Previous to World War II there were no wireless stations on the outer islands of the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati). There were no such things as radio sets nor small transistors. Betio at the extreme south end of the island of Tarawa was the headquarters of the Government and Catholic mission, as well as the main shipping port for overseas vessels. Tarawa consists of a chain of small islets surrounded by a dangerous coral reef. Betio itself is about 700 yards wide and about 2 miles long. Here on Betio the British Government had installed a radio station. On all the outer islands one relied on news brought by visiting ships, but these visits were rather irregular. Gilbertese men at the top of their coconut trees, on sighting the ships would shout out sail oh sail oh. This cry would be passed on by others and immediately, those who could do so, hastened to the place of landing in order to get any news and to see who was on board. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 was heard of in this way.
However, the Gilbert Islands did not feel the impact of this war until December 1941 when the Japanese entered the Pacific War. But the tiny Island of Nauru, which is part of the vicariate of the Gilberts, was attacked by German raiders roaming the Pacific late December, 1940. Their tiny island was shelled by these German raiders and one of the British Phosphate ships, "Triadic" was also attacked and shelled by the Germans. In July 1941 word came from the government that all not native to the island, sisters included were to be evacuated. However, as the Sisters asked to remain, the Government at Canberra sent a second cable saying that the Sisters could remain but at their own risk. Then on the 8th of December a Japanese plane flew over Nauru. Two hours later the sisters heard that war had been declared on Japan.
Early in 1942 the Administrator announced that this time all must leave Nauru - a destroyer would pick them up and take them to safety. Allowed to stay would be seven male volunteers to care for the Gilbertese. These were the two Catholic Priests together with the Administrator (Mr Chalmers) and four other men. Later on, they received the news that these five men were executed in March 1943. The two Priests were taken away with local people to the Caroline Islands. The elderly Priest, Father Kayser, later died in the Carolines as a result of harsh treatment. The younger Priest, Father Clivaz, was then sent to another island where he found himself with some Jesuit Spanish Missionaries. After the war he returned to Nauru.
Now the Japanese were in Kiribati, or the Gilbert Islands as they were called until July 1979. A few months before the Japanese entered the war, the British Government, realising that the Japanese would in all likelihood try to take the Gilberts, recruited from nearby Zealand personnel as wireless operators and coast-watching guards. There were 24 in all -10 wireless operators and 14 as coast guards. These 24 men were posted to 9 of the 16 islands in the Gilbertese group. At the bombing of Pearl Harbour, war was declared on Japan. Two days later Japanese warships were at Betio, Tarawa.
In November, 1941 came an order from the Administrator at Tarawa, that all Europeans, Sisters included, were to be evacuated. There were 31 Sisters - French, Irish and Australian scattered over the group at different stations. These Sisters asked for permission to remain but the Commissioner refused. He said "You do not know what the Japanese are like" etc. A Protestant Missionary, Mr Sadd, also said to some of the Sisters: "I am a man and they can do what they like to me, but I would not like to think that my sister was in their hands." This missionary was later taken by the Japanese and he with 21 other prisoners were maltreated and beheaded or otherwise killed by the Japanese.
At the beginning of December, news came that the Government ship "Nimanoa" and the mission ship, "Santa Teretia", were to bring into Betio, Tarawa all the Sisters from the outer Islands. Then on the 11th December they were to proceed to Ocean Island to await a ship to Australia. The two ships flew around the various islands gathering up the sisters. Mother M. Clementine (French), the superior, went on the Mission ship as she wanted to help the Sisters who were closing the different stations. The 6 Sisters from the Northern islands arrived at Betio, Tarawa on the "Santa Teretia", and 9 sisters with His Lordship, Bishop Terrienne came from the southern Islands on the "Nimanoa". The Bishop wished to be with all the Sisters as they prepared to evacuate. By December 9th, the only Sisters not yet in Tarawa were those at Abaiang, Abemama and Maiana. The Mission schooner again left Tarawa just before the arrival of the "Nimanoa", to collect the Sisters. However, it was too late as the Japanese were already bombing Nauru and Ocean Island. At this time the Mission ship was at Abemama to collect the three Sisters from there. From Abemama the three Sisters with their superior left for Maiana where two more Sisters awaited them but by this time it was too late - all hope of escape was gone. On Wednesday, l0th December when the Captain, Father Klipfel arrived at the Mission Station at about 9.00 p.m. they heard that the Japanese had already arrived at Betio, Tarawa. Two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbour Japanese warships were anchored off Betio. The Sisters' belongings were already in the dinghies when the New Zealand wireless operator at Maiana told Father Klipfel that the "Santa Teretia" was to sail for Suva, Fiji without delay. The two Sisters from Maiana went back to their convent while the three Abemama Sisters and Superior were put ashore on a little islet outside Abemama. On this islet were a few families who were told by the Government to watch the entrance into the lagoon. Two of the men went to the mainland to take the news that the Sisters had returned. During the day canoes went out from the Mainland to get the Sisters.
