Archive number: 177
Date interviewed: 22 May, 2003
Prisoner of the Japanese
You are listening to the interview audio
Tell us a little bit about where you grew up and how you came to the church?
I grew up on the Tweed River, I was born in Woollamia. I am one of eleven children; I have seven brothers older than myself.
When I arrived they said, “We wanted a football team.” Then another brother was born after I was and two more girls. I grew up with all my brothers. My father was a very successful businessman in Woollamia, he had several businesses.
He was a public figure. Then we had this huge 1921 flood which just came up over night and flooded the town, everything was destroyed, destroyed every business he had. I remember as a little child, we were living a little bit out in the country, out of the town I mean. I can remember waking up at night and our beds
were floating around in the water. We all got together and were put on the table and from that day I still see the green cover that was on the table, it was only small. We had to go up onto the roof and stay all night on the roof, to stay safe.
Your entire family?
Except my older brothers, they were out looking after the
cattle and the sheep, and everything else was out being drowned and everything else. I can remember this, the younger ones we had to stay up in the attics. We were warned so strictly that we had to stay off the rafters, if you went on the rafters you would go straight through the roof. I remember that really was a hard thing for us to do. We were there all night and then in the morning a boat came and picked us up and we got
through a window into the boat and went up to my grandmother’s place. She lived right on the riverbank, but she was high and she was not flooded. One of my very earliest things. I grew up with a lot of cousins around me, we were a big family ourselves and we had a lot of cousins and we had our own fun and everything. We had plenty of ground to play on and so forth. I went to school then in Woollamia
until I was about eight, then as I said my father was almost ruined financially after this flood. We moved out onto our farm down at Toombulgam, it’s about half way between Woollamia and Tweed Heads. On the highway we had a farm there. Then my brothers said there was no convent
school there just a state school. They all had to go to the state school. “No” they said, “She’s got to go away to a convent, she has got to board and make a lady out of her.” I believed when I was little that I was always up the street, up the trees.
Was your family a strong religious family?
Yes. I went to board
at a small boarding school at the foot of Mt Warning, I don’t know if you know Mt Warning?
Yes, I know Mt Warning, it’s the first place that catches the sun from the...
Beautiful place. Yuki was the name of the little town, Yucky some of us called it, Yuki was right at the foot of Mt Warning. I finished all my primary schooling at Yuki and I used to come home for holidays. Then for my secondary school I went to Mullumbimby,
do you know Mullumbimby?
I know of it.
I did secondary then. I did a little bit of, with the sisters [nuns] I was with, I did a bit of teaching, training and I went home for about six months or so and I knew I wanted to be a nun and I wanted to go to missions. I stayed home for six months
or so, with my brothers they took me to dances they took me everywhere they could, they were really good. They looked after me, and told me about the pitfalls, what I should do and what I shouldn’t do at dances and so forth. Then I entered. Went to Bowral and that’s where we trained to be nuns.
I stayed there for eighteen months and then came down here to this place, and this is our mother house in Australia. I came here and finished my studies in music and I had one more exam to do in music so I finished it up here and then I was sent out to Mascot, down to Mascot to teach.
After that we turned to Bowral for what we call final vows. You get eighteen months training, to be a nun more or less, we came here for twelve months to finish our studies, whatever we had to do, and you were taught how to teach and all that time you were
free to go home if you wanted to, you weren’t tied down. Then after five years you can make your final vows, so I went back to Bowral to make my final vows. I was sent up to Berryville, it’s up in the North Coast and I taught there and also helped with the Aboriginals, we had an Aboriginal school,
at that time they were segregated and we had our own school, we had a white school and an Aboriginal school, so I helped with both. I was there for two to three years. And from then I got word that. To go to the missions, what we call the missions anywhere outside Australia,
you volunteer to go, you’re not sent, you volunteer to go. I had volunteered so they called me up and said you’re going to Rabaul. The war had already broken out in Europe, at this time. I went up on the McGuire and it was blackout all the way up, we didn’t know where we were called, didn’t know when we were leaving or anything like that, it was just blackout.
They told us half way up that we were being chased by a submarine; I don’t know what it must have been a German submarine. I arrived at Rabaul in the middle of the night. The first impression I got was the smell of sulphur, terrible smell of sulphur from the volcano, but I didn’t know that at the time.
We had two schools in Rabaul. A Chinese school, a few of the sisters taught in the Chinese school. I was sent up, when they built this smaller school for the mixed raced children, both of those were at the wharf to welcome me into Rabaul, the convent in Rabaul. I taught there until the war broke out.
The war in Europe was going on
at this stage?
Did you image there would be a war in the Pacific?
Not at that time.
You felt quite safe going to Rabaul?
Yes. It was an ordeal, I was only a country girl and I had never been on a ship before, not a big ship like that. Going alone up there and being chased by a submarine in the water.
It’s a huge experience. We will go back and talk a bit about your arrival and your first
impressions of Rabaul and we will just move on to what happened then. When did the war come to Rabaul?
What happened then?
An invasion, 1942. It was Boxing Day, it was Boxing Day 1941. I was out at our headquarters, that’s was we call
Vunapope, that’s mission headquarters. It’s like this, this is our head house in Australia, and everything works from here. Up there everything worked from Vunapope our onto the mission stations, I don’t know if you know what I’m talking, a station I suppose but all that little places out and around the islands are called stations, people, priests and nuns are sent out to those stations.
I was in Vunapope, we heard this noise, everyone looked up in the sky and it was reconnaissance plane we couldn’t see what mark was on it, it was strange. It went constantly around, around and around. That was the first inkling that something was happening. Previous to this,
we had quite a number of Japanese in Rabaul, businessmen doing all sorts of things. Quite a number of them were disappearing, someone would say, “Did you see so and so, I haven’t seen him for a while, don’t know where he has gone.” They had a nice teaching half-caste boy; it was a mixed race,
we don’t say half-caste these days we say mixed race, to the Japanese. His father was very good to us. That was the first thing. Then this other happened, they just sort of disappeared. I remember one; Gordon Thomas was the editor of the Rabaul Times this day
and this was printed one day in his paper, he had a little Japanese up in a tree, and an Australia underneath. That was a sort of a suspicious, why? What’s happening? What’s happening? We’re certain it was a Japanese reconnaissance plane
that was over, but we didn’t know at that time, we couldn’t see a sign or anything.
Did you get news of what was going on in the war, at this stage?
Yes, we knew what was happening. Life just went on and I went on teaching. At 11.00 o’clock one morning, two policemen came up to our school and said,
“Pearl Harbor, the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor today and we are at war with the Japanese.” He said “We have to close the school, they have to take the two mixed race Japanese boys with me, they will go with their mother, they would be alright, we will sent them into the bush, they will be alright. Their father is already on the plane to Australia.”
Asem was a good man, we felt sorry. We never heard from him again, we don’t know what happened. The next thing we had to close the school, move out to Vunapope to our headquarters, and because the government ordered all the European women to be evacuated. The Chinese, they didn’t bother about the Chinese, they were just left to their own fate, and we had a lot of
Chinese. The bishop came to us and said, “We have got orders from the government and we have to be evacuated,” he said, “Do you want to go? We will give you a choice? Do you want to go?” And we Australians, we were only nine Australian sisters altogether and our community consisted of mostly of Dutch sisters, we had a couple of German and Irish but most consisted of sisters.
We were the only ones who were given the choice to go, we didn’t want to go, we said, “We will stay.” We thought we were able to carry on our own work, even though whatever happened they would let us go on with our own work. We chose to stay and work this way you have to do Red Cross work, the only condition we were allowed to stay. We got to work and made little
crosses and had the white habits to put on. That was it. Several weeks I was in Vunapope, we were all waiting then we heard about how Japan was moving down and moving down quicker and quicker. We knew that eventually they would come to Rabaul. This is where the administrator,
Harold Page, was an assistant administrator at that time he said, “Send us help, send us help, they’re coming quickly down, no way can we beat them with what we’ve got.” we had old fashioned machine guns, whatever they had was outdated and we didn’t have enough for anybody.
Were there many troops in Rabaul
at this stage?
I’m not sure how many, over a thousand troops there. But that is very small. He said, “You just have to send us help.” We had very few planes, a Hudson I think and a few little As and that’s about it. We had nothing, nothing that could stop an invading army. We knew they were coming, they were coming.
All the European women had gone; the civilians were starting to move out. You’ve heard of the eruptions with the volcanoes that we had there, they were erupting all the time and all this, and I would always rush out to the mission. We always had a civilian population at the mission.
We were opposite the big volcano called Madapit, we were across the harbour from there, almost directly across the harbour. We never got the dust and stuff that would fall over Rabaul all the time, it was falling over, they would always rush out there. They were there; we had a lot of men, civilians.
The night of the invasions, just before and a lot of the men came out, a lot had joined up with the army with different sections of the army and that sort of thing. We had the carpenters and Burn Philps, managers with us, they had rushed to the missions too and they said, “We’re going to
the bush, we’re getting out.” they said, “Here’s the keys, go down and take what you want from our stores, take it.” Then the Japanese started coming over one morning. It was January they started coming over,
no it was December, December they started coming over. Before the war, before any of this happened at all, we were still teaching. A Japanese ship came into Rabaul Harbour and we had Japanese everywhere, taking photos, photos and photos. This was before anything had happened.
This was a Japanese Navy Ship?
Yes. No, I don’t know if it was a navy ship, I just know it was just a ship.
This was before even Pearl Harbor. They came and were taking photos, and photos, and photos, everywhere you looked there were Japanese taking photos. They knew exactly where all our guns were, ammunition, they knew everything. When they came back to bomb, they went straight to Parade Point, which was right on the Peninsula,
and there we had two huge guns that the Australians used to skite [boast] about, no invasion would ever take place in Rabaul because of these two guns. The first thing the Japanese did was they came and knocked them out. We watched that from our place, they came back and bombed and the came back and bombed again.
You must have been very helpless?
We did. There was nothing we could do. The bishop straight away offered our hospital at Vunapope, they were in need of a hospital, we were always in need of a hospital for the Australian wounded, straightaway that day, straight after that bombing they started coming out to us, they bought the Australian soldiers out to our hospital. Bombings, bombings, bombings all the time, at everything,
the aerodrome. The last thing left were two little As and we used to watch these dogfights, they’d come in hundreds, the skies would be full of them. Anyway this day everything was hopeless, we knew it was hopeless, we had nothing, nothing to hold them back. These two little pilots said, “All we have are two little As and we will go up
and attack.” That would be today, ‘I salute you’, their last words, they went up and that’s it. We had nothing then, they were free to walk in.
Did you try and leave Vunapope or did you stay there and wait?
No, we couldn’t leave,
we had to stay there. We said we would stay. We were looking after soldiers, we had to stay for the soldiers, they kept bring them out to our mission. I wasn’t looking after the soldiers, I wasn’t a nurse, I was a teacher. We were cooking; I was in a little hut and cooking for the soldiers with a couple of other sisters. The Australians we were teachers, the Dutch sisters were nurses mostly, the German sisters
they belonged to another congregation they were mostly nurses. They were all looking after the wounded soldiers, we were in this little hut. Then Burn Philps and the other carpenter told us to get their supplies, everyone would rush down and took out everything they could and brought it up to the convent and we got hit everywhere.
This little hut we had, we had a little attic up on top and had a lot of stuff hidden up there, and that was what we used to make up a big pot with, we’d make kind of a stew thing for the soldiers. We had a ladder and we used to run up. We were guarded by this time, the Japanese had landed.
We were guarded and they were going around and around and around our little hut. We had a ladder, we used to put it up and you had to watch, when they went around this way and a quick up and down and put it away. When they could come down and pull the ladder away. It took them a couple of weeks too, the Japanese were funny. They only saw what they saw.
We used to say they had one-track minds. They just came for one thing, if you reverted from that they forgot what they came for. Unfortunately, this day someone didn’t get the ladder back in time, so they went up the ladder and found all this food up there so that was a (UNCLEAR), we could never come back again.
We had to go back and stay in our convent, we couldn’t go down and feed the soldiers, but they were still nursing, they were still allowed to nurse until they were well enough, they could walk and they were taken back into Rabaul this Christmas. We had guards all this time we had Japanese and eventually we saw no more soldiers.
Initially you were just locked up in your
What happened after that?
For eight months we were locked up in our convent. Our convent was a two-storey building; it overlooked the harbour, magnificent view, magnificent. We saw every ship that came into the harbour and we saw everything that was going on. We used to see them coming over bombing
and we’d counted the planes coming over and we counted them going back.
This is where you saw the bombing of the guns from the convent?
Yes. We could see that. The brothers [Catholic teaching order] and fathers [Catholic priests] that were part of the mission, they were in another section, the sisters that belonged to the other congregation didn’t see what we saw because they were back further and we were right on the edge of the harbour and we only had to look across the harbour and we saw
everything. We saw what was going on, we saw the ships being bombed, we are not sure how many got away but we saw them. We were guarded and we couldn’t go outside our fence, we had no fence but it was just a… We had no contact with anybody, not with the missionaries either for one week.
Then after a week the bishop, who was a very marvellous man, he was Polish, a lot of people thought he was German, no he wasn’t, he was Polish born. He was conscripted into the army in the First World War as an Englishman but he was Polish. He was the only one allowed after a week to come over to see us.
Right from the beginning he stood up against the Japanese and he just went down, he said, “I’m in charge of this whole mission, whatever happens I’m responsible and I am the bishop.” They really played up to it you know. He said, “If anything is done, I’m responsible.” So they put him through lots and lots of interrogating stuff and he would say, “I’ve got
Irish people here.” First of all he started off with, “I’ve got old brothers here and surely you’re not going to do anything to them.” Talk, talk and talk then he said, “We’re leaving.” Then he would say, “I’ve got some Irish sisters here, Ireland is not in the war and what are you going to do about them? Surely you’re not going to take them
away?” This was the way that he approached the Japanese. “I’m responsible for all these people and I want to know.” They’d talk again and they would say, “Oh no they would be allowed to stay.” He went through the Dutch the same way, “They’re not at war with you.” they’d say, “Well, they can stay.” “What about the Germans? The Germans were not at war with us really.” “If you’re here you will have to take the same with everybody else.” He said that,
“That’s alright, we stay together, I want them all kept here together and I’m responsible, you do nothing without coming to me.” We found this out that he really stood up to the Japanese; he sort of stood up to them. He really did that and we don’t know really what he went through to save us. He was the spokesman
for the whole of the missionary the whole time.
Do you think without him you would have had a much harder time?
Yes, don’t know what would have happened. They didn’t know what a missionary was, they didn’t know what Christianity was, they had no idea. Until we did get a couple of officers later on, who did understand. That didn’t help us,
in a way it didn’t help what they did (UNCLEAR) medals. We won’t do anything, we just looked after ourselves. We were all kept in this compound and the night of this invasion, this is going a bit backwards and forwards just as it comes. In the middle of the night a Methodist pastor
came and said, “I’ve got six of my nursing sisters here,” there were missionary sisters who had volunteered to stay behind too, and they didn’t live with us or anything, he said, “Would you take them in.” We said yes so they came and joined us. Same thing again with six Anglican nurses, they were missionary nurses. Then the military
nurses, there were six of those. So they all joined up with us and they all lived with us for six months. We were all just in this little compound. We had no contact with the other missionaries that were living on this compound. The same mission grounds. Then about April/June,
in the meantime, the bishop came to visit, he used to come over everyday to give us whatever. The Japanese would say to him and that was the only contact we had. He said, “I’ve got bad news for you today, the Japanese have said that all the Australian nurses and sisters have to go to Japan.” The bishop said, “Look I’m
sorry, I’m sorry I have no jurisdiction as such over the military nurses.” he said, “But the sisters you will not touch over my dead body.” We didn’t know what was going to happen; we had our little bags packed in case we had to go. But eventually they did come and took the nurses and they went to Japan
and that’s another story. They took one of our Australian fathers, and Australian brothers but they managed to keep us.
So you stayed together in that group?
For the rest of the…?
No, then that was about April/June and they took them off again. Then they said to us, it took them all that time to realise we were seeing
everything, and they said, “You are seeing too much, we want your house.” so they put us back further in the mission grounds, you move into those native huts back there. “You have to go tomorrow.” We had strict orders to go tomorrow. By this time we got a bit cranky. We said, “Oh no, we can’t be out by tomorrow, you give us three days,
we pack up and go.” No argument, “Alright, we give you three days.” All the time we are being watched, because they thought we had radios, we didn’t possess such a thing. They were always suspicious right up until the end. They were suspicious of us that we had radios. Which we didn’t, nobody at the missionary had a radio. They said,
“Okay, three days.” so three days, we got to work, that’s us, our community, and we moved every chair, every table, we took every picture off the wall, we needed the whole place and we pushed and pushed back into these huts that they told us to go. The ordinary soldiers had no control over what we did,
they were there to guard us, they couldn’t stop us from taking anything, so we took everything, we even took a piano, and we pushed a piano about three miles.
About three miles. When they arrived at our place there was nothing.
Where did you store all these supplies, in these native huts?
All around in the other places.
Now we were all behind barbed wire, it was a big compound. The other missionary sisters were there and the fathers and brothers were there, so we were together. That was much better.
Did you still have food?
We had food yes. Right in the beginning we had a farm. Vunapope was a very self supporting mission,
we had our own, whatever you wanted it was done on the mission, We had the hospital, we had the dispensary, we had like bookbinding, we had a shoemaker’s, we had a dentist, all amongst the brothers, they could do all this, we had everything, we were completely self… The bishop had said to us,
“It’s getting a bit hot, if you’re got anything special,” he said, “I’d advise you to put them away.” They were buried in the big mountains and the brothers put a toilet block in front of it and it was still there after the war. They never suspected that there was anything behind that toilet block in the mountains. That’s how we preserved
some of our things. Then of course the food was running out, and this is where the little indigenous sisters came in, they were trained by our sisters. They’d creep in at night and drop something somewhere and when we got up in the morning we’d find it there. We weren’t allowed to talk to them
or see them or anything like that. They knew we needed food so that took a bunch of bananas or potatoes or anything.
Was the indigenous population left alone by the Japanese?
Yes. Because they tried to make friends with them, there were a lot of them. You could not be friendly with them, some of them were. There were a few traitors about,
but I think it was more of the mixed race people, probably, I don’t know. Which you don’t blame them because they had to live.
How long were you in the barbed wire compound of the native huts?
At first we had these little slit trenches just, and after the bombs in Rabaul they decided they wouldn’t be any good to us
so the bishop said, “No, in the big mountains we have got to build trenches right through this big mountain” and night and day all the menfolk would work to build trenches underneath the mountains. We, or I was [(UNCLEAR)] but for a long time they never touched the mission. They never bombed the mission.
All this activity was able to go on, you know, going on to Rabaul, and when we were moved back behind the wire we saw nothing, we didn’t know what was happening. We used to watch the dogfights and who was killed. The only way we knew was we used to count the Japanese planes that were down, count how many came back and we knew how many they
lost and the same as our own planes, we watch them coming in again. The Japanese used to have great joy in coming over and say “Oh, we brought down so many planes today.” and we’d just turned around and say that was right. They always told us the wrong thing, we learnt, we were watching, we knew what went out and what came back so we knew.
Did they give you any Japanese propaganda to read?
Not that they tried to teach us Japanese in the beginning. We were in our house, we had blackboards up and they decided they try and teach us Japanese in the beginning. This guy came and he would write on our blackboards, I’m sorry now, but we pretended we were so stupid, in the end they said, “You’re too stupid.” so he gave up in the end
and that was the end of the Japanese. That was right in the beginning. These big trenches were built. The planes used to come over, we used to watch them coming over the sea and we didn’t know where the base was coming from but we knew it was from Knell Island, which is a little island
not far away and that’s were they had a base and they would come across and it was a magnificent sight, you’d see an Australian or American and we didn’t know and they would be coming across in the hundreds in perfect formation and they would come across, these little silver birds across the ocean and it was a magnificent sight. We used to watch them on the bows,
count how many would get away and that was how we spent our days in the beginning.
Interviewee: Berenice Twohill Archive ID 0177 Tape 02
Tell us about that then, the bombings, did the bombings
come over the compound you were in?
We were still in this, the barbed wire, the little hut thing that I was in, there were a few huts by this time, the brothers had added to them. The barbed wire was only as far away as that away, that’s where we were. In front of us they put the wounded Japanese soldiers, their hospital.
Those poor creatures, we used to feel so sorry for them. They were just there, no sanitary conditions, nothing. How we lived through it I don’t know. How we didn’t get all the diseases, anyway we lived through it. The piano, we had it on the little veranda out the front, it was just near the barbed wire not far from the barbed wire. These poor little creatures
would come along and they would listen, and when you finished they’d clap their hands, “More, more, more!” You felt so sorry for them. After a while they bought their nurses, their own nurses out and they were placed just over from there, over the other place, just this side of our compound. They were beautiful girls, their spotless white uniforms and they would come over to these fellows.
They tried to give them injections, they chased them miles around the place, they thought they could catch them. We got a lot of laughs out of it; really, it was so serious but still. They would line up at our fence and watch everything we were doing. Anything we did they would sort of imitate; they’d try and imitate us.
A lot of them were just little teenage boys, they were just dressed up as soldiers, they were dragged in from the country. It was also in Australia. While we were still there, because we had machines, we had bought in our machines with us and we would be sewing, and so forth. After a little while some of them, we didn’t know the Japanese
and they’d would ask, they had torn trousers, torn shirt or something else, we would understand what they wanted. We said, “If you give us Atebrin or Quinine.” There was long grass between us and they would leave their little bundle of stuff there and walk away and they would put the Atebrin or Quinine stuff in there.
We had a little bit of that against the malaria, for a while when that happened. Later on. Now where here, our place is here, the hospital is there and their nurses are there, and on this side was where they put their shell-shocked. We had them screaming all day long, it was sad.
You would see the doctor coming along when they got really bad, and you saw it many, many times and they would come and give them an injection and that was it.
Did they ever ask you to work for them in their hospital?
