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Re Banaban Letter and some History of my mother's & family on 'Ocean Island'

    I am doing a large project which I call 'The Infinite Project'. It involves all media and all aspects of things at least in theory. However one aspect has brought me via one thread of it, the personal, to some letters.

   Initially I was going to use my father's letters and a few others etc and some of my mothers. However I have now found and am 'revolving around' her and my grandfather's time in Banaba before WWII.

   Various letters, mostly from English or Australian people are of interest. But perhaps the most intriguing is a letter from a Banaban man written in 1931. It is 88 years old and a little damaged and hard to make out. It is written I think in Banaban. But I know other ethnicities were on Banaba (my mother mostly called it Ocean Island - I now know it is Banaba via the internet and an old map my grandfather had of the Island, and some books he had etc

  I have transcribed it but I also want to try to reproduce it by actually re-writing it as the writing is, of all her letters, the most beautiful. I have photocopied it. I tried translating it. I am from NZ and know a little Maori and learnt Samoan (somewhat) and I had one visit to Fiji where I was given a book of Fijian grammar and words. 

  So far I have recognised the word 'mauri' which I think is life force or something. It seems to be almost universally thus in the Pacific. 

  I have more to say on this and I will present the letter in another post as I am going out shortly. 

  I also have some songs typed out by my mother who was English (she went to High School in Melbourne but her first teacher was on Banaba): These songs have English translations in part. I will present these here and keep on this tack in further posts.


      The letter was by one J. Tekeang.

   My mother didn't say a lot about what she and I think other English referred to as 'natives'. A term that I

 think I felt even as a small boy was derogatory in some way, or patronising. But in any case one person who was an indigenous Banaban I believe she came to love as a young child.

   I will continue in my next post.   Richard Taylor. NZ 

PS My grandfather on Banaba was Robert John Miller. I think he left Banaba about 1934 or so.


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Comment by Richard Taylor on June 13, 2019 at 9:20pm

I made a mistake re my mother's memoir as she states she left Banaba in 1926 (age 9) so the 9 and 1/2 looks about right.  So she spent 9 years in Banaba as a child. Then later about 5 or 6 years as a teenager / young woman from I think about 1930 to 1939. She married my father in 1942 in Auckland.

Comment by Richard Taylor on June 13, 2019 at 9:10pm

Here is my mother's memoir, it is good, but stops to early in time but it includes her time on Banaba which was split into two periods, that about 1918 - 1923 or 24 (I will check if my sisters can remember more of that) and then, after the schooling she mentions, 1 year in Kettering High School, so I think from about 1930 to 1936 or so. There she was either on Banaba, or in Melbourne at Firbank High School. I have booklets and other information so I can check dates for a later post. She was at school from about 1931 to 1938 or 1939. Again I need to check. Here though is her short memoir. Her memories of Banaba were positive, Oreba, her brother's nurse who went to Australia (Sydney) with the Miller family she loved very much as she says.

My mother's [Joy Miller (later Taylor)]'s  memoir:


N.B. Details of Miller family in Family Tree compiled by Frank Miller [and John Gray who started with the Gray family.]

My Grandfather Miller, Robert Miller, had six brothers: James, George, Benjamen, and one sister, Esther. I do not know their order, in age, nor where they lived or were born [some details in the Miller-Gray family tree]. Believe it to be Northamptonshire or Huntingdonshire – Midlands anyway.

I believe James and George went to London eventually but am vague about their occupations or whether they married or had families. John settled in Kettering & owned and operated a mineral water factory, co partner with [one of the] a Child's.

John married Ruth Childs, sister of Alf & they had no children.

I well remember Benjamin. He started in the printing business but when we were children was Editor of the Times of India (in Calcutta). He came to England in various “long leaves” & visited us then. He always had gifts for my brother & I, & sent lovely books at Xmas. “Uncle Ben” (though really Great-Uncle seemed a gentle man, very brown from the tropical sun – and by no means handsome – but very interesting to us all.

My Grandfather Robert became an engine driver on the L.M.S. (London, North Eastern Railways) [this crossed out]. He married Elizabeth Gale Childs, my grandmother, who was the sister of Ruth (John's wife). They moved to various cities to suit his work. Their eldest child, Maud Ruth, was born in Nottingham, my father John Robert, was born in Leicester. The other children of the marriage were Gertrude, Frank, & Mary Ann, known as Polly.

