That Christmas Day, 1942
25 December 2020
EDITED BY KEITH JACKSON
| Compiled from Voices from the War *
PORT MORESBY -World War II meant that many young Papua New Guinean men had to leave their villages in the service of the Australian and American military forces.
They worked as carriers, medical orderlies, police, cooks and in other service jobs. Sometimes this service lasted until the war ended.
Thousands of young men were also recruited into the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB), the New Guinea Infantry Battalions and other units.
For them, the war involved fighting in their own districts and in many other places around Papua New Guinea.
On Christmas Day, 1942, men from Hanau and other nearby villages were supporting the Australian and American soldiers fighting at Buna.
They were carrying ammunition and stores to the front line and returning with wounded men and sometimes the dead.
Some of the wounded had to be carried on stretchers and some could walk with assistance.
One of these soldiers was Private George Whittington, who had been wounded in the head and was being helped to the aid station at Dobuduru by a number of men.
The famous photo of him being helped by Raphael Oembari was taken by the Australian government’s official war photographer, George Silk.
These are the stories of those men who were there on Christmas Day 1942 with George Whittington and Raphael Oembari.
You will notice that they all refer to Whittington as ‘George Washington’.
Lomas Tonu Ani of Hanau village, Raphael Oembari’s grandson, shares his grandfather’s story of Christmas Day 1942:
“We had been performing our task of carrying supplies from Dobuduru to Buna, evacuating the wounded for many days, until on Christmas Day George Washington was wounded with other Australian and American soldiers.
Our carriers took in turns to guide George Washington from the battlefield along the track when Raphael Oembari’s turn came to take over.
They were walking along when the photograph was taken.”
Fabian Jawoambu of Hanau village described the role his grandfather, Toja Jawoambu, played as a carrier on this day:
“They move by crawling behind the Allied forces into the fighting zone and removed dead and wounded soldiers out, then carried them on the stretchers to the care centre at Dobuduru, where the Red Cross was for the first aid.
On Christmas Day, this soldier George Washington was wounded and his Allied men led him out and handed over to the group of natives called ‘half soldiers’ to take him to the care centre at Dobuduru for first aid.
Along the way, Raphael Oembari was fortunately pictured and he became famous all throughout the country and world as a whole.”
The grandfather of Paulus King Taimbari of Hanau village, Tambari Jawopo, was part of a group that went to collect George Whittington:
“When [my grandfather] worked on that Christmas Eve night, they shot George Washington.
So next morning my grandfather went in a group to pick a dead body. His brother-in-law, Stonewigg Haita, brought back a wounded body. He handed over to my grandfather and my grandfather he held him, and then he walked together with him.
[After a while he] handed over to his father-in-law, Raphael Oembari. When he left and passed the cameraman came with a plane, and so they got a picture of Raphael Oembari and George Washington.”
Other men also helped George Whittington along the way. Matthew Ware of Hanau village cited their names:
“Heita, Sirima, Anamo, Oanda, Hibiti, Ware, Jaboko, Kokoro and Gomba, they helped all the dead bodies and the wounded soldier.
They help them and they put it on the stretcher to pick it up, carry it out to Dobuduru aid station.
At that time, my father, Ware Toja, broke the stick and he came and give to George Washington to support him to come to Dobuduru.
The carriers they carry the body up until that time when they hand over the wounded soldier to Mr Oembari. At the same time, the filmer took the photograph.”
Buna, Papua, 25 December 1942. QX23902 Private George C “Dick” Whittington being helped along a track through the kunai grass towards a field hospital at Dobodura. The Papuan native helping him is Raphael Oimbari.
Whittington was with the 2/10th Battalion at the time and had been wounded the previous day in the battle for Buna airstrip. He recovered from his wounds but died of scrub typhus at Port Moresby 12 February 1943. (G. Silk, 1942)
Voices from the war, Kokoda Initiative, Papua New Guinean stories of the Kokoda Campaign, World War II, a joint publication of the Governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia, 2015
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