No, no never. We had no contact with them. We were behind this barbed wire. We had no contact with everything. Everyone had to go to the bishop first and he would demand, “I want a bell and if you want something
you ring that bell, you’ll talk to me, nobody else, I make all the decisions.”
Did the bishop organise the trading of sewing for Atebrin?
That was your secret?
That was our little secret. I never let that out before, nobody, even their officers, none of them ever knew. The poor little creatures, what are you supposed to do? They were giving us Atebrin
and stuff, and we needed the Atebrin for malaria. If they didn’t take it they would have died, they would have been very, very sick.
Did your conditions deteriorate?
Yes. We had a terrible way to do it. We had our own doctor. This was very,
very nasty. I didn’t meet him. But our doctor did, because he had a little daughter, she was about two years old. She got some sort of a, I don’t know what it was, typhoid fever, or something. He begged the Japanese doctor to give him the serum, an injection that could save that child,
and he wouldn’t, and the child died. His own child. He was a nasty doctor; we had a bit to do with him later on. We didn’t like him, a lot of us didn’t, he was nasty. He was the one who took Captain Graham, and that is another story, behind the barbed wire, right in front of us. They put this Australian soldier, we found out since it was a Japanese, Captain Grey,
they tied him to a coconut tree, and it was right in sight for us and for days they tortured him and tortured him, and tortured him, trying to get information, and he didn’t open his mouth, never opened his mouth. After some days they took him down the back of our place. We had some seminarians
there, they are only starting to be priests. They were allowed to stay in our compound. They took him down behind their place and they cut his heart out while he was still alive and they saw it. We never, never spoke about that until just lately. The last few years we thought it would have been terrible if their relatives ever heard, it was the cruellest thing to do.
We also heard, he was only in Rabaul one week, when he was captured. He wouldn’t have any information whatever.
How did you hear the news about his torture?
From these seminarians. We saw the torture ourselves, we saw what they did, he didn’t tell them anything, it was terrible. There was not a thing you could do, just not a thing,
you just had to watch it. That was all behind the barbed wire that was the worst. Then after a lot of bombing in Rabaul, they used to go over the top of us, we felt pretty safe, they were not touching the mission and they finished Rabaul and bombed everything out. Then they brought us something and it came
from the other direction. Just before that, the Japanese had moved out a lot of their ammunition just in front of us, near our compound, not in our compound just outside our compound. They put a big red cross on top of it. We thought, ‘What’s this going on?’ Our people are not fools, they know they have got ammunition there, they had been watching. We thought, ‘We’re doomed,
that will be the end of us.’ They did come one day, they came and bombed us. We would just run to the trenches. One day, they were in charge of this old sister, she was an old French sister and she got to the trench safely. We were late and she couldn’t hurry and this plane came over the top of us, we thought ourselves, everybody else had got there
and we were all left behind, and we just threw ourselves on the ground and this plane went over the top, it was one of the worst moments, and you could feel the shadow passing over, you know it came down about four times. Three times I tried to get up, twice I tried to get up but I couldn’t, my legs just wouldn’t. Fear, they say fear paralyses you,
I just couldn’t get up. The attempts I made they kept coming backwards and forwards and it was just like this, just waiting every minute to get a machine gun in your back. Eventually got up and got there, it went away, and I realised well I don’t know we were all dressed in white. We got to the trenches. That was one of the
really bad moments. A couple of others. Before we were still in these little huts that we were in the compound. And I was doing some tortoiseshell work this day, I used to work on the tortoiseshell and we used to get tortoiseshells from the thing. I don’t know if you have done any tortoiseshell work, it is beautiful?
No. Explain tortoiseshell work?
You have to
bury it for so many days, till the skin goes off and then you just take the shell and take the things off the shell and you would get it. You polished that shell up and make beautiful ornaments and things. I was doing this one-day, the planes came over the top of us and we ran to the trenches, ‘bang bang’ nothing left, everything bombed.
The tortoiseshell and everything I was doing was gone, no more sight. Now that happened many times when we were doing things, then you would came back there was nothing left. Just where we were we could have been killed so many times. Anyway, it wasn’t meant to be.
Did you lose the piano?
No, but we did after a while. I used to play the piano because that’s how I know about it,
but it gave joy to these poor old men. Another time we were in the trench and it was in the middle of the night, and we were all in the trenches and another bombing. We were nine hours in those trenches sometimes, and they would come over, it was our own planes, they would come over the top of us and the ground would shake like that and very minutes we thought it was going to
go through but nothing would penetrate it, thank God. This night, we heard this terrible noise, it had been raining and when we came out in the morning there were a whole lot of shells, they had shelled us from the sea. The first time and the only time they ever did it. A lot of unexploded
shells because of the dampness. At that time our guards were only one. We said, “Now is our chance and we will go out and see what we can find.” it was terrible. Three of us went out, a Dutch sister, another sister and an Australian and we thought we could see what we could find with nobody about. All these tins were of
food, had been bayoneted it and every time they saw a tin they would just bayonet it. I found a whole lot of nails that day which was no use to me. Which we were going down and we weren’t far from the sea, we were going down to the sea. We saw some huts and went down there and we got to the door of
this hut, but who should appear but a Japanese soldier, He couldn’t speak and we couldn’t speak. We made him understand, we had a look in and he had a whole lot of mattresses and we didn’t have any mattresses by this time. We bargained with him, “You give us some mattresses and we will give you some bananas.” we had no bananas with us, and we didn’t know where we were going to get them,
and we thought that he would forget about it. He gave us a mattress each and we came home so proudly with a mattress. We found a mosquito net too that day. Then we saw all the, those big things those things that the soldiers get on?
The tanks then came back from out of the bush, we thought that we should get, so we got back into our trenches. We got a mosquito net, which a sister used, for the rest of the time and a mattress each. But as soon as we laid the mattress down, it had nothing in it. The laugh was on us, they all laughed at us and they all thought it was a great joke.
‘What are we going to do, we have got no bananas, what are we going to do, what are we going to do if he... He’ll forget about it, he’ll forget.’ Sure enough, in the afternoon we saw this fellow and he walked across and here he comes he wants his bananas. We had a marvellous Mother Superior and she was Dutch, she said, “”Don’t worry, I’ve
got some, I brought them in last night and I’ve got a whole bunch, don’t worry.” So when he came over we had to give him the bunch of bananas. It was a miracle, I never thought. It was really a rash thing to do but. Anyway, he went off happy with those bananas but we had nothing then. Different little things happened like that.
We will come back and talk a little bit more about life in the compound, but what eventually happened then,
after the bombing?
This is still the compound.
When the bombing got too bad did they move you out of the compound?
No. Eventually they bombed everything; there wasn’t a thing left, not a thing. Eighteen months we lived in those trenches. It was the worst part, it was terrible. We saw nothing. We knew nothing. We had nothing to eat but what the indigenous
sisters would come and they’d hide it, we never saw them. We had no contact with anybody.
Had the Japanese moved their hospital at this stage?
We don’t know.
You couldn’t see?
No, they were all bombed. They were bombed before we left the compound. One of our bombers came over so close to us. They had a big trench quite near to where the barbed wire was and they used to bomb them
and that’s where we used to get our water. Our water supply, and we had bore water there, quite close to were they were. This big bombing, it was terrible, when we came back our house was still there. Those Japanese had been caught in that. The trench where they were had got a direct bomb and they were dead. Some of them tried to get in through our
barbed wire, and half the bodies, there were arms and legs and bits of bodies everywhere. We had to pick all that up and just pass it back over the fence. They did nothing to clear it up they just left their trenches as it was and did nothing. That was shocking.
How did it smell?
Don’t want to talk about it.
No sanitary conditions, nothing. They had their little, what do they call them, the fly, what do they call them?
Swatter. They all had their little swatters, but we didn’t, and they would go around with all their swatters to keep the flies away. It was shocking; it was shocking, and the smell.
Was this when the tunnel was starting to be built into the mountains?
Can you tell me a bit about that?
Yes. The brothers and the fathers they worked day and night, day and night and it was shocking, you would go in, after we had been bombed and we had to live there. Day and night. You’d would come out into the boiling sun; you wouldn’t stay in the trench, which you would be just sopping perspiration, day and night,
no water. We all sort of got skin diseases and things. When we went out that tunnel we found some soap. We brought that back. Then we caked ourselves with soap, with the rashes we’ve got and we got the soap and just plonked it on ourselves, it would relieve the itch a little bit. It was terrible in those trenches, it was terrible.
Especially when they came over and started to bomb us. The mountain, they were really high mountains, and they would be going like this. One day it would come through and that would be the end of it. Anyway, we survived that. So then they decided, the fathers decided they’d try and get an airshaft through. Oh dear they worked, they worked
and worked right through this and I don’t know how many miles, but right up, but eventually they got through. How? The day that they got through, the dust and air that went through was just marvellous. And what happens, the Japanese came over and said, “It’s not safe here for you anymore.” we lost everything. “It’s not safe for you here anymore we have to move you out to a safe place.”
They were just waiting for the airshaft to get through, the vent.
So that they could steal your tunnels?
Yes. Then we, that was when they took us out to Rawley[?], down to this big, big gorge, they told us, “Tomorrow you will be ready.” We marched out in two lots; I was in the first lot to go. It was early in the morning, we started
trekking out, we didn’t know where, and the bishop said, “Alright, you are going to take us out there? You must allow me to send two brothers to find somewhere, where are you going to take us?” so they said, “You are going down there.” so the brothers left and they built a couple of little huts for us.
Anyway, we didn’t know where it was. It was all virgin forests and nobody had lived there before. We set out and they were just bombing and we would lie flat on the ground and wait for everything to blow over, then we would go on a bit further. So we arrived at the top of the gorge and it had been raining, they said, “Descend, descend.”
We had to descend, so we slipped half of the way down and got down eventually, down to the bottom, a long way down. When we got down to the bottom we could not see the sky, from the trees and the undergrowth and everything. We couldn’t even see the sky.
Can you describe this gorge; was it a very steep gorge?
Steep, it was like that, and when we got down
there was a little river running along and you weren’t allowed to touch these big things, they used to write these big notices up for us. ‘You’re not allowed to go near the river because that is for Japanese to bath in.’ The menfolk got to work and I don’t ask me how they, but when these things happened, somehow you managed, they got a pump of some sort and
pumped the water up, from this little place, so we had this little bit of water and that’s how we lived. It was the water that was pumped up from this little river that we weren’t allowed to go near. It was terrible, it was so damp. The undergrowth, you would slip everywhere because you would be caught in all the undergrowth where you walked. Eventually, there were three hundred of us by this time, three hundred. Gradually the undergrowth
began to die. The sun shined through and it was wonderful when the sun shined through. I had charge of getting the washing dried. We washed once a week, and I would have to go around and try and get the clothes dried, it took me a whole week. I would run after a little bit of sun wherever it shined, and move the clothes and tried to get the sun, it took me a whole week
to get things dry. Then it was time to put them on again. In time, it was quite good. It was the best of it all.
What supplies did you have there?
We had no supplies there. Except the things the little sisters again, they found where we were and they used to. We were right the way down and the police put a platform right around,
they didn’t have to come near us, they would just look down and they could see everything in where we were.
The Japanese soldiers?
Yes, this time we were under guard, you know. They used to watch us. They allowed these little sisters to come in, we would see them coming in and they would carry things on their heads, they would have to go up to the Kempetai, the sort of priest. They’d take what they wanted and
brought it down to us, what was left. That’s how we existed for a while. Then we had all sorts of weeds. The bishop was a very, very remarkable man, when you have lived in the bush and worked in the bush. There was another, not a young fellow, a very small fellow, also knew a lot about the plants, not the plants the weeds and things ‘what you could eat, what you couldn’t eat, what was poisonous and what wasn’t poisonous.’
They were able to tell us, you would take the leaf off this and you can eat the rest of it, so we would take the seed out of the middle of it, and the rest of it is alright. They knew this so we used to boil up these weeds and that’s how we lived there for a long time, just on those weeds and bits and things. Pigweed was our principal thing.
That went on for a long, long time. Then another day, it was a very sad day. I forgot to tell you in the mission right when they first entered we had a mission that was self supporting and we had our own farm and they had allowed one Brother and one Father to stay out on that farm. Of course they looked after themselves and they had to take the stuff into the Japanese all the time. So one day,
amongst the grass and stuff they had, they left this horse for us, so we got the horse and we had to eat this horse, this little horse, oh dear. We cut this horse up and we ate this horse. Then when we went to Rawley, if there was anymore they didn’t have to. They weren’t slaves they were supplying the Japanese all the time. I don’t
know why, I can’t remember why it was but anyway it was that the Brother, he had a little cart I believe and he was bringing something into us at Rawley, and I can’t remember why or what allowed this day to come in. On the way, we were all called up and we went into the chapel and there he was, he was in the cart bringing stuff in for us, and he was bombed and killed.
That was in Rawley and it was a Saturday.
Were you able to hold a service for him?
Yes. We had our own little cemetery, for sisters and fathers who had died. Everyday we used to have a little walk down to the cemetery that was our outing. We
kept ourselves busy. Before we moved, I don’t remember when they moved in here, we already had a little sister over from the islands, from the Solomons, she was French, as French as French can be. She had been over with us before the war to see the doctor and she was on retreat so she was there. Then later on they brought in
two more French sisters and a Alsace sister and they brought in two French fathers and an American Father from the Solomons and they all came in and they brought them all out to us and they were with us. I can’t remember when that was, but I knew they came. Then the time came when they wanted to learn German and we were learning German,
we were teaching them English and they were teaching us French and we had all these languages and things. Then the doctor would give us everything in medicine, he knew, we had lectures on that and we were kept busy. We kept busy mending and sewing, the best we could. We were kept busy.
Where you in Rawley when the war ended?
Yes. Now we knew nothing, we knew nothing. We knew something must have been happening because the planes weren’t going out at all and they’d stopped. There was still a few machine gunning, going on from our side. We knew something was happening and it must have been coming to an end. They didn’t tell us. Then all of a sudden, one morning
we heard this ‘Cooee!’ on the top of the mountain.
An Australian Cooee. Had you heard that before?
Yes. So we ‘Cooed’ back.
It must have been a happy day?
So they were led, that was September 16th
they came down to Rawley and the war was a victory. Major Bates and Major Roberts led the party down to where we were and they asked the natives on the way, they were moving back behind the Japanese mines and they found out
from the natives where we were living. A couple of men had come back with the first group to land at Rabaul, had the Rabaul peepers that we knew. They came, they came down and from then on they tried to send out food for us and all that kind of thing. The sisters had to remain in Rawley, awful,
for months, because there was nowhere else to go. We had to stay there until someone went back to Vunapope and build something for us to live in. Everything was lost, not a thing left.
Did you stay in Vunapope after the war?
No. I had fever all of the time. There was a fever that lasted six months. I was pretty sick. So ten of us,
they took ten of us first into a military hospital in Rabaul, and we had the soldiers looking after us. Things were in a bad stage really, in Australia I mean. They had no transport for us. Eventually they got a sea plane and we went down to Jacquinot Bay down the coast and the nurses had a hospital down there, the military nurses
had a hospital down there. They took us down there and they had no transport and they couldn’t get us away. I don’t know how, but eventually. Another old sister and myself we were taken over to Lau and the others followed. We went by plane over to Lau, and we were in Lau for easily, six weeks. They had no transport, they couldn’t get us to Australia.
In that time a lot of sisters had come out and a lot of priests were waiting and they thought we might as well as go back to Vunapope, and they went back and they didn’t even bother coming down after, the transport, back to Rabaul.
Was your health improving when you were moved to New Guinea?
No. I came down then and I haven’t gone back. I would have been able to go back because I was so full of malaria and I wasn’t able to go back.
I did go back in 1992, when the soldiers went back. I went back for the 50th Anniversary. You’ve heard of the Montevideo Maru have you?
The ship that was sunk, well the 50th Anniversary, they went back. They already had a little bit of a monument but they went back to erect a better one.
I was invited back with the soldiers that time and the nurses. There are two military nurses still alive, and I went back with them. There are quite a number of civilians who had been evacuated as children and babies, they always wanted to go back to see where there father had last lived. We had quite a party going up with us on the Hercules [aircraft].
It was, you couldn’t talk, not above the noise, forget it. That took a long time and it was taking cargo to Kavieng, and they took us to Kavieng and we had a night in Kavieng. The next morning we were flown to New Guinea and then taken over to Rabaul.
Was that an emotional time
Yes. They had the band out and everything. It was strange; one of the band men remembered one of the soldiers who had helped him. They played and then we went to the RSL [Returned and Services League] and put a party on and so forth. It was a great time and I’ve got pictures there.
Everybody was very happy. It was amazing, we went down to were the Japanese headquarters was during the war. It was right down underneath and we had to go down so many stairs and they had everything in there, they had beds
from the hospitals, they had everything that was mentioned was down there. Their commander had lived during the war. That was worth seeing because we were there.
You didn’t know about any of it during the war?
It was all a secret?
After that we went out to the museum they had just started a museum out at Kokopo, it’s on the way out and they hadn’t gone very far.
There were some of the instruments, like we used to watch these, reconnaissance planes owls, they used to come out at night and the Japanese would have these spotlights and you would see this little plane coming around and this spotlight chasing it
all over the place. In our huts it used to keep us up for hours. We never saw one of them come down. They’d drop a bomb somewhere. That day we went out to see the museum, we saw these searchlights, they were huge. We couldn’t believe
the size of it. Then we went upstairs, and this was a little cottage and they had only just started and one of men we had with us said, “There’s a part of a plane, that’s my plane, that’s the one I came down on!”
Yes. It was very interesting. Then we went out to Bita Paka
Cemetery where they have all the graves, and that is beautiful, it is beautiful, it is a magnificent cemetery, we spent the day there. We came back and the mission put up a dinner for us. We stopped at Vunapope on the way back. Some of the party then went on down to, you’ve heard of the Tol Massacre.
I’ve heard details.
One of the younger priests that we had was Monsignor Lines, a navy man, and he was with the party and he wanted to come back and see were his brother got killed at Tol. So a party went down to the place were the Tol Massacre took place.
That was interesting for them. It was all-good. It was all too short really. I went around and I wanted to see, I tried to get to Rawley but they took us to the top but they wouldn’t let me go down.
Was it still the same as you remembered it?
Oh no, I didn’t recognize it. I didn’t get down to Rawley they wouldn’t let me go down.
What about Vunapope,
was that similar to what you had remembered?
Nothing. Nothing at all. We had so many bombings and we had these big crates, with big holes. I couldn’t recognize anywhere, couldn’t recognize anything. The same when I went back to Rabaul, I couldn’t recognize Rabaul at all because of all the bombings. The earth was difference, no big mountains.
Then they had the volcano erupted?
I couldn’t even locate where our convent had been or anything. It was quite different.
Interviewee: Berenice Twohill Archive ID 0177 Tape 03
We need to go over your pre-war experience and particularly your upbringing in Woolooma. Can you tell us a little bit more about your family, and your earliest memories of growing up that way?
We were a big family.
We had lots of cousins around us and we all grew up together.
Which now, they are all gone and my nieces and nephews they’re scattered everywhere. They are not growing up the same as we grew up. They don’t even know their cousins, we did. Our cousins were all family and my grandmother was very much a part of our lives, my grandfather died much earlier than that. She was a very
strong, domineering Irish woman. Every Sunday we would go to grandma’s. After grandfather died one of my brothers always lived with her. Every Sunday we would be at grandma’s. The cousins would be there. My grandfather had a big, very big orchard with every
fruit imaginable, fruit you could imagine. We were allowed to have anything but they had to be ripe. That didn’t satisfy my brothers, they would have to get them before they were ripe. One day, one of my brothers was up in the tree and was after something that wasn’t ripe and my grandfather he was a very quite man and he was an Australian. He was just down hoeing and Stan was up the tree
picking this green fruit, he just went around, around and around. Just to stop Stan, he knew Stan was up there, but he didn’t even get down but in the end he had to come down, it was just so amusing. I used to take part in my brothers things. Like all boys and young girls they would go out.
We had three old bachelors who were very good to us and they also had a lot of fruit trees, especially mulberries and stuff. They decided to stay back home and lob these things. You only had to ask and you could have gone and got it. It was more fun.
More fun, bit of an adventure?
Yes. I was put up to keep watch to make sure none of these bachelors
came along, I had to go up the tree to watch. We got away with that anyway. We used to walk to school, it was about three miles into the school. We’d come through the paddock. I remember one day I had a red dress on and I was chased by a bull and I can still see the running off this bull, I got away from it anyway.
An uncle of mine by marriage, he had a mango tree and he lived on the road, and the mangoes used to drop over the side. He had a terrible temper, he had a real temper. The boys were always doing something they shouldn’t be doing. We came home from school and we were picking
up these mangoes we weren’t taking them, and he’d come out and say “stop taking the mangoes” and anything else. It was just the fun of taking it, we took more than was over the tree and fence of course. That was all part of living, it was all fun.
Did you have any relations who were in the First World War?
An uncle who was a Horseman,
Yes, A Light Horseman.
Did he tell you stories about the First World War?
No. Not that I remember. Though he did live five months. He never spoke about it. He was the only one that I could remember. None of my brothers joined up in the war. Two of them lived on farms
and they weren’t fit, varicose veins or something, I don’t know what, and they weren’t accepted in the war. My youngest brother did join up, but he never went overseas. He was doing something on a ladder one day and fell and hurt his back and he wasn’t allowed to go. I had nothing to do with war, I never heard anything stories about war at all, ever.
At the Anzac Day celebrations?
Yes. Don’t remember those in my childhood, don’t remember it at all. We didn’t have it in our childhood I don’t think. I can’t remember.
As you were growing up, did you hear much news about the outside world, like the war in Europe, like the hostilities, like the German aggression to Austria
Yes. Yes I heard all of that. That wasn’t a lot of talk about that in our home. My father was a public figure, he knew a lot of the parliamentarians, and he had friends a lot of them. The twig shined as I grew up
it was a very big place, and he was the president of the shire and I remember my mother used to say to me, and he often spoke about it, meetings and things and his mates used to say “you should go, you should join.” My mother said “no.” and my father said “no, I will never become a
volunteering.” he said “they’re straight, they’re good when they get in.” that’s what he said. That was his idea of volunteering. He never mixed with them, never, ever again. He was very public minded. Anything I would say, he would say. When the Queen came out, she was a Princess at that time,
for many, many years she visited the Tweed and my father was president of the of the Shire Council and he went down there and entertained the Queen.
