Benson Gadova - Oral History interview recorded on 3 July 2014 at Kovelo, Northern Province, PNG


Mr Benson Gadova tells the story of his father Gadova Sopa who was a village leader and worked as a carrier for the Australians during World War Two.



Warning: This site contains stories of war. Some of these interviews may include detailed and graphic descriptions of events and experiences that may be disturbing for some individuals.

This is our next interview with Mr Benson Gadova here at Kovelo village on the 3rd of July. We will be going with Benson Gadova, he will be telling the story of Mr Lei Gadova who was also one of the carriers during the war and he also will be telling his stories on the other side of the program. So we hand this privilege to Mr Benson Gadova, you can start with your story. Thank you.
Thank you very much and good morning, the group, especially Dr Jonathan Ritchie and Dr Waiko, thank you for your coming. I think it is the first of this kind. We are very interested thank you for your work.
Thank you for your coming. I'd like to start. My father Mr Gadova Sopa, was a carrier. He was one of the village leaders during the time when the war came. And Mr Kienzle, a former plantation owner down here in Mamba Estate is a good friend of my father's. So when the war broke out, he call my father, told him that the war will be coming this way, and Japanese will be fighting Australia through this gap, they're thinking of going through the Kokoda Gap, they're going to use the gap and come to Isurava. He call my father down to the office in Mamba and he advise him what he is to tell the people what to do during the fighting so he came up to Kovelo [corrects himself] Deniki and tell all the villages to move out of that track, the war is coming, so all went out of the track. My father was with Mr Kienzle because he got the local knowledge about the area so he employ him as a body guard, or something, not body guard but just
Anyway my father during that, he was laying the cables, telephone cables along there before the Australians coming, from Kokoda, he went up to Deniki, while they were there the Japanese take Kokoda. And they were up at Deniki they heard the sound of battle, battle sound, some guns and bombs, and they lay still they were there until when the Japanese overpowered the Australians at Kokoda, surrounded, so some of them escaped there, some were killed, some escaped through at night, went through the Japanese defences and walked across to the airport and met up Mr Sikulu at Koesi village, who escort these people right up as far as the old Salaga Bila village, across to Deniki and hand them over to the Australian soldiers,
those who escaped from the Kokoda while they were trying to defend it. Anyway they fought there and first contact there was at Deniki. Lots of Japanese, Australian soldiers fighting, less than 40 to 50 Australian soldiers were killed at Deniki. Japanese find hard to go up there so they went around the other way, go the mountain gun on this side and fired on Australians at Deniki. So the Australians withdraw from there and went back to the defensive at Isurava battlefield. So my daddy went, he was still laying cable from Deniki all the way to Isurava. While he was at Isurava the Japanese arrived and attacked the Australians. That battle was only there for three or four days, three days I think.
So all the Australians were overpowered by the Japanese there. So from that, my daddy escaped, lots of Australian battalions, or whatever they're called, they save each other and some went away. During that time my father escaped from there. He went home, he went up to Naoro, meet up with my village people and stayed there until the war, the Australians went up to Ioribaiwa and retreated from there.
When they came down to Mt Bellamy, Mr Kienzle decided to send .. party to cut the Japanese line here. So he sends one of the company, battalion or company, followed that Owen Stanley Range line down to Naoro and caught up with the village people there he met my father again. Herbert Kienzle's younger brother caught up my father, then brought him down here. And they went up to Deniki and put a small base there, so straight after, some of the Australian soldiers were based up at Deniki. The Australian came down. The Japanese already came down
Advance towards Buna, Gona.. My father was with Mr Kienzle, he came down here and Kienzle came to Popondetta towards the coastal Buna and Gona. And my daddy has to go back, come back to my .. So he told me some of these stories about what he did during the war.
My daddy didn't actually fight. But if there was a fierce battle at Isurava he should be with the Australian soldiers, maybe, he was given a gun at Deniki. Some of the Australian soldiers killed at Deniki, the rifle was given to my father. They want him to recruit him as PIB or what, just because of the battle at Isurava he escaped and ran away.
My daddy, he didn't fight but he was a good leader at that time. When they meet up at Naoro he came up, was helping the carriers, taking the bomb from Myola, and collecting bombs in all ... and ammunition all those, bringing down here and taking them to Kokoda to Buna, Gona. My daddy was in more rigorous people during that time, didn't actually fight the war but he was some way or the other he helped the Australian soldiers.. so straight after around 1952 when the looking for war criminals my father was involved because was down there with another
police village constable, Mr Sinele, taking those, collecting some war criminals around this area taking them to Higaturu for court, some security down there during 1952.
