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


Mr Kevin Mongagi, with his son Collin Mongagi, gives his account of the Japanese landing at Buna Sanananda, tells the story of the killing of Sisters May Hayman and Mavis Parkinson and the evangelist Lucian Tapiedi, and discusses the lasting effects of the war and his hopes for Buna Sanananda today.



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.

[MT] This is an interview with Mr Kevin Kandau Mongagi of Sanananda village. He is around 86 years old as of today. Kevin has 8 children. Since Mr Kevin Mongagi is unable to do his recording interview himself, he has asked his eldest son to do that interview, what he has got on the paper right now. Thank you.
My name is Collin Mongagi, I am the oldest son of Mr Kevin Kandau who is the oldest man in Sanananda and Buna area. I am willing to help, give help to you, some of the histories that has been written on the paper, and he is willing to cooperate to give information.
[VS] And sorry this is a written record that your father has written himself?
Yes, that is right.
[VS] Can you tell me when this was written?
It was written about two years ago, he told me that, you know, that when he comes to a stage where he is now he will not try to recall some of the stories back here. So, he told me to put it on the paper quickly and so that if he forgets it we can still follow up on the paper. I have the paper here, it's already typed and I am willing to, you know, read it out to you.
[VS] Thank you.
I just got to his story, this is how it goes: During the year of 1942, at 3pm in the evening, Japanese plane suddenly appeared in the clouds of Sanananda village and then went towards Buna and tried to bomb the Anglican mission boat called Maclaren King, that was about to sail off for Dogura in the Milne Bay District. Fortunately they missed the boat at the same time the plane flew straight to the Japanese warship out at sea. It was approaching the coastline of Buna and Sanananda area, and when that was happening, we heard a terrible sound coming from the warship. Then we thought back to what our missionaries had told us that Japanese warships will be coming very soon. So we ran back as fast as we could to pack everything and then we moved off into the bushes for safety.
While moving into the bushes for safety, we left one old man with his family behind in the village, that is down at Sanananda village. The old man thought that another tribe was coming to fight with us, when he heard that warship coming up. He thought it was another warring tribe attacking the Sanananda people. So he called for his brothers to help fight the giant that was coming up. He got up and looked very cross and took his fighting gears and started shouting towards the beach to fight the enemies, but he didn't know that it was a warship that was coming. While he was doing that, it was getting dark, so they left the village and walked up the track in the night. They stopped to sleep in the garden houses, but the Sanananda track was near the garden house, so when they made fire and tried to sleep, the Japanese landed at Sanananda beach and followed the track and saw the fire burning.
The Japanese soldiers then surrounded the garden house where the old man was sleeping and waited for the Japanese captain's orders. The captain then walked towards the old man and his family and then understood that they were natives of Sanananda and Buna. The captain then asked them 'where is the Buna government station? We want to see the old man's son'. The old man's son then showed them by pointing to the right side of the beach. The captain then picked up two Japanese soldiers to go with them to see Buna government station. They then went back to Sanananda and then continued to Buna in the night. At the Buna government station there were white people living there. They were no white people around here, so they were interested with the Australian government officers at Buna station.
Upon arriving at Buna government station, they showed that it was empty, they had already escaped. They knew the Japanese are coming up, so all the white men at the station all moved out. And they found out it was empty, so everybody had gone into the bushes for safety. When the Japanese went back with the two men to Sanananda, the same night, then camped there for three days. The Japanese were preparing to walk towards Port Moresby when the two men heard that and understood that the Japanese will be taking them to Port Moresby as well. So, they planned to run away. They both came up with the plan that one of them had to be very sick, whilst the other had to look after the sick one. One of the men who was not sick went to the Japanese guards and told them that his friend was sleeping because he was very sick.
The guards then went and saw the sick man and told his friend to take care of him. The next day the sick man pretend to go outside the bush for toilet and ask his friend to help him by holding his hand to go to the bushes. At the side of the camp instead they ran as fast as they could into the bush and escaped into the jungles. Few seconds later the guard started looking for the both of them. They found out that they had already escaped to the bushes and started firing their guns but it was no good, they had already gone into the jungle. The Japanese forces then started to move up to Sanananda, up the Sanananda track towards Kokoda and then to Port Moresby. On the way to Port Moresby they met Australian forces and they both had a big fight on the Ioribaiva mountain.
