PATROLLING HIGH IN the Saruwaged Mountains north of Lae, my little group of tough constables and I were most unreasonably fired on one day by a strong Japanese patrol traversing what we had hitherto regarded as “our patch”.
Pato and Watute, two barefoot black veterans, volunteered to investigate.
Minus their uniforms, suitably dirtied up, and clad in grubby, ragged loincloths, they vanished for a week to move about among the locals, chewing betel nut and smoking as they gossiped the nights away. (Pato understood the local language.)
They returned with an account (in Pidgin) of a detailed plan by the Japanese high command to evacuate their entire garrison. (Too hazardous to maintain it, with the Americans now in such control of air and sea.)
Here, surely, was golden intelligence for General Herring, GOC of New Guinea Force.
As soon as its rendition into passable English could be drafted, it was radioed to Port Moresby.
There followed a rather long silence.
His [Herring’s] eventual response was to disparage Watute and Pato’s masterly deductions as mere “native rumours”.
Herring’s reward came a couple of months later when, with sound and fury, strong Australian forces “burst” their way into Lae. There was nobody there.
Game, set and match to two elderly black detectives.
Extract from ‘The way it was in New Guinea’ by Peter Ryan, Quadrant, December 2012