Topic: GW - Atrocities
New Guinea, 30 November 1914
After the capture of the German Colony of New Guinea, the Australians were given stewardship over quite a sizable territory. The Australian government had already come to the conclusion that they would annex the territory and the press discussed the ways in which this new wealth could be carved up.
After the occupation, the most famous case of an atrocity was the flogging of 4 German civilians at Rabaul. Here is the copy of an article published in the Adelaide "The News", 10 November 1965:
A graphic description of the flogging by Australian officials of four German civilians in Rabaul, in 1914, was given in Sydney today by a man who was an eyewitness of the incident.
He is Mr. A. McKay, a retired clerk, of Croydon, a western suburb, who, at the time, was a 20-year-old trooper with F. Company of the Australian Forces.
A photograph of the flogging found in New Guinea, this week, is similar to one held by Mr. McKay and is a postcard snap.
It shows the official who performed the flogging about to strike one German held over a trunk.
Australian officers wearing sun helmets and carrying swords are looking on.
Dozens of the postcard prints were made and sold around the islands for 3d.
Today Mr. McKay sat back in a chair, and told of the floggings and the events which led up to them.
"I went to Rabaul on the troopship, Berrima," he said.
"I had been there only a couple of weeks when the military administrator of German New Guinea, Col. William Holmes, announced there would be a flogging of German civilians at Proclamation square.
"I learnt later a punitive squad had brought in four German civilians who were reported to have thrashed the Rev. William Henry Cox, chairman of the Methodist mission, in the Bismarck Archipelago.
"Mr. Cox was visiting at Namatanal, a Methodist mission on what is now New Ireland.
"The four Germans apparently heard the Australians were coming, so they decided to drink up all the booze before the troops arrived.
"They got really drunk, and that was when they decided to beat up the Rev. Cox.
"They accused him of being a spy -- he was no such thing of course.
Flogging a German at Rubaul, Picture 2 of a 3 picture series
"He had a small lugger which he used for cruising about the island and I think it was this that had them worried.
"The group rushed into a house at the mission station, where Mr. Cox was sitting talking to the wife of the missionary.
"The medical officer, who was one of the German civilians, pointed a pistol at Cox and said, 'You are a prisoner'."
Mr. McKay said Cox was then seized by the neck, dragged out of the room and down the steps of the house, held over a wash-tub and given 30 or 40 strokes with a cane.
"After the Germans left, Mr. Cox sent a native boy to Rabaul to report the incident and that was when Col. Holmes sent out a party," he said.
"Col. Holmes ordered the Germans to be publicly flogged after his legal adviser, Capt. C.E. Manning, had conducted an inquiry, at Namatanal, and obtained confessions from them.
"He ordered the flogging to take place in Proclamation Square, Rabaul.
"Col. Holmes directed that natives and women were not to attend.
"He explained that it would have been bad for morale to see a white man flog another white man.
"All of we troops -- half a battalion at the garrison -- were marched to the square where we lined up in a three-sided square with German men ordered to attend the flogging making the fourth side.
"The four men to be punished were lined up by a flag pole in the centre of the square," Mr. McKay went on.
"The German medical officer, the ringleader of the assault on Cox, was placed across a trunk under the flagpole.
"His hands were handcuffed to two tent pegs driven into the ground. His ankles were chained with leg irons to two other tent pegs on the opposite side of the trunk.
"Before the flogging started, the German civilians protested vigorously to Col. Holmes who listened to two spokesmen for a few minutes, then stood back and made a dramatic speech.
"I can't remember it all ... memory fades in 50 years but he ended it by pointing to the flag and shouting, "This is a British flag. Under this flag you shall be given protection ... and you shall also be flogged.
"'Order, commence flogging.'
"Then a provost began wielding a cane about as thick as your thumb. He hit the medical officer at rights angles to the backside. They were really hard blows. The whack rang out across the parade ground.
"I remember that day clearly -- November 30, at 10 a.m. the medical officer was given 30 strokes of the cane and taken away.
"Another man then was lashed across the trunk and he was given 25 strokes, in the same manner.
"The next one also was given 25, but a young boy, the doctor's assistant, received only 10.
"They didn't utter one sound, during the punishment, but lay across the trunk and flinched with every stroke.
"A new provost was brought on for each caning so one man wouldn't tire out," Mr. McKay said.
"Cameras were prohibited and a couple were confiscated, but one of the troops in our battalion, a private T. Atkins, was standing in the second row behind me.
Flogging a German at Rubaul, Picture 3 of a 3 picture series
"He had a camera around his neck and hidden inside his shirt with just the lens poking through the shirt front.
"We, in the front row, covered up for him and stood aside as he clicked the shutter.
"After each flogging the victim was carried away, but not one of them made a sound," he added.
After the war years, Mr. McKay worked as a clerk and up till his retirement spent most of his time in the Commonwealth Public Service.
The following is a copy of the letter sent by William Holmes detailing the anticipated floggings of the Germans convicted for assaulting Reverend Cox. The letter is dated 28 November projecting the floggings to occur on 30 November 1914.
Further information regarding this action may be found in the National Archives file on the subject:
Citation: Flogging Germans, New Guinea, 30 November 1914