The Twohill family, is it Irish or…?
Yes, it is Irish. It’s an Irish name, it’s a deviation of a, it goes back a long way. A deviation of another name.
As you were growing up, your mother and father raised your family in a traditional Irish Catholic manner do you think?
Yes. Very much so. I will tell you one thing. My father was a very strong, although his father was Irish and his mother was Irish Scotch and his father was
the eldest of fourteen children. His two younger brothers left Ireland and came out to Australia. Then for a long time his parents didn’t hear anything about them. And in those days it was a long time before any mail went from one country to another. My grandfather then was sent out, the eldest of the family, he was sent out to see where the
two boys were. That’s how he came out. He went to Ballarat first, of course, they might have been there but they weren’t there, and he couldn’t find them. Eventually he went to New Zealand and they had gone to New Zealand, and you will find out name towards over there. But they had gone to America, and finally they settled
in America. So that was were they were, and we also have the name in America. His youngest brother, who came out later on, the youngest of the family, he settled up in Tweed and he didn’t go to Woolooma. You might have been told about it, it’s a heritage home now, it’s under Lisenger
an Irish home in Ireland. It’s a heritage place now. One of the decedents have returned it to it’s original, all the old buildings. When my grandfather died he said it was to be the home for the two girls
until they marry. These two girls were very artistic, a creator, they had beautiful work, beautiful stuff around the place. They lived to an old age there and they didn’t have anything done to that house, nothing was done. They died some years ago. It would have been a second cousin
and he’s taken it over and he put it back to what it was in the early days. It’s a tourist attraction at the moment.
You were taken to church on a regular basis?
Yes. Our family did rosary together and all that kind of thing. I’m going back to parliamentarians, and this has always stuck in my mind.
I was boarding when I was doing secondary school, and the mass on the Sunday was 9 o’clock and you had to come up and meet all these parliamentarians and they were coming over for something. Land business, or road or something. He had met them and they’d stayed the night. The next day was Sunday and they were going out to have a look at what they were going to talk about.
He said, “Tomorrow’s Sunday and I go to mass, you can wait until I come back.” and they waited till he came back from mass. I walked back with him after the mass and they’d gone, they’d left him behind, they got tired or something. That’s always stuck in my mind; he was that kind of a man. He was very, very
interested in everything local, the people but his religion had to be there.
Can we talk a bit more about the flood, that devastated I guess your lives particularly?
Yes it did, it destroyed our lives, in a way. Yes I remember it, I was only little, it just came up
overnight, no sign, no rain no nothing just a flash flood. It devastated the place.
Which year was that?
1921. We called that the 1921 Flood. My brothers went out day after day, and all the cattle was caught up in the trees and they had to burn them and I can remember it all,
they had to go out and it was terrible, it was terrible. That would have happened to my cousins because they were living close to us. But everybody was really caught off guard.
How did it effect your family and you directly after that?
Well as I say, my father lost the three businesses he had. He never regained them, but not only
did he lose the business deal, he also lost all the people owed money and they didn’t have it to pay him back or anything. He’d gone guarantor for so many people, because he was such a public figure and that was all lost.
Did he ever recover?
No, he never got over that. That didn’t stop him taking interest in living.
How did it effect you personally, looking back on it now, do you think it was an event that changed the direction of your life?
No. It wouldn’t have changed anything, no, I don’t think so, because I always wanted to. My grandmother as I said was Irish, and she had a very big influence on all of us.
On you in particular?
Yes. She was very interested in the
Did she tell you stories of that at that time?
No. She always had books about the African missions and she used to help them.
You remember her particularly at that time?
I remember that. Oh yes, I’ll go to Africa someday; there was a mystery about Africa. Then later on I read an article,
written by one of our sisters and I didn’t know these sisters at that time. It was about ‘why not come closer to home’. It was about the Aboriginals and the islanders around the islands and that’s where I got the ideas for the islands.
Just to look back a little bit before in your schooling, did you have any ambitions at the time other than to become a nun?
No I just
always knew I’d be a nun.
Was there some moment when you felt that you had some kind of a calling?
Yes. You’d fight against it sometimes, but not when you got a little bit older.
Can we talk about the earliest feeling of that?
I don’t know when the earliest one was. I know my grandmother’s interest in missions, which was a big influence in my life. Also at that
time, in our schools we used to buy black babies, and you’d put a penny towards and buy a black baby out in the missions somewhere, where there starving or blind or something else like that. You’d give so much money and you’d get a black baby, then I had a black baby. That was a common thing in all of our schools at that time.
Did you put the penny aside for that?
Oh yes. We all did that, we all had black babies. Then I was very interested in going out and try to teach the black people about God.
Whereabouts in particular, did you have an ambition to go?
I wanted to go to Cedar, Eastern Canada. That was where I wanted to go, I don’t know why, but that attracted me Eastern
Canada, but I didn’t get there, I was sent to Rabaul.
Can we talk a bit about how your family got on through the Depression, or how that affected you, your dad and mum?
My mother and father were very both hospitable people. We were living on the farm; we had cattle at that time. It’s all cane now but cattle at that time. My brothers looked
after the farm. At that time, the Depression, people were coming out in droves and they came up there. We had an old barn and my father said anyone who came along was free to stay there and he would give them food and that. If he had any work at all he would give someone something to do. The cattle were always brought in and everybody helped.
They were remarkable, both of them, their charity towards anybody. My brothers were the same. Anybody in trouble. My sister’s the same.
How did you get on after the flood though, that must have changed things significantly?
I didn’t think of that. Little things like that
are just completely gone. It was shortly after that, that we moved out and down to Mulgam and onto another farm. That was then I was a little girl and was sent away to board.
Were you lonely first, when you were sent away to boarding school?
Yes. I missed my brothers very much. I used to play with them.
My younger brother, we were great chums, my younger brother and myself. The seven older ones, they were the boys. We had the youngest one, we were not one of the boys, and he was my mate. He just died a couple of years ago.
Was it a strict boarding school that you were sent to?
No, not particularly.
It’s nothing like it is today; there was none of this outlandish business. Boys and girls, boys were arriving from their farms with horses and that. We were allowed to go out and get on our horses and ride around, that king of thing. It wasn’t our congregation, I was with brown Josephs [the Josephite order], have you heard of them, Mother [Mary] McKillop?
Around about what time was that, what year were you went away to boarding school?
I must have been about eight, I think about eight.
What year was that, do you know?
I don’t know.
That school’s been taken away now and moved to another parish down Kingscliff, so there’s no school there at the moment, no convent, finished.
How often did you get to go home?
From boarding school?
Every holidays I came home.
How old were you when you left the boarding school?
leave really, after I finished my secondary, after I finished my primary I went to secondary, which was our secondary school. When I finished that I did some teaching.
At the school?
At the school. Then I stayed home for six months. I knew I would, I had to go to the missions.
Is that when you felt that you had a calling at that stage?
Yes, but I had it all the time.
There wasn’t anything else that you wanted to do?
No. I enjoyed life, I enjoyed going down to there and that kind of thing, but it doesn’t hold the same attraction as a calling. You have a calling; you don’t have any rest until you enter it. That’s it.
That’s interesting, we might talk about that a bit later. Do you remember or recall of being part of the British Empire at that time or particular. What nationality did you feel you were?
Just Australian. We learned Australian history, I’m very Australian.
I love Ned Kelly.
He’s an Irish hero.
Yes. Just because of what he did, he wasn’t a bad man. We learnt a lot of Australian history and I love history.
Did you learn much about the Aboriginal population at the time?
No. Although we had a lot of Aboriginals around us,
I grew up with a lot of Aboriginals, not close contact with them, but they were all around Tweed. Their first descendents have been brought from, where? Some of their lines, over slaves in the very, very, very early days and the dropping of the cedar trees and all that kind of thing. My people were not into grazing, that was well before my time. But their descendants were still there.
We were always friendly with them and all that kind of thing. In our family we never had any racialism or any dislike of anybody. That was never part of our life. People knew people what they were and that was it. As I said, both my parents were very hospitable, gave everything away.
Did your dad regain his stature as a public figure?
He was always a public figure.
Even after the flood and when he lost most of his businesses?
Yes he kept that up. My brothers looked after the farm, he kept it up. He was a very, very well known figure. He lived to be 90.
Do you think that it instilled a sense of public responsibility in you and your family?
Yes. When the elections
were on with the Shire Council and we’d stay up all night counting the votes and everything.
You were well aware of local politics, where you aware of the other political issues in Australia and Europe at that time?
Yes. It was all part of life in our home..
Did you discuss the war in Europe at all, at home at that time?
There was no,
this was long before the war.
Hitler came around in 1933/34?
I was grown up by then and had left home; I had left home by that time. My brothers had moved out, they were all married and everything else.
Do you remember the rise of fascism in Europe that was being discussed at the time?
Yes. I remember that, yes.
I remember about all of that, you knew all of that. That was not while I was home, that was after I went away. My brothers were away and all that.
Did you have any strong opinions about the Spanish Civil War or the rise of Fascism?
No. I didn’t.
Did it just seem like a far away concept?
Did you think that it would grow to the point were Australia
would be drawn into it?
Never, never. Even my uncle being in the war, you just didn’t make any, you know. It didn’t make any difference to me because I wasn’t old enough to know what had happened, but afterwards when he had been in the war, but he never spoke about it and it was never talked about in our home. Politics, yes.
Public news and all that kind of thing. We were very loyal to the Queen of course. With my father meeting the Queen, well she was a Princess then. I was at boarding school and we came in to see her and that.
Were you there that day when he saw her, Princess Elizabeth at the time wasn’t she?
Can we talk a bit about your training that you received when you left to go to the convent?
I was teaching before I had entered. One was music, which I had to complete and then after that I was allowed to teach.
You were training in music?
Did you enjoy music teaching?
No, I liked school better.
I’ve taught in a lot of schools as well with the music. With music you are connected to the school. You teach the singing you teach the music and I taught handwork in most of the schools.
Was it satisfying your desire, did you feel unfulfilled. The desire to go to the missions was still there, or had that not yet come?
I went to the missions, I was only
three years as a nun when I went to the mission, I was really young.
So you really had a burning desire to go and do that?
Yes, without any trouble, I didn’t have to ask twice.
Can you talk us about the time in some detail, and that must have been quite exciting about the news that you received about being sent away?
I was very excited.
At that time, Rabaul, and I still have the letter that I got to say that I was going to Rabaul, I didn’t know where it was.
While you were at the school, how did you entertain yourself outside your life as a teacher?
As a teacher or before?
Around that time?
I was a great runner, great jumper, I was a great athletic.
Tennis, I loved tennis, we play tennis here. We played games.
Dances, did you go to dances at all?
No, not after I had entered, that was out, that is one thing that you give up.
Did you miss that side of life?
No. You know you’re giving it up, and that’s it.
Once you make the decision, it’s made. But I loved it while I had it. But other things were more important.
At the time, it must have been somewhat of a difficult change of life?
It was easy at home, I loved my family, and it wasn’t easy. There’s that call that you just can’t say no to. It’s just something, an angle.
I was talking to somebody the other day, and he wants to be a priest, he was a policeman and a detective. He was a sergeant and to become a priest he did four years, you still have your doubts you know. He’s been out twelve months and he rang me the other day and said, “I just can’t, I’ve just got to go out, I can’t finish my studies, I can’t get peace until I do.”
With yourself you never
had any doubts in your heart?
I had no doubts. But I found it hard. I found it very hard to leave my family.
Were the sports organised through the church or were they outside the…?
The community, you mean after I entered.
Here in this convent, we’re all old now, but when we were younger
we had all our races, our drills and we had swimming. I’ve gone swimming many, many times since I’ve been here.
What about music. Did you like popular music at the time?
Yes, I like music. I taught all sorts.
What sort of songs are you interested in?
I love country music.
You like country music do you?
Yes I like country music.
What was the country music that was around at that time?
It wasn’t at that time it was later on.
Classical music was the main thing. Times have changed a lot, you could’ve prepared children for exams, work them up for exams. Now, you don’t bother about the exams, you just teach them. Music, it’s evil.
There wasn’t country music
around at the time was there?
This was something that you discovered later?
Later on. I love country music.
Obviously taking the vows is a big step; you’re trying for a long time, could you explain a little bit about what those vows are?
We take three vows. One is poverty, which is really you don’t own anything of your own. I’m living
in a great house, none of this belongs to me. I’m part of this house. Any money that I have earned as a teacher it would go into a fund, and we would all get it. What you want, you ask for, you get anything that you want but you don’t own anything of your own.
Are there any other vows that you take?
That’s poverty. Then there’s obedience. If you’re asked to go to a place, you go. That has changed a little bit over the many years. When I first became a nun you were just told to go to a place, and that was it, you went. You never questioned anything. But now you are asked
would you like to go to somewhere. There is a teacher going to such and such a place, you did. You talked about it. It’s quite different, it was called ‘blind obedience’. You just went were you were told to go. Your superiors saw the need in some place and you would fill that need and you were sent there.
That was what you vowed, you never questioned it. But it’s different because you are asked would you like to go, ‘somebody is needed here, you’ve got qualities,’ see it’s that situation. You weren’t free to say no, “I don’t wish to go.” and that’s it exactly. The vow of chastity, of course. You don’t marry.
It doesn’t stop you having very close relationships with anybody. You met up with a lot of people, male people anyway, which you become very friendly with. There’s no objection to any of that. It’s just that you don’t marry or get any close relationships. That’s what the vows are.
You’re given so many years to make up your mind if that’s what you really want. You may well be aware of what’s entailed, you take it.
What about your particular order. Is there anything that you are particular about?
Yes, we’re one of the very strictest orders in Australia.
They were founded in France when our first lot of sisters came down to the mission out to New Guinea, that was our first mission. That has always been our first obligation to supply missions to people who want it. We’ve got sisters all over the world working with
AIDs patients. Little children who have lost their parents and things like that. Wherever the need is, we go.
That’s one of the prime obligations of the order, is that right?
Yes. Whereever you need to go.
How is that articulated, is there a particular set of doctrines or things like that?
Exactly, just where the need is.
We have to be asked by the bishop of that Diocese, he’s in charge of that Diocese, if he has a particular need, and it can apply to any congregation. “Look, can you send me some sisters, I know we need sisters to teach school in this and we need someone to do this, what sisters can you supply us?”
“If we can help at this end.”
So it is a missionary order?
A missionary order. We had lots of schools, we trained sister schools and we trained nurses, at our own training school at Kensington. We trained our own teachers. We had our own nursing school.
Is that why you chose the order in particular or did you think
about other missions to join?
No, it doesn’t matter what order you join, it was just like going right into the unknown, I didn’t know them at all. You knew they went to the missions and that was all that I wanted, to go to the islands. That’s not with everybody. Some people go to our schools
and that’s our sisters but that wasn’t in my case I didn’t know anyone.
Is there any particular person who guided you through this process, one person who acted as your sub mentor I guess?
Now, you mean?
No, back then?
You had an novice mistress, and she’s in charge and you had a [UNCLEAR], that’s another one who’s an offsider. They’re responsible for you, and they guide you all the way. A lot of girls enter and they find out after being here for a while, ‘No, it’s not the life that I want.’ and you’re free to go.
But you never felt that?
Who was your guardian or novice mistress at the time?
It was Mother Raymond. I loved her. I loved Mother Raymond.
Did you discuss your desire to go to the mission?
Yes. They knew, things were sent out,
papers were sent out every now and again, anybody wishing to go to the missions and you would just put your name down, and I only put my name down once and that was it. It was kept there and the vocation came and she fixed that. It was sent up to Rabaul. When I was sent to Rabaul, I didn’t even know where the place was. We were under the
French Province by that time. Congregation, is an international congregation. The Josephites they are an Australian founded order. We’re an international order and we go anywhere in the world. When I was sent to Rabaul it was under the French Province, if was run from France.
Not from Australia?
Not from Australia. I was on loan to the French Province. Until later on, it became an Australian province, it’s an Australian province now. It’s just much like independence.
Interviewee: Berenice Twohill Archive ID 0177 Tape 04
You talked about going to Rabaul, you didn’t even know where it was, can you explain where Rabaul is and what you learnt about it then?
As I said on my way up I had a real awakening. As a complete stranger to everybody on board.
On board. What kind of ship was it, the Duey?
It’s the “MacGuie” a passenger boat. I remember there was a Mrs Carpenter and she was just down and she had a new baby and we were in the same cabin, I remember that. At that time you didn’t know where you were calling, or what time, and I don’t know how it happened but my parents met me in Brisbane, somehow they were in Brisbane.
We spent a good many hours there and went out to one of our convents. That was the last time I saw my mum, she died during the war. My father and brother were there to meet me.
Did you have any idea how long you were going away for?
I thought forever, I really thought I was going to do this forever.
Was it difficult to say goodbye to your parents?
Yes it was hard.
Can you explain that goodbye for us?
The first goodbye was the worst. A complete blank with everything but it is just something, I don’t know if you’ve ever felt it, it’s just something that’s just not there.
Did your parents have complete support?
Yes, they never said anything about my vocation; they would never have gone against it.
What about your brothers, did you see any of them before you left?
Yes I did. When I was in Mascot. Two of them came down; I talked to them for a while.
Yes, when I got news I was going, my other brother came over and I was in Bowral at the time, he brought my mother and father over. No I don’t think I saw the others again until I came back. I’ve had more contact with my parents since I came back
Your brothers as you had mentioned before gotten married, and spread out around the place?
Where they in Queensland or New South Wales?
Two were in Sydney for a long time. Then they moved to Lithgow. They were in the beginning of the Snowy
Mountains project. One became an accountant. Machinery and stuff like that. I’ve been down there, after I came back, I went down there and I used to go down and stay with them and he took me through, saw the whole Snowy Scheme system, because he was in charge of the whole thing.
He was there in the beginning when it first began and they have a mess for all these new Australians who came out to work on the Snowy thing and they had a mess for all these things, and they were both great? What do you call them?
Chef’s, they could cook anything, they were great. When I say they were great characters, they would put up with anybody. No distinct, there was no slightest part in our family; it’s something that I can’t stomach, never. Because it wasn’t part of any of us.
Did you keep in touch with your whole family
before you went away, did you write?
Before I went away, oh no I couldn’t do that. Our rules were pretty strict at the time. We could write once a month, home, so I used to write to my mother and her letter would go out. They’d write. Quite different, to now. They can ring
them up at any time, in those times it was quite strict.
You said that your order is particularly strict; tell us some of the rules that you had to abide by in those days?
If you were in to see your relatives you couldn’t eat with them. You just laid a path. They are different to today. You can go out and eat anywhere.
You never saw a nun eat, that’s one thing.
What was the idea behind that?
I don’t know what it was really, just…
Part of your obedience?
I don’t know how that would have originated; it was the same in every other order. It was religious life.
I think writing and correspondence was I’d say pretty strict. The Mother Superiors were always in touch with your family telling them how you were coming along. But you didn’t, you weren’t writing every week.
They could write to us.
Sounds like in a way you were being removed from the secular world to a religious world?
That was the idea, you had left the world.
Did you leave the world as far as news and stuff is concerned?
No, you always got that. You were always kept up to date with that. Especially when you began to teach, it was really necessary, you had to.
An interest and knowledge of what’s going on in the world you had to know that.
As far as what was going on in Rabaul, this was a world away from what you had experience of so far?
We were away. Life up there was different, it is quite different. When you come back from missions, we had quite a few sisters who had come back after fifty years
or more up there. It is so hard to settle down here, it’s so different. I don’t know what it is, a kind of a freedom up there. It’s not part of this culture. You would have to live on the island to know, anybody who has lived on the islands would know. I have always wanted to go back. I still want to go back.
There is an attraction.
New Guinea at this stage was an Australian protectorate, but New Britain was under German rule?
Not when I went.
What was the political situation?
It was under Australian, that’s what I have written down there. The Germans had it up until 1914, then the Australians took it over from the Germans
and it became a mandated territory. Under the United Nations or something [League of Nations].
That’s a little known part of Australian history?
That is not known. And that’s why I thought that it is very important.
Do you want to explain that for the Archive?
That’s all that I know about it. We had one old sister who lived through that, she was up there at that time and lived
through that war and she lived through the next war.
It was a real battlefield of the First World War?
No, they took it very easily, they took it very easily. The Battle of Bita Paka,
Bita Paka. That was were the Germans had the wireless set up, wherever it was, and that was taken very easily, with very, very little blood shed. That was all that that war was. It changed the whole situation, the whole political situation.
It became Australian territory, mandated territory under the United Nations…
Let’s talk a little bit more about your journey to Rabaul, this would have been the first time you would have been outside Australia, the first time on a ship?
First time out of Australia. I could do anything underwater, but put me on a ship, I’m hopeless. I was seasick.
Did you suffer terribly on that journey?
Yes I was seasick all the way up.
How did you deal with the seasickness?
I just had to bear it, grin and bear it, that’s all.
What where conditions like on board that ship?
Quite good, quite good. We pulled in at Samarai, on the way up, went onshore, that was on the way.
We had admission there, a priest there; he was at the place to meet me, because everybody goes down when a ship arrives at those places. He took me out and we had dinner at his place. Then he took me around to a, I don’t know what but I think a Samoan woman or something like that, who are always good to anybody who was visiting for the first time.
So we spent the day there, until the afternoon. We were supposed to be back by 3 o’clock, or something like that. Some of the people had gone, the island is not very big but they’d gone on the island. They didn’t turn up and we had to leave without them. We don’t know what happened.
Were you on your own or was there a group of nuns?
I was on my own. It was very lonely; yes I found it very lonely.
a Mrs Cameron who you met on the journey?
Carter. Yes, she was nice and friendly and she was from Rabaul. She was a complete stranger to me of course. I didn’t meet her again after that in Rabaul. Our paths didn’t cross again.
Were you allowed, under the rules you were living, to mix with other people on the ship?
