John Francis Ihari - Oral History interview recorded on 14 June 2016 at Popondetta, Northern Province, PNG


Mr John Francis Ihari recounts witnessing his father's execution at Higaturu during the Second World 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.

[ME] My name is Margaret Embahe, and we are going to have an interview at Jegarata, Haruro, this is the place called Haruro. And we are going to have an interview with John Francis Ihari. It will cover his background as to how he grew up, leading up to him witnessing the execution of his father, up at Higaturu. John Francis would you like to tell us how you grew up? And where you were born? Thank you.
Thank you, Margaret. Thank you very much. I am starting now, and Doctor, you and Mac [Maclaren Hiari], and then my daughter there, and then my son there, I am very happy to have you all here, and I will give you what my life. My father, my mother's legal husband, his name was Ihari, from Haruro village. My mother comes from Sangara, and she as a very young teenage girl she came and they married together at Haruro village. And then my father at that time he was seeking, looking for a job, and then he went down to Buna. An Australian businessman Mr Prynne was having lots of trade stores everywhere from Buna and up, three, four, and up to Isugahambo. And Mr Prynne had about two girls working for him, including two girls from Sangara side, one from Sangara side, and my mother.
She was a very young girl and they working, and my father also working him for store boy. And my mother is employed to work in the house as a house girl. And then it was going on and then my mother was expecting. Her boss said 'okay, my dear you have to go home and when you, after baby, then you can come back'. So, my mother came to Haruro village, and I was born. I was born inside the village people here, one of the women was looking for something to take the placenta out, but looking for anything and went and looked for a bamboo. My mother's placenta was cut off, and then a big boy coming now, and then I screamed out. Oh, everybody frightened when I scream, ''waaaah''. They screamed and they all said, ''hey this is a white man baby, oh! Mr Ihari, mama Ihari, you are black skin and then your son is white man!'' ''I am very happy'', he said, ''I am very happy, my son, what color is coming, white, blue, green, yellow, whatever, whatever, I still love my baby, I am very happy''.
That was how I was born in Haruro village just up there, at the mission station. So, I was born and that is before the Second World War coming. So, I did not know what my real, the date of my birth, but just because of my third father was an Anglican Archbishop he was thinking okay you baptize your name here, and then John Francis is your name, and then we baptized date of 11 November 1942. You were born here, so we'll stick to that date. And I know in 1942 I was already a baby walking around not crawling, growing up very fast now. And then goes on, during the War what happened, happened, and then my father was a strong man. He was happy with me and with my wife. But the war arrived, Japanese and Australians and Americans for fighting against each other.
This thing going on and the Australians with us, looking after, and the and Japanese is against the Australians and Americans. So my father was, at that time there was a plane crash near our village at that place over there, I forgot its name, it crashed there. Four Australian armies [soldiers] were lucky they didn't die but they all came out. They came out and they were looking for a main way to the road, to somebody if they can help them to see the road to go to Bofu. They were telling them, ''we want to see the Bofu road, so we can go and meet our men coming, our soldiers, either the Americans or the Australians, we want to meet them''. The four people were saying that. So my father he want to help them. So, he joined the team to take these four people from Jegarata to come up and go up that way. That happened, and they were coming up, passing our village, Haruro, and then people giving them ripe banana, paw paw, coconut juice, all these kinds of things, to the soldiers.
They walking through and they come to Jonita. Jonita has a big river. The name of the river is Haijo. Haijo is in flood, a very big flood coming down, and these Australian soldiers, they are soldiers, they are fit to cross the flooded river, but there is something happened there. My father and two other people were following them. And they were going down to cross the river, and there is people hiding in the bush, on the little hill in the bush, they were hiding there and they were planning to attack those Australian soldiers. So they did not know. So, two of them already went down and tried to go over, but this river is very, very high, currents is very fast, just like the Girua. It was just like the Girua, that river. They can go over, but what they did, because the first one was got on the back by the spear, flying from the top of the hill in the bush, flying down and got him here. He can't do anything; all he does was to take him down. The second one, same other spear came here and got him on the thigh here, one of the thigh here, either in the left or right, and then he can't move or anything like that so, he fell, and that's true.
That two of them rushing to get through, and one of them only holding a pistol. He turned around and saw the people and that pistol might have only one bullet inside that thing. So he just 'pishhhh' and then some people following them, they rushing back, including my grandfather, Noah, was coming down with father to tell father to come back, because, you will be in trouble, you know, people will spear you, or or anything like that. So you have to do something, so that people in the bush, they were hiding, and throwing spears, nobody knows. But one people they thinking, this one old man, his name is Beara. He was a former policeman man. He was hiding there and he was the one saying, 'come on, these people are—if we trying to help them, you know, and be good to them, the Japanese come and they will finish us all'. That was their based on, they wanted to get rid of the white people away, you know. He was the police man before, that is why he was telling others. And he throws spears, and these two are already going now. The two crossed to the side of the river, and then disappeared.