My daddy at that time my daddy was been awarded for his leadership qualities during that war, he was my daddy from Deniki and a man called Mr Miri Mabouri they were both awarded with a shot gun with the bravery and leadership during the time of war. They were awarded in 1952 with the shot gun.
I think that's all about the war but my daddy has been telling me all these stories which motivate me. So when I was small I thought of joining the army. So as soon as I finishing schooling I joined Papuan New Guinea defence forces, in 1970, and I served the Papua New Guinea Defence Force for 35 years but was retired or retrenched in 2005, 2006 I came home.
During that time I was very, I've seen the Japanese, the Australian government, my people didn't create that war, it was created by the Japanese. So in 1994 I wrote a letter to the Japanese embassy here in Port Moresby. During the war my grandfather and some of my uncles were killed by the Japanese at Deniki. They were.. they caught up with them there.
They came to give some pawpaws and banana. They were thinking that the Australians were still at Deniki, but the next day they came, they came into the wrong hands, the Japanese, the Japanese murdered them, in front of the firing squads, they all shot, 5 people were shot dead by the Japanese.
Two escaped, two on the end of the rope, because they escaped, they tied their hands at the back, so they untied the ropes, and both of them escaped and they shot, one was shot on the belly.
The other one escaped. Five people were killed at Deniki... My uncle as Michael said earlier, my uncle and aunty were murdered at Isurava. They were using my aunty as a sex slave during the war, the Japanese. They took her down to Eora creek, they cut off her neck there. When she was assaulted. For that reason, I wrote in 1994, I wrote the Japanese embassy for them to pay some sort of compensation for my uncles and grandfather and aunties and what response I got from them was that Australian want the war, the Allied forces want the war and they paid your they compensate your grandfathers and fathers already so the Japanese have nothing to pay compensation for in the war.
I'm not happy about that. The Japanese had to compensate those people who were killed. They came to give food, help, they told that the Australians were there so they came to help with banana and pawpaw but they ended up in the wrong hands... I like the Australian government to assist us and pursue more for the Japanese to compensate us. Tell the Japanese, all my villages, these people, didn't invite the Japanese to come and kill my people up at Deniki so I want maybe Australia can help us in pursuing this, Japanese to pay to compensate.
I think that's all and I've got nothing, but I will thank you for you and your team, Dr Waiko, thank you for your team to come and put it on radio and Japanese can know what our feelings for the dead, and why we need some people they were not involved in that war.
Benson, I want to thank you for sharing with us, telling with us the story of your father's involvement. Can I ask you to go back a little bit, to the time when the Japanese invaded us, especially at Kokoda. Where did our people from Kovelo run into, where did they go? Because Japanese landed 21st July 1942 and they came here very very fast, and they invaded Iovi ridge, Iovi mountain, and then came up to Kokoda, and there was a fierce battle here. Where did our community here, our people here ran into?
Thank you very much Dr Waiko. Just before the Australian came in, we got a plane load of Australian soldiers, Japanese came, landed in at Kokoda. Some were at Kokoda defending the air strip and some at Kokoda patrol post and only few walk down towards Popondetta and they caught up with the Japanese at Awala.
So that's where the first contact at Awala. [the first firing was reported at Awala]. The Australians withdrew back to Kokoda and tried to defend Kokoda government station and the airport, so that the plane can bring in supplies but the Japanese, because there were too many, had to over run them. And during that time just before Japanese came here, Mr Kienzle and some of the Australian administrators here in Kokoda told my village people and said they all move out away from road into the mountains here, behind, we have got caves, where the cave is, so my village people move into the Naoro, place called, the old villages, Sarubanaro.
They all went up there and hide up there when the war came. When they came in some of the local people who were with the Japanese, saw the smoke up there at Naoro so they send a patrol up to Naoro and the people were not knowing there was Japanese coming.
So they went and surrounded the village .. leave the woman and children there, got all the mens, took them down [by Japanese] they took them down to Modulu just over there, Deniki is up over there, and these people feared that they would be attacked, that Japanese were going to kill them.
