Ananais Mongagi - Oral History interview recorded on 13 June 2016 at Sanananda, Northern Province, PNG


Mr Ananais Mongagi tells the story of the fierce fighting at Buna and Sanananda, as told to him by his father.



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] Good morning to you, would you like to introduce yourself, as to who you are, please.
[AM] Thank you. Way back in 1948, the community of Buna and Sanananda been shifted to Doboduru and the Australian soldiers were looking after it. And then my mom was pregnant (me), so in 1948 when the soldiers were moving, they sent community down to the original place like Sanananda and I was born, that year, 1948. And I do not know what happened here, but because we were in the family, five, and my father really loved me so much. So, my father wants me to look after him, so when I got married I stayed with him, I looked after him until they passed away. So, my father, day and night whatever he was saying, I really got it, and I used to give him a question, because I am educated person so what would happen in the future so I was giving a question to my father.
And then he told me everything what happened here at Sanananda, Buna, Guna, till now. My background is, we were the first people to open a high school at Popondetta, we back in 1970's, maybe. I opened a high school at Popondetta High School, and I did my form one, two, three, four there there. Then I applied for the Medical Technologies at the college.
[ME] With the health department?
Yes, with the health department. Today, the college is now called the 'Faculty of Medicine'. But before was Papua Medical College. So, I applied and they accepted me. So, I went to the college, I completed my Pathology Course for three years. And then I was posted to the Popondetta Laboratory there. So, I worked there for five years, when I was single. Then later I got married to my wife. As I said in the beginning that my father loved me so much, so, he wants me to leave the job and then look after him. So, what I did, I left the job.
I should be in the job until I am retrenched, but I loved my father and mother. So, whatever education I earned, I just left it, and I looked after my father and mother until they passed away. I am still in the village. The Department wants me to go back and work but I still rejected. The church wanted me to go to the Dogura health hospital, the Doctor Biggs wanted me to go and look after the pathology there, but I rejected. And then I stayed in the village until now, as we meet to here. And also in the village I got too many prestiges here in the village as Chief, as Law and Order Chairman, the first time in this Province the police established the Law and Order [community policing] here. And then the first Buna and Sanananda was asked to establish the Law and Order here. So, they voted me and then I became the Law and Order Chairman.
And then I signed everything. For that reason police never come to Buna and Sanananda. Later I became village court clerk, and then later, I became a mediator for Provincial [court] and Village Court mediator. So, I used to go around get the case in the urban areas and also in the village. Until now I am old but still the community is respecting me as a elderly chief in this village and also Buna, because in our age all the people have passed away only myself. There's a new generation from here to Buna. The uncle over there is very old, they are all old. So, I was the one looking after, as the elderly chief in this village Sanananda and Buna. And also back in 1970s, one of the war veteran, the first ever, the war veteran to come and visit Buna and Sanananda. They came about eight of them. They came to see the place where they fought. And that team was led by captain Frank Bernie.
They came and met me. I talked to him and then we planned whatever he was trying to tell me. He explained me everything, and then he asked me that, my wife was about to give a birth, so, that captain Frank Bernie asked me that I could name if the boy or a girl is born. If a boy is born they name after him. If a girl, they name after his wife. So, I promised and then he gave me the plaque, 53rd/55th Battalion. Hundred and sixty one members died here at Sanananda. So he gave me that plaque and then they went back. I was expecting what we had discussed and I was very happy that my future would be bright, because what he said was, when the boy is born and they name him after me, then when he grows up to the age of schooling, you allow me to get your son to Australia and then he will complete his education in Australia. Then I will bring him back and then give him to you.
So, I said yes I want that. But, unfortunately he was very old and came and meet me. So, when he went back to Australia not long, about two months, he died. And my connection and my future was cut. And I used to worry about that, but I kept the plaque and it is still with me on the other side. After that when we go you can see that. So, my background is this. Okay , then whatever you say that .
[ME] Thank you. We would also like to know whether your dad, because you said at the first place that you were born after the war came in to Buna and Sanananda, so we understand that your daddy had passed on what he knew about the war. So, if you have any stories that your dad has passed it down to you, we would also want you to tell us.
Okay, thank you Margaret. I will never talk about Buna, because whatever happened at Buna, I cannot tell because my daddy did not tell me about that. But he told me about Sanananda. He told me, from the beginning I'll go to the track, he told me that one pretty day the Japanese fleet was up here on the horizontal sea line, very suddenly. That ship was aiming Buna, and went close to Buna. But just because Buna village was close to the colonial government station, so Japanese did not want to fire the machine guns. Because they can kill the Buna people, so, they started coming back. They came here and that fleet stood here. They got labourers from Rabaul, and Rabaul coconut plantation is a mixture of people. It is some Sepik, some Bougainvilleans, some Tolai. They got them, maybe they got them as prisoners or labour, I cannot tell that.