And then one went to the bush, you know, tropical bush, grass, kunai grass or something, hiding there. One was wounded, too, trying to get to the people. My father and two other people were with him, that one who died with him named Boru. That old man's son, he was there too and he was trying to go but my grandfather stopped my father to come back. 'No, you do not go, you were trying to help them but, something will happen to you'. So, he turned back. Before he turned back he put his hand up, to where the spears were coming, so that people there they saw his black hands, and the spears don't throw where he is, they throw where the white people is. They already got two over on their side. And then they were heading for Hohota village.
I don't know, no one followed them, so, people don't know what happened with them, either they tried very hard and go to Sewa and to Bofu and then they met their troop, or what happened, nobody knows this. After that, late in the next day, Japanese came in, troops. Somebody went and told Japanese here, somebody down at Resurrection [Church, Popondetta] where cement house is, they used to live there. They went down and said, hey—the Americans and Australians are up there now so they come in troops. They went, went, went and I don't know if they found these Australians, two of them, they found in the bush or somewhere around the area. OK, so they came. That time when these two went, some Australians came. They used to be at Buna before, these people, government officers and all this. They came and they found out that how many of them lost and how many of them crossed the river. They said that two crossed the river, and we don't know what happened; two went by the flood, they got the spears on their body and they went.
Okay, ''you people have to go down, follow the river goes down, and find these bodies, and then take it up and bury it''. That is what the commander came. So, they said okay, they told all the people. Lots of policemen, all the Papua New Guinean policemen wore the uniform that falls down, some calicos and some here, and the red, what's the name, across their hips, they went down looking for that men, and some people from the village, like my father, they want to go and help them and get the bodies and come up and bury them. So, they found two bodies were there. They got them and they came up, and said 'oh, yes, we found two bodies, dead already'. So, they brought them up, buried this side. Okay, we will try to, these two disappeared, we will go, or we will try to see people at Hohota, all these villages, we have to see if they are gone or what happened, nobody knows.
Japanese, how far they were now. They came to the river and they turned back. Okay, the next thing what they do is that, police said this, he got the villagers all come together and they said: 'okay, you people have to tell us who are the people spearing from the bush, come in and get these two people'. And they said: 'ah we know, very easy to tell you', they said. Somebody said: 'ah, it's the old man, it's the former policeman. He is the man in charge, he told his boys, men, somebody to kill them'. And then one of the witnesses is this old man's daughter, and that daughter turns around, and his own blooded brother with the same father and mother, he say him to, 'he was following Ihari. Ihari and then the other one, they come in, they come in with the soldiers and they went to the river. I saw them they were trying to get to the other side'. 'That's what I saw', he said, that woman said.
So, they were writing down, everything what they said, all this. Okay. And then they said 'okay, we'll find out that people, they might run away or still hiding in the bush, or what no, they are up there. We go up there and our soldiers [unclear]'. But the old man has already run away now, up this way. And then Boru, they got him, Boru your name is here. And they asked for my father too. 'That man went back with his grandfather to his home, the turnback here, to come to Haruro', that is what they said. Okay, and then the people have to follow up to, my father came here and he said, 'you, you come', he said, 'I'll take you up to when the'—during the war there was a plane come in very low, you know, to the village, that is why my father was thinking of me, you know when they throw the bomb or anything like that. So, he took me up to the bush, and he dig the hole, and we used to stay here.
And then when the plane go back, we come up. That place already, as I said. 'We go back to our place where we used to be during the war. You will be stay there with your second mother'. My father was—okay, sorry, I'll just cut across—my mother was born me and then after a few years she still in Buna, working for this man. And then born a beautiful little girl and in childbirth she died. She died and the baby died. My mother died and my baby died. And I lost my mother. That was before the war but after the war these are happening things to my father now. Okay, so to my understanding I tell the people, when I was a small baby they did not ask me serious questions but when I grew up as about nine, ten and going up, they said, 'oh, your father was a white man, a businessman and you are not from here'. 'Oh, well, I don't care', I said, 'I am from a white man or from my father, or what, but my father, my mother's legal husband is my father, and my father there Mr Prynne', I said, 'I know'.
So, when the Japanese arrived, from Buna and then down to Gona then and is coming up this way. I don't know what happened but what they told me he was walking up, walking through trying to get to Kokoda trail, to go that way, or I don't know what happened with him. I don't know, he joined his mates or he didn't find the Australians coming that way, Kokoda trail. Because the only mention was Kokoda—Australians were coming that way, and then meet Americans, and they wanted to come together to shovel out the Japanese, but nothing happened. So, OK, so my father was a prisoner now, they got him, they put handcuffs on him. He said 'why you people do to me?' They said 'you were with Australians'. He said, 'Yes, I was involved there, I was helping them. I was helping them to cross the river with them, to help them. I wasn't holding ammunitions or anything, nothing. I'm holding ripe banana, coconut, juice, everything, that's all'.