They pretended, they were going to go bring sticks, bringing banana to build a shelter for the Japanese the teaching of the so they would bring that they know that the Japanese so that when they were doing that, they know that the Japanese are going to kill them so all those people ran away. So for this reason, all of them, all the people, my village people, only men and young boys, they all escape and run away. So for this reason, when they go to Sanananda, the people at Deniki, they were all killed, cold blooded. But during that time all my people went into the mountains, they've got two big caves,
All of them.. they used to come down for food, come down to the garden, take food, and run back into the bush again. Couple of times almost, some of the women and my uncle, they were a small boy when their mother was trying to escape.. when the Japanese were coming at Modulu he was trying to run away, he got caught up in the rope and he fell down. My daddy came and snatch him and that's when he escaped..
Benson you mention about the lady who was used by the Japanese as a sex, comfort, and can you say a bit more on that, and who was she, and how she was attacked ..
While at Isurava, my aunty and the lady and her husband they went out to the garden to get the food. The Australian already left that area, it was under Japanese control, so they came down. While they were looking for food, potato and all those things to the hide out there, the Japanese came in, saw them, got the two woman and shot one, and got hold of my aunty. She got .. all over the face so I think probably the Japanese see her face, beautiful face so they took her. Her husband escaped, they shot him but he escaped, jumped into the bush and got away, so they got only that woman and using her for the sex slave and took her from Isurava right down to Eora Creek and what and then she was very weak and there was too many people.
She was raped.
She was raped.
These are the stories, Benson, that we have got to share. War has happened 70 years ago, but we want these kinds of stories to be recorded so that we can also get our younger generation to know. I am glad that actually you have on camera requested the government of Papua New Guinea and government of Australia to take this matter more seriously, and .. hear more about it and actually do something about it.
Yes that's what we want. Thank you.
Benson your stories are so clear and so good. I want to ask you, after the war, after the retreat in 1945, what actually did your father do after the war. Did he continue on doing something?
Straight after the war he was getting ammunition, moving all what and after the war he was appointed village constable. He served as village constable for 13 years. He was what because of the formation of Kokoda Ilimo local government system was formed so my daddy was resigned or retired by the government. But during, after the war he was acting in capacity of village constable. He was a very good leader during that time until .. formation of Ilimo local government come so he was awarded with a certificate of recognition... Still got it there.

Thank you. It's been very interesting hearing the story and the story of your father. And he was clearly a good leader as you said. Between time that the Japanese were defeated and 1945, was still 3 years. So did your father come back and continue working here or did he continue to work for Australians and Americans for the rest of the war?
My father, straight after the war, went down to the beach head. He came back because he was newly married to my mother. So he didn't want to leave this young woman and go, so he stayed back.
How old was your father in 1942 do you think?
He was about, in my estimations, 32, something
He came back, was able to rebuild his life.
Yes, escorting village people and working for the community, as a community leader.
And your own experience. You said you were inspired by your father, you joined the PIR in 1970.. And you told me earlier that you also saw military service yourself. I wondered if you would like to talk a bit about your experience of war, and the experience that you learned from your father about fighting and violent struggle.
The experience I have. My father told me about the war, 1942, and that motivate me, so when I was schooling I was thought of joining the army and fighting, to carry the gun, carry the machine gun and when I left school I didn't think of any other job, I just want to join the army so I went and I joined the army. During my 35 years I was at Digham barracks when the Vanuatu crisis, so I was not able to, only got the people from Headquarters at Murray Barracks centre, send them over to Vanuatu. But when the Bougainville crisis, yes, I was heavily involved. I was on the first, in the first to head to Bougainville, and in 1989 when the crisis start I was up, I went up as section commander leading a section, patrols. Very big experience and this Bougainville crisis sort of what
how will I put it, rebel type ones very hard, because some of us, we are fighting with our own people, with some of us, but as I said as section commander during that time I feel bad to go and shoot my own village people, my own people against .. but because it's a government patrol, we have to go, but we only some of us, we went there with our section. When I came back I was, you know, I use my sometimes we come across people who were very angry, we tried to kill them, I as a section commander I defend myself, because I just before going on to that war, we had some people from United Nations they come and teach us about human rights abuse and all that so as a section commander I do as I was told and I defend my people and against my troops against the – very good experience I have there.
Do you feel that your experience fighting in Bougainville gave you more understanding of what the Australian soldiers, Papua New Guinean soldiers and even the Japanese soldiers must have been going through during the Kokoda campaign and then afterwards.