I don’t really remember anybody in particular.
There were no troops being transported at this stage?
No, but the war was on and we knew that, we knew the war was on. We never met thinking I was going right into it.
Can you explain your first impressions of Rabaul, you mentioned the smell before, can
you tell us the moment you arrived in Rabaul?
Well we arrived in the middle of the night and the smell of sulphur, that’s there all the time. It’s from the volcano, the sulphur. It was just a beautiful, beautiful place. Flowers, green hills and the harbour was just a glorious
harbour. The name itself ‘Rabaul’ Ra means weed, baul means basin. Surrounded by hills. Rabaul was here, hills around are volcanic, that’s where it gets its name from, Rabaul.
Yes, one was active. In 1937 it erupted, badly. Another little island came up from the harbour after that and we had another big eruption just after I had arrived. It’s strange, until you experience it, you go up there and you’re just walking along and the
ground is moving like this, you get used to it after a while. It’s just moving, that’s just part of life there. Because the whole island is volcanic. The harbour is bottomless, they say nothing underneath the harbour any more. It just goes on to another place.
It’s a strange and frightening place to have had to arrive at?
Yes. When that first happens, when you first experience it, it is a very, very strange experience. You get used to it.
Describe a little bit more about this volcanic landscape to someone who has never seen volcanic soil and stuff, what is it like?
You don’t go to close to a volcano.
It’s always built at the bottom. It’s a crater and the mountains are crated like that.
It’s green, it’s just a mountain and then in the middle of it, but you never go in close enough to see it, you’re not allowed in a place like that, because it’s dangerous, very dangerous. It can erupt at any time, it can at anytime. You can get up quite close to it.
Our convent was about four or five miles away, it was quite close. At night it was most fascinating to watch.
What did it look like?
Great big huge hollows, all melting, melting. You’ve seen gold melting; well it’s that kind of thing running down the side,
all the lava running down the side. This huge, huge hole of flames bursting up into the air all the time. And roaring, roaring that goes on all of the time.
What were your first impressions of the local population?
I don’t know, I just accepted it.
What were they doing, can you explain the
villages and the people?
I was in the town. I was in the school and the children came into us, it was only later on in Vunapope and places like that we didn’t. There’s another part that I hadn’t told you. I’d only been in Vunapope only for a couple of weeks and then they wanted to do, this was after we had to close everything before the invasion. This is December.
Yes. This is December, which was before Christmas and I was asked to go out, to one of the stations. So I sent out to Tapo about ten mile or more. I was up there and this night we had girl boarders, we had boarders and the Japanese were coming bombing, bombing at
night and we had to run to little trenches there. Anyway in the middle of this night we were just going along, continuing as usual, there was school and there was nursing. Father came down. Up to this time, the Germans, after that First World War, after
the Australians took it from the Germans in 1914 the rule was the German missionaries that were there were allowed to carry on their work but a curfew was put on them from 6.00 pm to 6.00 am. They were not to leave their stations and that was carried on.
In the middle of the night this native man came with a note from a plantation owner who lived miles away and it said, “There is something you must know, come up and ring up.” He had a telephone we didn’t. Father being German
could not read this and he came down to us and said, “I’ve got this note would you be willing to go up and ring up?” there was a great big native fellow there to guard us. We went up and arrived at the plantation owner’s house and it was just, you had no idea. Chairs ripped, tables upset, bottles everywhere
it just wasn’t right. He took us over to where the telephone was and I rang up and the other sister was a Dutch sister and I was the only Australian and I rang Vunapope and I said, “I think there is something you have to know.” and Father Benjamin couldn’t say anything on the phone.
He said, “No, no, everything is fine, you don’t have to worry about that.” Before I could put the receiver down there was this Australian voice cut in and he said, “Are you Australian?” and I said “Yes.” he said, “Expect to evacuate.” We were expecting an invasion tomorrow. You couldn’t image how we felt. I would like to just know to this day who
that Australian was, I will never know. They had taken over Kokopo, which was a few miles over, and we were listening to every thing. He said ‘yes’ and we came home with the Father. I remember it was a moonlight night, beautiful moonlight night. Four of us set out, we stood out in the moonlight and we said, “What will we do?” and we said there was nothing we could do we will just stay here.
Early in the morning Father came down, they were just having breakfast and he said, “The people just came up to me and said they had just found an Australian soldier in their dug out and he won’t move, and they can’t move him.” Father said, “We will take a stretcher down.” so we went down with Father and a nurse
went down, it was a shell-shocked Australian soldier. Who had got away from our hospital, he had run away that night, shellshock, he didn’t know what he was doing. Father said, “I’ll take him up and I’ll look after him but you will have to go ahead and report him.” We didn’t know the invasion was on. We were told it was going to be expected but he said, “I won’t be able to
keep him without reporting him to the Australian authorities.”
So we set off the two of us, and neither of us knew the way and these Japanese planes were coming over the coconut tops like that, and here we were in our white habits walking along the road. We said, “We’ll have to get off the road.” We got off the road and we got lost.
All along the roads were broken cars, broken down cars, every instrument, everything you could image, bikes, trucks all broken down left there, everybody had cleared off, it appeared that everybody had cleared off to the bush. There wasn’t a native to be seen anywhere, they’d cleared out. Here we are the two of us walking along on the way to Vunapope to report this soldier who was there.
We got there, we went around all day long, it was 7 o’clock in the morning when we left, about 3 o’clock we found our way and we said, “We have to get back, we have to find the road again.” so we did, we found the road and we walked to Vunapope and we were in Vunapope by this time. As we came, the hospital was there, the road was running along there
and here this big truck came out full of Japanese soldiers. They’d landed alright. They stood up and they flicked their bayonets out at us like this. I thought, ‘This is it!’ They yelled and screamed and all of a sudden there was this order, you know how they scream the order out, they scream the orders out in military things and all of a sudden they all
just sat down like that and the truck turned and went the other way. We ran for our lives. We got there and the bishop was there and the minister. The bishop looked to the side and said, “Where have you come from?” We said, “Tapo.” He said, “We’re prisoners, you can’t go back, we’re prisoners.”
That was the end, I had to stay there. The two of us stayed there. The other sister was left out there for three months alone and she didn’t know what had happened to us, we had no communication, no money.
Did she join you eventually?
That was that. I couldn’t get back to Vunapope, I had to stay there.
The Japanese, for three months, did not go inland at all. That sister was only ten mile out in the bush and that was three months before they got to that station. She was brought into us there and the Father was there. This is what people did not know, for three months the Japanese,
they landed, yes there was a battle fought. A certain amount of soldiers were told to stay behind and face the Japanese as they landed, which they did. That book is one that you must read. Then they would know what happened that night. They did face the Japanese; they faced the Japanese landing in Rabaul. People don’t know that, there was a battle fought on the shores of Rabaul.
They didn’t go inland?
No, they didn’t go inland. After that, they fought those soldiers. I’m the only one, I’m not an
eyewitness, one of the fathers, a Father from Rabaul, he was not an army man he was the parish priest at Rabaul, and he was captured. When he knew these soldiers had to stay behind he would look after them, he was an Irishman by the way, and a great friend with the soldiers. They were very upset that they had to stay and face the enemy while the others were told to go and get away. Every man for himself. They had to make it to the bush.
The Father had said, “I’ll stay with you.” so he stayed. He was captured of course and imprisoned in Rabaul for six months or more. He got dysentery and he was dying and they brought him out to the mission. He told me about that on the shores of Rabaul. As far as I know he would be the only one alive who would know but he died eventually afterwards.
That has to be written in history. They didn’t not move, they knew there were more soldiers in Rabaul, but they thought they had gone up to the mountains and they were going to come down but instead of that they were trying to get away and were told to go, get away. They delayed three months in Rabaul, waiting for that to happen.
They’d been there three months and the Americans joined the Australian Navy. Coral Sea battle took place, we’ve heard it. We saw them going out, the Japanese going out and their ships going out and we saw them coming back, the war, it is a terrible sight. Seeing them coming back wounded and everything. That’s something that’s not known.
There was never any attempt to reinforce the soldiers that were left?
No, they refused to do it. The Australian Government refused to do it. They said, “We can’t do it. You just have to look after yourself.” Now those poor soldiers who were told and given orders to get away, ‘look after, every man for himself” was the order, but some got away, but a lot didn’t, a lot got down the coast
and the Tol Massacre took place. They were told if they surrendered they would be alright but as soon as they landed they just shot them. There was a Father, an Australian Father down the coast there, who helped the Australian to get away, he helped them a lot and they got away, Father Harris. The Japanese came along and they took him out to sea and we don’t
know what happened, they shot him and his body was washed up onto the shore. He had helped the Australians to get away. He refused to leave them so he helped them himself and wanted to stay and look after the lot. Further down the coast was an Irishman, the same thing happened to him, he helped the Australians get away, he was shot. Nobody was allowed to touch his body. That was seemed to be there.
In Rabaul too, the natives say that some of the bodies that were washed up, and that is the big question with a mark after it at the moment. We are trying to get that enquired into, who was really on that ship? Because when the bodies were supposed to be been washed up around Rabaul. We don’t know, we don’t know, whether they really went all the way around,
or if they only went some of the way, or massacred. They are all things that are mysteries, we don’t know.
When the sister was left on her own in inland?
Was she at the convent, did she have any stories to tell, of seeing any fleeing soldiers?
I can’t remember, I can’t remember.
She would have been very worried I’d imagine?
We were worried about her, she’s all alone, we were safe we were with the others. No, I don’t know. That was early, it was in the early part, they were far more lenient towards the missionaries, and they would bring them in and put us all together. One Father, I’ve got his photograph there, Father Fankue[?], he was a German,
he was tortured and tortured and tortured, three times he was brought into Rabaul and tortured, for helping the Australians get away. He continued to do it, to get though the war. He went back. While I was down the coast he stayed with the missions and I thought this Father would get away to Australia with the Australian soldiers, they probably lost their lives.
Others were tortured, all Germans, they were tortured for helping them. Later on when they were dying, they thought they were dying, they’d bring them into our camp, you would really think they were dying, but they lived.
I want to go back before the invasion and talk about life in Rabaul in comparative peacetime, you were working in the town as a teacher,
tell us a little bit about that?
Well I didn’t have much to do with anybody, really. The sisters in the Chinese school had more to do with the Chinese, because they were traders and people like that. They would have met a lot of people. I was only new there so I didn’t know many people in Rabaul itself. I didn’t have much time.
I was in the school and then I taught music, and I taught commerce because these little mixed race children, this was their only chance of getting a job afterwards, was to be able to type and do bookkeeping. Because the Chinese wanted that. They wanted that. I didn’t sort of socialize.
All the teaching was conducted in English?
Did everybody speak English?
Yes, in our schools, yes. But out in the station it was all native language.
What did people do in the town of Rabaul, what was the…?
Most of them were traders. We had Neil Creaky[?] you know
and Gordon Thomas who has written books about that. There was a printer, he printed the Rabaul Daily Times, and otherwise they just seemed enjoyed themselves and just had parties. All that kind of thing. They were very close-knit community. It wasn’t a large community of European people. They would have been all up in the administration
positions, like Townsend and Harold Page and those kind of people they were all government people.
Was it a very international community?
No, they were Australians. There was a big Chinese population, big Chinese population and Japanese as well.
Some Filippinos, some mixed race children, Wham, Filippinos in the community.
When you first arrived the relationship between the Australian population and the Japanese population was ok?
Can you talk a little bit about that?
I would not know anymore than that, what I knew of the Japanese, they were good to us.
You mentioned you had seen a shipload of Japanese arrive?
At that time, or was it much later?
No, that was just before the war, just two weeks before Pearl Harbor, very close to the war. That was when people were starting to get suspicious because the Japanese knew that they were going, they must have gone back to Japan. I don’t know.
We will talk about that in a moment perhaps
but you mentioned you had some mixed race Japanese children?
I had two brothers there.
Tell us about them?
They were lovely kids. They were lovely kids. Their mother was a native but their father was Japanese and very good, very good, no trouble at all but they were taken away. He was taken away, but how I don’t know.
He was on his way to Australia.
What about your other students, were they Australian children?
No, no, no mixed race, all mixed. I’ve got a photo there, you can take a look.
I’ll take a photo. They were mixed, when you say mixed race you mean indigenous and European, indigenous and what sort of?
I’d say Filippinos.
Guam, I didn’t know half of them what they were.
Interviewee: Berenice Twohill Archive ID 0177 Tape 05
During this time did you have other duties in the mission?
Yes. I used to look after the church, that was a big job. I used to do the cooking, I used to get the meals, I used to make
the bread, which was new to me. I used to make the bread before I went to school. That was about it that took up the day. On the weekends I used to go around Chinatown, another sister and I used to go around Chinatown and meet all the Chinese.
Where there lots of Chinese?
There were lots of Chinese.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Chinese population, did you have
much to do with them?
No, I didn’t, I wasn’t in the Chinese school. There was another sister in the Chinese school.
What did you do when you went around Chinatown?
We used to talk to them. The sister I went with had been on the missions for a long time, the old chaps we used to talk to a lot, they were living in little houses, just houses.
Did the mission work with the Chinese population as well?
But with that particular part?
They had a Chinese school, there were four sisters in the Chinese school and they had two Chinese teachers. It was English, they taught English and the Chinese teachers taught Chinese.
Were there other religions in Rabaul at the time?
Yes, there would have been Anglicans and the Methodists weren’t far away, they were just outside the grounds.
Did you have anything to do with the other orders?
No. We were too busy doing our own work, we didn’t have time. You were teaching in a school all day, there wasn’t much. Then we had our religious exercises to get in and we had our prayers to say at our convent and that all takes up time.
Do you think you found what you were looking for?
Can you talk a little bit about that feeling?
I loved it, I wanted to go back but I couldn’t go back. If it wasn’t for my health, I had so much malaria, I wouldn’t go back now.
What did you love about it?
I just loved the coloured people. There was something about them that just threw me. Even when, the day I arrived,
as I say, the two schools had arranged a welcome for me. They were standing on this side and the mixed race on this side. Immediately, I was drawn. It’s just something you can’t explain. Luckily that was where I was placed.
We were so happy there, we had our own band, could sing, could do everything and they were marvellous at playing soccer they could run rings around our soccer players, they were fantastic. They were fantastic. They were big fellows, eighteen and nineteen,
they were fantastic.
Was it in some senses removed from the cares from the rest of the world?
Even with all the traders coming in and out?
No, that didn’t affect us at all, that didn’t effect us at all. The only thing was when the Japanese came, it was just,
what did I say, sort of an uncanny feeling because they had just been disappearing. Then this ship should turn up and they didn’t nothing but go around and they still do and you always see Japanese taking photos. They were everywhere. When they landed they came in to Rabaul,
and they thought they were better than us.
Can you talk a little bit more about that eerie time when the Japanese started disappearing and it started to get a bit tense?
Everybody was just saying ‘what is going on’? Nobody knew, nobody suspected. We never suspected that they
would turn around and come to war, or try and land. Never. It was just, I don’t know, it was just, and then to wish about something but you don’t know what it is.
Did you notice Australian troops arriving before the…?
We were there when they arrived. They had nothing to do with us.
When we saw them all the Catholics would come to mass on Sunday, and that was the only time that we saw them. We would hear them going home at night. When they were allowed to go into town. They were outside the town. Certain nights they were allowed out. They would pass by our house.
Can you tell us about the church, and where the masses where held?
They were in Rabaul, it was a big church.
The Chinese and we had the Europeans and then we had the natives and then the soldiers who came that were Catholics. They would come to our church and the others would go to theirs.
All those groups, were part of the same congregation?
It’s quite unique?
Quite unique, yes.
Did they all take communion together?
Yes. That was no distinction. Different colour and different
nationalities but that was all it was. Nothing else mattered. It’s just the same now it doesn’t matter what you are, it’s the same when you are a Catholic. You are just one.
Did you feel even the Australian troops where one with the congregation in the same way or were they a little bit apart from it?
They only just came that day, we don’t know. I don’t think they had anything to do with it, I don’t think they were allowed, they had to stay home
in Rabaul. We never saw them apart from that Sunday. They’d be, there was only one truckload of them come. Only one nurse was a Catholic, but she would be dead. The others would have gone to their places, their churches. We would just go over and say good aye in their trucks and off they’d go, that was all we had to do.
This only happened once,
did you say?
No, that happened every Sunday.
About how long before the Japanese invasion, were there Australian troops coming to church?
Only about twelve months or so, only about twelve months. That’s why it was so hard to lose soldiers when they were told “every man for himself to go up to the bush.” find their own way. None of them had any idea of the tropics
or knew what to do. Nobody needs starve in the tropics if they’re free, because there is so much. The vegetation, the whole thing is full of fruit, vegetables and plants. They wouldn’t have known, they wouldn’t have had a clue how to keep themselves alive.
How much did the nuns know about the tropics?
Well, those who had been there for years and years they knew everything, and they could tell you anything. You learn when you go out in the bush you’d remember these things.
Did you learn some of those secrets yourself?
Later on, of course you lived off the native vegetation?
Yes. The soil is volcanic,
you could grow anything, and it grows so quickly. When we went to Rawley, just towards the end they allowed us to go out and make our own gardens, we were under guard of course but only twenty we were allowed to go. We’d go out in the morning and we had to stay all day. We had no protection from the planes,
they were going over us all the time, they just had to lie on the ground. Then they would bring us back, whatever we had grown we’d bring back and eat it. But after that we couldn’t grow anything.
How did you adapt to the tropical weather when you first arrived in Rabaul?
It didn’t worry me at all. It does worry a lot of the sisters, but I love the heat.
Was it just heat, could you explain the normal weather?
Heat, you would just drain perspiration all day.
Of course in Rabaul itself, you had the volcano and that adds to the heat, you had the pumice, pumice dust and that was on you all day.
What about the rainy season?
I don’t remember much rain. I can’t remember much rain at all.
Even later on you mentioned in Rawley, there was a lot of rain?
In Rawley it was all the way down there, the sun never got to us there. It was just damp. Not in Vunapope when we were living in the tunnels and the mountains. They were dry, but when we went into Rawley the water was trickling down the sides of the tunnels that we lived in. We had to lie in it all night.
It was very unhealthy.
What were the amenities like in the town, did you have running water?
We did, yes. We had electricity. We were paying, or trying to pay off a fridge when I was there, we had no fridge, and we used to make lolly water like
Soft drink, yes, we were trying to pay it off by selling those to the tourists.
Did the order have, was it quite wealthy, did you have enough money to do what it wanted to do?
We were all self-supporting. Not in Rabaul but out in Vunapope, every thing was directly
sent to Vunapope. We had to send our washing out, because if we tried to wash it after the eruption, everything would fell to pieces and you would put it in water and it would disintegrate, so it had to be sent out.
Why did it, please explain?
Because of the pumice and the dust and stuff. That was really difficult having pumice and dirt. Vunapope had a couple of
boats, ‘pinos’ as they called it, they would run backwards and forwards across the harbour, it was only twenty mile around by the coast.
Where there any other hardships that you had to deal with, that you hadn’t been exposed to in Australia?
A lot of the sisters would have found the climate very, very trying. I can’t say that I did, but I did start getting
malaria, and that was the killer.
What do you feel when you get malaria?
It makes you feel. It affects different people different ways. I had what they called low fever for a long, long time. When you first go to the tropics you have to be what they call acclimatised. That means, you’re expected to get fever
in a couple of weeks or a month or so. You take your antibiotics and that’s normal. I didn’t, I just got low fever, and that’s just a couple of degrees lower. That’s bad because it stays inside instead of coming out. That was my main trouble.
That used to attack you on a regular basis?
Yes, that was very tiring, very.
About how often did the symptoms occur,
because they come on and go away don’t they?
Yes, oh I don’t know. It would just come and you didn’t know anything about.
Did you work through it?
Yes. If you get hypo you don’t. The first high fever I got was when I went to Rabaul and I had a fever every week, and that was bad.
Tell you explain your movements up until December when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, in the story that you told us before, you were in Rabaul?
Then where did you go after that?
I went out to Vunapope.
And you stayed there for?
I was out in Tapo by Christmas time, so 8th of December was Pearl Harbor wasn’t it?
We had to move almost immediately after Rabaul. So, we would have been there only a couple of weeks, when they asked to go out to one of the stations.
You went from Rabaul to Vunapope for a couple of weeks then where did you go?
Then Tapo. Tapo was the station. We went up that night and found out our men were in action. We walked right into it.
What was happening in Tapo,
before you went out there, what was the station out there?
Just the ordinary, schools and hospital, that’s all.
But there was a much larger indigenous population?
Yes, nobody else only people themselves, at the out station it was only the people themselves except plantation owners, but that’s not part of the mission.
How did the mission
get on, on those out stations, was it more difficult or easier?
It would be difficult of course. They’d leave you alone and then they would come in to the headquarters every now and again, and they’d would have all their supplies sent out to them. There was no radio, no telephone there was no communication, it’s not what they’ve got now but in those days they didn’t.
they’d be months and months and months out at the out station and you wouldn’t met anybody.
What about water and electricity?
They have generators at a lot of places, in electricity. That would have been put on us at a certain time, say 6, 12 at night and they would start up the generator and we would have light for the night and they would turn it off at such and such a time.
Was it like that in Vunapope?
Yes, at that time, yes. Not now. They have electricity and everything now.
Can you describe Vunapope as it was before all this started, what was there?
It was a thriving place, a thriving place. They had two schools, or one school really, one was for
native boys, a lot of them would have been mixed race and also the girls. The brothers would be teaching all those boys, we didn’t have those not then. The other German sister would be teaching the bigger girls. Then we had a boarding school of girls.
We also had a little nursery of babies whom their mothers had died in childbirth, looking after babies until they were fostered out to somebody later on. We had quite a bit of trouble there in the beginning with those, because they were away in the little, it wasn’t a hospital, a nursery, where a sister lives, one sister
lived with this baby, there would have been about half a dozen or more. She would be there all day nursing those babies, looking after them and feeding them. She was downstairs. In the beginning they were getting into everything. She had trouble with the Japanese trying to break in and that kind of thing. So she had to be removed and
brought over and the babies had to be sent home.
