New Guinea Martyrs commemorated across Australia

Oct 4, 2022

2022 marks the 80th anniversary of the deaths of the Martyrs of New Guinea. While more than 300 martyrs from across all denominations are recognised, Anglican parishes across Australia particularly remembered the Anglicans from Australia, the UK and Papua New Guinea who lost their lives during the occupation of PNG by Japanese forces.  

Special services were held across Australia with ABM staff and supporters gathering to remember and reflect on the legacy of the New Guinea Martyrs, 80 years on. 

During his sermon at St Cuthbert’s, Prospect, Adelaide, on Friday 2 September, the Rev Dr John Deane, ABM’s Executive Director, focused on the impact the deaths of the Martyrs had on Anglicans back home in Australia – people who were themselves inspired to support the work of God’s mission through ABM either by serving the church in Australia or overseas or supporting it through prayer and financial support. During the service, John presented Mrs Mary Catford with a Coaldrake Medal in recognition of her many years of service to ABM through the ABM Auxiliary in both Willochra and Adelaide Dioceses, as well as on the National Auxiliary Council.  

Another fellow Auxiliary member and Coaldrake Award recipient, Elaine Edwards, who was sadly unable to attend the event, shared the importance of New Guinea Martyrs Day to her and her husband, John, who was Assistant Curate to the Rev Allan Daw, a returned ABM Missionary, at Prospect in 1967. 

John later returned to Prospect as the parish priest during which time he worked on the proper storage of the photo albums of Lilla’s which he found there and then instigated the installation of the stained glass window as a memorial to Lilla and the Martyrs.  John led a group of Anglicans on a sponsored walk from Cape Jervois (the nearest point ‘on the mainland’ to Lilla Lashmar’s home on Kangaroo Island) to Prospect, to raise the money needed for the design, execution and installation of the ‘window’ in St. Cuthbert’s. 

The deeper meaning of Martyrs Day was echoed by the Rev Ryan Austin-Eames on Saturday 3 September at St Luke’s, Concord-Burwood, Sydney. He challenged those present to reflect that this remembrance is not a day of sweet sentimentalism but one in which to honour the lives of the Martyrs of New Guinea because they followed Christ, eschewing their comfortable life in Australia and not fleeing in the face of death. Just as they embraced the suffering of those around them and the world at large, he prayed that we may emulate their example and prove worthy of their sacrifice. 

On the Sunday, more than 90 people gathered at All Saints’, Ararat, in Ballarat Diocese, to remember the Holy Martyrs of PNG with an Evensong and afternoon tea. The Rev Henry Matthews, one of the New Guinea Martyrs, was originally from Ararat. Fr Peter Treloar composed a special anthem for the Cathedral Choir. Bishop Garry reports that “the Dean, the Very Rev Michael Davies preached a fine sermon, and the good people of Ararat…prepared a terrific afternoon tea. Further north, around 65 supporters gathered for Choral Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle. ABM’s Robert McLean talked about the dangers of the commemoration becoming something of mere sentimental nostalgia. To honour the Martyrs truly requires becoming like them by embracing sacrificial giving to the benefit of our sisters and brothers in Christ in Papua New Guinea.  

It has been said that the blood of the Martyrs of New Guinea was the seed of the church. But not only did the Martyrs inspire the church in PNG but also Anglicans in Australia. ABM continues today to try and inspire Australian Anglicans to join in God’s mission that is being done today in so many different ways.