Claude Gegera Peututu - Oral History interview recorded on 21 May 2014 at Deboin, Northern Province, PNG
Mr Claude Gegera Peututu tells his own story about this experience as a young man being recruited and working as a carrier for the Australians during the Kokoda Campaign. He worked for both the Australians and Americans until the end of the War.
My young generation and all the children of this village must listen to the story I am going to tell this afternoon.
You have not heard my story about the Second World War before. So now open your ears and listen.
We were led by Mr Edgar Turner. He recruited the young men from the banks of the Eia River, Gira River, Mamba River and the coastal villages.
Eric Turner stopped at Totowa Dari Bay and he sent a messenger to bring the young men from Gawora village.
And we all gathered at Totowa Dari.
And those of us who were young men from Yauga and Pubetari were all brought to Gawora village.
And there the village people killed pigs and fowls and prepared food for us to make a feast before we departed.
Next morning we departed from Gawora to Duvira and Mumbututu.
There we went up to the residence of Reverend Father Romney Gill and those of us young men were given the Holy blessing from him.
After the Blessing, we returned to Mumbututu village and slept there. Next day we walked up to the Gira river.
We stayed the night at the Ainsi Village and the Eia river people walked to Nindewari village and there we spent the night.
And those young men from the lower villages including the Bossida clansmen of Gira River came up to join us at Ainsi village.
We all gathered at Nindewari village and crossed the Gira river to the other side.
From there we travelled to Ioma patrol post station.
At Ioma the patrol officer counted all of us and made sure that all the young men were recruited to come there.
From Ioma we walked to Korisata village where we spent the night.
From Korisata we travelled to Urata and there we slept. The next day we walked to Divinokowari village where we spent the night.
And from there we walked to Awara village.
All the wives of the men who were recruited and who followed their husbands to Awara village and there all those women folk were told te return back to their villages and we left them there.
And only the young husbands of the women were left to walk from Awara to Kokoda.
And there at Kokoda we spent one week. The distance between Kokoda and Port Moresby was a long way and therefore we were told to dig sweet potatoes and get other vegetables which were to be carried to our destination, that is why we stayed at Kokoda.
All the food and the vegetables were put into four sack bags. Thats the food that we carried on our shoulders for the journey.
Next day we started to climb the mountains and walked to a place called Isurawa where we spent the night.
From Isurawa we walked to a place called Kagi. From there we met the Australian soldiers who were on their way to Kagi and we all met together.
From Kagi the soldiers marched towards Kokoda and we the carriers travelled towards Hanuabada.
From Kagi we walked to Efogi and from there we travelled to Menari and we slept there.
From Menari we walked to Ioribaiwa mountain ranges where we spent the night.
From Ioribaiwa we walked to reach a place called Uberi.
At Uberi, the Taubada [official] that recruited us wanted to have lunch so we prepared his food and boiled his tea.
After the Taubada [official] drank his tea and ate his lunch, we were walking towards Ilolo and there we were met by the load of trucks and other vehicles which were waiting for us.
These vehicles were sent from Port Moresby to meet us there at Ilolo and at the same time we reached the place where the vehicles were waiting for us.
From Ilolo we were taken to a place called Bisitabu where we arrived with the vehicles.
At Bisitabu, the new recruits were there to be trained as policemen.
There we waited for some more vehicles to arrive which then took us down to a place called Sapphire Creek which was also known as 15 mile where we were unloaded.
There we were told to cut kunai grass and build the roofs of the new houses.
After cutting the kunai grass and we were told that the Japanese had already landed at Buna beach.
The Japanese have already landed at Buna but at 15 mile we were reported to medical doctor who came to our camp.
There in the wide open, the doctor ordered us to take our clothes off and our bodies were naked. The doctor then inspected us to check whether we had hair in our armpits and hair on our genitals.
And then the official also tested and inspected our lower arms and muscles.
And then and there those of us who have strong muscles and well built bodies were separated from those who have weak muscles and bodies.
Those who were deemed fit were sent earlier and those others who were not so fit were allowed to remain at the last camp. We then walked down to Port Moresby harbour where we spent the night.
