Remembering the war in New Guinea
Interview with Robin Kombeng (Interview)
This interview was conducted by Dr Iwamoto Hiromitsu and transribed/translated by Pastor Jacob Aramans
Robin: My name is Robin Kombeng. I come from Saing village. I was born in 1933. The war that came to this country was said to be the Second World War in which the Japanese arrived here and took control of Kavieng. Sali was far away so Kavieng became the main base for the huge Japanese war and cargo ships. These ships transported the soldiers and their equipment for use in the war.
The soldiers came in huge numbers. They walked up this way. They took control of every thing including all the Europeans, Chinese and other races of people who lived here.
The Japanese didn't do anything bad to us. They came around here looking for places to set up their base. They camped in different groups according to their fields of specialisation. The Lemetais, those who make rules and enforce them during the war lived in one place. The Minsebus settled in another place.
The Minsebus took control of us and so we followed all their laws. We had no more freedom, they took control of our lives and we just followed what ever they said. If they wanted us to do some work we had to do as they say. That was the kind of life people lived when the Japanese conquered New Ireland and other parts of the South Pacific.
All the Australians went back to their country. But we also heard that some of them were beheaded. They didn't send them to their country. I was a small boy when all these things happened. Though I was small, I listened to whatever the grown ups said. They told us that we must listen to the Japanese and follow whatever they want us to do.
We teamed up with our big men and went into the bushes to make gardens. During the day the planes would come and take photographs and surveyed the area. The Japanese would call out saying "harimah" and said that we would have to work in the gardens at nights.
The Japanese later took me and the other young boys out from the garden to the beach and made us become coast watchers. Whenever we sighted any Australian or American ships we would report immediately to them. Also whenever we saw any unfamiliar persons we were to report them to the Japanese.
We continued on like this up until one Sunday morning one of our elderly men came and asked us to paddle on a canoe to Kualongo and Lagarol to collect some food and return. We were asked to go there because some of our people lived there.
We got into the canoe and paddled there. We then loaded the canoe up with some kaukau. In the afternoon we paddled back because at night we had to go back to the beach and do our night duties.
We thought that the Japanese would not see us, but they had already seen us with their binoculars. They set up this thing called Akiragya or Akirag in short and were able to detect anything moving from far off.
The Japanese called us to report to them. As soon as we arrived on the beach they sent a policeman by the name of Ambugru. He was from Morobe province and got married to a woman from Greinongo. This policeman came and took us to stand trial.
Our family came and got the food that we brought. We were brought to Lemakot that night by the policeman to stand trial before the Japanese officer. The officer's name was Bushla Takapin. He questioned us about our mission - where we went and for what purpose and so forth. We in turn told him about our travel. It was purposely to get some food from our relatives living at Aikirag. We were not there as spies and we had not talked to the Australians or the Americans.
He said it was fair for us to go and get food but we shouldn't travel too far out on the sea in case the enemy ships found us. He asked us for our names and we said Robin and Sebby. He then said “your punishment will be five canes”. We received five cane strokes each and then he told Ambugru to take us Gamalawa so that we could sleep there and see the big boss the next morning.
Abigru escorted us to Gamalawa and slept there too. At night many thoughts ran through our minds. When we woke up the next morning we were surprised to see Biung the big boss had arrived. We walked with the policeman and Mr. Biung to the mountain where the radar or the equipment that was set to detect enemies was. We also saw those soldiers who spotted us on the radar.
The soldiers asked for us so Abigru called us to come over. The soldiers started questioning us. We told them that we paddled to the other village to get some food because some of our relatives were living there. He then asked if we had an authorisation letter to travel to other places, which we said we had.
The Japanese then said "we don't want you to go far out into the sea in case American and Australian spies find you and you tell them of our whereabouts”. He said you will receive ten cane strokes each for disobeying instructions. They brought both of us under a tree and whipped us. It was a very painful experience for both of us.
They then brought us to a big screen. On that screen we could see every thing clearly from miles away. That was how they caught both of us paddling to Ualongo. Using this radar like thing the Japanese were able to spot enemy ships and planes from miles away. They were also able to tell the direction they came from and where they were going to.
They gave us a strong warning not to go out to sea or far away again but to stay around or travel close by. They then sent us home. Our parents and other big men were happy and welcomed us home. They were happy because we were not dead.
On Sunday a word came around that a plane would fly over and drop some papers in the next village up on the hill. Shortly afterwards the plane came and papers were dropped all over that area. The same thing was done in other villages in New Ireland. The papers said that the war had ended. Every one was happy.
The war ended and the Japanese were ready to go back to their country. While waiting for their ship Akikisang, a Japanese soldier, usually came and visited us in the village on his bicycle. When he came around we would follow him. Other officers also came and visited us. One commanding officer still carried his sword on his side and rode on a bicycle. They became friendly to us. Whenever they would leave their bicycles in the village we small boys would get on their bicycles and ride on them.
The Japanese soldiers were no longer aggressive like before. Their attitudes had changed. They became so friendly to us. During that short time while waiting to go back they really enjoyed staying with us and they did not go any where else. Finally, a big ship came and they all went back to their country.
There was also a Sikimaster who lived here during the war. He got married to a local woman and they both lived together, but they did not have any kids. After the war the Sikimaster went back to his country and his wife was left behind. This ends my story.
Dr Iwamoto: Thank you very much. That was a very nice story.