The Japanese forces were being pushed back by the Australian forces to Sanananda again. Australians and Japanese forces battled in the bushes and swamps and rivers on the road along the Sanananda road, on its both sides. There was a heavy fighting on this side and on the other side, at this the old Sanananda war track. On the road and also beaches at Sanananda and Buna, there were terrible sounds coming from the bushes like mortar bombs blowing up, firing machine guns, bombs exploding everywhere, every minute during the day and at night. Because all of that affected old men, women, and children one way or the other by causing them to be deaf and also inhaling bad smell from thick black smoke, which also caused other sickness as well. We used to sleep under the huge trees in the bushes under dead logs and also in the grass, thick grasses too.
The foods we ate were bush ferns, tree fruits, bush sagos, pandanas, bandicoots, mouse, possum, mushrooms, bush pigs, and bats, in order to survive in the thick jungle without food. Our gardens were destroyed by Japanese soldiers. We were scattered everywhere, went around seeking for food. In fear of losing our lives, our people were starving, suffocating from badly affected disease. We lost a lot of weight in the bushes because of heavy malaria and diarrhoea that was also caused also by mosquitoes. And also the water was contaminated with dead bodies and we had difficulties to drink water. At nights we had lights that were given by fireflies, insects such as fireflies and also from the moon and the stars. As long as it took from 1942 to 1944, until the war ended.
Another bad thing happened to us during the war period, was the Japanese soldiers raped and attempted to rape some of our women and we couldn't do anything to them, so we had to run away as quickly as possible into the bushes to hide for our safety. We wandered into the bush too long thinking how long the war will finished and saved our lives in the bushes. One day we thought about going to the beach to get fish so that we would eat. We went to the beach and while we were fishing in the river, within minutes American war plane flew above us, and dropped a bomb, and fired machine guns, killing six and injuring four of our people. After the war three of the four that survived died, while one still is alive at Sanananda village. He is a very old man, that is Newman's [Mongagi] father who just died recently.
Lastly to conclude, this is very important about the World War Two history. Everything that has been said and explained is true and can be understood properly to remember and know what happened in Sanananda. The war started from 1942 and ended in 1946, almost five years to finish. On the beach of Sanananda Australians and Japanese forces came face to face and had a vast battle and shared their blood there as well as Fixed Bayonet [Point]. It's said 'Bloody Buna', but it really should have been 'Bloody Sanananda' instead. It has been publicly witnessed that the sea of Sanananda was really red and colorful towards the opening sea. Therefore, let us remind you again that since the World War II ended up till today, there has been no development at Sanananda. Our land has been badly damaged by war relics and also the vegetation was also destroyed by bombs.
We are also now living on top of the war relics and growing cash crops in our food gardens. Also our land is contaminated with remains of dead bodies and today everywhere you go, you will still find skeletons, ammunition, guns, mortar shells, bullet, wrecks. We have suffered too long after the World War II. Sanananda has been one of the historical places but has never been recognised till today. Therefore, I am notifying some of our authorities to understand about the untold story of Sanananda village. I am writing down this history for the world to know what happened at Sanananda during World War II. So, the government of Papua New Guinea as well as Australians, Americans, Japanese, should understand and recognise the untold story of Sanananda from beginning to the end and how we have suffered here in Sanananda. Thank you. That was a little bit of the story that he has written. When the interview is on he can say some of the things that he would like to say, about those hard times he had during the war. Thank you.
[VS] Thank you. Mavis if you would have questions to follow up . English or Tok Ples, whatever .
[MT] In relation to what your son has just read, do you have anything that you want to add on to that? If you want to say anything you can go ahead and say.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] Another thing that he has just thought to say it in his interview now is the missionaries Father James Benson from Gona Mission Station and Sister May Hayman and Sister Mavis Parkinson, he has a story to tell.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The mission sisters, Sister May Hayman and Sister Mavis Parkinson, had an argument with Father James Benson at Gona mission station. They wanted to leave the station, and decided to go, but Bishop Phillip stopped them and said, 'we will not leave. We will remain here at Gona Station'.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The mission sisters decided to leave, so father James Benson took them all the way up to Soputa and he left them there and he returned to his base at Gona Mission Station, leaving the sisters at Soputa.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The sisters walked all the way up to Resurrection [Church] and a man named Bogino raped one of the sisters.
