TUMBY BAY - Although they would be baffled by modern policing methods, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that, pound for pound, an old time policeman in Papua New Guinea probably had more balls than ten of his equivalents today.
Nowhere was this made more apparent than during World War II.
Papua New Guinea was hopelessly unprepared for war. As part of the scramble to meet the Japanese threat, the Pacific Islands Regiment was born.
Some 3,800 Papua New Guineans fought as regular soldiers with the regiment. And many of the recruits came from the ranks of the Royal Papuan Constabulary and the New Guinea Police Force.
They fought with the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), some with the coastwatchers and others with the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles.
Others took part in fierce guerrilla actions with the Allied Intelligence Bureau or ‘M’ Special Unit. Thousands more fought as ordinary policemen.
One such recruit was Sergeant Yauwiga (sometimes spelt ‘Yawige’) from the Sepik.
Yauwiga joined the New Guinea Police Force in 1930 and by October 1941, just before the Japanese invasion, attained the rank of sergeant. He was attached to the Allied Intelligence Bureau on Bougainville in February 1942.
He participated in the allied landings at Torokina in November 1943 and led guerrilla bands in northern Bougainville. He won the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the highest award possible for a non-commissioned officer, as well as the Loyal Service Medal.
He lost his left hand and the sight of one eye but survived the war.
He tells his own story in the book To Find a Path: The Life and Times of the Royal Pacific Islands Regiment, Volume 1 – Yesterday’s Heroes 1885-1950 by Jim Sinclair (Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, 1990, pp 285-9).
Here is Yauwiga speaking….
I stopped on Bougainville after all the Europeans had gone down to the Solomon Islands. Only some policemen remained with the patrol officers.
After about one week the Japanese bombed Kieta, so we collected all of the stores and all the material that we could from Kieta and took it and hid in various camps around in the bush.
We had been in the bush for about one month when I heard that the Japanese had killed Sergeant Waramapi, who was working with Jack Read up in the northern section of the island, so I left Kieta with my line and went up into the area, and I found Waramapi’s wife and children and took them back down to the Numa Numa Plantation.
I then went up into the mountains near Buka Passage to a place called Aravia and there I found Jack Read with his camp, and I worked with him for nearly three years. When we were first up at this camp the Japanese came looking for us.
The Japanese had a line of about a hundred natives and about a hundred Japanese, split into two parties. Some of the Japanese came up from the Numa Numa side, and the others came up from the Teop Plantation side. They were trying to find where we were hiding up in the mountains.
We knew the Japanese were coming but Jack didn’t want to fight them and I became very cross and I said to him, “Why do we run away the same as women do?” Jack told me that this wasn’t the job of the coastwatchers and since I was a coastwatcher scout it was not my job to fight because if I fought the Japanese how could I then watch and pass on the information about Japanese bombers and submarines and troop movements – that was my job. My job was not to fight.
I didn’t like this but it was the job they gave me. I was told that if the Japanese came, if I could possibly escape, my job was to run away, so that I could live to spy another day.
One particular day when we were up in the bush near Ariva, we had our camp on the slopes of a small hill that was surrounded by big bush. It was not the kind of place that you could run away from very easily and I was up on this ridge line above the main camp with an Australian signaller whose name was Allan Forbes and another policeman whose name was Wamulu, from Manus Island.
At a point down the trail that approached our camp I had bent a branch of a tree down and lightly fastened it onto the other side of the road and then later on while we were sitting up on the side of the hill I heard a noise as this branch of the tree was knocked out of position and swung back. We looked down the track and there were a lot of Japanese milling around us as the branch had knocked some of the Japanese over.
We yelled out to the others to get out of camp and the Japanese started to shoot at us with machine guns. The three of us quickly jumped behind a large tree and opened fire on the Japanese.
There was a mixture of Japanese and local natives in the group that was coming towards us. In this engagement until we ran out of ammunition we killed twenty-five.
We then slipped away from the camp and made our way up the side of a mountain until we got to a ridge line. The only way up was by waterfall and there we waited to see what the Japanese would do.
Jack Read and his men escaped because of Yauwiga’s actions. Jack later said, ‘In the middle of the skirmish, it must have lasted no more than a few minutes, I suppose, Yauwiga, Wamaru and Forbes were overrun. They each had a .303 and about twenty rounds. Yauwiga knew how to use a .303 but Wamaru didn’t know too much. Yauwiga was behind a tree and firing down and Wamaru was not behind but in front of the tree, just going plonk, plonk, plonk, and Yauwiga shouted, “You silly fool, get in behind the tree, not in front of it!”’
Yauwiga’s story continues…..
We couldn’t hear the Japanese but when we went to move on I found I had trouble in walking. I had hurt my leg in climbing up the cliff. The Australian signaller said, ‘wait here and I’ll go and see if I can find the others’, but we knew that the Japanese would be following our trail and it was no good for me to stay there without any ammunition.
We moved back along the ridge line to try and find a way down and Allan fell and injured his back. While we were walking around we found three of the carriers from Teop Plantation who had also run away so our party then scouted along the ridge line.
I had a great deal of difficulty in walking and one of the Waria men was helping me. The others were helping Allan. There was no way to get down and we came to a side where there was a cliff and I made a rope.
We climbed down the cliff and there was a creek at the bottom but the water was dirty and all stirred up and we saw the tracks of many Japanese so we climbed back up the side of the hill and hid in the bush.
We waited and then climbed back up the hill where we found food from one of our re-supplies spread all over the place where a carrier plane had dropped its cargo by parachute and some of the native soldiers had come to collect this food but they didn’t have scouts out and they were surprised by the Japanese who shot the party and took the sergeant in charge a prisoner and took him back down to Buka Passage.
We found out that the Japanese had been brought up by a man called Konkon, a local luluai, and I sent out a message to him to tell him he couldn’t work for the Japanese, he must work for us, but Konkon wouldn’t listen to me.
I said to my police line we can’t let this man bring Japanese to us all the time so I quietly sent out a party and we killed Konkon. We didn’t bury him, we just left him on the ground as a warning to the other people that if they helped the Japanese like this without their being forced to then they would suffer the same fate.
Yauwiga eventually went with Jack Read and the other men by submarine to the Solomon Islands. They were on Tulagi Island and then Guadalcanal where Yauwiga learned how to operate rubber dinghies out of submarines. After the lessons they all went back to continue the fight. They were there when the Americans landed.
After some time on PT boats at Milne Bay, Manus and Lae, Yauwiga was flown down to Brisbane to teach Australian troops bush survival skills. Then he returned to Bougainville.
It was there that Yauwiga had an accident with a flare trying to signal a plane airdropping supplies. The flare failed to ignite and when he went to investigate it flared into his face. The flare also burnt his hand so badly that it had to be amputated at the American hospital.
His eyes were also badly burnt and he was flown down to Brisbane. Partial sight was restored to his right eye using a corneal graft from a young Australian who had been killed in a motor bike accident.
Yauwiga was involved in many skirmishes with the Japanese and passed valuable information to the allies and rescued many downed airmen during the war. His injuries precluded re-joining the police force and he retired to his Sepik village in May 1946.