Hattie Braun and Theodore Braun had spent 48 and 42 years of their lives serving in Papua New Guinea. On the eve of their return to the USA, they said: Our main aim has been to bring the gospel and to train the people of New Guinea so that they, in turn, can further continue the work in their villages. Dr Braun died on March 10th, 1980, and Mrs Braun on January 26th, 1984 in Nebraska, USA. Read below a compilation of their brief history of their missionary work and life in New Guinea compliled by Warime Guti.
The Legacy of Dr. Theodore Braun, an American (ELCA) Missionary in Papua New Guinea
by Warime Guti.
"Braun Memorial Hospital", Butaweng. Ever wonder where the name "Braun" came from?
It was named after Dr. Theodore Braun, an American missionary doctor from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). He served in Finschhafen and then in Yagaum, Amele until he retired. Came here in 1930 got married in 1932 to Sr. Hattie who was also a nurse from America serving here at that time. Together they served for 48 years in PNG until they retired.
He was very instrumental in training medical workers and establishing health facilities in his time of service apart from his medical clinical practice.
Here is an extract from the book "Doctor in Paradise" that tells of Dr and Mrs. Braun's life during the war and after the war.
Naturally the most prominent element of my early New Guinea stage setting was Yagaum itself, which carried a fascinating history. It had been built immediately after World War II and opened in 1950, although the mission had already establishes and run a hospital at nearby Amele during the 1930s, where the American Dr. Theo Braun had trained a dozen or so native doktabois (medical orderlies).
That hospital was completely destroyed by the advancing Japanese, and Dr. Braun and his wife were taken prisoner on New Year’s Day 1943. Together with a group of about 200 fellow Europeans (mostly Lutheran and Catholic missionaries), there were subjected to shocking treatment for many months.
Sick and wounded from the cruelty, with minimal personal possessions, and very meagre, often non- existent diet, they were herded mercilessly from one location to another – including Granged Island, Siar and Manam Island, and finally, to Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea – mostly having to build themselves huts or shelters in mosquito-infested swamps, with many dying along the way.
On their way to Wewak on a Japanese ship, the group of POWs was bombed by allied planes, which killed and maimed many more of their number. After the Allies’ counter attack drove the Japanese away, those of the original group who had survived were found by American troops about eighteen months after they had been taken prisoner.
By then, Mrs. Braun was so ill and weak that six more months passed before she could even be transported back to the USA for a full recovery. Within a year, however, the brave Brauns were back on their beloved New Guinea Mission Field.
Fortunately, several of Dr. Braun’s doktabois had heeded his earlier advice and hidden a cache of medicines and equipment in a cave in the jungle; there they bravely continued to perform medical work until they were found by the Japanese and threatened with death.
Perhaps because they were impressed with the sophistication of the work the doktabois were doing ( which included thousands of injections for yaws, dressings, skin-grafts and suturing), the Japanese actually not only spared them, but also co-opted them to serve their troops.
To their credit, the doktabois did this fairly willingly as Dr. Braun had taught them to be impartial in serving other, and that they were not forbidden by their captors to treat the tribes people when necessary.
Once the Japanese had been overcome and fled, these courageous orderlies assisted the Australian government with its emergency medical post-war programme for a year or two, until they heard on the Mission grapevine that Dr. Braun was amongst the first batch of missionaries to have returned to New Guinea.
Joy, oh joy – they rounded up their fellow doktabois and set up a bush clinic near the site of the demolished Amele hospital - and then patiently worked as they waited.
During this time they worked with what few supplies and equipment they still had and one of them inspired his fellow villagers to give a tract of land to the mission on which Dr. Braun could build a new hospital, and where these orderlies he had trained pre-war could provide him with instant staff
Hattie Braun worked in all departments of the hospital and assisted her husband in the theatre. She supervised the nursing care and taught the indigenous staff.
One of the first men to be taught was Kito from Sattelberg, he came in March 1946. He had already worked for the church during the war with Adolf Wagner. He continued medical work until his retirement in 1983, having completed the building of the Kito Health Centre at Sattelberg.
Sisters Ella Wallborn and Ruth Heber arrived in July 1946 to work at Buangi.
1972, Dr and Mrs Braun retired, and were spared from experiencing the changes that came about in the hospital which they had so devotedly helped to build up for people they dearly loved.
Hattie Braun and Theodore Braun had spent 48 and 42 years of their lives serving in Papua New Guinea. On the eve of their return to the USA, they said: Our main aim has been to bring the gospel and to train the people of New Guinea so that they, in turn, can further continue the work in their villages. Dr Braun died on March 10th, 1980, and Mrs Braun on January 26th, 1984 in Nebraska, USA.
Compiled by Warime Guti 25 November 2018.
Post page: Finschhafen in History - Church, War, Colonial era, People, Culture
Photo: Dr. Theo Braun and Mrs. Hattie Braun in 1936 and in 1960. Photo source: ELCA Archive on Flickr.