"Santa Teretia" captained by Father Klipfel, Missionary of the Sacred Heart, sailed on through storms, anxiety and fright of the war to Fiji and thus saved the ship. The hurried evacuation of the Sisters, some quite elderly or sick, night after night in a small uncomfortable ship, shaken at that season by storms and angry seas, was no picnic. In the Gilberts the worst time to travel round the islands by ship is from October until about March. The seas were very rough and the currents very strong, so the Sisters would have been quite seasick. The events also showed the courage and deep faith of the Priest/Captain and also that of the Gilbertese sailors of the "Santa Teretia" who worked without pay, following their captain through dangers and into exile. The Sisters at Maiana and Abemama remained on their stations for the duration of the war as well as the Sisters at Abaiang. Those who had been taken to Betio, Tarawa to await transport to Ocean Island were all at Betio when the Japanese arrived in the early hours of December l0th 1941.
At Betio on 9th December there were about 19 Sisters awaiting transport to Ocean Island. The Sisters heard Nauru and Ocean Island had been bombed, but could do nothing except to wait for the enemy's arrival. The night was dark and boisterous and thick clouds gathered overhead. At midnight lightning began to flash, followed by peal after peal of thunder. Rain fell in torrents. At about 3.00 a.m. the silence was broken and all kinds of noises could be heard - glass windows crashing, doors being blown open, chopping of wood as the radio was put out of action. Guns were fired off to bring the Gilbertese to order. During the day the destruction became greater. Drums of kerosene were poured over the boats and launches which were then set on fire. The big wooden boat sheds were burnt to the ground. It was still very dark when the Japanese first went to the hospital and then on to the mission station. They went to the presbytery where the Bishop, Father Superior and two Brothers were pushed out and marched down to the Post Office. Japanese soldiers with rifles and drawn bayonets hustled them along the wet road. After that it was the turn of the Sisters. A little Japanese arrived at the convent and said "What nationality?"
"We are French, Irish and Australian". At once: "Get out that way, Australian. Get out this way, French. Get out this way, etc etc." He had forgotten how to say "Irish". So the etc. etc. were marshalled out the same way as the French. Sr M St Pierre, over 70 years old and finding it difficult to walk, was allowed by this batch of Japanese to remain at the convent. However, just after daylight other soldiers found Sister alone and made her get up and go along with the soldiers to the other Sisters.
The first lot of Sisters were pushed out on to the road in the very heavy rain with the Japanese soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets behind, in front and at the sides of them, hustling them along on the slippery pathway. Water was over their ankles, but the Japanese soldiers just pushed them along. On their arrival at the Government store they found the European male personnel of Betio sitting on the wet cement floor with broken glass strewn all over the place. The place was in shambles, not an atom of furniture left. The different nationalities were separated; all had to sit in silence from just after 3.00am until after 5 o'clock in the evening. From time to time the soldiers would poke their bayonets in their faces and cars. In the early afternoon the prisoners were given some foodstuffs and biscuits taken from the Burns Philip's store and a bucket of water to drink. At the end of the meal the Japanese made the Bishop, Priests and Sisters promise they would neither leave the island nor do anything against the Japanese Empire. Then soldiers appeared from all directions, the Rising Sun was hoisted on a flagstaff while the Japanese sang a song and then cheered. They then marched off to do elsewhere the same piece of work as the Sisters had witnessed that day.