From the wharf we were loaded into a boat that carried us to Kanusia of Kairuku District.
To Kanusia where there were other old boats near which our boat was anchored and there we spent the night.
We spent the night there and we tried to cook our food but there was no water.
Therefore we mixed our flour with saltwater and boiled it. We were not able to swallow the food because of the salty water.
So we just chewed the food but we could not swallow it because of the salty taste.
Kanusia was the head station of the Kairuku District and the next day we were given steel knives and axes.
These knives were to be used to cut the undergrowth and weed the newly planted rubber trees.
The other young men were given knives. But Beiawa the younger brother of Nathaniel from Kotaure village and I were not issued with knives. While the white men played a game with sticks, our role was to retrieve white balls that looked like turtle eggs and bring them back to where the white men were standing. That was our job for one week.
At Kanusia we were weeding and cleaning the undergrowth of the young rubber trees for a while and then we were sent up to Lolorua rubber plantation.
Not only at Lolorua but also Galusia and Vemauri rubber plantations.
In some of these places that I mentioned, some of the World War 2 carriers ran away from these places.
After they ran away, then there was a shortage of carriers in some of these places like Vemauri, Doa, Galusia. So all of us were told to return to Galusia.
And while we were there do you know the name of the boat that has been bombed at the harbour of Port Moresby? Do you known the name of that boat and is the wreck still there?
And we returned to Port Moresby wharf where some of the big boys including Selwyn, Isaac and Bruce and those other men who I cannot remember were left at the wharf.
Those of us who were not old enough were told to go away. Those of us who were carriers were given a load of big blankets in packets of 10 to carry. Thats how we started as carriers.
At that time men from Hanuabada were also recruited to become carriers. We walked to the Ioribaiwa mountain ranges where we slept.
In the morning all of us were told to line up but a large number of carriers abstained from this order on the grounds that they were sick or ill. How could this big number of carriers claim to be sick? They were not sick at all, they were telling lies and said they had diarrhea.
So the Taubada [official] questioned each and every one of the carriers that turned up that day. The official asked what kind of sickness have you got? Each one all replied that they all had diarrhea.
Therefore the official started to beat them for telling lies. The official asked each one what is your sickness? and when they replied diarrhea, he hit them all.
The official punished these carriers by giving them heavy loads to carry from there to Menari where we slept.
And then to Efogi. There, other Binandere men who reached Efogi during the time when I was at Kanusia. And some Binandere men died there. All the carriers were killed except one man named Anutu who escaped and ran away.
Those Binandere men who went ahead were killed at Efogi by the local people. Meanwhile, I was among the other Binandere men who reached Efogi afterwards. From there we went to Alola where some more Binandere men deserted the camp and ran into the bush.
It is on this occasion when two of Wilfreds uncles, Ananais, Gill and Willie ran away.
They all escaped and there were no Binandere men there when I arrived.
Except there was one man from Bovera village called Bukawa. He got there before us and cried when we arrived.
From Efogi we went to Alola and left a load of cargo there and came back to Efogi then to Alola. Thats how we carried heavy loads between these two camps. While we were carrying cargo back and forth there was a big noise of Bren gun fire not far from us.
That was the Japanese gunfire which reached us in the mountain valleys. And a bigman named Nakada said My clansman, this war has nothing to do with our parents and grandparents, therefore we have nothing to fear because the war is between Japan and Australia and we are caught in the middle. Every Australian will have to be killed before the Japanese will come to kill us.
This is a fight between Australia and Japan. Australia is so strong that the Japanese will not be able to defeat them. Do not abandon the Australians. We will all stand together to fight the Japanese so dont run away.
The enemy reached Alola and passing through it, the Japanese soldiers targeted Efogi as their last defence.
Before they left Alola, they burnt all the houses that contained food and ammunition.
Then all the carriers went and stood behind the Australian soldiers on top of Efogi mountain and the Japanese at the side and bottom of the valley.
At that time we brought cargo and radio communication and laid them all down for the Australians who fired the weapons against the Japanese and they fled in all directions.
