‘Infantryman’s calvary where the pain of effort, the biting sweat, the hunger the cheerless shivering nights were made dim by exhaustion’s merciful drug. Surely no war was fought under worse conditions than these. Surely no war has demanded more of a man in fortitude. Even Gallipoli or Crete or the desert.’
Osmar White Wartime
journalist, writing from the track in 1942
Article by Charlie Lynn
When I first trekked Kokoda with a local guide in March 1991 I was struck by the fact that there was no information on the location of places such as Brigade Hill, Butcher’s Ridge, Templeton’s Crossing, Eora Creek, Imita Ridge, Kokoda Gap. Isurava, Deniki, Kokoda, etc. Ever since I was a small boy I could remember thousands of veterans marching behind battle honours emblazoned with these names. I therefore expected to find these places and be able to navigate around the positions with some sort of information booklet or guide.
I expected to see the remnants of the steps up the infamous ‘golden staircase’; to feel the pain of climbing ‘Jap’s Ladder’; to wonder how our diggers felt in their weapon pits on the forward slopes of Butcher’s Ridge as they waited to meet thousands of fanatical Japanese soldiers; to follow the footsteps of Private Bruce Kingsbury as he led a counter attack against the Japs at Isurava; to stand on the ground defended by Charlie McCallum as he stood bravely between the Japs and his men to protect their escape.
I wanted to see where Captain Butch Bissett was machine gunned; where Ben Buckler led his fateful patrol; where Captain Claude Nye and Captain Brett (Lefty) Langridge led their fateful charge at Brigade Hill; where Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Honner held his famous parade at Menari with ‘Those Ragged Bloody Heroes’ of the 39th Battalion; where Corporal John Metson and Sergeant Lindsay Bear crawled on all fours along the track refusing all offers for help because they had mates ‘a lot worse off than us’!
I hoped to meet ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’ who saved hundreds of diggers by carrying them across some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet and say ‘thank you’ to their families in the villages.
Unfortunately I was to be bitterly disappointed because there was not a single signpost, monument or memorial along the entire track apart from a few plaques placed by regimental associations and a small plinth erected by a Japanese soldier at Launumu – the forming up place for the Japanese attack against the Australians on Butcher’s Ridge and Brigade Hill on 6 September 1942.
I was further disadvantaged by the fact that my PNG guide knew nothing about the war history of the campaign and there were no maps or signs to assist in identifying important sections of the track or any of the battle-sites.
I was also struck by the fact that we had neglected those who sacrificed so much for us in Papua New Guinea – the legendary ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’. I learned that none have been issued with a medal for their service and some claim to have never been paid. When I asked one of the elders about the war on the track he explained that they had lived in peace for generations then one day the Australians and the Japanese came, had a big fight in their backyards, caused a lot of damage in their villages, then went away! Our efforts to correct this shameful neglect has been unsuccessful to date however we have been heartned to receive the support of the RSL of Australia – and we will persevere! (more…)