The memorial for the New Guinea Martyrs falls this week. Our church has had approval for a new church building - we turned the sod last week. As the youngest member of the church, Ginger was given a trowel to dig some of the soil! The church building will have a chapel dedicated to the New Guinea Martyrs; one of whom came from our parish. Our sermon today focused on the bravery of these souls.
When World War II threatened Papua and New Guinea there was a clear threat to the safety of European missionaries there. There was talk of leaving. As the Japanese drew closer in 1942, Bishop Phillip Strong wrote to his clergy: "We must endeavour to carry on our work. God expects this of us. The church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The universal church expects it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled, when the shadows of the Passion began to gather around Him in His spiritual and mystical body, the Church in Papua."
All but one, who had a young child with her and chose to return to Australia for the safety of her child, stayed. In all, over 300 church workers lost their lives at the hands of the Japanese in New Guinea. They are all remembered as the New Guinea Martyrs. Officially the breakdown is 200 Catholics, 24 Methodists, 15 Lutherans, 13 Anglicans and about 40 assorted others. Being an Anglican church, our focus is on the thirteen Anglicans who were in that number.
My great-uncle, who was a Catholic priest, spent time as a missionary in New Guinea just after the war. He later left the priesthood as he chose to marry. When he returned to his mission some years later he was fondly referred to by the islanders as "Father Was". He has very fond memories of his time spent there. The connection he felt with the members of his mission, I am sure was felt by the missionaries there during WWII. They could not forsake their community in the face of danger.
I think this is a part of Australian history which has been overlooked; particularly given how much attention is given to the military campaign on the Kokoda trail. Indeed, our rector commented today that the name of the thirteenth Anglican martyr is unknown. In my view, it is time the sacrifice of these people is given the attention it deserves.