On arriving back at their mission station the Sisters found that the Japanese had used their convent for their meal hall for the day. Supplies of cotton materials had been torn into strips to polish Nipponese guns and all trunks etc. had been opened and articles carried off. At the presbytery the destruction was even greater. The following day the Sisters left Betio for another mission station at Teaoraereke, an islet a little further north of Betio. The Sisters arrived at Teaoraereke after a very rough wet trip across the lagoon where 2 other Sisters were already stationed. There were no extra beds so the Sisters had to sleep on the floor with make shift pillows. The next day the travellers had to wait for their clothes to dry before they could move around. Such is mission life. Then followed months of hardship, life under primitive conditions, threats, fears and so forth. For two years there was no cargo or news from the rest of the world. Sisters on one Island did not know what was happening on the next island. The Japanese always told us that they were winning the war and soon there would be plenty of ships from Tokyo!!
Just before Christmas, 1941 the Japanese returned to Tarawa and the northern islands. Their warships called into these islands and took away 7 New Zealand personnel - wireless operators and coast guards. These prisoners were taken to Japan and were released at the end of the war.
Mother M. Clementine, the Superior, remained at Abemama until the 25th March 1942. She was then able to return to Tarawa on a small open boat with a man of mixed race, William Reiher. It was he who had built the mission ship "Santa Teretia". They travelled during the night and stayed at Maiana in the daytime. When they got ashore at Betio, Tarawa, everywhere were signs of war and the passage of the Japanese, but there where no Japanese at that time. Their first visit was early in December, then again at Christmas time. It was about midnight when Mother M. Clementine arrived at the Mission station. She woke the Sisters who were overjoyed to hear her voice as they had no idea where she was. Shortly afterwards five of the Sisters from the southern islands returned to their mission stations at Nonouti and Tabiteuea on the same small boat on which their Superior had travelled on to get from Abemama to Tarawa.
Towards the end of August 1942, the Bishop decided to return to his Island of Tabiteuea so he set out from Tarawa on a small launch. He stopped first at Abemama but the Japanese had arrived there the day before. The Bishop was immediately taken into custody and taken back to Tarawa shortly afterwards. There he was kept under guard until the last week of October when he was taken to Butaritari.
At Abaiang, north of Tarawa, was a Catholic boarding school, St Joseph's College, for boys from Abaiang and other Islands. They relied on the Mission ship to bring food from their islands several times a year. However, as there was no mission ship now, the Priest in charge of the College, Fr Durand, decided the Marakei boys should return to their own island. A young Priest, Father Marquis, also went to see the Swiss Priest at Marakei. Towards the end of August 1942 the two Priests with the boys and some sailors set out on a very large canoe. The trip to the east of Abaiang should have taken only a few hours. The weather was very bad and there was a strong current. They tried three times - the first time they sailed round the eastside of the island and back into the lagoon. The second time they did not get very far and on the third time sailed off. But the current was too strong and they went north instead of east. They were becalmed for three days then unfortunately were seen by a Japanese ship.
Two of them, Father Durance and one of the boys were blindfolded, taken on board and questioned. They were then lowered back on to their canoe, but were not given any food by the Japanese. They then sailed further north and landed at Milli, an island in the Marshall group just north of the Gilbert. Here they found the Japanese well installed with Japanese soldiers everywhere. The Priests and others had no trouble with the guards. However, after a little more than a month these guards were changed. The second lot were far different from the first ones and after a short time the two young Priests died a lonely death at the hands of the Japanese. Some time after, two of the bigger boys tried to escape. They were caught. Later on they tried again, this time one was caught and put to death. The second boy managed to get away on a small boat and caught up with the Americans. He was taken to America by the allies, studied to be a doctor and some time later put in charge of a hospital in the Marshall Islands. After the war the other boys with some of the sailors returned to Abaiang. After the battle of Tarawa the Americans told us that they would not try and take Milli as it was so well fortified.
On the 3rd of September 1942 the Japanese returned to Tarawa, this time to stay. They had 9 warships anchored off Tarawa and soldiers poured into Betio, little Tokyo as they called it, to begin strengthening the fortifications. Betio was surrounded by a 5 ft wall built up with rocks and large coconut logs. They had pillboxes, bomb shelters, gun bunkers, trenches etc. with plenty of barbed wire all over the place. They themselves said: "A million men will not take Tarawa in a hundred years."
