One issue that receives less attention than it deserves concerns the role of the native troops throughout the islands north of Australia who played a crucial role in the defense of their own countries and Australia as well. These native troops included Papuans, Bougainvilleans, Buka and Solomon Islanders, Javanese and Timorese.
While my own service in New Guinea meant that I worked with Papuans, the record of exceptional service of the native troops throughout the islands is well-known to Coastwatchers (and anyone who has read Eric Feldt’s book The Coast Watchers) as well as many other people. I would like to briefly relate some of this contribution here, from a coastwatching perspective.
At a practical level, our trained Papuan allies performed a range of essential tasks. They carried our radio equipment and all of our other supplies, climbed coconut trees to erect the radio aerial, built our thatched accommodation, retrieved our food and other supplies dropped in parachuted ‘storepedos’ by Liberator or Catalina, performed several functions in relation to our daily living such as cooking, washing and guarding us and, more importantly as recorded in Feldt’s book, used their local knowledge and language skills to elicit information, guide and protect us.
As we literally lived with the Native troops in the field, we soon learned to communicate with them using Pidgin English. It is a simple descriptive language. For example, the Lord’s prayer words ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ becomes ‘Poppa belong me e stop on top!’
As should be obvious by now, without our indigenous allies, there would have been NO Coastwatchers! Moreover, as distinct from those wonderful unarmed Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, for example – who assisted, and carried if necessary, any injured Australian soldier down the Kokoda track (never abandoning, even during heavy combat, any known injured soldier who was still alive) and retrieved all supplies and ammunition dropped by parachutes from the C47 Dakotas – our fully trained Papuans were an integral part of the Coastwatchers.
Those I can name include Papuans known to us as Yali, Mas, Buka and Mariba although I can name many others such as Golpak, his son Kaole, Yauwika, Rayman, Ishmael, Makelli and Oras. Some, including Sgt-Major Simogun, are famous and were duly honoured with the British Empire Medal and/or Loyal Services Medallion for their fighting service.
Eric Feldt’s tribute to two Papuans following their particularly heroic effort after the Hollandia fiasco reflected his own high regard for our indigenous comrades generally, as expressed in his book The Coast Watchers (p. 373):
Julius McNicol was later awarded the British Distinguished Service Medal for his services with the Coastwatchers, before and at Hollandia.
It is fitting that the names of the native troops killed in the islands north of Australia appear side-by-side with their fallen Australian comrades on memorials throughout Australia and the Pacific. The names of killed Papuan and Timorese Coastwatchers, for example, appear on this memorial at Tidal River, Victoria in Australia (although not all of their names are visible in this photo).
Because many of our Papuans were fully trained AIB troops armed with Lee Enfield rifles, towards the end they were used as guerrilla fighters and were provided with more lethal weapons to ambush and kill Japanese troops. In this manner, over 200 Japanese troops were attacked and killed by the coast watching party on the north coast of New Britain.
In return for their expert and indispensable efforts in support of the Allied cause, our Papuan troops received a weekly issue of twist tobacco.
I exchanged several letters with my indigenous comrades later in, and then after, the war. I did not keep copies of my own letters but Sobbygogey’s letter of 8 January 1945 and Ishmael’s letters of 29 November 1945 and 6 June 1946 are reproduced below. The first letter is in Pidgin English, the latter two in English.