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The Destiny and Passion of Philip Nigel Warrington Strong, by Jonathan Holland

31 July 2020

This Anglican prelate had a near escape in the war, says Henry Long

IN 1942, the Manchester Guardian published a story about a broadcast by Bishop Strong of New Guinea, in which he urged Anglican mission­aries to remain in post during the Japanese occupation. This was read by a curate in Heckmondwike. That curate was the saintly David Hand, eventually to become Strong’s suc­cessor, and to become the first Archbishop of newly independent Papua New Guinea.

The story of Bishop Strong’s escape from New Guinea earlier in 1942 is like something out of Boy’s Own. As Strong and a small party were escaping from the invading Japanese on the Church’s boat the Salamaua, a seaplane sprayed the boat with gunfire. Strong scurried to safety; a bullet pierced his prayer book. In researching Destiny and Passion, Jonathan Holland encoun­tered this relic, and it is mentioned briefly. It is a shame that it is not included in the extensive selection of photographs.

Destiny and Passion follows a chronological treatment of Strong’s life (1899-1983), his childhood, wartime, and then university experi­ence, English incumbencies, mission­ary experience in New Guinea, translation to Brisbane, and retire­ment in Wangaratta.

Strong’s wartime record is treated sympathetically, but not uncritically. Staying put in New Guinea, with the consequential martyrdoms, inspired strong contemporary reactions. Gen­erally, Strong was fêted as a Church­il­lian leader; there was a minority view of him as reckless. There is a moving description of Strong’s de­­cision to consecrate George Ambo as the first indigenous bishop in 1960,Courtesy of Records and Archives Centre, Anglican Church Southern QueenslandBishop Strong and a villager, Laurence, in a photo taken on 11 July 1947 including Ambo’s delight in telling the vignette that his grandfather had been a cannibal.

The list of source material does not include Strong’s sermon at St Peter’s, Eastern Hill, in Melbourne on the rededication of the New Guinea Martyrs’ window in 1981 after fire damage. The window at St Peter’s, after the statue of Lucian Tapiedi among the 20th-century martyrs at the west entrance to Westminster Abbey, is the most prominent memorial to the New Guinea Martyrs.

Holland’s coverage of the martyr­doms themselves refers to John Guise, later the first Governor-General of PNG, and his father, Edward, the captain of the church boat the Maclaren-King, but not John’s brother Francis. Francis was martyred while on the Maclaren-King, but not included in the canon­ical list of the New Guinea Martyrs; Strong doubted his decision to ex­­clude Francis Guise from the list of martyrs in his post-war address to the Australian Church in Out of Great Tribulation, yet this is omitted.

Strong’s subsequent translation to the metropolitan see of Brisbane, and later election as Primate, was something of a disappointment after New Guinea. By that time, his con­servatism was out of step with con­temporary trends. Destiny and Passion focuses rightly on the New Guinea years.

There are some privately pub­lished eccentricities: a peculiar deci­sion not to capitalise “bible”, loose editing, and a rather scratchy index (under Strong there is no entry for the Second World War at all, Lucian Tapiedi is listed by surname alone, and none of the Church’s boats get an entry). Nevertheless, it is enthusi­astically researched and written, and is worth reading for those with an interest in the very Catholic PNG Church. It is a life that merits this full treatment, even if Strong’s hope that PNG might become the first truly Christian country has not been fulfilled.

Henry Long is a layman in London, and distantly related to the Guises.


The Destiny and Passion of Philip Nigel Warrington Strong
Jonathan Holland
Lulu £20.81

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