But they came. So, what they did, Japanese told those people, and then they caught the bamboos. So, they started beating on the fleet deck. So, the Buna people and the Sanananda people run and give space so that they can bomb the colonial government station. So, what they did they beat on the deck. It is a very terrible sound. These two villages had never heard that terrible sound. What they did, they did not get anything. They ran for their children and their wives and went straight to the bush. And then that Japanese fleet went back to Gona, then Americans' bomber strike bombed that one. Then, I am going to their landing now. Japanese landed at Gona, that's not the aim, the aim is, the old colonial road was here at Sanananda. So, their aim is to land at Buna and then follow this track, but they went backwards to Kikiri, Gona and then the American bomber bombed that fleet and then they just spread all over and then start swimming all the way with their small, say maybe their barges. Some died swimming, some with their small boats, and then they went to the shore, Gona shore.
From there, they used to say this landing at Gona, well the full explanation I am giving you. Suddenly the fleet is sank, so they swam for their lives with the landing barges, they went to Kikiri and from there all the way they came to Sanananda. They follow that track and then straight up to the track to Ioribaiwa. And Australians were late and Japanese already landed here, so this place here from Kikiri to Buna it's been covered with the Japanese soldiers. Then Australians came after that, and blocked the Ioribaiwa, some cut all the way to Doboduru and then start fighting with Buna Japanese were there. Some Australians went that way to Gona and then started fighting now, but some brigades like Japanese brigades were following the track and going up straight to Ioribaiwa to get to Port Moresby, but then Australians blocked them at Ioribaiwa and then start pushing back, fighting all the way, all the way to Kokoda. While they were fighting, the Buna, some Australians at Buna, were fighting Japanese at Buna and then pushing all the way back to Sanananda. And some Australians at Kikiri were fighting them and pushing back straight to Sanananda.
Then pushed them back here and then they came and stayed here, from Buna Japanese came here, Australian pushed them, killing them, so they came here. And then the track was still coming. So Australians were fighting, fighting all the way, pushing to Kokoda. And their really heavy fight was at Kokoda and then they pushed back here till Sanananda track, and from there Sanananda track, Australians had heavy loss there with Americans. And one of the American, he was an officer, licensed officer maybe, he is Captain Haigans.
So Australian troops and American troops were finishing with the Japanese at this Haigan's Corner, so tourists used to come and see that spot. They heavy fight there, and then Captain Haigans, the last man to fight, he fought bravely and all the Japs there, been finished. Then some were moving down, so he cleared that place and then at last a bullet got him here, on his knee, so they took him out and they took him to Doboduru. And then all the way fighting coming, coming straight to Sanananda, and Sanananda is the worst fight in the Second World War.
Sananada fought ten days, very, very difficult, because Japanese at Buna came to Sanananda. Australian forced them here. Japanese at Gona, Australians forced them here, and then from the track, forced them here. It was a very nasty fight here for 10 days. And just because Australians were lucky because the Japanese supply has been cut in the Pacific Ocean. I do not know maybe the Americans or the Australians cut that in the Pacific Ocean, so there was no supply here, no ammunition, so Japanese were dying on the road.
[ME] Including the food, the food supply?
Including the food, so from the Haigans to that spot there, they call it Jambio, Japanese big hospital there. So all the Japanese were in that hospital dying. They used to cut their flesh, in the hospital, the mess tins they used to cook it's there in [unclear]. They used to, when people died, another one is alive and a bit strong and cut his brother's flesh and cooked it in the mess tin and they used to eat. So, they fought here and this Sanananda place is not good, it is very swampy. So, Australians faced that consequences, because, mosquito attacked them, same time swamps, muddy, Australians faced these sorts of conditions and same time Japanese. So, they took about ten days to fight here. And then after ten days Australians ripped them out. While they were doing that the Japanese general, he got frightened and flew and went straight to Kumusi River over there, he's been hiding there. So, what he did, he communicated with his American general, General Douglas Macarthur, and also General Morris from Australia.
They were the people leading this fight so the Japanese general contacted these two generals. He asked them that they could allow his soldiers to last fight with the fixed bayonets. So, these two generals, American general and Australian general, said well, we are okay. So, last fight is on that Sanananda beach point there, maybe yesterday you went and saw that Sanananda beach point, that was the last fight there with the fixed bayonets. And the Japanese were dying and hunger and all this, but because the commanders ordered so. They were dying and fighting with the bayonet. They didn't even fight, that's what my father said. They were dying. Australians just going and stabbing and stabbing and then Japanese started to cry and swim to the sea to escape but Australians go after them and swim and stab all the way, and all the Japanese died here at Sanananda is 1600. This Sanananda is the worst fight in the War, that is what Australians described. Their bodies were flown just everywhere and Australians called those people the 'flying balloons'. And this is the worst fight in New Guinea.