My father was born in 1883 & diseases were rife in those days, especially TB or its various forms, & fevers – Scarlet fever, Diptheria, Typhoid etc. My grandfather, Robert died of typhoid fever about 1897.

My father had started at a science /engineering school at Rugby but at about 14 had to leave & go to work. Grandmother worked as a matron at a poor old peoples home at Cambridge. Here eldest daughter, Maud, at 16 started as a pupil/teacher – at Kettering Primary School. The two youngest of the family, Frank and Polly were adopted by Ruth and John. Gertrude, I belive, did some nursing. [I remember my mother telling me she had received letters from her Auntie Maud and Gertrude. They sent me 10 shillings from time to time and it was banked. Now I realise more about these people I am more grateful and thoughtful of them all. R.T. 2019]

My father also contracted typhoid at about 13 or 14. Luckily he recoveredm though he blamed his being shorter than most of the Miller men on that illness in his growing years.

Father (known to family & friends as Jack) had to leave Rugby Secondary School on the death of his father and find work. He had work at a sewing machine factory, and also – in the Railways Telegraph Office – so learnt a few skills – on his way to eventually becoming a builder & carpenter [with some machine and engineering skills, and he read quite widely in his life, I recall the books he had. One The Titan fascinated me (as military, wars, and the idea of power fascinated me as a boy of 10 or so). He also gave me a collection of Russian stories which I have read (at the time I said, but I am too young, but he said: “You will be able to read them when you are older.” He was right, and I still do. But also his copy of Pasternak's 'Dr Zhivago fascinated me. All those books seemed deeply significanct and mysterious to me as were what my father and he talked of. I used to listen to he and my father talk wondering when I would understand the mysterious things of engineering and of grown men's talk...But this was when he and my grandmother had retired to Cheltenham Road in Devonport.].

He came to New Zealand at the age of 21 [1904] & joined his friend Cath Adams working as a builder for Cath's father C. Adams senior. Working mostly in Tauranga, & Waihi was then a thriving Gold mining town. At some stage also he worked in Auckland also as a builder. Then he went to Australia – visiting some relatives in the Hunter River Valley N.S.W., & eventually joined the British Phosphate Commission (Melbourne) as a builder / carpenter for Ocean Island [Banaba], in 1908 aged 24 or 25.

Then in 1915 Jack left the Island to enlist in the armed forces & chose to join with his friend Cath Adams in the N.Z. Rifle Brigade.

From Sydney he had written a proposal of marriage to my Mother. They had met & become friendly during his long leave from the Island, & they married on August 26th , 1916 during army leave.

My mother was Beatrice Amy Gray. (Details of the Gray family are on a family tree compiled by John Gray, Sidney.)

Mother and her younger sister Bara lived together in Bedford while their menfolk were away at war; Bara already had a small boy, Alan. I was born on the 29th May 1917, and 6 weeks later Bara's second son Derek arrived.

My grandfather Gray died about the time of my mother's marriage. He had retired from his army life with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He had married in Indiea & they [his wife was Emma Jane Joy and his name was b. 9th March 1851, died 29 August 1916. Lived mainly India and Bedford.] had 13 children while there [in India]. Some died very young and 7 survived to adulthood. I was called after my grandmother Gray – her maiden name was Joy, & she was Emma Jane Joy, so I got the Joy.

When the war was over father had to return to New Zealand for his army discharge.Then our family proceeded to Sydney, & Newcastle, where we boarded ship for Ocean Island. I was about 20 months old then.

Childhood on a tropical island was a delightful time – ther are only pdd flashes of memory of the very young years. I played in the beach behind the house – we (other children & I) hunted for lizard eggs. The lizards seemed to choose the curled mid point of dead palm leaves which litter the ground under the palms. When we found the tiny eggs we broke the heavy one to see the babies streak away to hide. Cruel: we also broke some which were not ready!

Earlier I had a wooden horse on wheels (made by my father) & used to make a mixture of coloured flower petals in soggy water to feed it. There were one or two boys about my age and we got up to mischief. My worst crime was pulling upa young palm tree to eat the centre – so delicious – Millionnaire Salad. All the palms belonged to the Banabans & that particular owner came to my father with his complaint and Dad had to pay for the tree. I will not forget how angry he was with me! My brother Frank arrived on 28th of November 1921. We only had tinned milk so with a wweaned baby my father got some goats and he was fed on goats milk for quite a while.

