Simon Basili - Oral History interview recorded on 07 April 2017 at Alotau, Milne Bay Province


Mr Simon Basili tells the story of his grandfather Mr John Wesley Basili who during the war worked as an ANGAU Supervisor.



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 an interview with Simon Basili at Top Town, originally he's from Tubetube Island and this interview is dated on the 7th of April 2017 and he's going to talk to us about his grandfather.
Yes uh my grandfather John Wesley Basili, he's of Greek descent, half-cast people. He was in Samarai and because of the, his fair skin or mix race background they were quickly brought in by the white men to be supervisors. He was a strong man, much bigger than normal size-28 blokes from Samarai, Logeia and elsewhere. He quickly picks up the trade working along Jim Ross who was the Senior Manager with Steamships at that time.
So round about 1941 they began evacuating, late after Pearl Harbour, into early 1942 evacuating all the foreigners to leave and the locals went over to Duabo and all these young men were enlisted to help out as aids. First some were helping the missionaries prior to the evacuation and when the missionaries left they were brought in to help the forces coming in to occupy the grounds.
My grandfather, because of his close relationship with Jim Ross, he was, in February 26 the ANGAU (Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit) came into existence so he was brought in as a Supervisor and also because of his ship right background. So he moved between Samarai and Alotau supervising repair of damaged marine crafts. The closest he got to uh he was working along with many of the RAAF ground crews. They also had boat pilots piloting back and forth bringing in crafts that fell down even aircrafts as well. So he was working closely with them.
And his closes encounter with the battle came when they were repairing the Manunda that sank outside here at Laviam and while he was working the Mitsubishi Japanese planes came back again and bombed the same vessel again. He managed to survive and he didn't get any major injuries. After that in the 1943, he still stayed close with the ANGAU unit helping out where he could, bringing young wantoks outside to help out with the work at when they were turning this into a training military base, the whole bay.
But I didn't really directly talk much with him because most of the times he kept very quiet, he didn't really share but he mentioned the war, the war wouldn't be won if it wasn't for the locals, local people. The locals provided a lot of help, and because they knew English. When Kwato came up here breakaway from LMS and they began teaching vocational skills and those skills, whoever had those skills aided the Allies.
Like Maiogaru, with the women had baking, nursing skills. The men plantation skills, wood work, carpentry and metal works. All these skills, on top of that logistical knowledge about the terrain and background. And herbal knowledge on how to treat wounds with bush herbs. And because of that they could break the barrier with their English and they aided the Allies to win this battle.
And I think many of the Australians should see that Milne Bay itself, it's not like, the battle here, the Battle of Milne Bay itself is different from Kokoda. In that the skills of the Milne Bay people here very much made a dramatic huge impact in the Allied victory.
My grandfather also was a . they were trying to enlist him as well in the PIB in 1943 but he had his family and I think those he worked with and supervised sympathise him and got him to stay. Many of the young boys from Kwato who were aged that time, they even came here and fought, they were given uh this is not documented, they were given arms just the normal Thompson rifles and they were . because they had their experience using guns already when they were looking after the place and they were .. When the mop-up exercise began when the locals in a military sense came in and they helped to push back the Japanese because the Japanese were scattered all over these ranges as soon as their ground commander fell, they went into hiding.
And the Allies didn't want to go in, they were afraid so the Allies would send the locals in and the locals would track them. They could identify their boot prints because of the big toes separated from the rest of the foot. They had boots but not like the normal ones with soles, there was like letter Y. that's how their boots were. The Japanese didn't know this terrain. They ran into all the cane up on the mountains, leeches, wild cassowaries and snakes. What happened was when the mop-up exercise began they deployed two . holding back the more experienced units, the AIF the 18th Division I think 2/9th, 2/10th it's the same battalion as Corporal French lost his life. So these were the more experienced ones. They sent and round up the scattered Japanese and they used the local people many from Waema, many of the Kwato pass outs to go up and thrust them out.
So after the war and in 1943, they brought them together forming the PIB (Papuan Infantry Battalion), these were the ones who were later then sent to Bougainville because the war still waging there and they were never recognized when they came back very traumatised. I've heard and this is second-hand knowledge so I won't be able to say much. I've heard that because they remained there till peace time. When they came back some were mentally affected as because they were killing people. The Kwato creed say do not kill but they were down there butchering people on another man's land.
My grandfather never was formally enlisted he was just an ANGAU Supervisor. But he was on the grounds all the times coming back and forth doing his work.
Oh my grandfather well before the war broke out he had earned his name, his rapport in Samarai because of his Greek heritage plus anything he does he'll be pushed up. If he works in a plantation yes so he was looking after plantation down here at Ahioma. I think later . probably working with George Win's uncle down here at Ahioma pouna and that area. I think so where the desiccated coconut plantation was. And then he left and went back to Samarai and was working with Steamships and they pushed him up because he could also speak various Milne Bay languages. And he had that attitude when he talks everyone, maybe he used some oil I don't know what but he persuaded people, people would listen and respected him.
