Mavis Manuda Tongia - Oral History interview recorded on 25 May 2014 at Popondetta, Northern Province, PNG


Mrs Mavis Manuda Tongia tells the story of her father Redmond Lasibari Manuda who was a Medical Orderly during the War. Details of the Higaturu hangings are given.



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 interview is recorded on the 25th of May in Popondetta. Interview number 1. We have Mrs Mavis Manuda Tongai, she will be talking about her medical orderly dad, Mr Redmond Manuda’s story.

My name is Mavis Manuda Tongia, the oldest daughter of late Redmond Lasibari Manuda. I am asked to give a brief history of my late father who was one of those medical orderlies worked during the World War Two in the Northern District. The story he told:
I, Redmond Lasibari Manuda was born at Sirirai [?] Killerton village in the Northern District on July 29, 1929.
I went to school in 1936 when my parents enrolled me at Gona Anglican Mission Primary School where I spent first three years in preparatory classes and the next four years doing grades one to four. My teacher in the preparatory classes was Mavis Ita and the grade one and four teachers were Miss Mavis Parkinson and George Ambo, who was then the Anglican Archbishop of Papua New Guinea, he retired in December 1989. I was doing grade three when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on December 7 1941, and seven months later began landing its troops at Gona on 4.45 pm on July 21 1942.
The children returned to their villages when the school closed the classes. At 3pm I walked back to Killerton village where the people were surprised to see the six large Japanese boats approaching the shore. Early the Church Councillor with Gona Anglican church and the Killerton villagers Mr Thompson Iagoba told the people that the Japanese had already captured Rabaul and Kavieng in January 1942 and may land its troops in the Northern and the Milne Bay District any time. Mr Iagoba told the people to evacuate their village and go into hiding when they see the Japanese coming ashore. So when the village people saw the Japanese boats approaching the shore close to the nearby reef they ran into the bush, except four people, Redmond Manuda, Warrington Iaruso, Thompson Iagoba and Tendo Arura who stayed back to observe whether the boats would land troops ashore or not.
While the boats were closer to the reef six Australian planes flew over the area, and began dropping bombs on the Japanese boats. The Japanese retaliated back at the planes by opening fire with their machine guns. When we saw this action we got frightened and quietly disappeared into the sago swamps to join the rest of the villagers where we remained in the hiding for two weeks. While we were still hiding in the bush the Japanese who landed at our shore not only destroyed the Gona Anglican Mission School but also the number of villages including the Killerton village. Within two weeks after landing at Gona the Japanese quickly advanced along the Kokoda road to Kokoda in order to walk across the Kokoda Trail to Port Moresby.
My people then walked out from their hiding places to Bakubari village where they stayed with the Ambasi people until the Australian troops forced the Japanese to retreat back to the coastal area at Gona, Sanananda and Buna, in November 1942. While the Australians were crushing and pushing the Japanese from Gona towards their strongholds at Sanananda and Buna, the ANGAU officer, Lieutenant Barney Davis, travelled to Bakubari village, and told the people that the Australians and the Americans were winning the battles along the Kokoda Trail, Kokoda, Oivi, Gorari, Wairopi and Gona against the Japanese. Lieutenant Davis told the people to support the Australian and American military forces by both giving any information about Japanese presence in the Ambasi area and by volunteering to join the labour line and help the Allied forces to maintain the law and order and the education of the local people. He took census of the people to return to their villages. The people came back and built a new village while the old village was occupied by the Australian soldiers.
On November 6 1942, Lieutenant Davis recruited Tendo Arura, Reginald Koroda and myself at Ambasi, and brought us to Dobuduru base camp where the Assistant Resident Magistrate for Ioma and ANGAU officer Lieutenant Geoff McKenna told them that they were too young to work as carriers, however Lieutenant McKenna assigned three of us to work at Dobuduru hospital. Several days later Lieutenant McKenna arranged with the ANGAU medical assistant at Higaturu hospital, Warrant Officer A N Mathews, for Reginald Paroda and myself to transfer to Higaturu, leaving Tendo Arura to work at Higaturu hospital.
We reported to Warrant Officer Matthews on December 6 1942, and commenced medical duties at Higaturu hospital. I was transferred to Wairopi labour camp in July 1943 to help attend to the medical needs of the carriers and labour force while working at Ilimo, Gorari, Oivi, Kokoda and the Kokoda Trail for three months. After three months I was transferred with carriers to Ioma where we stayed there until the end of December 1943. I was then transferred to Higaturu hospital where I only stayed for one week but the medical officer Captain Geoffrey Vernon asked me to return to Ioma. When I returned to Ioma I spent one week there and then walked to the Papuan Waria where I remained at Morobe patrol post for six weeks. While I was staying at Morobe patrol post, Captain Vernon called from Dobuduru hospital and requested me to return to Higaturu hospital.