A little kid arrived and that was my pet – I loved him but he disappeared – I expect they sold him. I also had kittens from time to time. When Frank arrived they got a Banaban lady Oreba to look afer him (both of us). She was a dear & we all loved her. When they went to Sydney on leave Oreba went too. But she was not happy at all! – Too cold and she had to wear large shoes. So did we and [also] hated it! Mother made us some flat shoes to arrive in.

The Banabans were divided into 4 villages: Ooma – & near Ooma were all the phosphate driers [?], the machine & the carpentary shop [looking at a recent YouTube by some Ham Radio enthusiasts, who visited Banaba about 2015 I think, [2019] all those including the Power Plant, the machine and carpentary shop, a hospital (possibly the one mum mentions in this memoir), and a dentists, are in a state of destruction and decay: it is a kind of tragic scene, dark & eerie with only 300 Banabans there. Desolate with all the activity and life gone. And of course the lives of the Banaban people radically changed if not destroyed. Despite this they seem an amazing people. Mostly they are quite healthy looking and often happy, but most now live on an Island near Fiji. Operations stopped I think about 1989 or so.]. ….

[To continue.]...carpentry and machine shop, offices, stores, and up the hill a way houses for the white workers, mostly Australians. Yabwebwa was near where we lived – the village a little way further inland & up the hill.

Our house was close to the sea (Western outlook) and there was a way down to the shore between the pinnacles – we called it 'Miller's Beach'

Puakonikau was near the highest part of the Island North of Tabwebwa – & Tabiang was about midway between Tabwebwa and Ooma – lower ground. There was a Post Office & later a small school for white children; and several of the Government officials lived near there.

In the meantime Mother taught me & a few others to read and write and do simple sums. (She had been a kindergarten teacher.)

Connecting the villages were roads – dirt and lined with lumps of coral. Lower down on the flat there was a narrow-gage railway line between Tabwebwa & Ooma.

We sat on a seat on a flat car, poled by two natives. When I cut my foot badly the houseboy called the polers and they got us to Ooma, then one of the polers carried me up the hill to where the hospital was located. So I had 7 stitches!

The B.P.C [the British Phosphate Commision] employees got 3 months every 2 years and English people could have 5 months leave after 2 years to visit England if they wished.

All our relatives were in England, so in 1926 we set off on that journey. It took two weeks – about – to get to Australia – and we then boarded a liner in Sydney & I think about six weeks later arrived at [the] Tilbury docks. [The Thames, near London.]

On board there were lots of children & activities were arranged for them by the stewards and stewardesses to look after us. Just as well as my Mother, as soon as she boarded a boat, was always sick.

From Tilbury we went by train to Kettering, Northamtonshire – the home of my auntie Maud, (father's older sister), her husband & granny Miller (then called Shrives).

Granny was tiny – white haired, rosy cheeks. She always wore black frocks tight waisted, with white inset at neck and high collars, usually white lace. She spent her days doing the mending, darning socks etc, and always had time for a hug with us especially Frank, who was about to be 5. [Joy was then 9½].  [This comment is by someone, the age diff. was 3 years. so more like 7 & 1/2 

There were two horrors ahead for us: Frank and I were to be left here when Mother and Dad returned to the Island. Number 2 was school!

School was a tall brick building with a paved yard for a playground. Frank was with the beginners, but of course I was with my age group, and amongst so many children – I was completely bewildered and soon made such a fuss that at home, absolutely refusing to go to school.

Eventually I was put in a small private school with just a few girls and managed to settle down quite happily. This was run by two sisters, the Miss Butchers & was a preparitory school for the high school which we started at 11 years.

Soon we started having piano lessons. Our teacher was Miss Longmate, a friend of Auntie's who lived nearby. Frank* did not go on for long but I loved it & rapidly progressed.

Our uncle bought a car & that was a great excitement. All Summer long on fine Saturdays or Sundays we went for drives and picnics & found all the lovely country side around. The further afield for a day outing to Felixstowe & the beach.

The waters were and the snow were strange to us at first, and then the dark coming at 3 pm on some days. Somedays it was too bad to go to school, but we soon found the pleasure out of it with slides & snow balls etc.

