Deborah Iagoro - Oral History interview recorded on 20 May 2017 at Tatogosusu, Northern Province, PNG


Mrs Deborah Iagoro tells how her father, an Anglican lay evangelist, continued to serve the Church and his friends during the war.



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.

[VS] Okay so we're recording now, so just introduce yourself when you're ready.
Thank you very much. My name is Deborah Iagoro, came from the family of Tura, Tura family, and got married to the Iagoro family. I went to school, to Holy Name, I finished at grade 9 and then I got married to— before I got married, I just did half a year teaching, and then I got married to Lawrence Iagoro. I have five children, all boys, and I am happy and with all my heart I will tell you the story, what had exactly happened during that time when the war came. Particularly on what my parents did during that time.
The story itself is a very long story, but I won't tell you the whole story. Because I couldn't remember. But ones that I can still remember, the important and interesting part that my parents did. So I will only tell you that part only. My father's name is John Tura. He was a missionary, I mean he is the—one of the church workers in Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea. My mother's name is Molly Mana. They both got married. That time, they didn't have children, and the war came.
[VS] Where were they living when they got married?
They were living in Isivita Parish up at Agenehambo, now Agenehambo St Michael Church.
[VS] Is that where your father comes from? That's his place?
That's his local church.
[ME] Mrs Iagoro, may I come in there. During that time when your father was teacher at Isivita who was the parish priest there, would you know?
Yes, Father Henry Holland was the parish priest who, at Isivita parish, and my father was a teacher evangelist there, working under Father Henry Holland's care. So they both stayed there until when the war came. They were told that they have to leave the place and go away from the church ground. So, what had happened to my parents was that when everybody was running away, my parents did not move quickly, but my father was concerned about the money that belonged to that parish.
So he helped to get that small box of money for the church and got some foodstuffs in the little canteen that they had, and gave them to my mother to put them all in the bilum, the string bag. That string bag was filled with all these items, and she has to carry all this, and both of them ran away.
While they were hiding themselves in the bush, every evening my father have to ring the bell, for any Christians around, hiding in the bush, to come, so that he would have prayer time with them. So, every day, during the war, that was what my father did. He was a very prayerful person, and God-fearing man. So that's what my father did. While both of them were hiding, they had another partner to care for, and that person came from Milne Bay Province.
He came to our place as a missionary, and his name was Vernon Dinerua. Vernon Dinerua was an albino, his body skin was white. So, my father had to take special care on him. So every time when they moved to another place to hide, he'll quickly dig the hole to put him there, and then hide him there, so that the Americans and the Australians won't see him, they might think he's one of the Japanese and they might shoot him.
So everywhere he went to hide themselves, that was what my father did. He will quickly dig the hole and put that person inside, only the wife would stay with them. During that time also, he had to sell those items that my mother was carrying around, and every single toea that he got from selling those items were kept safe in that money box there. So, both of them went around doing that, until when the war ended, and everybody have to come back, the Australians and Americans were coming back.
That time there was a place where all those soldiers came. They were hungry, so they have to use their rifles to knock the coconuts down to have it, to get strength and move on. So my father was brave enough to come out, he came and hid himself and saw who they were. And he told my mother, they are not Japanese, they are our friends. So, we have to come out. But the only thing that they got scared was their friend, would they bring him out too? They asked Vernon Dinerua, and he got scared to come out.
He said, ''believe in the Lord, believe in the Lord so he will keep us safe''. So the wife was crying, they might shoot her husband. So both obeyed my father and they—my father and mother brought those two couple out. And when those soldiers saw Vernon Dinerua, they all got up and held their guns to shoot him. My father raised his hand and stopped them. So their leader came out and asked my father, ''who is this person?''
My father quickly turned around to his friend and said Vernon Dinerua, ''put your cross out'', because he was wearing a cross. So he put his cross out, and he told his wife to come and stand next to him. She wore grass skirt with blouse, looks like meri blouse that we are wearing now. So my father made an action and said, ''this woman is this man's wife and he is not Japanese, he is one of us''. He held his cross and said, and then my father held up bible and said, ''both of us work for the Lord''.