The Japanese soldiers then fired back at us. Instead of running to the safety of the Australians, we ran towards the firing range of the Japanese. Kipling Jiregari and I ran and fell into the muddy creek and became stuck in the mud.
While we were stuck in the mud we heard the Japanese firing back and forth. One of our soldiers were shot in the hip and the bullet came out through the groin area.
When the Bren gun had finished firing, we walked from the mud and carried the soldier who had been wounded. We carried him to a spot where they were waiting with stretchers for us to take him away. The official directed us to take him down to Port Moresby. We carried the soldier to Malori where the wounded man died.
There the labourers boss boy, Mr Kienzle said that the body will be buried there and he commanded the carriers to return to the frontline. We did not sleep but returned back to Alola during the night. The Japanese were already targeting that place.
When we arrived at Alola the Taubadas boss boy said pull, down your tents and let us move out of here. Night had already fallen when the boss boy instructed us to carry all of the wounded soldiers as well as the other cargo and move out quickly.
Kipling Jiregari said we do not have our relatives among the wounded and we should not carry these people. Therefore we only carried the cargo of rice, meat, flour and other things.
Then we put rice bags and cases of tin meat on our shoulders. It was hard to see in the dark, so we threw away our heavy cargo into the bushes. I held onto Felix Kindous belt, Kipling Jiregari held onto my belt and Gideon Yondari held onto Kiplings belt to find our way through the darkness. This is how we walked through pitch darkness of the night making our way down the valley.
When we arrived at the camp there was a man from Goaribari island who was in charge of the entire camp. He fed us with food for the night.
From there we walked to a place called Nauro and built a temporary hut to sleep. We found breadfruit and other wild vegetables to eat for the night.
The carriers were just behind the line of soldiers, so when they moved forward they pulled us forward and when they were attacked we also were attacked.
Japanese soldiers moved to the top of the Efogi mountain ranges. Australian soldiers were based at the top of the Menari side of the mountain. These two military forces fired at each other and the Japanese pushed the Australians back. We had to retreat back to the Ioribaiwa mountain ranges.
On top of Ioribaiwa the soldiers and the carriers were forced down the valley towards Moresby. We were caught in between Ioribaiwa on one side and Uberi on the other side, we were in the middle where there was a creek.
I have already told you that on top of the Uberi mountain we carriers have built a tree house where we pulled a Bren gun up to the top of a tree.
There at the top of a tree, we built a platform on which we have set the Bren gun pointing towards the Japanese soldiers.
You see the Japanese were based at the top of Mount Ioribaiwa and we have established a strong platform on top of the Uberi Mountain and the Australian soldiers fired the Bren gun at the Japanese soldiers and in return the Japanese soldiers fired at us.
Thats how the Australian soldiers sprayed their bullets against the Japanese and almost wiped them out.
The Japanese were unable to break through the Australians solid defence. Ioribaiwa was the place that the Japanese forces had to retreat back to Kokoda.
The Japanese retreated back to Buna but there was no way to escape from the allied forces. Following behind the armed forces the carriers came to a place called Goari. The Japanese were being held as prisoners whose hands were tied and bound by ropes. They were pulled by chains lead by two Australian soldiers, one in the front and the other at the back of the line.
That was how we pulled the chain of the tired Japanese soldiers to reach the Kumusi river. At the crossing of the place known as Wairope we stopped for the night but there was nothing to eat for dinner.
The soldiers might have their own rations held in small bags but there was no food for the carriers. Therefore the carriers climbed the dembure trees or towa. We knocked down the bread fruit and made a big fire where we cooked a huge pile of breadfruit for dinner.
The next day planes dropped loads of cargo and food supplies for the American and Australian soldiers and us as well.
And this was how the carriers walked across from one side of the river to the other. We came to a wire bridge and held onto the cables to keep our balance when we walked across it.
It was not easy and the line of soldiers were ordered to cross over the river followed by the carriers. This exercise began in the morning and went well into the night.
The American and Australian soldiers as well as the carriers were all camped on the other side of the river and there we spent the night. Next morning the soldiers and the carriers marched to a place called Sangara where we spent the night.