How big was the community there, to begin with?
We were about thirty-five to forty just our community. We were mainly, we all came together and that took some time, the sisters and the Australians got together, there were eight Australians and the rest were Dutch. We had Alsace,
we had Irish, Belgium and that was about all we had.
Was English the Lingua Franca between these people?
It was a big story. We had to learn the native language, and they’d be out on stations and that so we would half the time get them all mixed up and that.
We had a big washing, we’d do washing for the mission at the out stations and they always knew we were there, a big washing place. There was a big store. We had a shoemaker, and he’d mend all our shoes. We had a dentist, a Brother who looks after our teeth in Vunapope. We had our own doctor.
I’m just trying to get a image of the buildings and the physical structure of the place, it was like a small town, Vunapope?
It was a small town.
And the centre of this town was the convent or the church, or was there a big central place?
I’d suppose the cathedral, I would say.
Was it an old cathedral, how long?
It was a big, beautiful cathedral
it wasn’t long.
This village would become almost like a barracks later on, they would fence it off or did it stay it as was for a while?
When the Japanese came?
When the Japanese came?
When the Japanese moved in we had to stay in our own place. Before that you could have walked around anywhere, mix with anybody. We had to stay there, the
other sisters had to stay in their compound and their convent, and the fathers and brothers would stay there.
We had the indigenous sisters with us and they had to be sent away, they were sent out to the bush, the ones that had saved their lives. The seminarians were there, they were allowed to stay. The German sisters, like the other order, the MSC sisters,
they looked after the girls. They were allowed to keep the girls because there were a lot of half Japanese girls so they were allowed to keep those girls. They were even with us down in Rawley. It was strange, down in Rawley, every once or twice a week, it wasn’t more than that, the Japanese,
the half Japanese girls went up to the police station and they would feed them up, they were good to them, and they didn’t interfere with them or anything. The others had to go without.
When Vunapope, before the invasion, was there any communication with Australia, did they have a phone there or did they?
They had a phone there in Vunapope, we didn’t.
Everybody would wait for the boats to come in, and the mail would be on the boats. It was great; everybody would go down to meet the boat.
Did they still have the strict rules on writing and communication with the outside family?
Not so much here. No.
Who did you get letters from?
I would have got some from home.
Other sisters perhaps, that I’d been friendly with down here. But as I said my mother died and I didn’t know till after the war that she had died. We were completely, those four-year, three years and nine months exactly, we were cut off from the outside world. We had no communication with anyone,
on anything, we knew nothing.
During the last communication you got from Australia, did you get any Christmas messages that Christmas or was it cut off before then?
No. We got the Christmas messages, we got those, because it was all right then, it wasn’t until after Pearl Harbor, when things were strict, and got censored and that kind of thing.
Can you tell us a bit more about the bishop, and what was his name?
He was a marvellous man, and absolutely a marvellous man. We wouldn’t have existed, it was only for him. He was called Leo Sharmack[?]. I’d say he was Polish. He was a little short man
and he had been many years out on the missions, he lived right out, in the centre and he was a clever man. He was able to tell us what we could eat when we were out in the bush and do this, do that, roll it up and you can eat it. He’d say it was quite safe. He was a fantastic man. The way he handled those Japanese, we don’t know to this day, really, he must have stuffed
them up. He was up against them all the time; he was fighting for us, fought for us all the time, all the way through.
He must have felt quite isolated being Polish at this time when Poland was the first country to be invaded?
He was there the first time it was invaded, he told us. He’d be backwards and forwards from
Poland to Germany and back to Poland and all that kind of thing. That’s why so many people think he was German, but he was not, he was Polish.
You mentioned he had a background of standing up with what was going on in Germany, or was that some of the other German fathers?
No. The other Father out at Tapo, were I went that station were I went, he really stood up.
Tell us a bit more about the bishop, initially did everyone get along with the bishop a bit better?
Yes, he was a very lovely man. He never showed his authority to us, he was the bishop and he was just one of us at the time. But he was quite different with the Japanese. “I’m the bishop and you can count on me.”
That’s how he managed them.
What about the other fathers?
They were under the bishop they had nothing once the bishop took over, that was it. The Japanese weren’t allowed to talk to anybody else. They had to deal with me and nobody else. You wouldn’t go to anybody else.
Were the other fathers mainly Dutch or German?
Most of the fathers were
German or Austrian or something like that. Some were Austrian or something like that. Mostly German and Austrian. There were some Irish, a couple of Irishmen and a couple of Australians.
What were the German fathers, did they tell you much about Germany?
No. We didn’t mix that much. They were busy with what they were doing and we were busy with what we were doing. It was only on what we called ‘feast days’ we’d get together and talk about things. Even down at Rawley, we kept more or left to ourselves,
we used to have to in the afternoons. Same when we were in Vunapope, we’d just mixed together. We would all go for walks together in the cemetery, sounds funny but it’s the only place to go. We’d all take a stroll down to the cemetery.
The cemetery had been there for many years?
In Vunapope yes. But down in Rawley.
You had your own?
We had our own.
Everybody went down to the cemetery.
Can you tell us about one of those feast days, do you remember an Easter celebration?
I remember the first Christmas I was there and we were behind barbed wire at this time, the first Christmas I was out at Tapo, I remember that. We were brought in. The next Christmas we were behind barbed wire,
that was a red memorial because we decided we have this big concert on Christmas Eve.
Behind barbed wire?
Yes. We Australians, we had to do the first section, like the birth of Christ and leading up to that. We had to write from memory the plays and things like that. Then
the Germans had theirs, they’d speak in German. Then the Samarians, the boys they had to do their part in the native language and it was marvellous. I will never forget it, it was absolutely wonderful. On the Christmas morning, we thought they won’t bomb us today because it was Christmas Day, they won’t bomb us today. We all had a race to see who would sing
Silent Night. You could hear this all around the compound on Christmas morning. Sure enough they did come and bomb us. You couldn’t believe it, surely they’d leave us in peace on Christmas Day.
Did you put aside some special foodstuff for Christmas Dinner?
I don’t remember. I don’t think we had anything at that time. Little details like that I can’t remember. But other things just stick there.
That singing of Silent Night must have been quite…?
You have no idea, to hear the Germans sing ‘Silent Night’ in German, it’s something you can’t forget, and it’s just fantastic.
I’ve heard it in German and it’s particularly beautiful in German isn’t it?
That’s were it was originated. It really is something. The translation takes something from it.
That’s often the case isn’t it, Latin hymns are often much nicer than the English ones?
Yes. The same with like the French. I’ve always like operas and things, they have got to be sung in either Italian or
French or they lose something when translated.
Did the fathers and the bishop give mass in Latin at that stage, or in English?
Yes it would have been Latin. We had mass every day, every day, which was marvellous.
Were there rumours amongst the missionaries and the community you were in at the time that the Japanese were going to invade before that fateful night?
No, it never entered our minds. Even though all this sort of thing was pointing to something, but no, we never.
Looking back were you a little bit optimistic?
Yes, we must have been stupid. We trusted them. Because we’d known the Japanese. We all trusted them. Sometimes, the officers would have a speaker that was very well, and we don’t want to bomb Australia
After the invasion, after that night you explained you came back from Tapo to Vunapope?
What was the atmosphere like when you were told that you were prisoners now, do you remember how you felt?
I can’t remember. I know I would have felt sorry for the poor sister who was left there by herself, and not knowing where we were. Nobody would tell her. The natives, they all
disappeared. I heard this later, but when the Japanese landed and the natives saw, they ran, they ran from them. The Japanese would point up and say “same skin.” “same skin, we’re friends, same skin.” They’d run and they’d get a fright, and they shot a lot of them, and that made them frighten of them.
Who would have been most in your prayers
at that stage?
My family. Because that was my biggest worry because they didn’t know where I was.
When you say family, being concerned about you, or a threat of an invasion themselves?
No, them wondering where I was. It was almost four years, we had no contact, this is what people don’t understand. We didn’t even have Red Cross,
we didn’t have anything.
At the very beginning of that four years in December 1941, did you think about Australia at that time, the threat that must have been to Australia?
Rabaul was Australian territory, it was an invasion of Australia?
This was an invasion of Australia. Australians would have
walked first on Australian soil. No, I mean they would have met Japanese on Australian soil, Australian soldiers.
Before New Guinea?
Yes, in Rabaul. That’s not known. And that’s what I want known, that we lost men, on Australian soil first before they came to the Kokoda Trail
or anywhere else. There wouldn’t have been any Kokoda Trail if they hadn’t have stopped three months up there.
Did you see any wounded Australian soldiers?
Yes, lots. I told you they were in our hospital.
Did you have any contact with them?
We fed them.
What were they like?
They were sick and despondent and they didn’t know what was going to happen,
they were prisoners and that. They didn’t know what was going to happen; they didn’t want to leave the hospital. The Japanese were watching them and as soon as they thought they were well enough, they took them off and we didn’t see them again.
A lot of them got massacred after that?
A lot of them drowned, we don’t know. There have been so many tails. A lot of grave masses
were found around here. The natives are strange, I say they’re strange. They’ll say things that they think you want to hear. You ask them something and they think you want them to say such and such a thing and they will say it.
It’s very hard to get a straight answer?
Yes. There are so many tales about what did happen,
we don’t know which is true. That’s the story about that on the video. Were all these soldiers taken, or were they just taken outside and massacred and thrown overboard. Others say they saw so and so washed up. We were never allowed to touch any body.
There was a time at which you were separated or you were going to be separated from the Germans and the Dutch, can you explain that decision and how you?
That was about June. The bishop came over one day and he said, “We’ve got bad news.” and I had no idea what was said, then
he said, “I’ve just been told they are going to take the nurses.” because the nurses weren’t living with us that’s the military and the Anglican nurses, they were all with us. He said, “And the Australian sisters, they are going to take you all to Japan.” He said “I’m sorry, I can’t stop them because you don’t belong
they’re not under my jurisdiction.” But he said, “The Australian sisters you will not go, over my dead body, I’ll take care of it.” and that was it. The nurses went away, the truck pulled up and one Australian Father went and one Australian Brother and they were supposed to be lost in the Montevideo Maru.
They were a long time in Rabaul.
Interviewee: Berenice Twohill Archive ID 0177 Tape 06
Did he talk to you about it at all?
No. The only thing we knew was that the army knew that they were moving quickly, quickly down and taking every island they came too. No, there was no talk
about that. Not amongst us as a civilian population. It was, I believe amongst the administration, because they were petitioning Canberra all the time. “Send us more help, send us more help, they’re moving down quickly, they’re taking this place and that place and they’re coming along, and now they are just outside the harbour, can’t you send us help, can’t you do something?”
By this time I was out in the compound by this time. No, nobody saw that I could recall. I think even if we did, I don’t even recall I don’t think even thinking, we thought, ‘well they’re our friends’. We’d known so many, no it just didn’t enter my head anyway.
We spoke of seeing a reconnaissance aircraft though?
Yes, that was back in December. We saw that and we queried that we said that was news that and we didn’t see any sign, it was too high up. I would say that the bishop and the people with intelligence thought of something like that. But I know that Harold Page
and Mr Townsend and those in the Administration were just begging “send us help, send us help or else take us away.”
Did they leave?
No. They were both drowned or killed or executed, I don’t know what.
That was on the ship that?
They say they were on the ship but the natives say that saw, they were suppose to be on the Montevideo Maru and the natives said they saw
Mr Page washed up near Rabaul. We don’t know, this is where all the things get muddled up and nobody knows the truth.
Did you see the loading of the Montevideo Maru?
No. We were out in Vunapope, and that’s twenty miles away, right around the coast. The only one, and this is by a letter that I got. Mr Beasley senior, because his brother was a Methodist
worker up there, was a missionary, at a different place to what we were he was out the other side of Rabaul. After the war, he came up and he was reported being on the Montevideo Maru, and the father came up and went out to the Methodist Mission. They were already building houses
and everything and he was introduced as Mr Beasley, and this native boy said, “Mr Beasley, Mr Beasley. Mr Beasley helped me build these houses.” He questioned. He said, “Yes, he went on the ship and I saw him get on the ship and I carried his things, his tools down to the ship.” Whether that is true or not we don’t know. Mr Beasley checked everything there then he went to Japan
and checked everything with the Japanese, and what the Americans had said happened then what the Japanese had said happened to the ship really. It coincided and everything seemed to match. He was convinced he was on the ship. Nobody knows.
Did you know him well?
No, I didn’t know him at all.
At the time?
What about the administrators, did you know them very well, Harold and…
No I didn’t, I wasn’t there long enough, but the older sisters, yes they knew him very well.
What did the Administrators do at the time?
Well I don’t know, what do you do when you’re an administrator of an island. I suppose they were in charge of it, I don’t know.
Were they representing Australia?
They were representing the Australian Government. They were called the Administrator of Rabaul. It’s a big position and Mr Townsend
was also in with that. I knew his wife, I knew Mrs Townsend, and I didn’t know him though.
Where did Mrs Townsend go?
I suppose she went back to Australia. When things got very, very, they considered dangerous they said we have to evacuate the civilians. That’s when they evacuated all the ladies,
children and all the babies and everything else. Nothing about the Chinese. The Chinese were just left. It wasn’t even mentioned. That’s when the bishop came to us and he said, “All of you might have to go to Australia, they have no choice they must go.” that’s when he asked us he said, “You’re free to go.” and we said, “No, we’d stay.” We thought we were going to be allowed
to carry on with our work.
You hadn’t been there very long?
I hadn’t been there.
Had you adapted very well though?
Yes. The older sisters, they would have known all of those men, known them very well. When we were released a lot of those, not those women, but others who had been in Rabaul before, they came down and they knew all of those older sisters.
How did the older sisters fare, when you were held in captivity?
The same, we were all the same. We had one sister and she was elderly and she’d been up there for a long time and she was dying of cancer. She’d been to Sydney and they said you’ve got six months to live. And she said, “I want to go back to Rabaul.” and she died. She died down on the mountain where she’d lived with all the rest of them,
and she died in her own hammock.
Did you remember her very well?
Yes. Sister Madill[?]. But that was well over; it would have been two years she lived. After all that hardship and stuff she survived, but she held on for two years. There were three stages
to our imprisonment. First, when we were imprisoned in our own house. We had guards going around all the time. We were never without them; they just went round, round and round the house. The property was only from here to the end of this building, really, just outside. At night, the same thing they would walk around, and we had a veranda right around,
and it went round, round and round. We didn’t get undressed or anything for weeks. We were so terrified with what was going to happen. We were all just huddled into one room at night. The guards would be going around and they’d come and knock and try and get in. We were just terrified. Once the bishop got control. It was about a week to ten days before he really
got control and he said, “That’s got to stop, such and such has got to stop.” we couldn’t stop the guards coming around that was alright, but they sort of threatened us more or less. Then during the day, but those nights were terrible because we never knew what was going to happen? They’d tram up the stairs and they would tramp around and around. During
the day, not only just the guards but other soldiers would come in too and they would have their bayonets and they would throw them at us like this and say, “Blood of an Australia soldier, blood of an Australian soldier.” They used tomato sauce and we didn’t know whether it was true or not. They’d try and intimidate us in ways like that. Everyday we were checked,
everyday without fail, you were called downstairs and we would have to line up on the veranda and they’d count us. One, two, three, four up to twenty. Most of them sent to check on us couldn’t go past twenty, and they would have to start off. They couldn’t count past twenty, there were more than that, there were thirty-five,
just in our house.
Did you receive different treatment because you were nuns?
They had no idea what we were. They had no idea what we were, they used to look at us and say “huh.” and they had no idea.
So they didn’t treat you any differently to the rest of the civilian population that they impounded?
We don’t know, we didn’t have any civilian population with us. We don’t know what they did to the civilians. We only had the (UNCLEAR) with us
and they were treated just the same as we were. They tried to intimidate us. Once the bishop had gone around he said, “They’re women, they’re not to be touched, you don’t touch anyone.”
I can image there could have been some rapes at that stage were there?
There weren’t no. Because of that, because of that. I would say, we did meet some decent young men, some officers,
who were really decent and knew what we were and they would obey that and they didn’t have a lot to say. In fact one of them, he said to us on one occasion, he said, “Never let a Japanese find you on your own.” so that was good advice. We never, we always kept together; we were one wherever we went and that was in the beginning, the first weeks.
It was a terrifying time, when we were in our houses. I said they did try to get into this house where the sister was looking after the babies, she was nursing those babies and she had a lot of trouble. She’d complained to a doctor and the bishop went to the highest, he would always say, “I go to Major so and so.” he learnt all their names by degrees, “No, I go to Major so and so and complain.”
I had never seen anyone, this was with those soldiers. They were disciplined; they dare do anything once they were. Their nurses, when their nurses came, as I said they were put opposite us, by the barbed wire fence and there was a notice put up. A soldier never went within cooee of that place.
Did you meet the Japanese nurses?
No. They used to walk past our door and we’d just say ‘hello.’ They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Japanese. They were friendly, they were friendly towards us. As I say, we were searched, searched and searched and over and over again. Then
one day they came along, and there was a crowd of them this time, and overnight, we’d just arrive in Rabaul, and early in the morning we heard, ‘come downstairs’ or whatever, in a rough big voice. So we all jumped up and went downstairs. nThere were so many Japanese around us, we were surrounded. A whole battalion
moved in overnight and we didn’t hear a sound. They were silent, they never spoke to one another during the day, even when with these particular ones, they never spoke to each other. They were so silent all the time. The discipline, it was just amazing. We’d see then, I’d say it was the fence or something but we’d line up every Saturday,
or whatever day it was, out within our days which was when we were back behind the barbed wire, just as far from here to, it wouldn’t have been as far as the church. They’d be all lined up and the officers would come along, right along the fence, slapping both cheeks, evidently that was their punishment, we don’t know what for.
That just went on all the time. You never heard them, you never heard them talking. They were just so silent. Discipline, as I say once the order was there they were very disciplined. They imposed that on us too, right from the first. If you do anything, if you run away, or if you do something
we don’t like your head comes off. Not only you, but ten more heads come off. If two of you do it, then twenty heads come off. They’d say things like that. There were all sorts of threats but they’d write it up. Funny English, we used to laugh, it would give us a laugh,
because it was so ridiculous with the way they tried to express themselves. They used to scare us with, ‘you are going to be shot to death.’ That was all, there, we didn’t know what would have been done, surely, no doubt about that.
Were there any executions that you knew of at that time?
No. Only some natives, they were shot and they took him through our grounds down into our cemetery, we heard the shot but we didn’t see it.
What happened in that situation, why was that do you know?
We didn’t have any contact with the natives at all. We had no talk; at least once they came we had no contact with anybody.
How many people did they execute at that time?
I don’t know. It would have been one here and one there, it wasn’t a big lot. I believe, and I’ve been reading these books about people who were in Rabaul they did see it happen, being executed.
Did you get any news of what was happening in Rabaul?
No. I told you when
the nurses were moved and we were allowed to stay and they took Father McCullen and Brother Redman, they were two Australians, they had to go with them too.
Why was that, they were with you?
They were part of the mission but the bishop couldn’t prevent them from going. They had to come too. But he saved us.
Do you think there were some particular reasons why they had to leave?
Just because they were Australian I think. Even when, we had no contact with them at this time, they were right over there in another part. When they were going they came within distance of us and waved goodbye. We were even allowed to talk to them.
Do you know what happened to them?
It’s on the video. I was going to say, they went in.
Every now and again we’d get a little note from Father McCullen and he’d survived and we were able to say mass. He must have been nearly overdue. We’d seen a little note asking for some more hosts and wine. He must have found a friendly Japanese that did that for him. I never saw him, I never saw the man that brought the note.
he would just go to one of the sisters that was responsible and we’d give it to him and we’d just take it back.
Were you able to keep a supply of host and wine?
Yes. The wine lasted all the time. The host, which was a miracle, because flour doesn’t keep in the tropics, do you know that? It gets sort of weevils.
We had that trouble. Before that, we used to have to put it out in the sun every now and again, we’d put it out in the sun, to keep it fresh. We had no trouble at all during the war.
They didn’t take it off you?
Did you have to hide it?
So you kept a supply of host and wine right through the war?
Yes. And right in the middle of one of the bombings, one of our sisters, she ran back, “I haven’t got the box, I haven’t got the wine!”
We went back and got it. She could have easily have been bombed.
So she went back?
Yes, she went back.
Who was in charge of that?
That was like our Superior.
Our Superior and she was Dutch and she was the one who ran back to get it.
How did you keep it hidden?
I don’t know. A lot of things happened, you know with everybody,
Did you talk?
We didn’t talk too openly, because it was too dangerous.
Were you able to take communion right through, even?
Even the time you were living in the valley?
Yes. Every day. The only time we missed out was the first week. That was once the bishop got control and they allowed an old priest, an old Dutch
priest Nolan, who was our chaplain before, they allowed him to came over and stay where we were living and he said mass for us, while we were in the house. Then after that we had no trouble.
You must have had quite a lot of it to have lasted you that long?
It was a miracle. There’s no explanation for it except a miracle.
Yes. Lots and lots of things happened that really
there was no explanation for it.
How much of it did you have?
I don’t know, I don’t know.
But every day you could take a mouth full?
The other congregations they had other sisters who had it, they’d have some and the priests would have had some.
How many people would that have been?
That’s about three hundred.
So every day?
Every day without fail, except the first week.
wine do you take?
Just a sip.
Just a sip.
Just a sip. Some don’t take it at all; they just take the host you don’t have to take the wine.
And yet this supply lasted how many years?
Nearly four years. Yes, it’s unbelievable, it’s unbelievable. How we were able to keep it with all the bombing, it was terrible,
but we were still in it behind the barbed wire at this time. They came over and bombed and bombed our place and we had coals all over the place and we had two statues, a statue of Our Lady there, and the tabernacle, do you know what the tabernacle is? It’s actually what the host sits in. All around was bombed but Our Lady’s statue had fallen on the top of the tabernacle like that
and there was no bomb in her or on the table. That was a miracle, she was looking after us. Holes everywhere.
Were there any other miracles that you can remember?