''We are the servants of the Lord''. So they stopped. The leader made action to the soldiers and stopped them. So they all came and shook hands with them, and my mother came with some ripe bananas, oranges, and pawpaw, and gave it to the, gave them to the soldiers. And then they left them, and my father took his friend, and they went back again. That is how my father took care of his friend, even though there was danger time, but he really loved him, and he really want to serve the Lord, so that's how he took his friend, took care of his friend. And all that money he kept, when the war ended, he brought them back.
Every toea that he received from selling those items were all recorded in the book. So he brought his record book and the money and gave them back to Father Henry Holland, and so that's the part that I always think of what my father had done. Thank you very much. That's the short story that I remember, as far as I can remember. Thank you very much.
[VS] Thank you.
[VS] Your big brother is a priest?
Johnsford Tura.
[VS] Following the traditions of your father.
Yes, I'm the third one in the family and he's the second born and he's the priest now.
[VS] And you have continued your own work?
[VS] In the church through the mother's union?
Yes. I'm still a leader of the Mother's Union in the national office.
[VS] And you were the President for a while?
That time when I went to London I was the Diocesan President for Popondetta Diocese then after nine years I became the National President for the Papua New Guinea Mothers Union, within the Anglican Church. That's the time I went to Melbourne, representing Papua New Guinea Mothers Union in the meeting, and I continue to do that job now and I'm the immediate past president for the Mother's Union in the Papua New Guinea at the moment.
[VS] Did your mother tell you much about what it was like for her during the war time when they were hiding in the bush? It must have been very difficult for her.
Yes, one good thing that my mother and father did, they were not tempted to use the food that was, like the biscuit or rice or whatever the people carried but they had to look for their own food, like banana, bananas and wild yams in the bush, and some vegetables that they could find in their old gardens. They lived on that one and they would come and bring them and my mother would, because of the two couple they could not move, the two couple they were very scared to move, so all that work was done by my mother to cook and feed them and care for them. So she could get up, she could cook in the night, not in the day time because they got scared otherwise they make smoke and the plane would come and bomb them. So she would cook in the night. In the daytime they moved from one place to another, sleeping under the caves, not the cave but under the big trees, and next morning they would move to another place. That's what they did. So, she used to cook whatever they found to feed themselves, she could cook in the night only. So in the daytime they just sit and watch the plane going around bombing the places and fighting, until the night time that's the time they have chance to cook and eat.
So what they would cook in the night, they would keep it for the day so she would be able to feed the two friends that they were taking them around. When the war ended, they send them back to their place. One of the places in Milne Bay Province.
[VS] This was all in the area around the parish?
Yes around in our own place, they did not leave the place and go up for Kokoda or anywhere but they were still going around in their own place.
[VS] And you said that your father would call other people in the area at nighttime, so there were lots of small groups?
Yes he knew where they were so he would quickly inform them and they know— Because the father, my father told them the time that they would come together for their prayer time, say ''I'm staying in this place, can you people come and meet me there'', so that's how they had fellowship there. So, he didn't even forget to do his duty, he was still doing his ministry during the war, until war ended and he came back to the station and saw from Isivita he moved down, Bishop David Hand sent him down to Sasembata—
[VS] After the war?
After the war, and that's how he built that church and the school. He cut the bush and told the people to build a school and a church and then the school was built and the church was built, and then after that Bishop David Hand again sent him down to Waseta and he did the same and built the school and the school at Waseta. And Mt Lamington erupted. I was only three months old when Mt Lamington erupted, so everybody when they were moving to Ilimo, that's where we all moved there and the last place that my father built was, built a church and a school was, Gorari Parish now at Kokoda. So my father built three parishes. That's the story of my father he was very faithful, he was prayerful man and god-fearing man like my uncle, her [Margaret's] father, our fathers were all missionaries. So we grew up in the church.
[VS] What a wonderful legacy that your father left.
Oh yes, and all this time I have been thinking how I would come up with this story to be, for people to recognise and know who my father is, and how my father did and what he did. So one time I talk with my brother the priest in Lae, he didn't do it so I got angry with him and God made everything possible for you to come, so now I am happy that I'm telling you the story about my father.
[ME] Now you've let the cat out of the bag!
[Laughs] Of course, of course, yes!
[VS] Well we are very happy to record it and very pleased that you shared it with us.
Okay thank you very much.

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“Deborah Iagoro - Oral History interview recorded on 20 May 2017 at Tatogosusu, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed May 30, 2024,