Anglican Missionary in New Guinea and Japanese Prisoner Of War (POW)
Reverend James Benson was born in England. Prewar, he became a Anglican Church (Church of England) missionary posted at Gona Mission Station "All Saints Mission" on the north coast of New Guinea.
On January 25, 1942 a radio message from the Australian administration ordered all missionaries, women and children to evacuate from the Territory of Papua and Territory of New Guinea to the safety of Australia. Despite this order, James Benson, nurse Miss Mavis Parkins and teacher Miss Anne Parkinson voluntarily decided to remain at their post, believing that if the war came to their area, the Japanese would respect them as non-combatants. This would later prove to be a tragic miscalculation. Also, he believed it was their duty to remain with their flock of believers and continue to provide religious and services to the community.
On May 23, 1942 damaged B-25C Mitchell 41-12491 pilot 1st Lt. Wesley E. "Wes" Dickinson bailed out near Fufuda and was assisted by a villager named Hangiri who took him to Gona Mission Station where he was under the care of Benson while he waited for schooner Maclaren King to pick him up. Before departing as a thank you gift, he gave Benson his compass.
On July 6, 1942 Benson recovered the body of P-400 Airacobra AP377 pilot 2nd Lt. Howard C. Welker who bailed out at low altitude and his parachute failed to open and was killed on impact. Afterwards, he was buried at Gona Mission.
During the night of July 21, 1942 the Japanese began landing on the north coast of New Guinea at Buna, Gona and Sanananda. As the Japanese began landing, the three missionaries fled inland. During the trek in the jungle, Benson used a compass
given to him by 1st Lt. Wesley E. "Wes" Dickinson for their trek inland to escape the area.
On August 2, 1942 in the afternoon joined a group of
downed American aviators and Australian Army spotters from Ambasi attempting to bypass Japanese forces to reach safety. For the next six days, the group was on the run.
On August 8, 1942 the group was ambushed by the Japanese and all were killed or executed. In an attempt to lead the Japanese away from the rest of the group, 2nd Lt. Jesse R. "Toughy" Hague Tommy gun at the approaching Japanese while attempting to lead them away from the rest of the group. The Japanese captured Reverend James Benson who became a Prisoner Of War (POW).
During January 1943 transported via
Lindenhafen to Rabaul where he was detained.
Afterwards, Benson was transported to Rabaul and detained in Rabaul. Later, detained with other missionaries and civilians at Vunapope. During captivity, he experienced Allied bombing raids against Rabaul.
On February 28, 1944 he noted the heavy U.S. air raid against Rabaul in his biography: "Feb 28 . March of 100 Liberators and 200 dive-bombers. Earth trembled. We all expected the end. Entrance to the tunnels blown in. 20 great craters in the banana grove. All been living in tunnels for eight days now... That raid on the 28th was the most terrible and agonizing we ever had to endure."
On March 31, 1944 he noted the heavy U.S. air raid against the entire Gazelle Peninsula: "March 31st . Day of a thousand fires! incendiaries everywhere. The last sentence describes what seemed like a deliberate attempt to set the whole of the Gazelle Peninsula on fire. There had been no rain for a week and the blistering sun had turned the vegetation to tinder. The planes came early. Being on the coast we were hit by the first wave of bombers and when we came out of our shelters there were fires everywhere."
Benson survived until the end of the Pacific War as living conditions deteriorated. In early September 1945 liberated after the official surrender of Japan.
Benson returned to Gona Mission Station "All Saints Mission" and continued working as a missionary. During 1946, he worked with RAAF Searcher Team led by S/L Rundle inestigating crashed Allied aircraft amd war graves in the Northern District of Territory of Papua.
Poem "Gona" July–August 1942 (Written on scraps of paper given by Saguro, interpreter)
Prisoners Base and Home Again The Story of a Missionary P.O.W. (1957) by James Benson autobiography of World War II experiences
Bailing Out Over New Guinea by Wesley E. "Wes" Dickinson
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