the Marists had had to flee as well. During the first year of the war the Japanese military superiority added disdain to the disenchantment felt by Bougainvillians towards their former Australian masters. In turn, the subsequent Japanese defeat may have led most indigenes to moderate these views somewhat (although the part played by the United States did not escape them); but the whole war experience seems to have nourished a view among them that no colonial regime is necessarily perpetual.

The war also suggested to many that possession of a dark skin does not necessarily and inevitably require one to be treated, at worst as subhuman, and at beast as a well-meaning but ignorant child. The early Japanese policy of fraternization encouraged this change in expectations, and it was probably reinforced by the subsequent behaviour of United States and Australian troops, some of whom seemed to have promoted it actively and deliberately. If those new views of colonialism and ethnic relation had been limited to the Bougainvillians alone, they probably would have been forgotten in time' but they were shared with vast numbers of people elsewhere, and thus began to exert a dominant influence over Bougainvillians' post-war lives.

The Post-War Era

For most Boutgainvillians the period from the end of World War II to the middle of 1964 was one of gradual and only moderately unfamiliar change. The basis for most of that change lay in the new post-war policies adopted by the Australian government towards its Territories of Papua and northeast New guinea. In fact, those policies began to be formulated during the war, when the Labor government decided to make native welfare the principal objective in governing those territories, in deed as well as in word. This change of emphasis was of course in line with Labor's traditional ideology and in tune with anti-colonists stirrings elsewhere. but it was reinforced by a renewed recognition of the strategic military importance of New guinea to Australia's security, and by the corollary that a more prosperous, better educated, and politically sophisticated indigenous populatin would provide a stronger shield against future aggression from the north or the west.

In this spirit an agreement was made in 1946 with the newly federal United Nations which gave Australia exclusive trusteeship over the former Mandated Territory of New Guinea (Papua was already on integral dependency of the commonwealth), subject only to the obligations that administration would be carried out so that 'the customs and usages of the indigenous inhabitants would be protected, their cultural and educational advancement assured, their rights and interests safe-guarded, and an increasingly progressive shre4 in the administrative and other services given to them, as the territory developed. Meanwhile the Australian government declared its intention of combining Papua and the Trust Territory of New Guinea for administrative purposes, a practical arrangement that had been in effect since the early days of the war. This move was opposed by some members of the United Nations on the grounds that it might slow down the Trust Territory's political development, or even lead to eventual Australian annexation of it. Despite those objections, Australia continued to administer Papua and the Trust Territory as a single dependency, but also continued to submit its reports to the United Nations covering the latter only.

A whole chapter would be required to trace how the war-born policy underwent change over the ensuing thirty years. Here in this brief account will be considered only the highlights of these changes, as background to the particular concern with Bougainville and Buka. In terms of official government policy concerning the future political status of the (combined) Territory of Papua and New Guinea, there were some major shifts. The first was towards a larger, ethnically balanced, measure of self-government for all the Territory's residents, then there was a move towards an emphasis on a government largely of and for indigenes; and finally towards an independent and mainly indigenous nation.

The move towards implementing the policy of ethnically balanced self-government began in 1949 with the setting up of a Territorial Legislative Council. The inclusion of sixteen official members in this advisory body guaranteed that the Administration would retain firm control of it, but the addition of twelve non-official members, including three nominated indigenes and three members elected by the expatriate population, betokened some broadening of representation. It was the expatriate non-official members, and particularly the elected ones, who were most vocal in pressing for a larger share of self-government; the indigenous members tended to hew to the Administration's line. Of course, 'self-government' meant different things to different people in those early post-war days. To many of the Territory's whites it meant more freedom to run their own enterprises without Canberra's bureaucratic control, and while this view of self-government may have included some sentiment for increased indigenous participation, it was based largely on concern for the interests of the whites themselves. As for the official Administration view of self-government, it was undoubtedly more pro-indigene in sentiment, but was constrained by the assumption that the indigenes' interest would be better served by withholding political power from them until they could be educated to make the 'right' kinds of decisions for themselves.

As for the larger issue of independence, the Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, told the Australian Parliament in 1960:

We are not going out of the Territory in a hurry. In our judgment of the situation as it exists today, the Territory will need our help for many years to come and the advanced leaders of the indigenous people say strongly that they need us for a long time ahead. We are not going to abandon them or our own people who are working with them.

Nevertheless, events elsewhere moved the Administration speed up whatever timetable it may have been following regarding both self-government and independence. Thus, in June 1960, after this return from a Commonwealth prime ministers' conference, the (Liberal Party) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, made the following statement:

Whereas at one time many of us might have thought it was better to go slowly in granting independence so that all conditions existed for a wise exercise of self-government, I think the prevailing school of thought today is that if in doubt you go sooner, not later. I belong to that school of thought myself now, though I didn't once. But I have seen enough in recent years to satisfy me that even though some independences may have been premature, they have at least been achieved with goodwill . . .

Another such event was a resolution adopted by the United Nations' Trusteeship Council in June 1960, calling on Australia to set target dates with respect to political, economic, social and educational development 'so as to create as soon as possible favourable conditions for the attachment of self-government or independence'. The government was also stipulated to faster action by events in adjoining West anew guinea, where an Indonesian government was moving to take over control from the Dutch. And finally, many indigenes were themselves beginning to express a desire for a larger share in their own governance, and this sentiment received influential support from some Administration officials.

In response to these and other pressures the government set up a new Legislative Council in 1961 containing a majority of non-official members, including twelve elected members. The most noteworthy action of this new body, which contained six elected indigenes, was to foster the development of a much-enlarged and more widely representative successes to itself. This latter body, the House of Assembly, scheduled for 1964, was intended to provide the Territory's indigenes, with a larger share in their government, including education in responsible citizenship, while ensuring the continuation of the Territory's political stability and economic growth. With this in mind, the new body was to include ten official members appointed by the Administrator, and fifty-four members elected by universal adult suffrage (males and females eighteen years of age and over). To choose the elected members, the Territory was divided into forty-four open electorates and ten larger special electorates; candidacy in the former was open to any adult resident regardless of race, but only non-indigenes, i.e. whites or Chinese, could be candidates in the latter. Equality of population size was the main criterion in establishing boundaries for the open electorates, but this was outweight4ed somewhat in an effort to conform to ethnic, geographic and administrative boundaries as well. Thus the smallest open electorate, Manus, contained a population of only 18,000, while the largest, Bougainville District (Bougainville, Buka, Nissan, etc.), contained 54,000.

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