Bishop David Hand was one of the very few people left who have walked through equatorial jungle and climbed mountains to discover people, tribes and villages that have never before had contact with "the outside world". A pioneer of extraordinary energy and determination, he was willing to risk accident and attack in order to do what he believed was his calling.
Very few opportunities remained in the 20th century but Hand found them, especially in the highland remoteness of Papua New Guinea. When asked whether it might be better to leave undiscovered tribes in their undiscovered state he would reply simply that developers and exploiters of natural resources would find them one day and it was much better that the Church, which would at least attempt to defend their cultures, customs and lives, found them first.
I first encountered him in 1964, in open shirt, battered hat, shorts and pectoral cross, striding into a school at the end of the Kokoda trail' the path the Japanese failed to master in order to cross the Owen Stanley Range and establish Port Moresby as abase from which to attack Australia. It was Martyrs' Day - commemorating the missionaries, expatriate and indigenous, who refused to leave during invasion and paid with their lives. These were the men and women who inspired David Hand' in their steps he literally trod, establishing the Anglican Society of St Francis in the very village where the martyrs' betrayers had been executed after the Second World War, promoting a beacon boarding school in their memory.
Hand always saw the integrated benefit of the Church's working in health, education and worship as an indivisible trinity of action. He was large, the build of a rugby prop forward, born in Australia but raised in a Norfolk vicarage and schooled at Gresham's, Holt, and Oriel College, Oxford. He was a "pom" to whom Australians could relate on equal terms, with a boundless capacity for the enjoyment of the good things of life. Personally he was simple to the point of frugality but he was well able to appreciate the fruits of grander hospitality when offered (he was particularly partial to a decent malt whisky). His commitment was evident in his indefatigable speaking, fund-raising and staff recruitment. He was not a person to whom one said "No" lightly.
In 1953 the Martyrs' School had been utterly flattened when neighbouring Mount Lamington exploded. Hand, without phones or radios, was among the very first in to the region afterwards, burying the dead, looking for survivors and organising distant help. He drove, and wrote off, several Jeeps reconstructed from Second World War wreckage until colleagues insisted he was driven, the danger to the vehicles being too great for an acceptable risk.
David Hand spoke several of the myriad languages of Papua New Guinea fluently and worked closely with an American-based evangelical School of Linguistics to encourage bible translation and indigenous liturgies long before the latter were recognised as important.
Forty years later I clearly remember a sensitive sermon about the emergent Christian church of Papua New Guinea. The Sisters of the Church at East Grinstead (now Ham Common) had made him an exquisite cope depicting Psalm 124, vii, "Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler" - with a bird of paradise escaping from a local trap. As Hand was preaching, he was evidently getting cross. After the service, departing people could hear his roar from the vestry berating the unfortunate translator who, unable to comprehend the sermon, had improvised another of his own, not realising the bishop understood every word of Orokaiva.
David Hand was a passionate man in everything, his dedication and his temper. …