That was the biggest one. Another one, this was real early when we had the big girls with us, we had boarders,
at the other congregation as well. First we could say we kept them. All of a sudden one of the girls developed TB [tuberculosis], it just came up quickly like that. So she had to be removed because it was real, real bad. I was put in charge of her, and I used to have to carry her out and put her in a little hut that was
down beside our place she was there all day. Then at night I would have to carry her back. At this time all the other girls were told they had to go to the bush, but the little babies were still there. I used to carry her in to where the babies were for her safety during the night and then I used to carry her back again. She only lasted about a week or so. She didn’t need anything she didn’t want anything. She was dying.
She said, “I want watermelon.” We didn’t have any, and we didn’t have anything. She said, “Watermelon.”
So I said to this dear old Dutch priest Father Nolan who was with us, I said, “She wants watermelon.” He said, “Don’t worry.” And in no time he came back with watermelon. Don’t ask where he got it from.
She just took a sip, just a sip of it, and she was dying. That was a real miracle because there was no watermelon within sight.
I don’t think watermelons particularly grow up there, do they?
That was something. All they did was try to starve us, and that wave of
indigenous sisters that came and got food for us. Our Mother Superior caught us that night, and she’d say, “We’d better pray, we have nothing to eat tomorrow.”
The girl that had TB?
Yes, she died.
Where was she from, she was indigenous?
She was from the bush, yes she was indigenous. I don’t know where she was from.
Her family was not around?
No. We had no contact with them.
Were you with her then?
She was just on the grounds, and the other girls were all together and they were all gone. She died so quickly. They say, “galloping consumption.” and she went so quickly. That was a downright miracle. We didn’t question it either.
Did you feel a little, somewhat
depressed, it must have been a very low point for you?
No, not exactly depressed, not then. Things were happening, so much happening. They were at us all day because they never trusted us, right to the last, they never trusted us they thought we had radios. They never let up, they just searched us, search us and searched us, everything.
We didn’t know, because we didn’t know, they never trusted us right up to the last. They blamed us every time the planes would go out and come back and they’d lost so many, and that was our fault. Because we let them know they were coming. That was the way that they thought of us. We give them some way of letting them know they were coming.
If you have some way of letting the Australian Government know, would you have?
Of course we would. There were coastwatchers and things down the coast, they would have done that I think.
Did you know about the coastwatchers?
We’d know they’d be there but we didn’t know any. There’s a story about one of them there that I will tell you after. We were ignorant of anything. It’s just you know these things happened.
In any small way did you offer resistance to them?, were there any small things that you did?
No. Only on one occasion. When we went down to Rawley, on our way down to Rawley we all had a little knapsack that we could take and they were going through each one. I said, “We’re all the same, what are you looking for, we’re all the same.”
so he stopped them. You had to be very careful because you didn’t know how they’d react. You were always sort of on tenterhooks.
Did they hit any of the nuns?
Not that I know of, no. They did hit the nurses. The Captain, Kay Parker, she’s the captain of the military nurses, a very tall
girl, a very powerful girl. They were living with us that this time, when we were living in the big house. I don’t know what she did but we had a little interpreter, Supri, he was only a tiny little fellow like that, he wasn’t unkind. He told us he had an uncle, a religious minister of some sort, he had some idea of what we were. But I don’t know what Kay did,
but anyway, she did something and it displeased him so he had to get a chair and stand on it to get up and smacked her. That was the only time I’ve ever known, for them to touch anybody.
Did you know Kay very well?
We got to know her very well. She spent about six months with us, so we got to know her very well. We remained friends forever after,
there’s still one alive. I think the other one might have died last Christmas; I didn’t get a card from her.
They were separated from you weren’t they, the Australian nurses?
That’s when they were taken away. As I’ve told you, with Father and the others, that was when we were supposed to go on the ships and they sent the truck up in the middle of the day, packed the nurses in, and they went away singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘Home Sweet Home.”
They said, “You’re going to paradise, you’re going to paradise.”
Who said that?
The Japanese told them, they’re going to paradise.
They knew they were going to Japan?
No, they were going to Rabaul; they took them into where all the soldiers were. It was only later on that they were taken
to Japan and that’s another very, very sad story, when they left for Japan.
Were you able to get word to your order back in Australia?
Nothing, nothing. Nobody knew where we were, they had no idea what was happening to us.
Were there other missions who were in a similar situation?
I suppose there would
have been. We had three sisters on the island, that’s an island off Rabaul, three sisters. We never heard and we didn’t know what was happening to them. But they were taken down to the shore or the sea and just shot. We heard that afterwards, we had no way of knowing beforehand.
They were a part of your order?
Yes, three of our sisters.
We knew nothing, what was going on anywhere. We didn’t even know what was going on in Rabaul. We had no idea. We looked and saw and made our own judgments about things.
Did you feel you might be rescued by the Australians?
That’s another story. Before this, when there was talk of this war with the Japanese, what’s happening?
And we should get more, and the word that the Americans drawn away and they were coming to rescue us. That was before the invasion. So this morning, this dear old sister who was there in the First World War, when we took on the Germans and she was there in this war, and asked her. She was asking around, the harbour
was absolutely chock a block with ships. She said, “Thank God the Americans have arrived.” they were all over the place, just like the Japanese ships.
Were you able to continue attending to your vegetable garden?
We had nothing until we went to Rawley, just towards the end. I think they must have realised they were losing.
Which we were all supposed to be dead, all supposed to be dead. Just after the war when the command was on the 15th August, we were all to be put into our tunnels and then the armistice came, they all got killed, on the 15th of August. We didn’t know, we had no idea. It was only found amongst their papers after the war.
At the time, did you start to get to know the guards, very well?
We knew their names, yes. Only the interpreters not the guards.
Those interpreters stay with you the whole time?
Yes, we always had one.
Was it the same interpreter?
No. We had two that I remember quite well; there was this little one ‘Sugi’. He came over crying one day and he said, “I’ve got to
go fight, I’ve got to go to sea, I’ve got to go to sea.” and he didn’t want to go. He went, we lost him and he went. In the middle of the Coral Sea. We didn’t know what is was but we heard about the battle going on, we saw all the ships going out and that’s where he would have gone. As far as we know we never saw him again.
Were you a bit fond of Sugi?
You wouldn’t be fond of them. No he wasn’t unkind,
and he was kept within his bounds he never did anything to us.
Did you ever ask him about his home life back in Japan?
No, he never talked about anything like that. Somebody did say, I don’t know who said it, but they told us they were just men there. The men they were only kids and the teenagers were drawn into the thing. They knew nothing.
Did you see them do any religious rituals?
Not exactly, we saw them, it was within our grounds, in the early part, we would go for a walk down to our cemetery as I had told you and they had this, I don’t know what you would call it, an arrow pointing towards this way and we would see the soldier laid out on a sort of a bed thing and he would be all dressed
in clothes and gloves and socks and shoes and everything else. We would see a Buddhist priest, they had great big beards. He’d be there, and there would be fire underneath it, they used to burn them. I will never forget the first time I saw this, and then all of a sudden the body sat up, like that.
We got the shock of our lives. It was reflex. That was what they did and it was the only thing that we ever saw. They did reverence a bit. For how long that went on I don’t know, but they did send the ashes home. That was a terrible sight, just an immaculate dress,
gloves and everything and they just burnt it.
Were these people were killed in battle or did they just died while they were in the war?
We don’t know who they were or what. They wouldn’t have been killed in battle because they were there, and this was after the invasion and all the killings, there was no one there to kill them.
He must have died of some health problem.
Did you know much about Zen Buddhism?
I think that it is the religion of the Japanese, I don’t know?
It must have been, because the Buddhist priest was there, and he’d have his big beads, and it was the only thing that we saw.
Were you aware of Buddhism in your religion training?
Yes, we knew about it, but we didn’t study it.
Not in that time I didn’t. We were aware of all those different religions, the different countries and what religions they were. They were, at that time, no way towards Christianity at all.
They must have somehow respected it, since they did keep you separate?
Again, I think it was our big numbers and the Bishops in the house. I think they thought if they keep you there, than bring three hundred of you into the camp in Rabaul. They’d bring the Bishops in and they’d say, “This is under my jurisdiction.
I’ll report you, I’ll report you to Germany.” which he had no way of doing. “I’ll report you to the Vatican” which he had no way of doing either. It was only just a bluff.
As your conditions became worse, and you became hungrier, did you find that the order, the hierarchy of your mission, started to break down and other people who were normally?
No. That’s a marvellous thing when you have got faith. The bishop wrote across the chapel that we had ‘indeed have I hoped, and I put my trust in me’, and that’s what kept us together. And it does, religion is the only thing that will keep people through certain circumstances.
Were there times when you fought amongst yourselves?
No, that’s true. There just wasn’t any reason for it. The only word I had, if you would call it a word, when we had to get out of our house
and move into the compound. I had a nice little garden, and the first time that we succeeded in growing daisies. So I said to our Mother Superior, not to the Dutch sister, the Australian, who was in charge more or less, I said, “I’m going to dig up the bulbs and take them with us.” and she said,
“Don’t be silly, we’ll be back soon, don’t take that.” It was the only time that I can remember that we ever sort of. But I did, I dug them up and took them.
You cooked them?
I took them. They grew and they blossomed.
I thought you might have eaten them?
No, they were a lovely thing, but they were long later on and we lost the lot. She said, “Don’t touch them we’ll be back before long, don’t touch we will be back.”
That was too soon, that was in the first six months or so.
Interviewee: Berenice Twohill Archive ID 0177 Tape 07
You spoke about there being three stages in your captivity?
Can you just explain those again for us?
Yes. The first was when we were living in our own house, a big two story building, and a veranda right around and that was when we saw everything that happened in the harbour. All the planes coming over and
they searched and searched and searched and that was then after they took the nurses away. They moved us into the second part, which was the compound with the barbed wire around it. Then the third part was when we went to Rawley.
Let’s talk about the first stage of that, in your house, what were some of the things that you saw in the harbour?
We saw everything, we saw everything,
we had nothing else to do but watch what was going on. We’d seen the bombers coming over and as I said it was a beautiful sight. They’d be coming over the harbour like that. We’re here and we have got full view of them coming into Rabaul, never near us at all. Hundreds of them in perfect formation. Just like little birds coming across, saw the birds, coming across and dropped their bombs and off they’d go.
No one will ever know how many prayers we’d done for all those. Because we prayed continually “get away, get away.” Then you’d see the ack ack [anti-aircraft] fire coming up at them. We watched all that. Day after day, day after day.
What does the ack ack fire look like; can you describe what you can see?
Just a fire going up, you’d see a plane coming down that was hit and that’s it.
Did you see planes get hit?
Can you describe what that looked like?
Terrible. It was a terrible feeling for us. That’s one of our men gone. We just prayed. Father Dickens said to get away, get out to the bush, get out to the bush, when no one was hit you could see the plane and so forth.
A lot got away, some to the missionaries in different places, picked them up and buried them. We watched them come over when they’d bomb the ships, we’d see the ships going down, smoke going up.
Did any ships get sunk in the harbour?
Yes. You couldn’t see exactly,
who or what kind it was. In fact in those days we didn’t know one ship from another. It was only after the war that you learn all these different things.
Did anyone, you were in a group of about thirty five, some of these were nurses, did they have a better idea of what was going on between the army and the air forces?
Totally ignorant. Now, people know about the war. In those
days you didn’t. If you’d talk to your mother when she was young, what did she know about the war, she couldn’t know anything, accept that’s what they were, they went to war and everything.
During that time, in your own house, what were your food supplies like?
They were alright then. We had all these supplies, like I told you, how the civilians,
what was left of it, the men who were not in the army all rushed out to the mission and two managers and carpenters and Burns Philp, they ran into the bush and said, “We are going to get away, here are the keys.” They gave them to the bishop and they said, “Take what they like.”
And you’d hidden them around the place?
We’d hidden them everywhere.
In our house we had one room for the stuff, and when the guards would come around, we had one sister watching it all the time. We had a Mother Superior and she was marvellous, her English was absolutely atrocious and she would watch and see them coming around and they’d be nosing around and getting into everything. They’d come to this room and she’d say, “No, no malaria, TB.”
We learnt they were two things that they were scared of. They never went near that room. So we were able to use those rooms, they never discovered it. That worked very well. I never, never got a chance to get near it. ‘No, no malaria.”
When the Japanese were searching,
what kind of things did they take away?
This particular day, we woke up and they said, “Come downstairs, quickly, come downstairs!” we all walked downstairs, because we were terrified because we didn’t know what they were doing. This army was all around, they’d come in overnight, and we all rushed down and we’re out on our lawn and they said, “Everybody, go upstairs
and bring all your books down, all your books, any books.” so papers, books. We brought those down. They said, “Kneel on them.” We had to kneel on them and had to put them in front of ourselves, and here were they with big guns and bayonets and everything else and big spades. They all carried a spade, a rope with them,
and that meant that you were going to dig your own grave. That was the idea. They were all around us and we were here, I had to kneel down, and we knelt for ages and they went through everything, examined everything in front of us. They didn’t find anything; except they took some books away that they thought looked suspicious. One sister had
had an exercise book that she had done at her training school, she was a teacher, I don’t know what the subject was but she had something about the white race, the yellow race and the black race or whatever it was. It was taken away. We thought, ‘That’s gone.’ We didn’t know that that was in it when they’d taken it at the time. We thought that was the end, we’d never see any of those again.
But they brought them back. This particular exercise, they went through it, they’d gone through those things. They had yellow race: 1; black race: 2; white race: 3. We knew they must have at least read that and other things. They did bring them back to us. That enlightened us a little bit,
that they did something. Another time, we were upstairs and even though they had threw all those, and they let us take them back. I had a music book, like a printed music book, a hymn book and they wanted to take that and I said, “Oh, that’s no use you know.” and they said, “Uh, uh, uh.” and they let me keep that, they couldn’t be bothered it. After that they just left then.
Did they take anything else that you remember, books and music?
No, they didn’t have anything to take, we took everything. I don’t suppose they were allowed to take anything. They were just there to search to see if we didn’t have, that’s what they were looking for. Something that would give them an inkling that we were sending messages. They never trusted us, never, never.
The whole time you thought they were searching for radios?
Did you know that at the time?
Yes, we knew that, they said that. They asked us often. No, we had no radios. We would’ve today but at that time we didn’t.
They sound very professional; did they impress you with that at all?
No, not really, no.
We thought they were very, I don’t know what. We did meet some very well educated people but the majority of them were very ignorant, they were the soldiers. The sailors came, they had nothing to do with us they just came through. But the time came when the air force and gave us a visit.
They were nasty, they we big, tall, all hand picked men, big, tall men. They’d have ten or twelve watches and things all over themselves, taken from prisoners from somewhere. They were nasty fellows, they were really nasty. As a whole they were nasty. They were the educated people.
Which sounds strange I suppose in a way, but we didn’t like that. We didn’t see much of them and we didn’t want to see much of them. They only came when we were in this first stage. Then another day, it was announced to us that the Prince is coming today.
We wondered what the Prince was going to be like. We were all lined up
and he just drove along in his car like that and looked at nothing and away again.
Was it the Prince of Japan?
Yes, the Prince of Japan. Yes, he was all dressed up in this wonderful car, and everything, he was the real thing. There were several Princes but I don’t know which one. I don’t know what we expected, but we didn’t expect
him to just come and stare at us and go away again.
It must have been quite intriguing, obviously it was frightening, but to try and work out what was going on?
Exactly what it was. Like in the end we learnt to turn, whatever jobs we turned it around and we’d get the truth. They’d said to us, “Oh, we bombed Sydney.” ‘Syd-oney’ they’d say to us, “We bombed Syd-oney
today.” We knew that wasn’t true, because they weren’t away long enough, they weren’t away long enough to do it. They’d say, “The Vatican is finished, it’s all gone now.” We wouldn’t know whether it was true or not, but that one we couldn’t prove. But the Syd-oney, it’s always Syd-oney. Always in Syd-oney.
So they told you propaganda stories?
Oh yes. That’s the way it was.
Was there the one person who communicated more than the others that you found out later?
He didn’t need to communicate he’d only you know, as I say that little Sugi, he was so upset he was going away. He felt quite happy I think with us, we didn’t make any trouble, he just did his little job and anything else that we had to do. His translation wasn’t bad,
we could understand what he wanted. Later on we had this other ‘Tago’, he was a tall man and we had him. I can’t remember whom we had; I don’t remember when we were behind barbed wire. We didn’t seem to have an interpreter at all, everything was the bishop and he demanded. The bishop he had a bell,
and they had to ring that bell before they came into the compound. He would go to them. I don’t remember having an interpreter as such in that second place, even though they were going around all the time. Tago when we were down in Rawley and he was a tall fellow. Tago was friendly towards us accept when they’d lost planes, we’d see the planes somewhere and we knew they’d lost planes somewhere.
He’d be a bit nasty to us. Talk to us nasty. Just his whole attitude towards us. Otherwise he wasn’t cruel or anything which we found one doctor who was. After the war, several
sisters were called to the group mess, a different one. They said, “Tagi had been pretty good to us since, he didn’t make any trouble with us or anything else.” He was found in some other place that he had, [(UNCLEAR)] and I read it in another book. He was given five
weeks jail, ten weeks jail or something like that. He had admitted atrocities in other places but he didn’t do it to us.
Can you tell us about this doctor who was very cruel?
That’s all I know about him. He just wouldn’t give that serum, a little bit of an injection to save this little girl. The doctor, he was a German doctor, he just refused to do it.
Then we had another case when we were in Rawley when he came. It was when these little sisters had come around the platform and we’d see them going to the police and they had to hand stuff into the police. The bishop had requested some comfort food, or what it was, he requested something that he knew this doctor could give us but he just didn’t.
He just refused. “You’re not getting it.”
During that first stage in the house, you were without the bishop at this stage?
One whole week only. But then, until we moved into the compound, which was more than six months or more we had no contact with anyone else, with the other brothers and fathers,
we had no contact with them. The bishop was the only one.
The bishop was the go between, between all the captive groups?
Was there a particular figure in your group who was the leader or who looked after you, the Mother Superior?
Yes, the Mother Superior, that’s her job. We had some characters amongst the Australians.
Can you tell us about some of those?
We had Sister Marcella,
her father was a state schoolteacher, had a family of teachers, and she was a good teacher too. She was funny; she used any sort of language that she liked, because that was her set. We were still in our houses and we had little coconuts around us and these
little fellows, kids or soldiers, they’d wanted a coconut and they go to cut down the tree and she’d go out and say, “No, no, no, no, you go out, go!” she’d chase them away. They’d go. She was a great one. Then we had another one, she was very funny, Sister Odilla[?], another Australian.
Strangely enough her brother, she came from a school teaching family too. She was funny; she’d make fun all the time. She was out at the station, she was not with us in the beginning, and it was some months before she came in. There was always a laugh when she was around. She’d do something stupid or purposely
do something stupid, and make you laugh. She’d found an old pair of Japanese shoes, don’t ask me where she found them, our shoes were worn out by this time. Wearing these Japanese shoes, that was a great joke.
What kind of shoes were they, what kind of shoes did the Japanese wear?
Just ordinary shoes, just ordinary soles. She thought she was great in these shoes.
Did that upset the Japanese
soldiers, that she was wearing some Japanese shoes, they didn’t notice?
They probably didn’t even give it a thought. All our shoes were worn out. Father O’Malley, as I said we had a shoemaker and a Brother. They used to make us shoes, they made us clogs, so we all had clogs.
I didn’t find them comfortable at all, but the Dutch sisters found them quite good for them. They were good, they kept our feet from getting damp. It was quite good.
What are some of the characters or the people you were with?
She was a funny one, she was funny. Sister Immaculata was another, she was afraid, she was afraid
for ages and she was only a little one. She had this dog called ‘Nip’. When we were still in our houses, Nip was with us and he’d go around and be out on the veranda of the night and he wouldn’t interfere with the soldiers and they would let him go around. This one night, there was this change of guard and
Nip was making all these terrible noises; there was howling and growling going on. She said, “Something is the matter, something is wrong.” W didn’t know what was wrong. She said, “Could you come out with me?” I went out with her and around to where the soldiers were changing at the bottom of the steps and they were trying, and Nip was at the top and they were trying to bayonet him,
and he was going from side to side and pointing the bayonet and that was what they were doing, they were trying to bayonet him. So she went alone and said, ”No, that’s alright.” so we let them come up the stairs and quieten him down and he was all right. She was brave, nothing feared her. She didn’t know what fear was. She was only a little thing, and when we were in Rawley and they let us go out
and make our own garden, only twenty of us were allowed to go at one time and they would never allow her to go and she was little, “too little.” She was never allowed to go out which she wasn’t very happy about.
Did she manage to look after Nip the rest of the time?
No. When we moved into the tunnels we had to live there day and night, there was no room for him, we had to
do away with him.
That’s very sad.
That was sad, it was sad. Everybody was very sad, we didn’t see it happen.
Who did the job fall too?
I don’t know. But it had to be, because we didn’t have any more room.
Was he named Nip, was that just a coincidence?
I don’t know where it came from. Another thing we used to do in the early stages
he could tell a Japanese plane from an Australian one or an American plane. He knew the sound, we didn’t. If we saw Nip run into the trenches we knew the Americans were coming.
A useful dog.
No planes around, Nip just sat there, we knew they were Japanese planes. He knew the sound of planes, he was the first into the trench. Remarkable.
It was great, we’d say, “Nip’s gone, we’d better go.”
Had he’d been on the mission for a long time, what was the history of this dog?
I don’t know.
Were there any other pets or animals around?
No, no. Sister Edna was another one, she loved animals. She was a great teacher and she was in the Chinese school and she was a great teacher. When we moved to Vunapope
and she had some fowls and she looked after these fowls and a couple of goats, she looked after them and took them over when we went into the compound, they were there. Don’t ask me how she fed them, but she kept them alive. She was gentle all the time down there. I was only young, and there was another younger sister with me, the other sisters had been there for many, many years. We were told we would have to
study. Fill in our time studying. In our compound there was this funny looking little hut, wouldn’t have been as wide as this, and it just went up, you know how they go up like this to a peak. We were told we had to go down there and study. This lady and myself had to go down and study and sit there and study. We used to call it ‘the university’.
