“Guadalcanal saved the Pacific, and the Coast Watchers saved Guadalcanal” – American Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey
Australians rightly are proud of the famous Coast Watchers for changing the course of the Pacific War in WW2 – but too few know that some of the bravest of that illustrious group were Papuan New Guineans.
On ANZAC Day, let’s not forget Paramount Luluai Golpak MBE , Sir Simogun Pita MBE and their fellow PNG heroes.
Australians and Americans owe them a massive debt. Many owed them their lives. We all owe it to them to never forget.
Golpak and Simogun risked their lives – and that of their families – operating behind Japanese lines, fighting the enemy and gathering critical intelligence for the Allies. Between them they’d saved Diggers escaping the Fall of Rabaul and numerous downed US and Australian airmen.
They’d been recruited by legendary coast watchers Malcolm Wright, Peter Figgis and Les Williams.
Golpak was from Sali Village in Pomio (New Britain) where there’s a school named after him. In 1961 one of the pilots Golpak rescued, Wing Commander Bill Townsend, was on hand as a special memorial was unveiled in Sali. Townsend is pictured below with Golpak’s son Kaolea .
I am indebted to former Pomio Kiap George Oakes for these marvellous colour photos of that event.
Author Peter Stone (Hostages to Freedom, the Fall of Rabaul) wrote about Golpak:
“Golpak showed tremendous loyalty, initiative and ingenuity in resisting the Japanese, and in assisting downed airmen and Allied Intelligence Bureau units in East New Britain.”
The incredible bravery of men like Golpak and Simogun is highlighted in various other books including Patrick Lindsay’s excellent The Coast Watchers, Malcolm Wright’s If I dieand this special tome on the two men by Eric Johns.
Forged under fire, the bond between the Papua New Guineans and Australians was unshakeable and the latter group ensured the courage and service of their brothers-in-arms was not forgotten higher up in the army and establishment. Both men were honoured as Members of the British Empire.
Simogun was born at Bargedem in East Sepik and had connections to Salamaua. He’d joined the mandated Territory of New Guinea police force and was a sergeant at Nakania in New Britain at the outbreak of the war.
In December 1942 in Australia Simogun joined a coast watching patrol destined for West New Britain and led by the naval officer Malcolm Wright. After preparations near Brisbane, on 30 April 1943 the patrol was landed from the submarine USS Greenling at Baien village, near Cape Orford. An observation post was established, from which Japanese aircraft and shipping movements were reported. In October 1943 the party crossed the rugged interior of New Britain to Nakanai, where they operated as a guerrilla force. Simogun led local men in attacks on Japanese troops. About 260 were killed for the loss of only two men. The party was withdrawn in April 1944. Simogun is credited with having maintained the morale of the group under often very difficult circumstances. Warned that the operation would be dangerous, he had replied: ‘If I die, I die. I have a son to carry my name’. He was awarded the BEM for his war service. Later he entered politics.
Simogun was the only Papua New Guinean to serve on all four Legislative Councils, from 1951 to 1963. Elected to the first House of Assembly (1964-68) for the Wewak-Aitape electorate, he was an active and influential member and under-secretary for police. Dame Rachel Cleland observed that he was a natural orator, whom no one could equal in style.
Appointed MBE in 1971, Simogun was knighted, recommended by the government of Papua New Guinea in 1985. He had married three women: Wurmagien from Alamasek village, Wiagua (Maria) from Boiken, and Barai (Bertha) from Kubren village at Dagua. Wurmagien had two children, Wiagua one, and Barai eight. Sir Pita Simogun returned to Urip in the 1980s and died on 11 April 1987 at Wewak. He was buried with full military honours at Moem Barracks army cemetery.