Philip Anian - Oral History interview recorded on 14 June 2017 at Salamaua, Morobe Province, PNG


Philip Anian tells the story of his experiences as a child during WWII.



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.

[Interviewer] Is it okay if I take a film of you? If it’s okay say yes.
Yes, it’s okay.
Hello everyone. I was born in November 17th, 1935. I was seven years old when the war came to Papua New Guinea. I saw the war with my own eyes.
In 1941 the kiap told us to move down the mountains and dig tunnels for hiding because in December, the Japanese will come and destroy us with the bomb. They told our parents in advance, so our parents prepared a hiding place for the war which began on Wednesday January 21st 1942.
Every father, mother, children, brother, sister went into the hole and hid, however I was one of the disobedient children, so I did not, instead I went out fishing. As I was fishing I looked towards the sea horizon and I saw four war planes heading towards me. They came closer and started exchanging gunshot at themselves.
I asked myself what are they firing on the white sand? I was curious so, I went and dug the sand in search of that thing, but I was too late. The plane flew over the long air strip, dropped the bomb which then exploded and caused damage to the airstrip.
These people are crazy. Why are they trying to destroy everything the white people have built, I told myself as I stood at the coast front and watched. After destroying the airstrip, they came to Salamaua town and bombed the government offices and all the houses belonging to white men. Salamaua was the head of Morobe province. Everything was here. We went up to Chinatown and the Japanese bombed us.
After the Japanese were done here they moved to Lae. Meanwhile my parents were searching for me everywhere, but I was still at the beach they couldn’t find me.
When the bombing subsided, the kiaps advised that everyone must have a small stick with them and if the bombing starts again bite the small stick to close their mouth.
In case they might bite off their tongue. When my parents were inside the hole they bit the stick, same as those who were in the bush. Everyone kept biting their sticks when the bombing was going on. One of my close brothers was biting the stick in his mouth where earlier in the morning someone left a stool on it and had kept biting while standing annoyed by its stench, everyone started asking and looking around where it was coming from and they saw that my brother had stool all over his lips.
He removed the stick and ran to the sea to wash his mouth. The Japanese flew to Lae and bombed the place and flew past us. Four of the American navy planes flew were following them and were firing at them. They flew down to a place called Mayama. They shot one Japanese plane to the sea and chased the other three planes away. The Americans came back to their base and the Japanese flew back to their carrier.
And we were still there, my parents were still searching for me until they found me. My bigger brother pulled me up on the table, removed my laplap and beat me as I was sleeping naked. He beat me from the head to the leg and from the leg to the head and I slept and cried and cried until I ran out of voice and I fell.
And my mother carried me pitifully to the beach and washed off my blood. Then she carried me back to where the fire was burning and washed the rear part of my body and my hands while singing and crying for me. After a while she stopped crying when she felt that I was okay and awake.
By then the Japanese had left already. And the Americans were far away from us, while we were suffering from pain. One day an American navy boat came. It was on a Sunday when the sun was up in the sky looking beautiful. Every parent went to the white sand and watch as the American navy boat approached. The boat arrived at the shore and the American soldiers came out.
The American soldiers came to Salamaua and we went with them to their base. While we were in their base they bombed us. We wanted to go to the base in the bush area and they dropped the bombs on us. The entire bombs exploded, except one-time bomb. After the explosion everyone came out of their hiding places thinking that everything was okay when, the time bomb went off, killing three men.
I was with my two sisters from the other village hiding underneath a tree. And I was sitting next to the one who was pregnant. During the explosion she almost gave birth to her first-born baby but fortunately she did not. The bomb explosion cut opened the belly of a young lady from my village plus an old man from another village. Their intestines came out of their belly. They tried to put them back in, but the blood was causing them to come out. They were bleeding excessively as they supported their intestines and walked towards us. On their way the young lady died so I put her on the seat and told my older sister to wait while I went to get the dry banana leaves and cover her up. The baby also died in the lady’s womb. I sat with them and I saw it. I was seven years old walking naked in the bush while my parents were up in the mountain hiding.