We would go down to the university and study. Schoolwork, we would go over it what we would be teaching and so for. There was just room for us, just the two of us to fit in. Sister Edna, who had all these fowls and things, she was a real artist and she decided that she was going to come and join us. She wanted to come into the university and she brought some beautiful
satin stuff that she brought over and she was painting on that and she brought it into the university. We had to move over and make room for her. We only had enough room for ourselves so we made room for her. On this shoulder she’d have a chook [fowl] and this shoulder another choock. They’d just sit there watching her wave her hand. We’d be studying.
There was never any mess was made on that floor, lovely silk stuff she was painting. She was remarkable in that way. Anyway, the day came and we’d lost everything this day. They’d bombed the two goats we had and they’d bombed all the chooks, they were all gone and everything was lost. We found a big pot
and we’re going to have a party tomorrow. We were still living in the trenches and we had nothing left by this time. Everybody got together and carved up the chooks and the goats and everything and put them all in this big pot, and we were going to have a party the next day. We spent hours, hours and hours getting that ready. Anyway you wouldn’t believe it, first thing the next morning they
bombed, and what did they bomb? Right in the middle of that pot. It was unbelievable. Nothing, nothing was left after that. We came out the next morning and there was nothing left. Funny things happened. You had to laugh, you couldn’t. That just had to be. Where the bomb dropped.
How did you feel about those bombing raids, you said you were praying for the pilots to come home safely?
Yes, we prayed for that. We hated them. At first we felt quite safe, because they were bombing Rabaul, we thought they’d never come to the missions, surely they know the mission is here, kind of thing, false hope. Until they came
and put in the ammunition dump in Vunapope, and put the red cross on top, we’re done, they will, certainly. There planes were coming over and they’re not fools, they flew over before this all started, so we knew we were going to be bombed. It happened so fast. One morning, all we had to eat was a Marie biscuit, do you know what a Marie biscuit is?
Just like a tea biscuit?
A little biscuit and some coffee, we had coffee. We’d heat up the coffee and we’d go and get the water and coffee and eat the Marie biscuit. We were eating it this morning and the planes came over this other way, over the mountains right on to us. They let us have it. We got in a couple of
warnings that day. One old priest had been there for, I don’t know how many years. He had translated the native language, a bit of German, and there would be another sister who could translate from German into English. He’d done great work on the missions. He was there having this great coffee and biscuits and these bombs came over and
everybody rushed to the trenches of course and spilled their coffee over the top of him and he yelled, “I’m shot, I’m shot!” he thought he was shot, it was only the hot coffee. These things always gave us a bit of a laugh at the time.
You mentioned people got wounded, did many people
get wounded in the bombing raids?
We had a Brother who was over from the Solomons, they brought him over and he was dying, they didn’t bring him over, he was in what we call our infirmary. He had a Brother looking after him. He stood apart from us in the mission thing, like us all by himself. He was really dying but he could have got
a lot better with treatment. Anyway one day they came over bombing us and they got the full blast, they blasted him to bits. Another sister didn’t get there quick enough and she got a bit of shrapnel in here. Another Brother he got shrapnel and was
brought into the trenches, he didn’t want to die, he said, “I don’t want to die.” he was only a young fellow. He did die eventually from the bombing. On the whole we didn’t lose a lot, of victims from that bombing. Some died from malaria
Typhoid fever or these things that were going around, we lost a few that way, not a great lot.We had a little cemetery down in the valley. They all got put in there but they were brought back and put back in the general cemetery at Vunapope.
were in Rawley, you started your own cemetery?
In Vunapope there was an already established cemetery to use?
Yes, it was a big cemetery.
The Japanese didn’t interfere at all in the burial of your dead?
No, no it didn’t interest them; it didn’t interest them at all.
They did respect their own. That’s one thing, we had to give them that, their ashes were sent back and they were given a normal burial. Little Sugi often said to us, “That ship’s carrying ashes home.” Taking the ashes back to Japan. I don’t know how long that would have gone on. I was reading one of those things I want you to read. There was a prisoner,
when he wrote to me after the war he was telling me on such and such a date no more ships could get into Rabaul harbour, they’d been cut off. This was when the Japanese were starving themselves.
Who wrote this letter?
This was an Australian who was a prisoner; I will tell you his story afterwards, one of our unsung heroes. He was a coastwatcher.
Speaking of unsung heroes, you went through and told us a little bit about a few of the sisters, when that first six months when you were with the nurses, do you remember any of those personalities as well, did you know them very well?
Yes, we got to know the military nurses very well. They mixed very well with us. But with the Anglican and Methodist mission they were
kept more apart, they weren’t as friendly as the military nurse. All through and all these years I’ve kept in touch with those military nurses. They have kept in contact with us all that time. They would come on leave. We would have recreation at night, and this was up in, when we were still in the house before it was taken from us.
They’d come and join us at night, but the others never came and joined us at recreation. They’d just have recreation among themselves. They’d be friendly, they had their meals with us and everything else but they would never go that extra bit.
Did you make advances towards them?
Yes. I think they were just more at ease with themselves.
It was the nurses from Rabaul, they gave us lessons in first aid, we’d already done first aid in the beginning, before the missions bit, but they gave us some more hints and that.
You mentioned Captain Kay?
She was marvellous.
Could you talk a little bit more about her?
I don’t know anything about her except she was an outstanding person. I’d say a born leader, a born leader. She was taken away from us. She was a wonderful person. And died an unsung hero. I believe, but I didn’t know her.
This day I don’t know how I didn’t know, they say she died up in Rabaul. I was here at the time, I was in Daisyville, I didn’t know about it. Years and years afterwards. I believe she married, to the wrong man I think, and he just didn’t want anybody near her, she was just buried without any honours or recognition.
Which I consider very, very sad because she was a remarkable woman.
I think it’s important to mention these people because they are gone now and this maybe one way to remember them for the future?
I will never forget, I will never forget those nurses. ‘Whitie’, we called her ‘Whitie’,
what’s her name? Can’t even think of her name but everybody knows her by Whitie. We write to each other and she is living in New Zealand and she is the only one alive. We’ve been mates all the time. Kept up that friendship all along. There was another one up the North Coast called Mavis,
very quite, very lady-like person. I used to call on her every time I went home for holidays. The last note, she was in her home in Lismore and we used to send cards, at Christmas to each other and I sent her one this Christmas and I didn’t get a reply so maybe she has died, I don’t know. She was sick.
Those nurses were young women like yourself?
Yes, only young women. Some of them had just finished their training, and then sent up there. It’s terrible, what they had to go through, over in Japan. Nobody knew, nobody knew, no red cross
no nothing. Armistice came, who found them, an American found them all on the road, that’s how they were rescued. Australia didn’t even know they were there. Terrible. They didn’t get much of a welcome when they came home either. Which I think is a very sad case, this girl Whitie, I called her Whitie.
She married a New Zealander and moved over to New Zealand, she had her family in New Zealand and she came back here a couple of years ago and went up the coast, the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast, and bought a unit and wanted to settle down there in New South Wales. She had some sort of trouble with her leg, she broke out with rashes, rashes all the time and the doctor said,
“No, you have to go back to New Zealand.” Now she can’t get a gold card, because she’s not living in Australia. Yet, she gave all that service in the Australian Army, and she couldn’t get that because she wasn’t living here. These injustices.
Interviewee: Berenice Twohill Archive ID 0177 Tape 08
Can you just tell me, out of those thirty-five, how many were nurses, and how many from you’re order and how many from different places, roughly?
What do you mean?
You mentioned there were sisters from other denominations?
Religious sisters or nursing sisters, there’s a difference?
I want to know how many there were of each group, religious?
I wouldn’t know, I wouldn’t know. We were nine Australians and we were all teachers and the rest were nurses. The Dutch sisters, which the majority of our thirty five, except the very old ones, we had a couple of Alsace sisters and a couple of
Irish sisters and they were teachers. The majority of our Dutch sisters were ordinary sisters, they were nurses.
On the mission?
Yes, they were nurses. The other congregation, which were mostly German sisters called them the MSC sisters.
The Mother Superior at that time was an American. But they were nurses; the majority of those were nurses. They looked after the hospital, our soldiers came out too, and they ran that hospital. They had a dispensary, one of those nurses,
she could mix up anything, medicine. She was wonderful; she ran it as a dispensary on her own. The majority were nurses.
What was the other congregation?
Called MSCs. In those days, it sounds funny now
when you look back. We were called the ‘white sisters’, and they were called the ‘blue sisters’. I don’t know how it came about but that’s how we were always, the natives always spoke about the white sisters or the blue sisters. That’s how they distinguished it, but that’s gone now.
Was that reflected in their uniforms or was there a…?
No I don’t know what it was; I suppose it was just the distinction.
They looked after, in Vunapope, they were never in Rabaul. They were in Vunapope and they taught the big mixed race boys and girls. The Brother taught the boys and one of the sisters taught the girls.
While you were in the house, during the first stage of your, how
did you pass the time, you must have had a lot of time to do nothing, what did you do?
We have our religious duties to perform; it does take up some time. I spent my time, because I wasn’t there very long, I wanted to learn a native language, I was studying the native language. I was typing it all out and putting it into English, and I spent most of my time doing that.
The others they’d be sewing or doing whatever.
At any time during your captivity, was it too difficult to perform your religious duties?
No, no, if we couldn’t do it at such and such time we’d do it another time, no. That’s one thing that the Japanese did not interfere with us in that way, they never did.
Although towards the end, towards the end they said, they told them they didn’t tell us, they told the natives, “We are losing all, because you are praying too much.” “You Christian, you praying too much, we are losing the war.” We heard this back after, we didn’t hear it then, we heard it after.
Maybe that’s true, maybe you prayed enough?
Yes. That’s their idea. We were able to pray, and we did.
Can you explain that in a little bit more detail, it maybe obvious to someone but maybe in the future it may not be so obvious? Did you hold mass every day or…?
We had mass every day. We made a meditation every day.
We had adoration every day, that means, it’s hard to explain if you don’t know. Adoration is the Blessed Sacrament, and that’s part of our duty. Then we have a spiritual reading every day, from a book of spirituality. Then we just have community prayers where we just pray for something special.
Special prayers that are composed for our community alone. It is what we enter for and what our aim is to make the Sacred Heart that Jesus is, everywhere known. That is our motto.
Then on top of that you would have your own private prayers?
Yes our own private prayers. But
they were like that everyday.
Even in the trenches?
Yes, even in the trenches. We had the Blessed Sacrament in the trenches. We made a little niche in the mountains and this was where it was kept. We kept a little light that we had made
out of coconut oil, and that was there all the time while we were in the trenches. We had the mass in the trenches.
It’s much easier to understand how you held together, with this?
We would never had held, we would never had held, faith is such a marvellous thing,
it’s everything. We live to die, we know that, and we all have some sort of a faith. Most people do, even if they don’t admit it. There’s something inside us that God puts there that is a spiritual thing and people believe in the spiritual. Even though they might laugh at it
or criticise it, but deep down you will find that it is there.
When you look back at your time, this horrendous time under captivity, did your spirituality change at all?
No. It can’t change, I suppose it grew deeper. We had to practice more trust and confidence
that God would see us through. Yes it would deepen in that way.
Did the fathers hear confession during this time?
How often would that take place?
That’s an individual thing.
That even went on in the trenches.
When you moved on to Vunapope, was there more access to things like reading and writing and other activities or less?
When do you mean?
When you were in the compound, sorry, and later on?
In the compound.
How were you able to pass the time in there?
Well the same thing there. I played the piano sometimes.
I had a little bit of music. I wanted to learn the native language, which I didn’t have much time to do before. That was my thing. Then as I say the two of us were sent down to the university and we studied there, reading or bookkeeping,
shorthand and the sewing and I wanted to keep it fresh in my mind. That passed quite a bit of time.
This is at university?
Then at night we would have a concert. It sounds incredible but we played, made up Mikado while we were there and acted it out.
We had the Japanese hanging around us all this time, and the poor bishop, we invited all the other people, he was the only Australian. She wrote it out, she was fantastic. She remembered it all and wrote out all the parts and everything else. The poor bishop, I remember that night, he was really on edge, that the Japanese would see us and recognize what we were doing.
We took a lot of risks and we got off with it and that was fun.
Did you realise the riskiness of what you were choosing to do?
Yes. You had to; you had to do something to keep alive. We sang lots of times and things like that.
When we were in this big compound. This day, this priest who was the composer, he was a marvellous composer, he was only young. He wrote us a seven part song to sing to the bishop, seven parts. They had some beautiful voices. The doctor’s wife had a magnificent voice and she would go right to the skies, fantastic
voice like the Germans when they sing. So that was crazy, and we had that. We had no opposition to that, the Japanese just stood around. That was really great to have that. It was a marvellous celebration that day. Nothing to eat at that celebration but we sang. That was great.
That was while we were in the compound.
Was there any one particular song or hymn?
I can’t remember now. It’s all gone, it’s all lost.
You mentioned singing Silent Night in German?
Yes. I will never forget that Christmas. You could hear all around the country, it wasn’t country, all around the compound all these different groups singing.
Who was behind the musical, the concert?
That’s Australia. You mean the Mikado.
An Australian, she’s an editor.
Yes, she was great. It was good to have Mother’s teaching and she taught the Chinese girls and she was outstanding as a teacher. She remembered all these plays and things
and could write them out for herself. She was the one when we had the Christmas theme she wrote all parts for us, singing parts.
What other crafts did you do?
Other crafts, yes. We had a lot of crafts. As I’ve told you already I was doing the tortoiseshell.
Others were painting, others were drawing things.
Mostly the Australian sisters were doing that, the Dutch were more or less inclined to do sewing and making things. Sewing and mending and that kind of thing.
Was it at this stage that you were mending the clothes for exchange for Atebrin?
Can you tell us a bit more of what you saw through the fence?
We saw these poor sick soldiers, and all that. They went around all day and never spoke to anybody, wouldn’t say a word to each other.
It must have been, I don’t know. As a nation we found them so silent. This was particularly when you saw all these people there alone. No comfort no nothing. Not even,
no toilets no nothing. They’d just go outside of course. How we didn’t all die I don’t know.
When you say no toilets, was that in your compound either?
No, no we had ours, the brothers saw to that. Not far from the trenches you’d just dig a deep hole in the ground and sort of cover that over, that was the usual
way of doing things, but they didn’t even do that. No, it was very, very sad. Then when they tried and this big bombing came and they were all blasted to bits, we had to pick up the bits. Legs and arms, terrible, it was a terrible time. Just passed them back over to the fence to them.
We had an old German Brother who was just away from us, he had a little bit of a garden. He used to spend all day in that garden. This particular time, he was in there all day. After we came back we asked, “Have you seen the Brother?” and they didn’t want to know. We looked around and he wasn’t in the garden and nobody had seen him. He hadn’t been in the trench
and we didn’t know what to do, he was bombed at 12 we thought. We found an arm and we thought it must have been the brother’s arm, so we gave it a great big religious burial, for the arm. It was very, very late, dusk and comes strolling from out under there, he’d been inside it all day
and we thought, you know, and that was funny. So why the Japanese got this particular ceremony, I don’t know. We were so overjoyed, it must have been brother’s arm. It appeared from nowhere, no one knew where he was, we searched the who place, everybody searched everywhere, as we thought he got somewhere.
I thought you would have been a bit angry with him, going to all this trouble?
It was funny, we just laughed, and we thought it was so funny. The Japanese would have never known that. Who the Japanese arm was we don’t know to this day.
What sort of things were the Japanese soldiers suffering from, could you see or did you know?
No, they would have been suffering from malaria I would say, or typhoid or something like that. We did
have a couple of sort of typhoid kind of thing, I think they would have died from that, we didn’t know. They lost hundreds from the bombing. Then there were the others who were shell-shocked and got too bad and they just got a needle, and it was the end of them.
Was some of this outdoor?
Was all of this outdoor?
It was right in front of us, we saw it all.
Did they have any cover or anything?
No, they were in sort of a hut. No walls or anything, just a cover over the top. They never tried to hide any of that from us. They didn’t know if we were interested or not. We didn’t have walls all around us either,
but we were able to see all of that, it was quite open.
Did you still have running water?
When all this big bombing came we did, we had a well, a tap, we used to go out, and it was close to where this trench where all these Japanese had been bombed and so we couldn’t go there for a long time, we would go back there.
The mission or the compound itself they had tap water, we had to go there, it was close to us, but we couldn’t go down after the war. The stench of the dead bodies that were left there, it was awful.
Did it attract flies?
Oh, don’t talk about it. Yes, flies, whoppers, whoppers, huge. That’s why I don’t know how
we existed really, I don’t. How we didn’t get all sorts of diseases I don’t know. I guess the Lord was looking after us. I was meant to stay here and tell you all these things.
I’m glad you did. I’m enjoying it, I’m glad you are still here. Were there any other things that you managed to trade for Atebrin and Quinine yourselves without the bishop’s permission,
were there any other things that bishop got permission to bring in from outside, that the Japanese allowed you to have?
No. One time we didn’t know, we didn’t see it or anything else. They came to the bishop. I don’t know what it was or how it sort of came about but he bought some material for us, to make some new clothes because we were running out of clothes,
the clothes were rotting and so forth. He bought from the Japanese this floral material. I don’t know how that sort of came about, but he did. Then he came and presented it to us so we could make it. The first time we put it in water all the dye ran out, nothing, you know.
That was a real life story.
But the material held itself?
The material held. No, it wasn’t good.
He thought he was doing us a good deed by getting some material for us.
How were you clothed and how was your hygiene and stuff, it must have been getting pretty poor?
It was. We were all right while we were in the house, we were all right while we were in the
trenches, the second stage. But when we went down to Rawley things were falling apart. You can see how we were dressed. When I was rescued I had a nightdress on back to front. I’d lost everything, everything else was gone, you know. We kept our habits on
and so forth. We didn’t have much left. The bishop had told us in the beginning, when he said, “If there are any dresses that you want, that you value.” we did put some material away behind there, we had that afterwards. We didn’t have access to that at this time. We were only very short, our shoes were finished, no socks and that.
You mentioned you had some soap that you’d found outside?
Yes, found the soap outside. That didn’t last very long though.
How did you keep clean, were you keeping clean?
We weren’t keeping clean. We weren’t. We didn’t have water half of the time. We were in the trenches at this second stage, we had one litre of water
between ten sisters, to wash. So whoever got in first had a clean wash. Another time we did have a bore, the bombers came over and bombed it to bits, and then we didn’t have anything for some time. We had an old priest
who was the diviner and he went around everywhere, in the compound and eventually found where there was water. They made another bore and that was great, we had some more water.
Did he do that with a stick?
Did you see him do that?
Yes, we saw him going around, yes. It was lucky we had him.
It’s quite a skill.
Quite a skill, yes.
That was great when we got another flow of water.
Did you do anything to make that water safe to drink; did you have to boil it?
Yes, we had to boil the water all the time. Even when we were down in Rawley, we had to boil everywhere. That’s all we had was boiled water. Because it came up from the little river that was running from the
You had a stove that was operating?
We had a little stove, and that’s another big story. They carried the little stove and we had it down in Rawley. When we were at Rawley they had to build trenches again and they started at two ends like that
and they worked day and night, day and night, day and night, and they were very damp and as I said the water would be trickling down the side of it. But one day they just met in the middle like that, perfect. The sister that took on the cooking, she volunteered, I thought I’ll boil the water, I’d boil all the weeds, that’s all we had at that time, weeds and water. The Japanese came along
and said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but no smoke, no, no, no smoke. Smoke must go through the trench and right around the trench and out.” right away from where we were. It was terrible, she had to cover all the entrance from where she was boiling the water, covered it all up. How she didn’t go blind I don’t know. She lived amongst
smoke all day. That was it, the smoke wasn’t allowed to come out, it had to go right up the trench, up the trench and out beyond. Why they tried to hide the stench I don’t know.
You weren’t such a target?
No. She was a Dutch sister and she was a wonderful sister and she only died about
two years to go, died from cancer eventually. She was great; she was always in good humour. She’d boil up the water; she’d boil up all these old weeds we had to eat.
Can be just go back to in the compound, when the bombing started, you had slit trenches that expanded into tunnels, quite a complex trench system
Can you explain that in a little bit more detail for us?
Well the openings, you had to crawl in, you’d get in. Anyway you were able to stand up, could stand up. Then in the beginning we were able to get a few coconut trees and some of them were lined in the trenches. They would be about as, there was just enough room at night to lie down,
you were stretched out and that took up the width of the other trench, but you could stand up. We had one trench coming this way, then another trench coming that way. We lived in this one. The brothers lived in that one. Later on the seminary boys made another little one
coming from that way. That was ours. The bishop and the other congregation had another trench, built kind of the same way.
In a separate area?
Yes, but in the compound, just a bit of a distance away from us. There were too many of us to accommodate in one place.
Each day it got bigger and bigger and went further and further and there was more and more space.
Was there a period of when you didn’t emerge from these trenches?
Hours, hours and hours on end. We couldn’t see them, because we were inside the trenches. Wave upon wave, wave upon wave, they’d be
dying away and then you’d hear another wave of planes coming over.
Did that happen at daytime or night time?
Daytime mostly. We don’t know how many times we just thought it was the end of us. The mountain would have had to cave in. Whether they knew we were there or not is another thing, we don’t know.
There were so many things that we didn’t know. We didn’t know how much they knew. The Australians and the Americans, we couldn’t assume who was American and who was Australian in those planes it was all the same to us.
Where did you sleep during this time?
In the trenches.
Did you have bedding, what was the situation?
Some of us had mats,
some of us had the soil. One time we got so excited about being inside, you’d be sopping wet and they tried to line it with coconuts trees and cover up with coconut outside the trenches.
I said, “I’m going to sleep in my bed outside tonight.” Put two coconuts together like that and you’re lying like that, so I though I’m going to lie down and I’m going to lie between the two coconuts and I was lying in between them and they came over in the middle of the night and bombed again, so I had to get up and go in.
