A colorful three stamps of Australia with a total postage of 7d was sent registered from SOHANA/ 14 JL 49/ PAPUA-NEW GUINEA, but the red registration label was printed as SOHANO with a registration number of ‘1534′ to a P.O. Box 150, Elizabeth, N.J., U.S.A. Although the cover looked philatelically inspired it was not a first day cover for !d brown purple Queen Elizabeth nor the two Mitchell stamps (Figure 1).
The reverse showed multiple markings, most importantly the spelling of the originating mark was confirmed by the centrally placed black postmark SOHANA. The first stop on its journey was surprisingly shown by the large purple oval of MONEY ORDER OFFICE/ 21 JUL 1949/ RABAUL, and the cover continued on to G.P.O. SYDNEY 106./ 11-A 16 AU 49/ N.S.W-AUST.
There were three marks in the USA, the first at SAN FRANCISCO. CALIF/ OCT/ 2/ 1949/ REG. SEC., then NEW YORK/ 10-5/ 1949/ REG ( ) DIV. with arrival the same day at ELIZABETH/ OCT/ 5/ 1949/ N.J. The recipient received a NOTICE on OCT 6 1949, nearly twelve weeks, after posting (Figures 2 & 2A).
Although John H. Powell’s monograph The Postal History of The Territory of New Guinea was published in Melbourne in 1964, the full title shows that his listing was only from 1888 to 1942. Thus it should not be surprising that neither of the PNG postmarks are shown. In fact he states on page 24 that the post office at Rabaul was closed on 23 January 1942, and perhaps it was reinstated as a Money Order Office.
Sohano is introduced as ‘Buka Passage (Sohano)’on page 34, and it is the narrow strait separating the islands of Buka and Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. The island of Sohano is a flat topped coral island situated in the Buka Passage. The post office using the name of Buka Passage was opened at Sohano probably in the 1920’s, and is not to be confused with the Buka post office of German times, which was situated on the island of Buka. The original Buka Passage post office opened in ca. 26 September 1925 and is inscribed BUKA PASSAGE/ NEW GUINEA [Type 105 of Powell], as seen in Figure 3.
This canceller remained in use until the office was closed upon the Japanese invasion, probably the last week of January 1942. Powell then goes on to say: “It should be noted that upon re-opening after World War II the office used the name “Sohano”. This certainly applied to the registration label on this cover but not to the postmark. A Gazateer of PNG shows that the 2 names are listed for the island at 5 South and 154 East, with altitude just 1 metre (3 feet) above sea level. There is an American history of the war in the region in 1942 and in 2 contiguous paragraphs, the dates of the Japanese occupation as January and April, but Sohana is specifically mentioned in April 1942.
Most maps of the region only show the small island of Buka at the northernmost tip of Bougainville in the Northern Solomons Islands, but one shows Sohano (green arrow) as well as Rabaul (red arrow) in the north of East New Britain (Figure 4).
I have seen 2 more covers with the same SOHANA cancel, the later date being 3 JA 50, but it is struck on the dark grey-brown 9d Platypus Australian stamp, and the exact spelling cannot be seen. The other cover is an ubiquitous Tattersalls cover and the blue 5½d emu stamp allows confirmation of the SOHANA spelling (Figure 5).