They were searching for me but what am I? A tough man or a mental retard? Later I told the two ladies who were okay to wait. As I was sitting I heard two people holding their belly, crying and walking towards us. They walked to the water, fell and died. I walked to them and I saw one of my big brothers from another mother trapped under a tree. What was he doing here when the bomb exploded and sent a tree over him, I asked myself. I stood and looked at him and said, “if I’m a big boy I’ll help you”. It’s your fault, so keep sleeping. What were you looking for in here, spirit? I can’t push this tree off you, so you can walk. Okay I told him I’ll go. I’ll go to the mountain. But then I saw a piece of log, took it and pushed it under the tree that was over my brother and pushed it till it rolled off into the nearby drain and my brother lay properly.
Are your legs okay? I asked. Yes, it’s okay he replied. Okay keep sleeping don’t move. I’ll go to the mountain tell the people and they’ll come down and help you all. I went up to my parents and told them that the bomb killed three of our people and they are lying dead. Please father and mother come and let us go take their body and bury them.
For long distance my parents walked. I took them to where the two bodies were lying. The young lady and an old man. They took them back in a bag, made their coffins and put them in. It was dark now and the people lit the torch and walked ahead while the others carry the three bodies and followed them. And we went down the mountain and buried them in the cemetery. After burial we went back to the village. That was the last bomb the American dropped on us. In the morning the Americans came.
They came in the morning for their DCS around our point and went inside our wild, they were waving at us and throwing money down to us. They compensated us on that same day. Money fell as the leaves of the trees. K100, K50, K20, K10 were all over the ground and if you were to go and shake a shrub money would fall all over it. The fathers, mothers, and the children, have our own bags to fill the money. The parents were very busy collecting money. The bigger the family the larger the amount they collected like 10 bags, the smaller the family the smaller the amount they collected like 7 – 5 bags and we the kids collected our own money.
Now the sea threw up money on to the beach like the leaves of the tree, you would collect by your hand and put it in the bag. We had already filled our bags. In the morning we saw the American soldiers coming to take us. They took us far away. When we got there, we arrived at a place called Boanzin and the American asked what the big bags were. We told them that they were the compensation for the bomb and the leaders of the soldiers told the soldier to collect all the money and pile them up at the base of the coconut tree and they did it and it come up close to the coconuts. Then they brought us down to the new place further down of Morobe. Out of six there were two navy boats one went ahead and the other came at the back and four planes flew over us, all were our guards.
We were half -way and the Japanese came by plane. The cry of the parents in the bush was like music or something. They cried and cried and cried as they were afraid of the Japanese. The soldier gave the men guns and taught them to shoot the Japanese. Along the way the fathers with the guns sat with the navy and were ready. We went to a place and the plane over us shot a Japanese plane and it fell into the sea and the navy boat surrounded the plane and killed the surviving Japanese. Not long afterwards, a navy ship shot another Japanese plane and the plane went into the water and the navy went and sunk the plane. Not long, and the plane over us got another again, it fell, and the navy boat went and step it into the water with the Japanese in it. One of the Japanese planes was okay and got away to his carrier.
And the American dropped us off and went to their base. I think I can come this far and if I leave out something my colleagues will come and finish it. I can come this far.
[Interviewer] OK, ah sir, I have another question for you. During the war did your parents advise you to look for a safe place to hide? Or did they educate you about how to live with these foreigners (white men)? And if you could remember any job you were engaged in with the white people that you can tell us about?
Father told me: now, we will go into the caves under the mountain, and you don’t go anywhere, but early in the morning I prepared my fishing spear, while the other hunting/fishing gears were already prepared the previous evening. Then I decided that when the sun rose early in the morning I would go fishing /hunting and so when the time came I went. When it was morning my father and the people he was with together searched for me, but I was long gone. So, they said let him be. He is a big boy, if he dies or whatever happens to him let it be, so they left me while I was fishing in the sea.
My two sisters, my big brother together with my parents left me. I was behind, then I saw planes, so I left the sea and went back up. Then I recall what my father told me. At this time the war planes would bomb Salamaua. These are Japanese, I must hide. They told me this would happen, but I was disobedient and wanted to go fishing. They beat me, but it was my fault.
My friends will come and tell their side of the story and would add some things which I forgot to tell you.
My name is Philip Anian, I’m from Salamaua and this is my story.

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“Philip Anian - Oral History interview recorded on 14 June 2017 at Salamaua, Morobe Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed June 20, 2024,