Captain Vernon asked me to take one week leave and go home so I went on leave. On return from leave to work at Higaturu hospital I walked to Wairopi and Kokoda, and then along the Kokoda Trail for ten days before arriving in Port Moresby. While in Port Moresby I attended the Gemo Medical Training School from September 1944 to October 1945 until I returned to Higaturu by boat. I was working at Higaturu hospital until February 1947 when I was sent to Port Moresby to attend Idubada Medical Training School. I graduated in December 1947, and was posted to Buna to help set up the health centre there. I was there when the eruption of Mount Lamington tool place on January 21 1951 killing 4,000 people including 35 Europeans.
Following the eruption I moved on to Popondetta to help other medical staff to look after the people who were burned by the hot ashes and lava. I spent nine months in Popondetta before moving back to Saiho, and with the cooperation and support of the local people the bush was cleared and the Saiho hospital was built over a period of three months from October to December 1951. I was at Saiho hospital until July 1968 when the Australian administration decided to shift the facilities and the medical staff to the nearby newly built Popondetta hospital. I worked at Popondetta hospital until 1982 when I suffered from a heart stroke and underwent an operation.
Due to the seriousness of my health I was flown to Port Moresby General Hospital where I again underwent a second operation. Following the operation I was found to be medically unfit to continue carrying out the work so doctors advised me to voluntarily retire from the health services. At the doctor’s advice I retired from the Department of Health in March 1983 and have been living with my family in Popondetta on Siri Street. I am married with four children, two boys and two girls.
I’ll take a break here.
Meanwhile I have good memories of the hangings of Orokaivans at Higaturu by the Australian Army during 1943 to 1944 because I was one of many policemen, medical orderlies, ANGAU officers and thousands of village people who witnessed these ugly and horrifying events. In fact there were many ANGAU officers at Higaturu but I can only recall Major Tom Grahamslaw, Captain W R Humphrey, Warrant Officer Matthews, Lieutenant Jack McKenna, Captain Russell Smith, Warrant Officer John Gordon, Warrant Officer William Gordon, Warrant Officer Harry Bitmead and Captain Claude Champion as some of the officers who witnessed the hangings.
I can also recall the names of ten medical orderlies, James Serute, Tendo Aru, Arura Sisire, Paminus Kaimbo, Paulus Buna, Pakau Tinga, Paul Serere, Sosapa of Andeba village, Rufus of Sombo Hohorita village, Timeus Gasi of Higaturu village and Simeon Tohane who helped the medical officers to examine the executed Orokaivans before the bodies were released and offered to the mourning families for burials. Timeus Gasi, Susapa and Rufus were killed during the eruption of Mount Lamington.
I can also recall some of the names of the more hundred policemen Homega Esoro of Sairope village, Onderari of Divina Kovari village, Saul Garandi of Ue village, Tufi, Leslie Potari of Buna village, Cyprian Temboro of Gona, Matoro and David Ipumi both of Beama village, Sora from Togaho, Engia of Ope, Benjamin of Ufa, of Sairope village, Sebastian Goro of Sanananda village, Sanupa of Urio village and Sergeant Periwa from Waria who had been rostered to keep order and dispel any thoughts of prisoners escaping and to prevent any violence which may erupt due to the execution of Orokaivans.
These policemen stood at the front of the scaffold facing the people with fixed bayonet. I witnessed the execution of Embogi Agena and four companions on July 5 1943, on the branch of a bread fruit tree which served as a makeshift gallows. Each one of them was given opportunity to speak to the large group of people. Embogi Agena who was the last to be hanged confessed his sins and told the people that the government was right in hanging him. He also told the people of him not becoming a Christian and appealed to his people to ask the Anglican mission to move the work of God.
Major Grahamslaw had been the senior officer for the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit in Northern District when the Japanese landed at Buna. He was a good and kind officer who always had a good relationship with the local people, and the people liked him so much. The people accepted that Major Grahamslaw was carrying out his duties as ordered by the Australian army but we felt sorry for our dead wantoks. Major Grahamslaw would address the people including the medical orderlies and the policemen from platform. He would read out the names of the people to be hanged and their wrongdoings. Major Grahamslaw would address the people including the medical orderlies and the policemen from the platform.
He would read out the names of the people to be hanged and their wrongdoings before giving each one of them the chance to speak. Most of them told the crowd of their wrongdoings and indicated they were prepared to die. After the condemned prisoners finished making their speeches to the crowd, Major Grahamslaw spoke to them before asking Bill Gordon to perform his task which was to invite the prisoners to come forward to the trap door. The lever of the trap door was pulled and the men went through the trap door and broke their necks. We observed all the activities of the hangings of these prisoners, including the loosening of the noose from around the dead bodies by the policeman after the medical officer examined and declared them dead. And the relatives taking away the dead bodies for burial.
