Robert Michael Banaga - Oral History interview recorded on 24 May 2014 at Beama, Northern Province, PNG
Mr Robert Michael Banaga tells the story of his grandfather Augustine Angaro Simbiri who was a member of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) and was involved with the first PIB action of the War, at Awala on 23 July, 1942.
Interview number 3, Beama village, Popondetta, Northern Province, Papua New Guinea on 24 May 2014.
Tell us who you are, and something about yourself, your age, your village.
Robert Michael Banaga, [Notu] November 8, 1948 [Notu]
My grandfather's name was Augustine Angaro Simbiri [?] who was born in Busiga village in 1917. He grew up and received an education at the rural Anglican mission school. He became a soldier with the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) when recruited by resident magistrate in Buna government station in May 1940. The PIB was formed on June 1 1940, when the first sixty recruits were obtained from Papua police constabulary. He was one of the forty Orokaivan men who walked across Kokoda Trail from Kokoda to Port Moresby to join the PIB on June 10, 1940. The training lasted for three months.
After training PIB soldiers took over the round-the-clock guarding at twenty-four strategy points around Port Moresby from the Royal Papuan Constabulary. PIB began to expand in 1941 with the recruitment of sixty-two Orokaivan men from Northern Province which enabled it to form B Company under Captain Stanfield. In August 1941, 107 men from Western District were recruited to form C Company. In December 1941 Captain Stanfield was recruited, seconded to PIB base headquarters to work on the supply line along Bulldog track and Lieutenant Allan Hooper was then appointed officer commanding B Company.
He came to Papua New Guinea when Japanese invaded and occupied Rabaul in January 1942. In February 1942, Japanese planes made hundred air raids on Port Moresby. Their attack forced PIB to send a platoon of A Company under the command of Captain Harold Jones [?] to conduct patrol of the west line of Northern District from Buna to Waria River and watch for signs of Japanese movements and report back to Port Moresby. In June 1942 another group made up of thirty men from B Company led by Lieutenant Arthur Smith left from Port Moresby to Kokoda to patrol Ambasi coast.
The third group of seventy-five men from B Company under the command of Lieutenant Allan Hooper also left Port Moresby for Kokoda to patrol Buna/Kokoda road. PIB headquarters with C Company under CO PIB Major Wiliam Watson also left Port Moresby and walked to Kokoda to patrol Kokoda area. The group split into these patrol groups. First group of twenty-two men led by Hooper was sent to patrol Gereina, Ioma and Mambare area. Second group of fifty-two men led by Lieutenant William Watson patrolled Buna/Oro Bay area. Third group of thirty men led by Lieutenant Arthur Smith patrolled Ambasi area. PIB headquarters with twenty-three under Major Watson remained in Kokoda-Awala area between June 24 and July 20 1942.
My grandfather was with Major Watson. But he went the Japanese landed at Gona, Sanananda and Buna, on July 21 1942, and began to march towards Kokoda. Watsons's group was camping at rubber plantation. On July 22 1942, Major Watson received reports of the Japanese landing at Gona. Sanananda and Buna so he sent a patrol to Sangara to investigate if the Japanese had advanced and found that the Japanese were now camping at Sangara plantation. The patrol returned to Awala and to brief Major Watson.
This brief enabled Watson to make arrangement to set up defensive position to hold the Japanese advance. Just before midday of July 23 1942 Watson selected Lieutenant John Chalk to lead the strong PIB party of thirty-six Papuans and three Australians to take up defensive position to stop the Japanese at Awala. Benjamin Moide, Amakai Gohiro, Endoga Gohiro and my grandfather were in this party to meet the Japanese for the first in the modern war. Then Watson issued a first military order to the group to stand firm and strong and stop the Japanese. Watson also told the men to fight the enemy and to defend the land of the Papuan people.
After giving this order Watson and his PIB headquarters and C Company moved out of Awala to walk back to Kumusi River to take up the defensive position together with Australian soldiers from 39th Battalion. Chalk's party was only armed with one Thompson submarine gun, thirty-nine rifles and four pistols. It would be no match for Japanese weapons of high and heavy fire. Chalk told the native soldiers not to be afraid, but to be strong and stand together to fight the enemy. About 4 o'clock pm, on the afternoon of 23 July 1942, Chalk with three other Australian officers and thirty-five Papuan soldiers made a first stand at the Kokoda Trail campaigning against the strong Japanese advancing force.
When the Japanese soldiers walked into the ambush Chalk ordered the men to fire. It was historic and momentous order, the first in the history of PIB to attack the enemy. The first burst of fire caught the Japanese completely by surprise, and they were confused, but there was Japanese - but true to their training, Japanese recovered and returned fire with the heavy barrage of machine gun and mortar shells into PIB position. The first lasted for only about fifteen minutes. In fact it was the first baptism of fire.