How did you deal with the fatigue?
We just had to. We just went on day after day. As I said the hardest thing to say was, ‘I wonder when it’s going to end, I wonder when it’s going to end?. The hardest thing.
They had to build an airshaft
in this trench?
Can you explain what the air was like inside of the trench?
It was dreadful, it was filthy. People living in there all day and night, you could imagine it was pretty foul. We’d got beyond that, because there was nothing we could do. You sort of don’t think of these things. There was nothing else that was all we had. We had to put up with it.
Was it difficult to breathe?
I don’t remember, I don’t remember. I know the day that the shaft went through the breeze that came through; the fresh air that came through, it was just so wonderful.
Did it make you a bit sick to have fresh air after not having any?
I don’t know. I mean we were so excited. I don’t know. I mean you’re
more or less sick all the time. You’d just go on with your life.
How long did you then have to enjoy the trench with the shaft till they took it away from you?
It wouldn’t have been a week. They said, “It’s not safe for you to be here any longer.”
Can you tell us about that day, can you tell us how you first
learnt about that?
They told the bishop. “It’s not safe in here anymore, we will move them to a safe place.” so he told us that. They said, “We will come for you tomorrow.” So they called for us early in the morning, daybreak. They said, “Follow us, follow us.”
and we left our trenches behind.
What did you carry with you?
We just had a haversack thing over our back; we didn’t have much at that time.
What were you able to pack, do you know?
I suppose, I don’t remember. A few little clothes we had left, it wasn’t much,
nothing, nothing. Anything that was precious was in the hills behind us.
How long was the march to Rawley?
It was about ten miles. Ten miles, I’m sure of that. We had to just throw ourselves on the ground, over and over again because the planes came over us bombing,
they bombed us, because they must have seen us. Because it’s long grass, long grass all the time, we were down there between long grass.
Was it at this stage that the feeling of not knowing when it was going to end, at it’s worst?
It was more in Rawley, it was more at Rawley. I think we still thought we had a hope, but once we went to Rawley it was so damp and so depressing. That was my feeling. My greatest worry were my people.
They didn’t know anything, they think I’m dead, they don’t know. I had a brother who was very friendly, with some of the politicians and this particular politician, he did tell me his name but I have forgotten. He looked at him and said, “Do you know where my sister is, what’s happened to my sister?” He said, “We don’t know.” They volunteered to stay to get to know me. They had no idea where we were, or if alive or dead.
Did you think that God may have put you through this ordeal for a purpose?
He must have.
Did you think that at the time?
I suppose we did, we do think of it all the time. Since then, I’ve realised why has he given me a life when every one else is dead. I said to someone the other day, “I think he must
be keeping me alive just to get this really into the history books.” I am sort of the only witness to it. Life’s a mystery and we don’t know why things happen, do we? It is a mystery, why am I alive when everyone else is dead? I had so much malaria I should
be dead. No answer there that I should know of.
How do you think the experience of being a prisoner of war changed you?
It changed me definitely, because I was just a young sister. I saw life at its best and it’s worst. I saw what human beings could do to each other, what hatred
could do and yet what faith could do and what kindness could do. That’s what we are here for, to help one another. I saw how useless all this is, when people go on hating one another and killing one another. How someone lives with that I don’t know,
live with themselves I mean. When you have just massacred a whole lot of people, how would you feel? I don’t know. We are all born with animal instincts in all of us. War brings it out in so many. In war it makes some men, men, but others
it just makes them animals.
Do you understand hatred, from some of the things that you experienced?
I never hated anyone, no. I think, for one thing, I never saw that in my home, I never saw anything like that, at all. My brothers, there was never
any of that. Terrible dislike for people, just everybody was sort of accepted, just as they were, and that’s what we are meant to be. I worked among the poor people off the streets, most of them have schizophrenia. Now they’re despised by so many people.
It’s there when we really realise, and when they take their medication, because they are put out of the homes and everything that should have been kept. Because they can’t manage themselves. When they take their medication, good, they’re as good as you and I. You take them off medication and their personality changes,
they are a different person, and I’m working with those people all the time. So many people don’t understand it, they say, “Why should I?” and the sad part is that a lot of them are so violent, when they are off their medication, it changes their personality altogether and they will attack people and they will do people they live very dangerously.
Interviewee: Berenice Twohill Archive ID 0177 Tape 09
Just one thing that I was curious about, when you had your trenches in your first part of your captivity, or in the second part too, did you have separate trenches for the
men and the women?
Yes. One this way, and the other one came from that angle, the brothers were there and we were in this one.
Even under the heat, the emergency of getting in the people would split themselves up?
They had their entrance and we had our entrance.
We had trouble with the assemblers first before we got that part made for the end. They used to come into our thing. I was given charge of this old Australian sister. The planes would be coming in everywhere and you were rushing, of course you had to get down to get into the trench. She would not move, she had to wait till last, she would not go.
Everyone would be tumbling in over one another, and we had lots of broken bones, broken ribs, that was quite a frequent, when everyone was trying to get into the trenches in a hurry. These boys, there were ten of us there and they had their big boots and they would be climbing over the top of you. Yes, we had broken ribs from the trenches.
Who were they, the seminarians?
They were preparing to be priests,
And they didn’t have their own trench?
Yes, they had their own trench coming in that way but not in the beginning, it took time.
I want some details on Ramu, when you were there, can you tell us some more about what you were eating including the weeds, what other things were you eating?
When the indigenous sisters came in they would bring us sweet potato, what else, all different kinds of fruit and stuff like that, sweet potatoes and taro and that’s about all. You don’t get potato,
as we know it. That’s their native food so they would bring that in. The different greens that you could eat, not what they were eating but good grown. Good grown green.
How were the little sisters getting into you, if you were in captivity there?
They didn’t get in, they were outside.
We’re down here and as I said the police, no the Japanese built this platform right around and they had their head house there so when the sisters came in they had to go around there, nowhere near us at all. We could see them come but that was it. They had no contact with us; they weren’t allowed to speak to us or anything.
They’d go up to the police and drop the things there.
Do you think they were particularly heroic in supporting you?
Absolutely. They were heroic, they were heroic, they were tortured for it, and they were tortured. They tried to stop them from doing it, it didn’t stop them. They were tortured, they suffered a lot. I don’t think you know about the bamboo?
You’d kneel down and they would put this bamboo across your knees and they have people jumping on both ends. They put them through that over and over again, because they were helping us, that didn’t stop them. Another, I don’t know whether it is true or not. One of them happened to say, “Australian soldier
are better than Japanese.” Whether she said it or not she was tortured because she said it. They were going to behead her, cut her head off. Mother Superior, she was a marvellous woman too. Sister Cecilia she said, “No, kill me if you want to kill someone.” they all said, “Kill us all, don’t kill one.” Anyway they were tortured; they were definitely tortured for it.
Tell us about that particular incident?
We didn’t see it; we only know it from them what was done.
Was that Ramu?
That was outside Rawley.
Rawley. Are there any particular individuals of those people, the little sisters that you know?
Yes, I knew them then. They’re all dead now.
What are the names of the people?
The one in charge was Sister Cecilia, and she was heroic.
The other one who was supposed to have made this remark was Sister Teresa. A view amongst those books, there is a picture of them being, after the war when they were called up and they said, “Yes, two Japanese tortured.”
You were able to stay in direct contact with them; you were able to see them?
No contact, none at all. We saw them coming.
How did you communicate with them?
We didn’t communicate. The indigenous people communicated to each other. Lifted the eyebrow or something with the eye, or the way they used their lips, and they can do that.
Did you get a chance to meet them when you were released?
They were wonderful; they were heroic, really heroic because they put up with that just for us. They got nothing out of their own torture. Because the Japanese did not like anybody to help us.
Why do you think the Japanese felt so much vindictiveness towards you, do you think?
We were prisoners, we were Australian.
While we were with the others we were all one. Everybody had to suffer because we were Australian.
In Ramu, you spoke of, you were given charge of an older sister to look after, can you elaborate a bit more on the buddy system that you developed, there to look after one another at that time?
You see I was young, this is the sister she was an Australian
sister and she had lived through the First World War and the Second World War and she would not budge till everyone was on the trench, the last one to go in. If we didn’t go in she wouldn’t go in. I just had to wait until after she got in, nothing ever happened to her. In fact, after the war, I was the one who brought her down and we both felt, we were both able to relax. From Malaya we got a plane
and I brought her back to Australia. She was a Brisbane girl and she died up in Brisbane.
Were there other close smaller groups within your greater group; were there other smaller groups that you would form friendships with particular people?
Yes, different sisters that you were more attracted to, one than with the other, yes.
How did that work in supporting one another?
It was not
obvious to a lot of people, you didn’t do anything special to show it, but you know if we had a gathering or something they would sit together. There was no distinction or anything like that, you didn’t cause any division.
In Ramu did you lose anyone else, while you were there?
Yes. We lost a little French sister, she was only little like that. She would come over to the mission before the invasion. She was sick and she would come over to our doctor. She was there when the Japanese arrived, she was actually a very, very happy little nun.
Sister Domatilla[?]. When we were down in Rawley she got something, typhoid, I don’t know what kind of thing. She was dying and she was in the trenches, and she was died in the trenches. She was lovely, she just fitted in with everybody else, and she was just like one of us. She was happy to do anything for anybody. That was
very sad for us when she died. Then there was the old sister who died of cancer. Only two sisters, no Australians died.
Things must have been at a pretty low point when you were in Rawley, didn’t really know where things were going?
No we didn’t.
How were you keeping up your morale at that time?
Well, it’s only our faith, our faith. We just hope there’d be an end, there had to be an end to it. We watched
the planes decrease and drop. We watched the Japanese planes decreasing and we knew it was and we knew by their own attitude. They were getting a bit more kindly to us and that kind of thing.
Though they never told us anything.
After you were thrown out of your, evicted from the place you had the air shaft?
What happened next around then?
That’s when we went to Rawley.
Ok, I see.
That was about ten mile. We just had to go along, we went in two lots, and I was in the first lot that went.
You were staying in tunnels at Rawley didn’t you?
Yes. We built them the same way as we did the thing.
You also dug the tunnels too?
No, not really. I’d put some of the dirt away; move it out of the way and that.
Who were the tunnel builders?
The fathers and brothers,
the men did it all the time.
Did you have supervision from an engineer or..?
No. That was a miracle, they worked from two ends and met right in the middle, like that. It was amazing, it was a real feat, and it was great. We just moved the, we were told to take the soil away, move it out of the way,
that one thing.
Did you have any personal effects with you still at this stage?
Yes, I had a lot of sickness.
No. I still had my music books that I had hidden away behind the toilet block; they were still there after the war.
Why did you keep your music books?
They were precious to me, and I’d lost everything else. My prayer books, what they call a missal, I kept that for many, many years but it fell to pieces. When we were going to have that big party, and we got everything ready and everything else and they came and bombed the lot. All my personal things I had in what they call a rat up there, it’s a little basket
and everybody carries everything and we only had all of my books and things in there and that was a little bit easier than the thing. We found some of our things and it was intact, I had that book for several years but it just fell to pieces after awhile.
In Rawley, where there any particular stories of survival that you
Yes. This Sister Edna, she was in Australia and I told you she used to get these plays ready for us, she got appendicitis and she had to be operated on, she really had to be by the doctor. She was taken into the trench and six sisters had to hold her,
because the trench was damp and the soil would fall. They had to hold a sheet, a big sheet over her while the doctor operated on her. He did the operation. She was in there for several days, she lived through it. It’s true.
Where did you get the anaesthetic from?
Did she cry out?
Didn’t she ever. I wasn’t there, I wasn’t. But that thing would have hurt. We had no anaesthetic, no, but it had to be done. She would have died otherwise, she lived long, and she died many years ago, she died up there of a heart attack.
It must have been something to have gone through and operation like that without anaesthetic?
It was amazing. The doctor was a marvellous doctor, and she had good nursing, not the good food or anything.
Did he have the instruments to do the operation or did he have to…?
He would have, yeah, the doctor would have had to. He would have had all of that or made something up.
He would have kept all of that, he would have taken it with him. He was an amazing man, she would have died internally. He was marvellous, he was really good to us, and he cared for us.
What other things did he do to keep you going, the doctor?
He gave us lessons,
midwifery and all sorts of medicines, anything he could teach us, he taught us.
While you were in Rawley?
Yes, we had lessons from him. There was nothing there.
Did you organise yourself for other people to give you lessons?
Yes, we had French lessons, German lessons. As I said we had medicine and all that.
That kept us busy.
Did you have books?
It was in our books. I don’t know if you know, we call them ‘dog biscuits’, that the army used to have, in big long tins and the Japanese used to use those, and when they were finished they’d throw the tins down
to where we were and they didn’t care where they hit us or not, to just get rid of them. We used to use those tins, broken up and scribble on them, the notes we wanted to take, when we were having lessons, we would scribble on them, but it wasn’t very clear but it was readable.
So you were at the bottom
of this sort of ravine, is that right, in Rawley?
That’s right. It was a gorge and you couldn’t imagine what it was like.
Did the sunlight come down there?
It did before we left. It didn’t for a long, long time. No, we couldn’t even see the sky. The truth. When we got down, we went down and down and down and down and we looked up and we couldn’t see the sky,
from the trees and the undergrowth and everything was just… After all of us living there the undergrowth died, so the trees died and little bits of the sun would peak through in the end.
How long were you down there in the ravine?
How big an area was it?
Not a big area at all, not a big area at all.
Not nearly as big as the compound area.
Like a house block or a…?
No it was more than that. Perhaps the size or the length of this room.
That’s maybe about 150 metres or something, a 100 metres.
Yes, it wasn’t as broad; it was more or less a straight line.
How many of you were down there?
How were you in direct contact with the Japanese guards or were they above you on the…?
They were above us.
They didn’t trouble us, they didn’t come down amongst us much there.
They didn’t ever come down?
Only occasionally they’d come down. They were watching us from up here. They saw everything, they saw everything. One night, one of the biggest scares I had, I had many scares but this was the biggest one. We were sleeping in the trenches and this night another sister and I said,
“Everything is quiet, and they don’t seem to be worrying us much.” We had a table, we’d taken a table down and all the brothers had made a table for us and I was sleeping on this table. I woke up and there were two Japanese standing at my head. I didn’t hear them come. I was so scared. I just couldn’t breathe; I just held my breath,
I didn’t know what was going to happen. They had a torch shining all around, evidently they didn’t see me, and I don’t know, another miracle I’d say. They didn’t see me, they were right near me. Then after a while they went away. We heard the next day, they’d seen a sparkle of some sort and they thought we were making signs
and came down to investigate. That shows you how rightly they never trusted us. They thought it was a signal that was being made.
Were there any plans to escape?
No. There was nowhere to escape to, you couldn’t. Not only that, it was the fear of it, what would happen to everybody else, everybody else the next night.
It almost sounds like you were at a living hell, you could have all died down there, the situation would have been desperate enough to have to think about escaping from this, do you think?
No, because of what would have happened to everybody else. That was the biggest threat right from the beginning, if you try to escape, if you do anything that displeases us, off, not you, ten more
and if two did it then twenty more. They would have done it; no doubt they would have done it. Nobody sort of though about it, you just couldn’t. If you were cute enough, they would know everybody, they counted us and they never stopped counting us.
You must have considered how long could this go on?
Yes, that was a constant thought. It’s got to end. How long? That was the hardest part.
How did it end?
One morning we heard a Cooee on top of
the gorge, at the top of the mountain, we heard a Cooee and we Cooed back and that’s soldiers, and they came slipping down the mountains. It was the day that we were rescued.
Was it a morning like any other morning?
Yes. We had no inclination that anything was going to happen.
For eighteen months and all of a sudden there was a Cooee?
They had come back behind
the Japanese lines. Strangely enough, it was headed by Major Bates and Major Roberts, and there was also a Redemptorist priest. He had visited my home after the war began and he was going to enter the army as an army chaplain. He’d been down to my home
and my mother told him, “We don’t know where she is, we don’t know what has happened to her.” He said, “If I go to the islands I will look for your daughter.” as soon as he landed he gathered together his men together and said, “We have to find this sister” and that’s how it happened.
How were the soldiers received when they came down?
You could image yourself.
Can you describe it for us, describe that scene?
Everybody went mad, everybody. I have pictures there. Looking for something to make an Australian flag and we had to put up the flag and that was made and we found something and put it up. There was great rejoicing. There was a journalist there and he took all of our names and all our addresses and everything else. He said, “That will go straight home
to your people and say that you’re alive.” and they did that, they did that straightaway. But, my mother was not alive.
Your mum had died?
Eighteen months before.
When did you get that news?
I didn’t get it then, I got it in Lau nearly two months after.
Can you describe coming out have there and the journey back?
We just couldn’t believe it, you know. It’s the end. It was all over. We came up, we didn’t leave straightaway, and we couldn’t, nothing to do. They sent us our supplies and food and tins straight away and they said, “We’ll take the ten sickest ones to
Rabaul.” that’s just a soldiers’ hospital or one of those and they took us to Rabaul hospital.
What was wrong with you?
I had malaria.
Could you have lasted much longer, do you think?
Yes I could have. The will to live. Have you read that book? It is truly a wonderful book, army ‘the will to live’, and an army nurse.
Just a wonderful book. We were in there for a while and there was no transport. Australia was in Italy. There was no transport to get us away. They were looking after us and eventually there was a sick plane and they transported us by seaplane over to Jacquinot Bay, which is down the coast. The military nurses, the Australian military nurses had a hospital there,
so we were detained there for perhaps two weeks or something. They got a plane, then a couple went over by plane to Lau, followed later on by plane over to Lau. Then we were delayed in Lau, they had set up Lau, and there were a lot of people in Lau, a lot of civilians and army people in Lau.
We were delayed there for a long time and we couldn’t, we were alright we had food and everything.
When was this, approximately the date, do you remember?
It would have been about October.
Yes. Eventually this old sister and myself, because I was pretty sick, and she was old. They got a plane for us and we flew down together.
This was the old sister you had been looking after?
Did you feel a particular responsibility to get her home?
Yes, yes, but she wasn’t sick. It’s amazing the older ones never got fever, they were acclimatised.
Did you know, you were obviously saying goodbye to a lot of people for the last time, because…?
Did you know that at the time?
Oh no, I thought I would be going back.
It must have been emotional to leave all your friends?
Can you describe saying goodbye to them at that time?
We said, “We’ll see you in Australia, we’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” We thought that that was going to happen. It took so long, we’ve got stronger, we’re alright, and we’ll go back to the mission. They went back, they didn’t want to go back to Australia. When we got here
they were the first to leave from Rawley, in the meantime the ship came into Rabaul, the next group came here and the attention was waiting, which we didn’t know until we got here. But they got here first.
Can you describe your trip back to Australia and landing in Australia?
It was late at night; it was late at night when the plane had landed. The sister here who, when you’re going to the missions, we got light clothes and different clothes and we came down dressed as normal and she said, “And that’s a way to come back after I’d sent you!” Oh no, we got a
big welcome back. They made all sorts of sacrifices here for us while we were away. They didn’t know if we were alive or dead either, they didn’t know. It would have been worst for the Dutch people, you know, you used to have to go further for them. They were still alive too.
How long did it take you feel, to deal with your freedom?
A long time. It takes you a long time even when you are in the tropics, in the tropics. Then you come back here to another civilization, a lot of adjusting to do.
How did you adjust?
I don’t know, you just adjusted.
There are things that just have to happen.
Do you remember going up and seeing your dad?
Yes, they came down here.
And you knew that your mum had died at this stage?
Yes I knew that. When we’d docked at Lau they told me they had sent word and they didn’t tell me. The one in charge said, “No, we’ll wait till she goes to Australia.” they didn’t tell me. One of the priests said, “No, that’s not fair.”
So I heard in Lau.
Can you describe the meeting with your dad again?
Something you can’t describe.
Thinking that you’re dead all that time. You’re alive.
Did you have any bad dreams after it?
No, it has never affected me like that, never.
This is what a lot of people are surprised at. That I can talk about these things. Some other sisters couldn’t, some of the sisters lived here but their all dead now, they could not talk about it. This Dutch sister, I was very fond of this Dutch sister, Sister Ignatia, she went back to Holland about five years ago or so.
I wrote to her just, she died not last Christmas just the Christmas before and I’d written to her. She was writing back to me, she’d half written the letter and she had a heart attack and she died a couple of days after, but they sent that letter on to me.
I told her when I had gone; I’d written went I went back to Rabaul that time. I wrote what we did and she wrote, “I couldn’t do it,” she said “I can’t, I can’t talk about it, I can’t talk about it.”
Looking back on your experience now, do you think the war served a purpose at the time, or does war ever serve a purpose?
I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
I don’t think it did anything but sorrow for our own soldiers, the civilian population and the natives. A lot of those adults that came back with us, and I only met them when I was there, they were evacuated as children,
and some of them couldn’t even remember their fathers, some could just remember when they were only two or three or something like that. The rest of all of those years, all they wanted was to go back to where their father had first lived and they didn’t know what had happened to them. It was just that they had to go back, had to go back. Coming back they said,
“Just something to lift us.” It was very, very touching. Someone said, “Now we can get on with our lives.”
Have you talked about this very much to other people?
Not those sorts of personal questions, no. I can talk about all those other sorts of things.
Is there anything that you would like to add, to save some message for the Archive in the future that you might wish to sort of…?
Ever since I’ve come down this has been my mission to try and make known to the public and to the generations that come along that Australian soldiers fought on the shores of Rabaul,
they gave their lives for everyone and that has never been said, it has been just pushed aside. They gave their lives and these children, now adults, what they’d suffered all their lives and not knowing what had happened. I would like that to really be part of our history to know that it really did
happen, it was just as important as Gallipoli, Crete or any other place where Australian soldiers gave their lives for Australia. I would really like that to be part of the history.
Well we thank you, you’ve seen to it and I think it would be a good point to stop on.
Is there anything you would like to add on your own behalf?
I would like to thank you fellows for all of this. I find it a privilege, why should I be picked out to do this, it has been a privilege.
It has been a privilege for us too, thanks very much.