'With me I have nothing on me, but because of the bush people were throwing spears that is why. My father told me not to go with the Australians otherwise they would kill me too. So, I turned back and then my friend here, is him too, turned back'. Okay, 'I don't know what happened but we will see later', they said. He was telling the police, 'we will go to the court and then sit down and I will say what happened, happened'. But he was hoping that what happened, a good court case. But when the time came the court started, oh injustice, injustice. My father was not allowed to defend himself, to tell his story, what really happened? How you met these people? And where they killed, where they died? They didn't say it. The Australians themselves told the witnesses, 'put these men and women in the back of police, because they are witness, key witness'. The man's name is, I remember his name, is Basiko, I saw him in Port Moresby at Koki market.
Somebody saw this man and said, 'you come, you see that tall man there, very tall man, you know, he is Basiko', they said, 'he is the witness, your father's witness, and they hang him'. 'What I do', I said? 'What do you telling me for?' I said, 'Don't talk again with me' I said. 'That's happened long time ago'. That was, I just cut across. Okay, my father, and the other witness is a woman. 'Her name is Embese' they said. Oh it is only truth that people are turning around and they putting their brothers and anybody to, oh, anyway. Okay, I grew up here and I start school here, and then your father [speaking to Margaret] came, my great teacher Philip [Tahima] came first, Robin and Barnabas opened the school here, the Sangara people went, then Didimas and one other fellow went and the last teacher, Margaret's father, Philip Tahima—very, very, very, very good teacher, my word. He taught me, he brought me up. 'Oh dear, my son', he said, 'you are going to be a somebody one day', he said.
And then—she [Margaret Embahe] was a little girl—I was trying to carry her across the river and I hit myself against the stone [after the war, when John Francis lived for a period with Margaret and her family]. And his brother, we are cricketers. Our job, every day, we played cricket. Some people played soccer in the school here. Anyway, so, we were there and then my father said, 'something might happen, they got my name'. So, he told my second wife [mother], Sinahija from Jegarata village, 'you, hold Albert, my son', he said, 'small boy. You look after him. I know they got my name. So, I will not run away because I didn't kill anybody, I was trying to help them, my best, but they got my name, so I will not run away. But I am going to take my family up to the gardening house, and we will sit there'. So he told all the people here, 'if anybody, policemen, or army, whoever, come to call my name, tell them I am in Savari Tumo, my land up there, I am going to go up there'. That's what they said.
When the police team arrived, they came from Higaturu, and they said 'Ihari?' 'Yes, he is from here, he was here, and then he walked up to his garden'. 'We sorry we have to get him'. OK, so the police, only one man went up, one man is married to one of our Sangara girls, a Sergeant from Western Province, the Daru man, Kiwai. 'You other police, you stay', he said, 'I go myself. He is my lakami [Motu: brother-in-law] so I will walk up and if he want to kill me he can kill me, but I will walk up.' So, he walked up, and my step mother was cooking lunch for my father to eat, and me and the little boy, and we were waiting for lunch to eat. Then the policeman was coming up through the garden, and woman turned around and saw. 'Ey, you come here and see, someone is coming, it is different, all together so come, come'. My father was sitting like this, he got up and went down, 'oh it's a policeman', he said.
'Well, I am not going to run away, I am not going to do anything with him. Wait till he come'. And he said, 'oh lakami', talking in the police language, motu. He is coming, coming, coming. And my father shook hand with him, 'oh Ihari, sorry lakami you are tambu but because of the job, so, I stopped other policemen and I came to tell you. They are come here to get you, so I told them to stay, I've come to get you'. So, my father turned around said, 'okay, I am not a sinner', he said, 'I didn't kill anybody. I am a good man, but because of the war, I know something will happen. They will turning around, and then they will get me. So, I will not go quickly with you, you sit down', he said, 'my wife is cooking lunch, we eat together, and then we walk down to the open village'. He said, 'oh, lakami, I don't do that, because I am a policeman, and if I was told to do, I don't do it, I might not do the job they want me to do. So, I go first. I'm your tambu', he said, 'I go back to Jegarata, and I'll wait for you.'
'Yes, you want do that, you trust me', he said. 'You go down there, and I eat my lunch. I'll get my food, and my son and my wife, and we will go down to see your people', that's what he said. That's what he said true, he didn't run away. He may be hanged and he went down. The policeman turned back and came to Jagarata, 'yes, he is coming, they are having lunch, so', he said, 'he is coming after lunch. They are coming'. So, my father finished food, he got the small Albert, and I can walk too with my second mother hold me. 'Okay, we go now, not far, just some kilometer up there'. So, walked that way straight down to Jagarata, and 'oh, the man we waiting, is coming, oh', they clapped hands, good, police was very happy. They were thinking that he might run away and not to come. But, they clapped hand because of he was an honest, true man, he said. 'What we can see him, this man didn't kill anybody. Just something happened', so everybody said that. Okay, so the officer said 'don't put him handcuffs or anything. We just walk together, go to Higaturu'. So, they took him, they went away, and I cried and then.
[VS] Sorry, could you wait one moment please, I'm just going to change the batteries in the recorder.

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“John Francis Ihari - Oral History interview recorded on 14 June 2016 at Popondetta, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed June 22, 2024,