Two of their warships then went round the southern islands gathering up all the English speaking men they could find. They were also going to bring back all the Australian Sisters. This was a terrible anxiety as it meant that a French or an Irish Sister might be left alone on an island. However, when the warships returned to Betio there were not any Sisters on board. A Japanese commander changed the order and left the Sisters on their islands.
From the 24 New Zealand personnel who had arrived over a year before, 7 had already been taken away from the northern islands. The remaining 17 were taken from their various islands, and also five other English speaking men were taken prisoners. These were the Government wireless operator, a chemist, a retired Master Mariner, a retired trader and Mr. Sadd (Protestant Missionary). On or about the l5th October 1942 these 22 men were murdered by the Japanese, in most cases after considerable maltreatment. Betio had been shelled from the sea whilst ships were bombed from the air. As soon as the raid was over, all the white men were brutally massacred by the Japanese as a reprisal.
On the arrival of the prisoners from the southern islands they had been tied up to coconut trees and left there night and day in the sun and the rain. After several days they were confined in the local psychiatric asylum and then most of them were forced to work on the construction of a wharf at Betio. When the men were being collected from the various islands, the Gilbertese were threatened that if they hid the soldiers or let them escape from their islands the Japanese would shell the island. On one of the islands a young Gilbertese was tied up because he refused to show where the soldier was hiding.
The Bishop had been taken to Betio on the same warship as the other prisoners. Before the massacre the Bishop had asked the Japanese commander to be allowed, as a clergyman, to visit them, he met with an unqualified refusal. The Bishop, with a French Priest and a very old Brother were guarded night and day by soldiers with drawn bayonets. On 23rd October 1942 the three were taken by ship from Tarawa further north to Brattier where the Japanese had another garrison of soldiers.
From October 1942 until the arrival of the Americans in November 1943 the Sisters had many visits from the Japanese, "social" and otherwise. One sister was asked her nationality; when she said she was French he declared "France and Japan are allied together and we will pop-pop at America". As a rule most of the Japanese left the Missionaries alone but at times would take what they liked. Different things taken were clothes, knives, wine, etc. The Tabernacle key and a crucifix were taken at Abaiang.
At Teaoraereke one Japanese had a tug-of-war with an old Sister when she refused to let him take her bucket. Sister won. Another Sister lost two of her frying pans, they were needed to fry their eggs! One time some Japanese took 6 bunches of bananas. The Sisters had very little in the way of food so a complaint was made to an officer. He went and looked in a Japanese small boat, found the bananas hidden under some sacks, belted the soldiers and made them return the bananas to the Sisters. The Sisters were visited another night by 3 other Japanese who went into the Sisters' store, lit a candle and ordered the Sisters to open their cupboards and trunks to get some shoes.
The Bishop was told the story so he also complained to a Japanese officer. The commander was informed, the wrongdoers punished and after that no more Japanese were seen around the Convent at night time. Before the war, there were two Japanese traders with their families on the northern island of Brattier. Their children attended the Sisters' school. These two Japanese men returned to the Gilberts and acted as interpreters. Several times they were able to help us when we had trouble with the soldiers. On one occasion at Abaiang a large number of Japanese arrived with field artillery. They claimed to have shot down an American plane and the crew was supposed to have landed on our island of Abaiang. They scoured the whole island from top to bottom, but to no avail. One dapper little Japanese covered in medals even got down on his hands and knees to search under the Priest's bed! The Sisters and Father were lined up on the roadside with cannons and machine guns before them. One of the Sisters was very big, so they thought that the Americans were masquerading as missionary Sisters! However, they were saved by one of the soldiers who had previously visited them with a senior officer who had been kind to them.
