In the New Guinea campaign in World War II, 216,000 soldiers from Japan, Australia, and the USA were killed. Approximately 15,000 Papuans also lost their lives, though mostly due to being caught in the crossfire (or under the bombers). Fifteen thousand may sound like modest losses when considering the scale of human deaths in World War II, and noting that it was 1.17% of New Guinea's population may not make it any more impressive. Certainly, that percentage seems low when compared to Poland's 16% - 17%, the highest in the war. But consider that British and American documentaries always note that every family knew someone who had been killed and no one in those countries remained untouched by the wars. The United Kingdom lost 0.94% of its population to the War; the USA lost 0.32%. But today's feast is not a collective celebration of the Martyrs of New Guinea. Rather, it marks the loss of one man's life.
Peter ToRot was the son of the mayor of Rakunai, a town on the northern end of New Britain Island. Peter's parents had converted to Roman Catholicism and raised him in that faith. The priest in his area, Father Karl Lauffer, recognized exceptional faith in Peter and inquired about the possibility of priesthood. Peter's father said that no one of their generation should be ordained, but suggested that Peter could become a lay catechist. By the time the Japanese invaded in World War II, Peter was a leader in the regional church as well as a husband and father.
During the Japanese occupation of New Guinea, the suppression of foreign religion became more heavily enforced. At first, the internment of foreign priests including Father Lauffer increased the responsibilities on Peter. He organized the collection of food for the prisoners and brought it to the internment camp. While there, he took consecrated bread from the priests and brought it back to the Catholic converts in Rakunai. As the only link to the church at liberty, Peter essentially became the surrogate priest. Eventually, he ran afoul of the Japanese in this role.
The Japanese decided to promote a deWesternization campaign in New Guinea, including fostering a return to polygamy. Of course, as they had done in so many other places, Japanese soldiers also recruited some local girls to serve as prostitutes. [I have no idea how coercive the soldiers in New Guinea were. The systematic rape of women by Japanese soldiers in China and Korea has been well-documented.] To counter these Japanese policies, Peter encouraged betrothals among Christian Papuans. His message was more or less that fathers should lock their daughters down with some nice young man before the Japanese soldiers turned her into a whore or some polytheistic collaborator added her to his harem. When Peter thwarted a collaborator's efforts to jack another man's wife, the collaborator (ToMetapa) watched for an opportunity to get even. He discovered that Peter had been administering Communion in secret and had performed a Christian marriage. When this was reported, Peter was arrested and imprisoned. Certain that the Japanese would kill him while he was imprisoned, he told his uncle he was prepared to die for having done God's work. He also instructed a friend to hide all his religious books and papers without his family knowing where they were -- he did not want the Japanese to get these things, but neither did he want his wife in the firing line.
His prediction to his uncle was correct. Peter ToRot was poisoned and then suffocated by Japanese soldiers in 1945. There were a couple hundred thousand deaths in New Guinea, and massive destruction, dislocation, and suffering. Yet amidst all that misery, the death of this one man occasioned great sorrow.