NORTHUMBRIA, UK - Otto Dirumbi stands on the right of this picture which was taken in late 1968 at Binaru near Bundi in Madang Province.
Otto, from Karisokora village, was in charge of the saw. Beside him is Michel Waia with and Albert Atove on the left.
Otto was a storyteller and on many evenings after dinner led the recollections and musings of the 12 or so fellow workers who slept in the same communal hut.
I worked at Binaru with them and on many evenings joined the storytelling.
Otto often described the Pacific War execution of a Ramu Valley villager by a United States army captain who Otto called ‘Jim’.
This is how I recall Otto’s account of the perils for villagers of choosing the wrong side during an all-out war.
There was always heavy fighting. Some local men had to carry ammunition and other supplies for the Americans.
Those who didn’t heard constant gunfire, big guns and little guns, when they worked in their gardens.
I was just a manki (youth) when some Americans soldiers walked into our village. They were very cross and carried lots of guns.
They dragged with them a man from the Ramu whose hands were tied. His mouth was bleeding and his eyes were swollen.
They shouted for everyone to leave their work and come to listen to what they had to say.
The ground was sloping. Men gathered on the low side. The women sat on the high side.
Jim stood in the centre of these people. A pistol was strapped to his waist.
He shouted: “We’re beating the Japs. We’ll soon drive them away. You can hear our guns. That means Japs are dying. We are killing them.
“We want to win. We don’t want any of you bush people helping them.
“Do you hear that? It’s forbidden. You only help Americans. You help us. If you help Japs, if you tell them where we’re sleeping or if you carry their ammunition, we’ll kill you too.”
We were frightened and kept our heads very low.
Then Jim said:
“Bring him here.”
Two of his men led the Ramu man forward. They were holding his arms above the elbow.
Jim picked up a spade and gave it to the Ramu man. Then he marked out ground with a bayonet. Then he shouted at the Ramu man: “Dig. Start digging. I want a big hole. Dig.”
Then Jim shouted at us. He said:
“This Ramu showed Japs where our soldiers were hiding. The Japs killed them. They were my soldiers so we’re going to kill him too.
“If you help the Japs. If you tell them where we are, if you carry cargo for them, we’ll do the same thing to you.”
When the hole was deep he told the Ramu man to stand in it. Then he took out his pistol, pointed it at the Ramu man’s head and fired.
The Ramu man fell into the hole.
* This is an incident described in my book ‘The Northumbrian Kiap’ https://rforster.com/shop/northumbrian-kiap/