The same day another Mission station about 5 miles away, was also visited by the Japanese. They were all over the place, but this lot pretended they knew very little English. That evening, two Japanese again visited the Sisters but this time they spoke very good English. There were 3 Sisters here - an elderly French Sister who was in a Gilbertese house near the 2 storey brick convent, and two young Sisters upstairs in the convent. While preparing for bed they were alerted by their small dog barking. Two Japanese were in front of the Convent. The young Irish Sister went down the back stairs while I went out on to the front verandah to talk to them. They said they came to "talk and laugh" with us. While I was talking to them Sister awakened the French Sister and the two of them went across the yard to get the bigger boys. When the Japanese heard the boys approaching they realised we had people to protect us, said goodbye and left us. The following morning when the Japanese came around we complained to our trader friend. No more Japanese visited us at night time. Had we not been alerted by our dog, the two men would probably have been upstairs before we knew they were on the premises.
In April 1943 the Japanese commander advised all the Sisters at Teaoraereke to move further north to the islet of Taborio. Since there was nothing to live on there we received permission from the Japanese to go across to the next island, Abaiang. Leaving Teaoraereke was a big job as we had to pack up everything belonging to Teaoraereke and Betio stations, furniture, church linen, pigs, poultry, etc. etc. How many boat loads had to go and men to man them. A French Priest and three Sisters remained at Taborio and all the other Sisters went by night to Abaiang. Six Sisters with one Priest remained at Koinawa, Abaiang and 8 Sisters with three Brothers were at Tabwiroa (St Joseph's College) 5 miles from Koinawa. Four Sisters went to the island of Marakei east of Abaiang. The trip should have taken only a few hours but owing to bad weather it took more than 24 hours. They were isolated there until after the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943. Apart from being annoying, the Japanese never ill-treated or molested us. They gave us very little, but they did not have much themselves. God is very good and looked after us well!
A Japanese doctor once gave the Sisters several tins of condensed milk for a sick Sister. Another day they gave six pieces of snow-white soap to wash their "beautiful robes". At Abaiang the Sisters were given some rice that had survived the American bombardment, but the rice was mixed with glass and bits of cement. Also they were given some biscuits - very hard but sweet so had to be soaked before eating.
A couple of months before the coming of the Americans 5 Japanese were sent from Betio to install themselves at Koinawa, Abaiang. They settled themselves next door to the convent. The Catholic Church has a very high tower that was used by the Japanese as a lookout. From here they could see the islands of Marakei east, Tarawa just south and Maiana a little further south. Each morning one of the guards would go up to the top of the tower to see if the enemy were approaching. These guards were rather nice men, especially the chief guard. After a month the guards were changed - they were rather a rough lot.
About the l8th of November the American Navy arrived off Tarawa, with planes, warships, and submarines and started shelling Betio. They lost a lot of men. Even in Abaiang one could hear explosion after explosion. Ships could be seen in all directions. The chief guard of the Japanese dressed himself up as a Gilbertese woman in a grass skirt and with a wreath of flowers on his head, he ordered some locals to take him over to the Japanese watch tower on the north of Tarawa. On his return he said that the planes were like flies, there were so many. The Japanese put out a notice that no locals were to visit them that day - the 26th November. They gathered up at 11 a.m. the spades, picks and shovels they could find in the village and then polished up their guns, swords and bayonets. Joseph, their Gilbertese interpreter, one of our Catholic young men, was allowed to wait on their table. While lighting their cigarettes and so forth he heard the Japanese say that they would kill all the missionaries at 9 o'clock the following morning as we had given signals to the Americans.
Joseph waited until his day's work was done and then obtained permission to go to a local dance. The Japanese never saw Joseph again. He borrowed a bicycle and hurried to the second mission station five miles away to warn us of the Japanese threat. Here there were 8 Sisters and 3 Brothers. We kept Joseph with us and seat one of the bigger boys back to the Missionaries near the Japanese with the news. We decided to get Gilbertese men to take us across to Tarawa where we might contact the Americans. We would all try to meet at the south end of the island and get across secretly in the early hours of the morning. We were running into terrible danger as we had been forbidden by the Japanese to cross the ocean stretch between Abaiang and Tarawa.