No, he didn't tell me how the ANGAU treated local people. He didn't formally tell me but I've heard this from my mother but I think it would be better if you interview her. She's around. I'd recommend her for you to interview. She used to be the Tourism Bureau Officer here. So she had firsthand knowledge talking to the Waema people, Wagawaga people, the people up at Lelehoa when she began running Milne Bay War History Tours back in the 1990s. Her name is Jennifer Basili Wesley. Even the veterans that came up here, the delegations that came up here she sat down with them and shared stories. Many of the stories she reads on the internet she disputes because she tells me those are not true, even written by Australians, those are not facts.
As you go around you'll find out from people who know, there are a lot of people who don't forget that you know here in Milne Bay we had the Battle of Milne Bay but out at Misima we had the Battle of the Coral Sea and that was in May 1942. And there's a lot of stories about aircrafts hitting, you know people getting saved and aircrafts getting shot down over the islands by Japanese. They touched those people as well.
Yes we have stories but I'm just thinking, is it right for us to tell it?
Sikana, is this a version from Waema? I heard that this guy from Buna was captured and brought down here as the pilot and he wouldn't know or he may be just pointed in the . you know this is where the conjecture comes out. He wasn't involved on the ground he was only involved in pointing where it was out from the sea. And the story is, it goes that, he saw a hurricane lamp at Wahuhuba and he just said, oh that's the place. There was a dory that left their light on at Wahuhuba. Picture it, its dark and raining, curfew lights off and small prick of light would pull your attention so instead of landing at Rabe, they pulled up to, they came up at Wahuhuba. Like you know, we don't know but I've heard stories that he's from Buna. I've heard stories that he's from Taupota this guy but maybe Buna is more correct because Taupota somebody would have claimed him by now. They invaded the northern coast line, Oro Province coast line in July and .
The story I hear also, he was married to Milne Bay and he was over there doing something and because of his knowledge they loaded him and brought him down. But I think it's a . I don't really believe that he's the first one who actually, was the first locals to die when Japanese realised that he had fooled them because he really never showed them Wahuhuba. He just pointed out, ok this is it. It was raining heavily, that's probably what brought them to land at Wahuhuba. Miscalculated landing. Later they found maps in the Japanese possession of Rabe area quite detailed actually. That's when they hit upon the idea that some of these people with Japanese surnames living in Milne Bay like the Tetus and the Tanakas and the Sigimatas and they got them all and locked them up. Because they were thinking that they were the ones leaking information to the Japanese. But they were the sons and grandchildren of these divers that came from Honshu, Japan and they went and settled in the Torres Strait and they came here. Tanakas, Sigimatas, and Tetu and some others.
My grandfather or my great grandmother I'd say she had more than one husbands. That was the way in those days. It was the ladies. The Basilis, he came up with the sister and his sister got married to a Parascas and they left towards Misima. Not married but ended up, getting involved with a Parascas so he, he was training outside Samarai and he met up with my great grandmother Negwan. After his sister and him were born they wanted to take them overseas but she refused so their father left, Yohana Yashan left and then he remained and his mother met up with a Japanese diver. This was well before the war. From this part, I know that the Japs were also serving because I asked him once if he saw the pearls produced because they dive at probably Anagusa and then come up to Tubetube and dive and he'd leave them for two weeks. They don't see him and then he returns and takes them over to Beuli, Basilaki. He leaves him and the sister with his mum and he leaves and go diving. And he'll go away for two weeks and come back. But according to him, he never got back produce from his dive so we can conclude that he was probably surveying under Japanese CIA type, doing his own reconnaissance. That was twenty years before the war broke out. He was doing his own work by mapping the area, which they (Japanese) could have used. Yeah because I saw that like a photo of that map that they captured from the Japanese. Ground map, all drawn and like which way was Rabe there had the name, you know. So somebody was like here before and feeding them information. Because they code name this operation as RE (RABI). We know that right now.
Because when the recon planes would come over, they would have seen that the airstrip was very close to that bay, the Stringer bay. So they made that as their point of landing, point of reference. The whole operation in Japanese terms was code name RABI. They came here specifically to learn, it's just four kilometres up from Stringer bay. So had they landed there, they would have undoubtly reached the objective and taken the airstrip. I don't know if they would have taken it but they would have shipped them over. The whole Operation was rehearsed in Rabaul; it was rehearsed for two days. For their packages and rations was just to last them for forty-eight hours. On the 25th of August, most of the fleet that was coming down was diverted to go this place uh . they split up, another group was based up at Goodenough, and they would have come up this way to Taupota and their objective was to climb over and resupply them here should anything else fail.
From the Taupota stories, you have to talk to them. They also believe that witchcraft was involved. The Taupota people claimed that their mothers put a black shield of black cloud and the Japanese were confused where the mainland was so that's the whole reason why they went to Goodenough. And while they were out there at Goodenough, the same day they invaded the Spotters were out at Goodenough, spotted them and sent word to Jacksons and Kittyhawks and bombers from Jacksons, and here as well at Gurney and went out to, Strip 1 went out . That's the story of the backup team that was marooned up to Goodenough so whenever may, so that's another reason why the Japanese lost because they didn't have any more supplies, they were just supplied for forty-eight hours. I can't give you like firsthand information mostly but I think you should talk to Jennifer. She spoke directly with them. I'm giving passed down information. But she spoke directly to those involved.
All right, thank you.

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“Simon Basili - Oral History interview recorded on 07 April 2017 at Alotau, Milne Bay Province,” Voices from the War, accessed July 17, 2024,