Holidays staying with various Aunts & cousins (mother's sisters & their children), were a delight. Three of her sisters: Mary, Totte & Daisy lived at Weymouth on the South Coast and we spent many wonderful weeks there with [many] days at the beach. How we got there I cant remember. Probably taken by car by the Andrews family who lived near us and were friends of Auntie Tottie. Mother's younger sister Bara & her husband were sole teachers at a village school not far from Kettering & I enjoyed staying there with all those cousins (5 of them). Country rambles & picking blackberries was the main attraction there.

Mother's brother Rowley lived at Woburn, a small village near Bedford. He lived with his wife and children. These were: Molly, about 3 or 4 years older than me, & Teddy, a bit older still. Rowley lost a leg through wounds in the Boer War & travelled about on a motor bike side-car. I enjoyed staying week-ends with them, or a few days in Winter holidays.


The fonts seemed to change. See how it goes.

Comment by Richard Taylor on June 13, 2019 at 8:44pm

I want to copy and paste some of the posts from the FB page to here. In future I'll put things on here first. I am still looking through my parents, grandparents letters etc etc. Actually as it involves remembering both sides of my family etc it has been quite stressful. Not only the Banaban aspect, but literally looking through photographs letters, and some Banaban or Kiribati song etc (Some I am informed are partly in Tuavalan.  I have also my family tree here or part of it as the Taylor side, my father's, stops in London. However, I have, for example worked out who my maternal great grandmother was, and as to Banaba, when my Grandfather, J R Miller came to NZ from England, then joined the BPC and worked on Ocean Island (the name I knew as a boy in NZ). My uncle Frank Miller was born on Ocean Island -- I'll revert to Banaba -- in 1920.  My mother and he went back to England about 1923 or 1924. Frank stayed. He was educated in England. He joined the RAF during WWII. I only met him a few times. He trained in the US and Canada. He said that being a bomber pilot was terrible, that all his mates were killed. So once, taking off from Africa once, due to bomb sites in German occupied France, as leave was due, he suggested over the intercom that they jettison the bombs (maybe it was a Lancaster) into the Atlantic. This was agreed upon. This meant a more or less direct path was safely made to England. In any case he survived but I think the experience deeply affected his nerves etc for the rest of his life. This is not uncommon in those who have been in combat. However he became an architect (my father was also, coincidentally, an architect, and also from England), worked on Papua New Guinea, and raised 4 children. All girls. They are all still alive. He died I think around 2005 or so. I am not sure. This I can check.

I also have a memoir by my mother that includes something of her life on Banaba.

But perhaps my uncle is the only Banaban to have flown bombing missions with the RAF in WWII !?


Now my first post on FB replicated here except for comments.

Some one asked for a letter (written in 1931 when my mother was 14, and I think she typed them possibly for an event as there were games organised, which had Banaban people taking part but I think separate from Europeans* I have and some songs I think are in Banaban as my mother was on Ocean Island as she called it when I was young. She was there up to about the age of 6 or 7, returned to England. Then came back for most of her high school years. I think she wrote these up. Here are some of the songs:

Teirake Ngakami I Tabiang.

Teiiraki ngakami i Tabiang
Teiraki hgakami i Tabiang
Tau ami bai ni katang
Ao mananga marching on
Ao mananga marching on
Nako Bureineaba

Tia roko ngaira ngkai
Tia roko ngaira ngkai
Tia roko n tauraoi
Tiburano Tena
Areto Beti
Ma bana aiko rebwe raoi....

Then someone has written in pencil, the words are faded and hard to make out:

Stand up you people of Tabiang
Stand up people of Tabiang
Hold your instruments
and go marching on
to Bureineaba

We arrive we all
We arrive [and (in?)] [ I cant make out the word]

* This separation doesn't seem right to me or perhaps us now. I feel that maybe for the English, the Australians etc it was a kind of little India to them but I have no idea I am as baffled in many ways as anyone. I don't really know much about what it was like in India or even other Islands. There may be accounts, I will keep reading and looking out for things.



Comment by Richard Taylor on May 26, 2019 at 10:46am

I'm still looking through letters and photographs at the moment. I want to share relevant information

about Banaba. I watched some interesting documentaries re Banaba and shared one on my FB page. 

I am also on the FB group so I will share anything there that is relevant. My uncle Frank Miller who was

born on Banaba in 1920 may have already supplied some of what I can show or contribute. RT


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