[MT] Okay, after Bogino raped Sister May Hayman, he killed Sister May Hayman. She was buried there, where the cross now stands at Resurrection.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] After Sister Hayman was killed, and buried at Resurrection, Sister Mavis Parkinson continued to Sangara and met up with Father [Henry] Holland and Father Redlich, Vivian, and mission evangelist Lucian Tapiedi.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The Buna patrol officer, Mr Champion, heard about Japanese landing, so he went all the way to Sangara and met these missionaries there.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] He said to these missionaries, he said, 'tomorrow I will take all of you and we will go to Port Moresby'.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] When the patrol officer said that to these missionaries they got up and told him that 'Bishop Philip told us, we are missionaries, we cannot leave. We will die here. So, we will bless you and let you leave for Port Moresby'.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] After saying that, Father Vivian Redlich got up and told the patrol officer, 'my dad and mum asked me to go, but I cannot leave. So, I will have to write a letter for them and give it to you to take the letter to them'.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] So, the next morning, Father Vivian Redlich wrote a letter and gave it to the patrol officer to take with him to give it to his mother and father.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] So, then the patrol officer left. And then the two sisters decided to stay back at Sangara and Father Vivian Redlich and Father Holland,
[KM] Speaking in Ewage . Mavis Parkinson, Mr Goss and his son, Mr Capinston, coffee growers .
[MT] After the patrol officer left, Father Vivian Redlich, Sister Mavis Parkinson, May Hayman, Father Holland, the evangelist Lucien Tapiedi, and Mr Goss, they all walked heading to Oro Bay.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] These missionaries walked all the way to Hanakiro.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] After arriving at Hanakiro, they thought of the mission bank that they left behind at Sangara. So, Father Vivian Redlich got up and said, 'we left the mission bank at Sangara'.
[MT] So, evangelist Lucian Tapiedi said, 'I am a local Papua New Guinea man, so I will go back and get the bank at Sangara'. The rest of you will continue down to Oro Bay. So, evangelist Lucian Tapiedi walked back to Sangara to pick up the mission bank.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] Evangelist Lucian Tapiedi got back to Sangara. He got the key, opened the mission office and picked up the bank. And then he locked the office and then he got the bank and walked back. But as he was walking up to Sangara, there were some local people who already spied and saw him going up to Sangara. So, these two men, the other one was waiting on the road side, and the other was near the river. As Lucian was returning—
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] .one of the men with a dog on the road met with the evangelist Lucian Tapiedi and he asked him where he was coming from, and what was he doing. And he said, 'I went up to Sangara and I am returning'. So, the man got up and said, 'I will take you down to the river and then I'll let you go'.

[MT] There was another man who was also waiting next to the river. Lucian Tapiedi and this other man with the dog they met up with the second man and then both men took Lucian Tapiedi and they walked.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] As it was getting towards evening the missionaries waited for evangelist Lucian Tapiedi, as it was getting towards evening and they said something may have happened to him. So, they decided to walk down to Ango.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] After the missionaries left, evangelist Lucian Tapiedi and these two men, eventually came up to the place that the missionaries were waiting for them and Lucian saw that they had already left.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] And then Lucian went down to the river to get a drink of water, leaving the bank. While he was drinking the water, one of the man got the bank and ran away. After Lucian Tapiedi drank the water and when he turned around and saw the two men running off with the bank.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] When Lucian turned around to look at the two men, he saw that they got all their weapons ready to attack him. So, when he turned around he saw them coming towards him to attack him and they chopped his neck.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] After killing evangelist Lucian Tapiedi they dragged him down the river to a big pool of water. They dragged him down into that pool, and they drowned him there. And they got the bank and ran away.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The missionaries continued their walking down to a place named Benobada. While they were there there were two widows who made a fire.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The missionaries walked down to this place, Benobada, and they found these two widows made fire, and they were sleeping. So, they decided to knock.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] As they were knocking these two ladies woke up, and saw the missionaries and they asked them who they were, and the missionaries said 'we are missionaries, going down to Eroro'.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] So, these two widows got the missionaries in and told them, 'That's alright. Sleep here with us. And next morning we'll help you, take you down, and show you the road, to go'. So they overnighted with the widows.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] They gave them some cooked bananas to eat.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
The next morning these two widows woke up and they woke the missionaries up, and they said that, 'we are going to help you and walk you down to show you the road where to go'.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] So, they helped the missionaries and took them down to join the road there, where the road goes down to Eroro and another goes down to Buna. So, they told them 'follow this road, going down straight. It goes all the way to Eroro. This other one goes down to Buna, don't take this road, because the Japanese are coming'.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The missionaries walked down, but they made a mistake, and instead of going down on that road to Eroro, they took the road to Buna.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The missionaries continued walking. As the day was breaking, they walked down and they confronted Japanese guard riding on the horse coming towards them, and they confronted the Japanese guard