So, fight ended here at Sanananda, nowhere, not Gona, not Buna. And also the worst fight here in Sanananda. So, when the bayonet fight was going on and the Japanese commanders knew that war is been won by the Australians so, the commanders jumped in to the speed boat and took off to Rabaul. While their soldiers were crying and calling them to come back and pick them but they were going for their lives. So, Australian soldiers just swim and then started stabbing, stabbing. That Sanananda beach point, it has been covered with the blood, sea is covered, and all the fish, whether crocodiles, or sharks or what type, been came to that shore and then placed themselves at that bodies. And then war is finished at Sanananda, not anywhere, not Bougainville, not nowhere [else]. War finished at Sanananda. So, that is the story I stopped here.
[ME] That is what your daddy told you, when you were with him?
With him. But, as I am telling you that the story finished here. But, I cannot go more further, otherwise I might tell wrong stories. Actually, when tourists come and ask me, I used to tell the story in Newman Mongagi's guesthouse. So, when tourists come they order me to go and tell the stories. So, it is a short and sharp story, and what is exactly happened here at Sanananda. So, it should be called 'Bloody Sanananda'. But why, because the colonial government station was at Buna, and this is part of Buna, so they called it 'Bloody Buna'. But [it was] not bloody Buna, it is bloody Sanananda. But as I am saying, because this Buna Sanananda is one so, they call it Bloody Buna. But, the actual place is Sanananda, Bloody Sanananda. Thank you . Okay, well to my conclusion my name is Ananais Mongagi and I am repeating again as an elderly chief in this village, whatever education, whatever position I had already has ended. Thank you.
[VS] Could I ask you one question? Thank you for sharing your story about what happened here during the war, could you tell me a little bit about your father's experience?
Well, my father, when the Japanese landed here at Buna Sanananda – as I said they didn't touch anything, they went for good. They slept in the bush, not together but each of them go to their own garden and slept there. Then they stayed there for maybe few days and then they started to walking up right up to the place called Kaerada. All the people, my father and everybody, stayed there. They stayed there for three months. My father said that, in our language they said three moon, that is three months. They stayed there while the Australian soldiers were looking for them. Where the Buna is, where the Sananada place, and then Australian soldiers were looking for them until at last they found Buna and Sanananda. So they all shifted them to Doboduru, and they stayed there while they were fighting on there. So, our parents and everybody was there at Doboduru. They stayed there maybe three or four years, and then my mum got pregnant and came down and born me here.
So they all stayed. They didn't even come to Sanananda and Buna, I must tell you the truth, because that is a war. So, if these local people come to see their places at Buna and Sananada, they would be killed. So, people were kept there at Doboduru, and then the fight was going on until the fight, the Australians won the war, but still they kept there one year, because bombs and everything here. After one year, they were trying to move, and then Australians commanders told them everything, 'when you are making garden cut them, clean it, and when you start burning it, burn it and come quickly to the village', that is what they said. And then bombs and guns would blow fast, next they go and then start cleaning but don't burn it and stay there. So, that is what the Buna and Sanananda, and Gona they were doing that until all the bombs and guns been blown out, but not all of them. Still here, still here.
But way back in 1952, Mount Lamington erupted and then very lucky that Mount Lamington erupted and brought the clay soil down here and then covered the things, bombs and guns. And formed a new, so now we are freely cutting. But one by one when they find the bombs or cartridge or guns, take them and then throw them in the sea. But, still here at Buna and Sanananda, there is some at Kikiri too. But, we people here from Buna Sanananda, well our. So, that is a little bit of story about my daddy.
[VS] Did your mum ever tell you stories about the war as well?
Yes, my mummy told the story while my daddy was listening, and then when mummy missed it then daddy used to correct that [laughs]. The same story.
So, she was pregnant with you?
She was pregnant at the Doboduru, and then came down to Sanananda, and born me.
[VS] And you are the eldest?
I am the older. Sorry, I beg your pardon. As I said, we were five brothers. Eldest is Newman Mongagi's father, second is, now you are going to meet him up there [Kevin Mongagi], third is Lomas's father [Lucien Mongagi], fourth is staying at the town, Cademon [Mongagi] and looked after by his children, and the last is me.
[VS] You are the last boy.
Then I looked after my, because as I said that daddy liked me, so I looked after our daddy and mum, till they passed away.
[VS] So, your mum, when she and your father had to run away from here she would have had some small babies with her already at that time or she had?
Oh no, she had a baby like me pregnant there, but all these older uncles, they were big enough and they went.
[VS] They ran too?
They ran with daddy and mummy too.
[VS] Thank you. Margaret, Mavis did you have any other questions? Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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“Ananais Mongagi - Oral History interview recorded on 13 June 2016 at Sanananda, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed July 17, 2024,