May Hayman: Anglican missionary (People)
Module name: Groups (Australian perspective)
This page was contributed by Ms Vanessa Johnston (Australian War Memorial)
Miss May Hayman was an Anglican missionary based at Gona in New Guinea. She elected to stay in New Guinea, even after most civilians had evacuated the area in fear of Japanese landing. With Father Benson and Miss Mavis Parkinson she continued their missionary work.
The three missionaries remained in Gona until a large Japanese ship approached the coast and the shelling and bombing started. It had been arranged with the Bishop that in the event of an invasion they would head for Isivita mission station 38 miles inland. However, Father Benson wanted to approach the Japanese and ask their permission to carry on his work. So the three hid in the bush to see how things would unfold, but they eventually ended up fleeing without approaching the Japanese and ended up lost and scared in the bush.
By the time the missionaries crossed the Kokoda Track they were terrified. The two women, in particular, had never before been off the beaten track. They found the experience of the bush, with its strange creature sounds and the realization that they had been walking in circles, incredibly unnerving. The three missionaries, however, clung to their faith and believed that God would guide and care for them.
New Guineans discovered the lost missionaries but were highly reluctant to welcome or receive them, fearing what would happen if the Japanese found that they had befriended white people. Despite the natives reluctance to help them the missionaries made their way to Siai where, with the help of Father John they made a hideout half a mile away. They hid there for numerous months.
In their hideout the missionaries were completely isolated from communication with the civilized world, and were without any knowledge of what was going on around them. During this time May developed, on the basis of native stories, the impression that the Japanese were half way to Port but were being killed by the thousands and that they were kindly disposed to the natives and had hurt none.
What happened to May and her fellow missionaries between the time of her last letter, written while in hiding from the Japanese, and her death is not entirely clear. However the official reports assert that the two women, who had reached the Dobodura region with the help of a small group of Allied soldiers, were eventually betrayed to the Japanese by the local natives. The women are believed to have been beheaded by the Japanese. Father Benson somehow ended up alone in the bush in the same area. He was found by the Japanese, after much suffering, and was reportedly treated fairly well. It seems the missionaries left their flight from Gona too late.