The condemned prisoners were between 16 and 20 years except Embogi Agena who was a grown up man, about 40 years old. People were angry with Bill Gordon for hanging the Orokaivans but they did not show it out because they always regarded Europeans of high authority and got frightened of them. Again the people accept the fact that Bill Gordon was only carrying out his duties as directed by the Australian army. The policemen and medical orderlies were very frightened at watching the hanging which normally lasted a full day from 8 am to 4 pm.
The hanging disturbed the feelings of Orokaivan people in the Northern District and they stopped assisting the Australian army and the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit of reporting people who collaborated with the Japanese to betray the American and Australian personnel for arresting and bringing them to court. Following this execution of Embogi Agena and four other companions I was told the Anglican Bishop of Papua, Bishop Phillip Strong made strong representation to the General Officer Commanding the New Guinea Force, General Edmund Herring, to make all efforts to stop another execution of five Orokaivans, two Binandere boys, and three Buna boys. The Buna boys were then
sentenced to ten years with hard labour while five years were given to the Binandere boys but they were killed during the eruption of Mount Lamington. Lieutenant McKenna, Captain Humphries and Colonel Sydney Elliot-Smith were good officers like Major Grahamslaw who knew the traditions of the people and had good relationship. Most of the English speeches made during the hangings at Higaturu were done by the ANGAU officers, while interpreters Bohure of Barisari village and Goriba of Togaho village interpreted in Motu and local languages. I also witnessed the hanging of fifteen Orokaivans on September 6 1943, Parere Okari of Popohambo Ohita village on March 18 1944 and six Kokoda boys on August 19 1944. The condemned Kokoda boys were young, possibly under 20 years old and I felt sorry at seeing them hanged.
I saw many Orokaivans hanged and the number could be between 40 and 60. The executions are a grim experience which I will never forget. It will remain with me until I die. Though I am now telling you, my daughter, the story which happened 46 years ago. I observed the whipping, caning and the flogging of Papua New Guineans, especially Orokaivans at Higaturu hospital, Ongohambo and the Wairopi labour camps during 1943 to 44 when I worked as one of the medical orderlies for the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit attending to the medical needs of the thousands of labourers and carriers.
At Higaturu I observed the carriers being given whipping of between six to fifteen strokes on the backsides by ANGAU officers for either failing to obey orders, for carrying out the assigned tasks quickly. Due to this hard whipping the carriers fainted and dropped unconscious to the ground but were ordered by the ANGAU officers to stand up and be whipped again until their buttocks swelled up with blood dripping down.
After the whippings the carriers were sent to the hospital for treatment. My other nine medical friends also had the same feelings and attended this wound with great care and attention. It was another hangings of our people and another episode in our society. It was a common scene every day at the hospital for medical orderlies who were treating the deep wounds inflicted by the punishment. At Ongohambo and Wairopi labour camps the scene was frightening but we had to carry out our tasks with regrets for our fellow Ambo.
In some cases we cried for our people because most of them had deep buttock wounds, bleeding heavily, before we treated them while they were still in agony, some even crying. I was also shown the cruel photographs that were taken. The whipping of the carriers was carried out by both the ANGAU and Australian army. Finally according to the ANGAU records at total of 955 Papua New Guinean men and women were recruited and employed as medical orderlies and nurses to look after the native soldiers in the World War Two. Out of this total figure of 955, 31 were women who worked as nurses and laundry girls. This left a figure of 924 who were men.
OK, one of the medical orderlies who worked in the Northern District was Redmond Manuda of Gona and this is history I am telling. This story was recorded in my diary and I have kept it until this time. It’s sad for my father because his work was not recognised and he passed away on 16 April 2014, this year. Thank you.

Mavis are you happy to give your dad’s story?

Though when Mr Hiari called me and told me that I…

Thank you Mavis for coming along. Do you have any other comments to make before we wrap up?

I think I have said a lot. But for my own comment on what I just said here, is this is very, very sad thing that took place during World War Two. And the story was told to me by my father. I feel for the Orokaivan people, those who lost their lives by hanging. Thank you.

Click to show/hide Additional Interview Details

Family Relationships


Mavis Manuda Tongia

Interviewee Gender


Interview Location

Interview Date


Interview Duration


Download Files

Rights Holder

© Deakin University
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike licence




“Mavis Manuda Tongia - Oral History interview recorded on 25 May 2014 at Popondetta, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed June 16, 2024,