According to Maclaren Hiari's research, PIB soldiers claimed the first forty-three Japanese at the beginning of war in the Papua New Guinea. PIB soldiers failed to contain the enemy. Papuan soldiers fled and disappeared into the jungle like green shadows. Some of these men made their way through the bush to join up with Watson, forced at Kumusi River. While some PIB men with my grandfather were given the task of patrolling Mambare/Waria area by walking to Ioma government station. The purpose of the task was to monitor Japanese movements and report to ANGAU headquarters, to air attacks and bombing of Japanese positions and movements.
These PIB Patrols in their work found a Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles party led by Lieutenant Mick Chin [?] which escaped from Salamaua after the Japanese landed there and reported it to Port Moresby. An aircraft was arranged and the NGVR party was flown out from Garaina in Waria to Port Moresby. PIB patrols also rescued survivors of three planes which had been shot down in the area fighting and arrangements were made and were flown to Port Moresby. From the Waria PIB soldiers moved to Salamaua area to join a combined Australia government effort to drive the Japanese out.
My grandfather and his friends acted as scouts, guides and patrol units for the white soldiers who were ignorant of the terrain and conditions they were to encounter. Before PIB soldiers could begin the move up the coast the Japanese positions and strength throughout the area had to be assessed. Small patrols went out. My grandfather and his friends were wearing local people's dress. My grandfather and his friends bravely volunteered to trek one of the carrier lines used by the Japanese to transport supplies from Salamaua to Mitung [?].
On the officer's order, my grandfather and some of his friends took off their uniforms, let their hair and whiskers grow, carried net bags used by local men and chewed betel nuts. They joined a Japanese carrier line without difficulties and were taken to Salamaua itself. There they were able to obtain details of Japanese fortification, gun locations, and dispositions that were of vital importance. In order to maintain control over the carriers it was normal Japanese practice to post a guard with each group of ten. At one stage one soldier named Dengari feared that he was going to be arrested because he had PIB uniform.
There was a definite sunburn line around his arms. Then a Japanese captain noticed this. The captain came up to Dengari and examined him slowly. Dengari realised he had been spotted and when an opportunity came he slipped away. Dengari made his way to Buso where he reported finding to Captain Hitchcock. One of the patrol PIB soldiers disguised in local dress moved into Cape Dinga area where they worked for Japanese and secretly observed their positions. Another did similar work on Lasonga Island in Lokamu [?].
This patrol provided a great deal of available intelligence. With the PIB assistance Australia and America cleared away the strongholds, boats of the Japanese and killed many Japanese in Salamaua area. From Salamaua, PIB officers were flown to Port Moresby for rest, and to carry out other duties. As well as for training at Bisitabu training depot near Sogeri. From Port Moresby, PIB soldiers were assist to work with Australian and American troops to capture Finschhafen and south Bonga. PIB soldiers arrived in boats to land at Scarlet Beach.
Some five thousand Japanese troops were in Finschhafen area. Scarlet Beach was strongly defended by the Japanese, so PIB soldiers landed on other beach and were attacked by the Japanese. Commander of CB, of PIB Captain Arthur Lieutenant [?] was hit badly and fell into water. He was taken ashore, but died. My grandfather and other PIB soldiers together with Australian and America fought the Japanese and completely wiped out most of the five thousand Japanese in Finschhafen area. During this battle my grandfather was shot by a Japanese soldier, and was badly wounded. He managed to move forward and completed his Japanese with his rifle guard.
My grandfather was flown from Finschhafen to Lae for medical treatment, and several days later again flew to Dobuduru where he was cared for six months. He was sent to Port Moresby on May 18 '45. PIB soldiers from A, B, C and D Companies sailed from Port Moresby to Torokina in Bougainville on ship called Canberra. A Company was attached to the 26th Australian Infantry Battalion in the Bonis Peninsula. B Company went to the central sector supporting 7th and 27th battalion. C Company went to Torokina area in the south and D company was attached to the 15th battalion, southern sector of the Buin road.
My grandfather and his friends fought for four months in Bougainville. By this time the war had come to the end. ANGAU and Australian army then assist PIB soldiers including my grandfather and took the Japanese prisoners at war at Buin in south Bougainville, until the exchange of prisoners of war between the Allied forces and the Japanese were completed. After completion of the prisoners of war assessment, PIB soldiers including my grandfather and Australian troops were shipped to Oro Bay and later discharged from PIB there. Thank you, that's the end of the story.
“Robert Michael Banaga - Oral History interview recorded on 24 May 2014 at Beama, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed September 23, 2023, https://pngvoices.deakin.edu.au/items/show/283.