DON WOOLFORD | Herald-Sun | AAP
THE LITTLE-KNOWN ROLE of the most remarkable Papuan of his generation should be recalled during the commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the battle of Milne Bay - Japan's first defeat on land in World War II.
John Guise, the first Papuan to make a political impact, didn't mind a bit of boasting, especially if it involved cricket and the unbeaten 253 he once smashed which was, and may still be, a record for Milne Bay first grade.
When profiled after he became speaker of the House of Assembly in 1968, he didn't want to talk about his war.
He did, however, suggest speaking to Ian McDonald, who was then chairman of the territory's Copra Marketing Board.
McDonald had been Guise's boss in the Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), which Guise joined as a signals clerk soon after it was set up in 1942 to provide a skeleton civil administration in the unoccupied parts of PNG. It also had quasi-military responsibilities.
On the night of August 25, 1942, the Japanese began their invasion of Milne Bay.
Guise was sent, in an open dinghy, through 32km of heavy seas, to tell the bayside villagers to douse their lights.
He then safely returned through the ships and landing barges of the advancing Japanese.
"The Japs were relying on the village lights to guide their attack," McDonald said.
"But John had done his job well. They landed three to four miles (5-6km) off course and this made a big difference to us."
After the war Guise, who was born in 1914, went from strength to strength.
He was elected to the first House of Assembly in 1964 and became speaker after his re-election.
He was a cabinet minister during the self-government period and, at independence in 1975, became PNG's first governor-general. He died in 1991.
Michael Somare, with whom he had a testy relationship, is regarded in PNG as the father of the nation.
But Guise, 22 years older, was, as the first Papuan to make a political mark, a true pioneer of nationhood.
And his exploit 70 years ago in the dark waters of Milne Bay is a reminder of the hugely important role played by civilians in the New Guinea campaigns - the ANGAU officers operating and dying behind enemy lines, the extraordinary coastwatchers, and the thousands of Papua New Guineans recruited, and in some cases press-ganged, as bearers.
It was much more than a soldiers' war.