The Missionaries at Koinawa could not get canoes, but travelled on a small old launch. Those at the other mission station left on canoes, two or three Missionaries with a couple of faithful Gilbertese on each canoe. We took Joseph with us. After 9.00 p.m. we all set out silently. Being low tide we had to walk out quite a distance to board our canoes and launch. Some of the elderly Sisters had difficulty in walking so far out to board their craft. But even then we were not out of danger. If the Japanese missed us we would be pursued in canoes. The odds were overwhelmingly against us. Strong winds coming in the wrong direction; rough seas, squalls, then a dead calm.
Instead of all waiting at the south end as previously arranged, each craft crossed over the ocean stretch alone. Two of the canoes arrived at the Mission station of Taborio (North Tarawa) the next morning. The rest had all arrived by about 5.00 p.m. As the last canoe and the launch were approaching the shore of North Tarawa a Gilbertese shouted to us to get away as Japanese were still in their foxholes. Then about 3.00 p.m. a soldier in uniform waded out to us through the in-going tide and told us to hurry to Taborio as the Japanese could fire on us. We were so thankful to God who had protected us with His mighty protection.
As the last lot of Missionaries arrived safely on the shore of Taborio, a big contingent of American marines emerged from a huge black amphibious tank. They had come across the lagoon from Betio in order to follow up the Japanese who had escaped the terrible Battle of Betio. These Japanese had run round the island, passing through many passages of water in order to reach the northern tip of Tarawa. That night the Americans left soldiers to guard over the mission station in case some Japanese came back to our place. The Americans lost about 40 men in liquidating the remaining Japanese. We received much food, medicine etc. from the American army. They were very generous both to us and to the Gilbertese people. We are very grateful to the Americans, but we owe our escape from death to the courage and resourcefulness of our faithful Gilbertese who risked their own lives to save us all from being massacred.
While at Taborio we received many visits from the Americans. They could not understand how we had all got across the sea from Abaiang to Tarawa without being seen by the American guards. This is especially as several hours passed between the first and last canoes. The American General said their guards should be punished. "If you could get across, so could the Japanese. Did you use a smoke screen?" We replied that Our Lady covered us with her mantle. So the guards did not get into trouble. The Sisters remained in Taborio for a week or more and then returned on their canoes to Abaiang. In the meantime the Americans had crossed over to Abaiang and taken the Japanese who were there. The story (by the local people) goes that they were taken on board the American ship and then dumped overboard! Some of the Sisters returned to their former islands, while others took a well-needed holiday to Australia after all the privations and upsets of the past years.
The famous Battle of Tarawa was fought by the Americans in November 1943. Tarawa was to be taken from the Japanese in order to have a stepping stone to Tokyo. This battle, one of the most tearful of the whole war, lasted about 4 days and ended with the killing of more than 5,000 Japanese, as well as 2,000 to 3,000 Americans being killed or wounded. In November 1993, 50 years after the battle, many Americans arrived for the celebrations. Among those present was one of the first Marines to go ashore in 1943. He said that the Battle of Tarawa marked America's first major offensive in the Pacific war. It was also the first attempt to make an amphibious assault against a highly fortified enemy position. There were many battles fought by the Americans. They were all bad, but none was remotely like Tarawa. As the Americans were approaching the bench at Betio they were overwhelmed by targets from the Japanese hiding up the coconut trees. The Battle of Tarawa left Betio so ravaged that not one building nor even a coconut tree was left standing.
What of the other Mission Stations: The Japanese did not occupy all the Gilbert Islands. They thought it sufficed, no doubt, that the Rising Sun should front over the principal ones. Away in the north in Butaritari they made a fine display of strength and activity and judged it a good secure place for the Bishop maybe because, with the exception of 2 priests and 2 brothers, he was well away from the other missionaries. But the Bishop gave the Japanese the slip. With his companions they jumped into the water and made their way to a USA ship while the Americans and the Japanese were shooting over their heads.
Further south near the Equator, on the island of Abemama, the Catholic Mission had a training school for Gilbertese teachers who, during the period of three years of training, lived on this island with their wives and families. With so many young couples living at Manoku (their village on Abemama), there were many babies. Quite a number of babies had already been buried in their cemetery. However, no sooner had the Japanese installed themselves on Abemama than people of a1l ages and states began to get sick. The first to die was young French Sister, St M. Juliana. The Japanese doctor aid visited her and even sent a tin of butter and some condensed milk but Sister died in October 1942. An epidemic among the babies took many to their graves. The two Missionary Priests were sick, and when planes flew over the young Gilbertese trainees carried the two Priests to safety for fear of bombs.
