A highlight of the Library’s Maps Collection is a set of military reports published by the Allied Geographical Sectionan intelligence unit formed under the directives of General MacArthur during World War II. The Library has been digitising this important research collection.

Charmaine Manuel, a staff member working on the project, writes about the significance of this collection. 

The Allied Geographical Section

In 1942, the Allied Forces faced the prospect of waging war against the Japanese in a region known as the South West Pacific Area. They soon discovered that their scant knowledge of the area was a significant impediment to devising a military strategy. In response, the Allied Geographical Section (AGS) was formed, to provide maps as well as geographic and anthropological information of this unknown region.

War and Anthropology

While the focus of the AGS material is largely geographical with its inclusion of maps, aerial photographs and terrain analyses, the reports also contain information on the “human terrain” of the South West Pacific area. Since war causes a collision of cultures, languages and ideas, there has long been a confluence of military intelligence and the field of anthropology. Anthropologists often worked for intelligence units like the AGS, providing any information that troops on the ground could use to gain the cooperation of the locals.

Fig. 1 An excerpt from Report No. 68 on the area of Zamboanga

Each AGS report contains a summary of the area’s demographics, the etiquette to be observed when interacting with local tribes, as well as advice on which groups would be most likely to assist the Allies against the Japanese (See Fig.1). Some of the reports also contain glossaries of words in native languages to help the Allies to communicate with local inhabitants (See Fig.2). This sort of information reveals a lot about the way in which anthropology was used to achieve a nation’s wartime objectives while also giving us a snapshot of what the interactions between the Allies and the people of the South West Pacific region may have looked like.

Further information about the relationship between locals and Allied troops can be gained from the pamphlets published by the AGS to assist troops with daily life in the jungles of South-East Asia. Three of these pamphlets, published for troops in Papua New Guinea, form a part of the Library’s digitised collection – Getting about in New GuineaThe native carrier and You and the native

Both the reports and the pamphlets reveal the vital importance of cooperating with local groups to further the war effort in the Pacific. In You and the native, troops are reminded that the ‘natives are a very important factor in the military situation’ and whose ‘goodwill may decide whether we win or lose the Battle of New Guinea.’ In Getting about in New Guinea, we learn that troops relied on New Guineans for knowledge of the terrain and were urged to ‘remember that your great ally is the native. He knows his country backwards – what to do and what not to do. You will do well to make him your friend and rely on him’In addition to relying on native knowledge of the terrain, it was also in the interests of the Allies to befriend the locals to ensure that they remained loyal to the Western powers and to prevent them from turning to the Japanese (See Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 An extract from “You and the native”

Despite all the advice exhorting troops to cultivate ‘the native’ as an ally, the pamphlets also remind Australian troops in New Guinea to maintain the pre-war colonial hierarchy between whites and New Guineans:

‘The natives have a big opinion of Europeans in general, but they will test you and size you up as an individual. Your conduct can raise or lower the general standard. You are therefore a guardian of the white man’s prestige. It is a very important obligation.’ 

Brotherhood between Australians and New Guineans was all very well but troops were advised not to ‘act like a twin brother. Be very much the big brother.’

While a relationship of distance and authority was prescribed military policy, Australians formed close relationships with New Guineans who participated in the campaign as carriers. The kindness that they exhibited in carrying wounded soldiers to aid shelters has led them to be known as the “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.”

One of the most iconic images of theKokoda Campaign. This photograph shows Rapahel Oimbari assisting Private George ‘Dick’ Whittington who was wounded on Christmas Eve 1942.

Accessing the collection

The AGS publications offer a rich trove of information for researchers who are working on the Asian and Pacific arenas of World War II and can be accessed through Monash Collections Online.

The project has completed the collection of Special reports and Terrain studies, as well as the following pamphlets: The native carrierYou and the nativeand Getting about in New Guinea.

For more information on the digitised collection please contact the Research Repository team at research.repository@monash.edu.