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] So, the guard came towards the missionaries and he stopped them and he questioned them 'who are you?' The missionaries got up and said, 'we are missionaries from the Anglican mission'.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] So the Japanese guard told the missionaries, 'I will walk at the back of all of you'. We will all walk down to Joroba.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] When they reached Joroba, Japanese came. The second guard asked who they were and the first guard who met them said, 'they are missionaries from the Anglican mission'. So he told them to wait so he will go and tell the Japanese commander.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] So, the Japanese commander came and saw these missionaries and then the missionaries told the commander they were missionaries with the Anglican mission. So, he told the guards, 'take these missionaries down to Buna and I will come tomorrow and see them'.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] So, the Japanese guards took the missionaries all the way down to Buna government station, where another Japanese camp was.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The missionaries were taken as prisoners and they were locked there, at Buna government station where the Japanese camp was.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] After one week the commander came down to Buna.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] When the commander came down to Buna government station where the camp was, he talked to all his Japanese soldiers and he said they will discuss what they will do to these missionaries.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The Japanese commander got up and told the missionaries, 'your time has come. So, you are all going to stand in line'.
[KM, CM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] The Japanese commander told the missionaries to line up. They all stood in line, the two priests and the two sisters, and they chopped their necks off. And they came to the two business men, and another business man had his small son with him. So, they came to the two businessmen and they chopped the necks of the two businessmen and left the son, and the son was crying for the father. So the commander got up and told the soldiers, 'don't chop the little boy's neck, but you get him, put him in the bag and take him down to the sea and sink him down in the sea to die'. So, after chopping the necks of the two businessmen, one of the businessman's son—Mr Goss's son—they got him and put him in a 50kg ag, put him in the bag, and they put a heavy stone inside and they tied the bag up and took him down to the sea, and they sank him in the sea with the bag to die.
[CM, KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] Towards Buna village and a place called Aoyo, towards there they sank that little boy in the sea.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] After the killing of these missionaries and the two businessmen, till this day, nobody knows where Japanese buried these missionaries and the two businessmen. That's the end of my story.
[VS] Thank you very much.
[VS] Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to know the story of what happened to the missionaries and the businessmen?
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[MT] He got this story about the missionaries being killed, he got it from a book that was written and the book was picked up by youth from the Agenehambo Anglican mission. He brought it over from Port Morseby. One of his sons is an Anglican priest and at that time he was up at Agenehambo and Kevin and the wife went up to see the son and they were there when he saw that book and he was shown that book with the story about the missionaries how they were killed. So, that's where he got this story from. He has never told anybody until now, he's given the story.
[VS] Part of what we are interested in, in this project is finding out what the war was like for everyday people in this area but also, particularly for women. So, what the war was like for the mothers and grandmothers and young girls. I am wondering if your mother shared with you any of her experiences of what the war was like for her. Or maybe mum [to Kevin Mongagi's wife, Francis Vera, also present at the interview], you might have thoughts to share.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[CM] He is saying that, at the time we didn't know what is war, the mothers did not know what is war all about. They were educated by the missionaries and some of those government officers were telling, war is like this, when war comes you are going to do this. You are going to run away, you are not going to stay a happy life. You will be all over the place. And actually when the war came and they started seeing the action of war, the mothers were scared. They were all scattered. Some of the mothers had to hug the children and run. Some, those ones with lots of children and they couldn't, they missed some of the children, and they don't know, some of the children got lost amongst the crowd, as they were running away. So, at that time, he said, that's really bad, very frightening, and also terrifying. Most of the families lost some of their young kids, some just got lost hanging around in the bush, and then they come around, they bump into them, that's what he is saying. It was very frightening for the mothers.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[CM] He is saying, when war came, there were Japanese soldiers in here, Americans here, Australian here and the village people were here. There was no safety grounds for the village people to move around. There was a lot of machine guns firing and bombs were falling. So, the American and Australian soldiers have to put in there some of their officers to identify the local people and move them out of the area. So, they've been moving some of the village people out of the area, so that they could fight Japanese. They moved all of these people to one of these places here, just along this road in the jungles there, the market place. That's where all these village people gathered there. They left this place clear, so that they could fight. They were all mixed up there. They moved everybody out to that small jungle part there, just beside the road, and they were fighting here.