Bougainville crisis because they were not fully armed, we were fighting this rebel type war, those people were not, but I was thinking what Japanese were fighting Australians they got the weapons, same type of weapons that Australian were using, I thought this very very hard you know, two forces fighting very different from what I experienced at Bougainville.
Benson, we have come to record your story here. Dr Ritchie and his good wife, Catherine, and I just noting down something. Can we ask her to say something, she has a question. Can we ask her to say something, ask you a question?
Benson I was interested in your experience in Bougainville and having to fight against your own people, and thinking back your father having to arrest those local people for war crimes to be executed. That must have been very difficult - did he ever talk about that and was there ever any sense or pressure for him not to do that or did he feel that was the right thing.
Thank you. Mr Kienzle gave orders to don't murder any Australian soldiers during the war, and my father and my people respect the Australian soldiers, but the Japanese because when they came in they try to kill all the village, the Japanese destroyed the garden, and even killed my grandfather and my people up there at Deniki. This made us very angry but we cannot do anything, they were all armed. But from this experience, I think Japanese have to come and say sorry to us, especially to my people up here at Kovelo and Deniki, because what they did was very, they came and took them up there and came and put before the firing squad and murdered them.
So you are basically saying you are not happy because they have not, the letter that you wrote and responded by the Japanese authorities in your view, you consider that is not right. They should have put their government and Australian government to actually, to decide about the issue, particularly with the rape, committed by the soldiers from the imperial forces of Japan, because on the Australian side, on the allied solider side, they were very very careful. Even with the food in the garden, even with the children, with the woman, they were these are they people we have to protect. Whereas our friends from Japan were actually going about doing something which was really not in order with the human right issues nowadays.
That's right. We are not very happy but you know, through my experience in Bougainville, because I as section commander on Bougainville, I have to stop my troops from doing or hitting people where it's not good so I control my troops as section commander. My section if we are going out on patrol and come across some suspects, we put them up, we interrogate them in a way people give us more information from them. So what the Japanese did was the very very hard thing to.. from what my experience and thinking back to my people up here so,
the ones that the Japanese murdered, they need to do something about it, I mean compensate them for that. I wrote to them and the response I get from the Japanese said the allied won the war, and they have compensated these people they didn't my daddy didn't tell me about anything.. So the Japanese did do something I ask the people if they could do something help us and they didn't.
Alright thank you Mr Benson. I just want to continue give you one last question before you leave. What Catherine has just mentioned, about the execution down in Mamba, did your father tell something like the only the Japanese were executed, or some of the local people who also helped Japanese were also executed, and some of the stories about that?
Some of the Australian soldiers during the war, I mean the local people, some of our local people escorted or those who went over the track like .. when the Australian, Japanese, some of the Australians met up with the local people where they came across the local people and .. Isurava, Abuare, Alola, these people took the all of them ran away into the bush and they came across some local people who escorted them and took them back to the Australian lines and some people down here around Kokoda and what Michael has mentioned earlier, went across people and
they took them and the village people they killed them, I don't know what they did to them. For this reason in 1952, they after some investigation by the Australian administration, my father and Mr Simele from villages, as village constable there, they escort took them down, after the interview in Asaga and Sengi, some of those Orokaiva people, Kaina people were identified, and those identified were taken down to what, where they went to some sort of court or something they were found guilty so they execute them.
My daddy didn't mourn them but just told me so after the execution there my daddy and Mr Mure from Abuare were taken up to the stage, and the district commissioner announced to all the people during that time that these two black leaders were brave and do anything, they advised their village people not to murder or do anything to the Australian soldiers during the war, so for that reason my father and Muri from Abuare were given what two shotguns, one for my daddy and one for Mr Muri. So they were awarded for their bravery and leadership during the war, not advising the people not to kill Australian soldiers, and when the first battle was held at Deniki some wounded, my people carry them here, even the very rainy and weather. They still loved and
they carry them all the way to Bisiatabu, a very long way, Australian government must do something about it you know my people, Deniki and take in these people on the stretcher, and now the track is OK but during that time some places were going through the bush, so they had to cut, and carrying the wounded, some were very sick, so through very heavy rain they get the leaves and cover their faces, they were not my village, my grandparents were not compensated for their .. hardship during that time.
Thank you so much Mr Benson Gadova. Nice having the interview with you and speaking with you. Thank you so much.
Thank you very much.

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“Benson Gadova - Oral History interview recorded on 3 July 2014 at Kovelo, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed June 16, 2024,