From Sangara we split into two groups. Some soldiers and carriers took the path to Buna Beach while the other group of soldiers and carriers went down to Sanananda towards Cape Killerton on the beach.
And myself and other carriers and soldiers went down to Kikiri near Gona.
The intentions for these three groups of American and Australian soldiers were given the order to kill the Japanese. My group of soldiers and the carriers camped at a place called Mumburada. But from Buna all the way to Ambasi and Totowa Dari were all occupied by the Japanese soldiers.
The soldiers stood with their rifles and Bren guns ready to fire towards the coastal beaches. At Kikiri the food was prepared for the soldiers and the food were distributed to them.
One day Kipling Jiregari and I were posted to Jimburu. There one man called Cecil Jiimi insisted that we should run away into the bush. But we decided to run away from him. There was a man whose name is John Max Arura of Karude on the Gira river who based at Jimburu.
We did not follow the main track but we took the small pathway into the bush. Other carriers like Boniface and Yana Bembo of Yajiwari joined us and we escaped into the bush.
But Kipling Jiregari and I had a rifle of the wounded soldier in our hands because we wanted to defend ourselves from the Japanese soldiers. From there we went to meet other carriers who joined our team and we ran away into the bush.
Then a soldier from the camp at Jimburu sent a message to the leader of a camp where we arrived and he said that two of the carriers had escaped. But the leader of our camp sent a message back that the two boys did not run away but they had been transferred to this camp.
We the carriers stayed at the Mumuburada. Between Mumuburada and the beach, the bodies of the Japanese soldiers were like heaps of logs washed ashore by the sea and there were so many that it was difficult to count them all.
These dead bodies were from the Japanese who committed suicide by killing each other. One Sunday a soldier was posted as a guard to protect our camp. There were three Japanese who were paddled in a canoe by some villagers towards our camp.
One American soldier shot one Japanese man in the head and the two other Japanese hid behind the canoe. Then the American soldiers fired at them as they went towards the canoe. The Japanese soldiers tried to run away from being killed. But the two Japanese soldiers were unarmed. The American soldiers put their hands into the pockets of the dead Japanese soldiers and searched for weapons and other things while I put my hand into the pocket of the dead soldier and I pulled out a wristwatch.
I wanted to bring this watch to my village and show it to my clansmen but the stupid American soldier snatched the watch from my hand and I was very very angry with him.
The American soldier who was in charge of our camp wanted this hand watch. He demanded I should give the watch to him and I flatly refused but he kept on asking now and then until I got tired and gave it to him. In exchange for that watch, he gave me four tins of cigarettes.
So thats how the story ends as my life as a carrier during the War. Thats how the American and the Australian soldiers wiped out the Japanese soldiers. During the war, displaced village people lived at Ambasi. After the war they crossed the Kumusi and Ope rivers to return home to their villages.
The people cried bitterly when they saw how the war had destroyed their land and environment. Those of us who stayed at Mumubarada were carriers from the territories of Mambare, Kerema, Rigo, Goaribari island, Tufi and Maisin.
This was the way the war ended on the beach and all the American and Australian soldiers including the carriers walked back inland.
After that the carriers were ordered to dig up the dead bodies from the soil in the surrounding areas around Soputa. These were the American and Australian soldiers and our own soldiers including the policemen who dug up the bodies to be brought and buried at Soputa.
There one American soldier and one American commanding officer, brought a big vehicle to the camp. They loaded the carriers and drove them down towards the beach and we wondered whats next? We were told that the carriers were to dig up the bodies of the dead and they were all piled up in the truck to be driven away and buried.
The commanding officer said that the dead are our relatives and therefore do not spit when their stench reaches your noses.
The officer told us to dig up the dead bodies. We carefully picked the bodies up and put them aside for re-burial.
At that time we refused to eat rice, meat, flour because we witnessed the rotten corpses which were covered with blood and wounds from their legs and hands and even the blood poured out from their sides and chests.
The only thing that we chose to feed our bodies was to boil hot water and drink tea with biscuits and then we went to sleep.
The leader of the carriers named John Marx took the blame for our rebellion not to bury the bodies of the dead people.