[CM] At nights they would see Americans' fighter planes and Australians, they were giving signals. So, when they give signal by flashing torch, they come very, very low under the tree tops and they give signals. The village people give them signal back again. If it is a red torch, red torch, so they would know that okay this is the local people here, that's the signal here. They would not touch them. They start firing up this way or firing towards the east or west. So, that's how they would be safe on that, because this place was all covered by fighting. That is what he is saying.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
He is asking that yesterday or something, if you had interviewed Newman [Mongagi], and he didn't mention anything like some of these aunties and uncles were wrongfully . alright . they took them as Japanese soldiers and they fired and shot the aunties and uncles, and they were injured. He is trying to find out if you know about it?
Discussion in Ewage
[CM] His other thing, as an old man now, his concern is that we are planting, growing, and eating on contaminated soil. For sure, every time that we trying to dig potato bed we dig bones out, bombs, and all these. When we trying to burn the bushes here, grenades blowing off. So, his worry is, is the government going to think about we people, especially we Sanananda people and the Buna area. We are living and eating on contaminated ground. And at the time a lot of people, you know, have really problems here. Heavy fighting around here. If I want to make a garden here I have to clean up the bush, I have to get the relics out. There are bottles here, bones here. We had some bones and what not, the Americans came in and they said they want to get some bones and then we are going to test them. Some people are still holding bones, Australians, Americans, and Japanese. So, he is worried about that, you know, is the government going to think about our poor people here living and eating on the soil which is contaminated? Most of our bananas, we plant bananas, they don't grow good sometimes. Taro, something like this, we've sort of noticed this. He is just concerned about that.
[VS] Thank you. It's good to know what the effects of the war have been even till today. Can I ask what you would like to see for your place now. There is some trekking and some tourism. What would you like to see?
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[CM] He is happy on developments like trekking and tourists and all this coming. There is other things that he thinks the government should still help, things like water supply, tanks, like that, for the village people. Here we don't have proper drinking water, so the governments should help with like water tanks, or taps, or these sorts of things. We are staying in these bush materials. It is like that during our great grandfather they were living. Governments should try and change this condition, build our iron houses or cement or timber floors, those are the sorts of things that he would like to see, that should come in that way.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[CM] He is saying, you can see how we are staying. This is how our great grandfathers were staying in this type of bush material houses. Japanese came here, Americans and Australians came here and fight, and we are still living in that type of conditions, he said, which I am not happy. If we have government now, the government should think about the people and build good houses for them, for us, that is what he is saying.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[CM] He is saying also, if the government is making a lot of money, through things like LNG projects and all this, there's a lot of money coming, why the government should turn around and help the people by doing something good for them, building their houses good. We are still staying like our great grandfather was like stone age time. He is not happy about that, he is making the point.
[KM] Speaking in Ewage
[CM] He is saying that war started from here, Buna landing was here in Sanananda, fighting got all the way up to Kokoda, and then back again it ended from here. This place looks a bit historical and bit popular. But, why the government is not thinking about us? We are still living like we were before. Most of his concerns is on that part.
[VS] I understand. Before we conclude, is there anything else that you would like to share or to add to your story, before we finish?
[CM, KM, KM's wife] Discussion in Ewage
[CM] He is just saying that if you want to know some things then you ask him and he is willing to still help. If you want to finish it off, then it depends, he said, it is up to you.
[VS] Mavis do you have more to ask or we can close the recording now?
[MT] He has said everything, so nothing else.
[VS] Okay, I think we can close now. Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us and your thoughts about the war and about your place now. Thank you.

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“Kevin Mongagi - Oral History interview recorded on 13 June 2016 at Sanananda, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed June 22, 2024,