On the 22nd November, the American marines landed on Abemama some miles south of the training school. There were 23 Japanese on the island and when the Japanese knew they were outnumbered, they got panicky and hid in their dugout. As they were in their well-prepared trenches the American marines could make no impression with rifle fire. Then a submarine tried with shells but could not reach the enemy inside. On Friday, 26th there was a strange quietness about the dugouts. On investigating they found all 23 Japanese dead. The officer was apart from the others. Each man had a pistol shot in the throat while the chief was shot in the temple. Did the commanding officer shoot his men first and then kill himself or was the pistol passed from man to man? Thy mystery remains. Here as at Tarawa the Americans were very generous both to the Missionaries and the local people.
On the Phosphate Island of Ocean Island were many Gilbertese and Chinese who had been recruited for the work. In 1942, when a Japanese invasion seemed imminent, most of the Europeans and Chinese were evacuated. Father Pujebet and Brother Brummel, MSC, chose to stay with their people. Four Europeans working with the Government and British Commission also stayed. The Japanese did arrive. Both Missionaries were taken by the Japanese to the hospital. Brother did leave the hospital, was seen walking along the beach with two Japanese but never seen again. The remains of neither Missionary have been able to be traced. The four other men also disappeared. When the Missionaries and others were all dead, there remained about 150 Gilbertese and Chinese boys, retained to work for the Japanese. All the others had been shipped off when the food question was becoming a problem. These remaining boys literally slaved, fishing, digging, planting until the fatal August 9th dawned. They were led in parties to rocks that dropped about 15 feet to the sea. There, blindfolded and with hands bound, the helpless victims were bayoneted in the back. The poor men then dropped into the sea. But one Gilbertese lad fell when he was stabbed at; he kept still until the Japanese went elsewhere. He rubbed his bound hands on a sharp rock until the cords gave way and then found a friendly cave where he hid until the British again arrived on the island. At night time he would go out to collect coconuts. He was a chief witness at the Rabaul trials.
This particular atrocity by the Japanese is also mentioned in Peter McQuarries definitive book Strategic Atolls, Tuvalu and the Second World War (Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, 1994).
I have a particular interest in this happening as one of the men who was murdered was my paternal uncle Falailiva (Fly River) Resture. The man who escaped was Kabunare from Nikunau Island in the Southern Gilberts. Please check out Kabunare's verbatim account of this particular atrocity committed by the Japanese to innocent I-Kiribati, Tuvaluans, and others, on my Banaba Web site. ... Jane Resture
Another incredible adventure story is that of a lad who was seven months at sea in a canoe. Seven Gilbertese at Ocean Island, anticipating a tragic death, slipped off one night on three canoes. It was a frightful venture, and one of the canoes disappeared the second night. Provisions and fresh water were soon finished. They caught some rainwater and then a shark at times. One time they found part of a ship's cargo of tinned food, but their troubles multiplied. The canoes overturned, a shark bit one of the men in the shoulder. At last only one man remained. He drifted and drifted until after seven months he landed upon Manus in the Admiralty Islands. Being too weak to walk ashore or call for help, he half crawled through the low water to the beach, no sooner seen than helped. These friendly locals, like those of many other races in the Pacific, all exhibit the lovely trait of tenderness for the sick and distressed. Our young Gilbertese was able to return later to his own Island and gave his version of Ocean Island during the Japanese occupation.
After the war there was again peace in the Pacific, but the numbers were less than before. Many Missionaries died who, in normal times with good food and medical care would have been saved. Quite a lot of buildings had either been destroyed or badly damaged. In the case of the Sisters' Convent at Teaoraereke, the Convent was still standing, but without doors or windows and everything that could be taken was gone, and there were very few coconuts on the trees. It took some time to get rid of all the rubbish left by the Japanese and Americans. With the help of generous workers and with timber given by the U.S. army, everything was ready for the Missionaries to move in.
Thanks be to God.
A Short History of Kiribati
Jane's Kiribati Home Page
Jane's Aspects of Oceania Page