So John Marx reported to the commanding officer who gave some food for us to cook, eat and wait for the truck to arrive in the camp.
We were at the commanding officers place when he sent the message to the driver of the vehicle which came up to where we were.
We travelled to our camp at Dobuduru. We were told to clear the trees and grass to establish our camp. At that time, we found a flying fox hanging up on the breadfruit tree and John Marx shot it down for our dinner that night.
Another time, we hunted a wild fowl called kokita which was shot down for another meal. Then a third time, John Marx shot a lizard sleeping on a log and a boss boy from Beuwa clan asked for the skin of the lizard but we refused to give it to him.
After that the Beuwa boss boy got angry with us and this time the commanding officer said that the rain fell and the thatched sago leaves were wet, damp and heavy.
Therefore each sheet of sago thatched leaves should be gathered and thrown away. The carriers were slow and lazy in carrying out the order of the officer. Why are you lazy shouted the boss boy at us carriers. A small jeep arrived and the boss boy went and reported to the officer that all the carriers were lazy and are not obeying his orders.
While the officer was waiting, the jeep returned and all the carriers were loaded on and taken to the commanding officers camp.
The boss Taubada [official] ordered the carriers to go to him. Your boss boy reported that you are lazy and are not working as he ordered you to carry out the work. We replied the boss boy does not know the language of the officer. When the American commanding officer gives us orders we carry out his wishes. The commanding officer gave us work to do and we carried it out but the boss boy got angry and accused us of not obeying his orders. Then the commanding officer sacked the boss boy and that was the end of him.
And yet the sacked boss boy turned up the next morning with his beating stick and stood at the head of our line of carriers. The commanding officer snatched away the stick of the hands of the boss boy, threw it away and told him to get out of the line. The name of the commanding officer was Mr Smith and he chose another boss boy who was the brother in law of the man who was from Hula village.
One day the Japanese War plane flew very very low towards us, at Dobuduru. We were told that the war ended and everybody gathered to celebrate the end of the war and this plane flew very low where we were standing. And there were seven cook boys from Gosiagu and the plane dropped a bomb that killed all these cook boys.
Another bomb fell on our side of the camp and destroyed our houses. The third bomb was dropped at the hospital where the sick people were but it did not explode.
The next day those who were killed were buried. So all of us were at Dobuduru where we were ordered to go away to our villages for a two week holiday. After two weeks we returned to Dobuduru. Then we were posted to Keta creek. That was near the Warisota coconut plantation.
At Keta creek we were told to build a platform and pile up all the American and Australia ammunition and other goods to be stored there. After that we were sent to Eroro creek where five American boats were wrecked and we were given the task to collect all everything there.
These war relics were loaded into big ships and returned to the countries that were involved in the War.
After that we returned to our camp and a fight broke out. From Eroro creek we were ordered to go up to Koropata then up to Oive ridge on the way from Buna to Kokoda.
The commanding officer gave an order that all carriers must bring everything given to them and all the tools related to war be brought to him. After that he declared that the World War 2 had ended.
And before I end my story, I want to tell you how much money we were paid for all the hardships, for the pain, the headaches and heartaches towards the efforts of the World War 2, we were paid and I will tell you how much we were compensated. At Wairope we were each paid six pounds which was equal to twelve Kina, thats all. One carrier received twelve pounds which is twenty-four Kina. After that we were ordered to return to our villages.
The Australian commanding officer treated us like empty tins of bully beef and tin fish being thrown into the rubbish bin. And I have nothing to say. I was seventeen years old when I was recruited to join the war carriers between my journey from here at Deboin my village to Hula in Hanuabada and back again. And now I am eighty-nine years old.
A girl by the name of Sovera asked me to visit her in the night. Then I asked the boss boy Nakada if it is in order for me to go and visit the girl but he declined to give me permission. He said dont go. So I asked another carrier by the name of Nicodemus Kove who went to sleep with the girl ..
“Claude Gegera Peututu - Oral History interview recorded on 21 May 2014 at Deboin, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed September 19, 2020, http://pngvoices.deakin.edu.au/items/show/316.