PNGAA Library

Father Gulielmus Weber, SM: Philip Selth

Father Gulielmus (Gerhard) (Gerard) (Wilhelm) Weber, SM, was born in the diocese of Paderborn, Germany, on 21 March 1905. He was professed in the Society of Mary on 17 April 1929 and ordained in 1932. He undertook parish work in Germany before arriving in Sydney towards the end of 1935. He and spent time at the Marist Novitiate at Mittagong and at Villa Maria, Hunters Hill. He sailed for Kieta, Bougainville, on the Malaita in January 1936.

Father Weber was at the Catholic mission station at Tunuru near Kieta from March 1935 until taken prisoner by the Japanese in February 1943. Father Weber ‘did the building ‘of the station'. With the help of Brother Xaverius (Francis Koch), a ‘large and very beautiful church was erected; schools and other buildings went up. But Father Weber’s work was mostly pastoral’. Tunuru became ‘one of the flourishing Stations of the Mission’. When the Japanese arrived Fr Weber, like all the missionaries, were initially left alone, but this practice changed with the American landing on Guadalcanal in August 1942.

In the latter part of 1943, Fr Weber and some of his colleagues were confined to the Japanese 8 Area Navy HQ at Buin. About May 1944 the HQ 17 Japanese Army obtained permission from the Navy to employ Fr Weber on native pacification work in the area under its control. He was at Numa Numa engaged in this pacification work and religious teachings until late 1944 or early 1945 when he was given permission to visit the areas in and around Vito, where he had been engaged in missionary work before the war. He remained in the Vito area until about April 1945. In the meantime the other European missionaries who had been confined at Buin had escaped into the jungle, and the Japanese forces at Ereventa had soon after been heavily bombed by Allied forces. Fearing that Fr Weber might also attempt to escape and relay information to the Allies, Lt-General Kanda Masatane, General Officer Commanding 17 Army and his Chief of Staff, Major-General Magata Isao, ordered Fr Weber be executed.

A grave had been prepared in advance near the Japanese cemetery on the Mabiri Plantation. At the gravesite Fr Weber extended his hand to all those present to shake and then stepped forward, facing the grave, and began to pray. He was then shot. Fr Weber was buried in the grave, and later his clothes and personal effects were buried in the nearby jungle.

In August 1945, Fr Weber’s grave was located by catechists and parishioners. His grave was opened and his remains easily recognised. In July 1946 his body was formally exhumed and buried at Tunuru. The Church records Fr Weber having died on 8 May 1945. In an account published in the Pacific Islands Monthly in December 1946, it was reported  that when Fr Weber’s grave was opened in August 1945 it was found that the body had been ‘decapitated, with the severed head resting on the chest’. Although Church publications continue to repeat this claim, war crimes investigation reports state that Fr Weber was shot in the back of the head.

Australian war crimes investigators drew up charges against seven Japanese officers for the murder. In April 1949, Captain J.G. Godwin, Investigating Officer, 2 Australian War Crimes Section, reported that the matter was ready for trial However, the trials did not eventuate, preference being given in the trial list to Australian victims and service personnel over civilians.