On the 3rd November 1942, 68 years ago today, a ragged bunch of Australian troops paraded on the Kokoda plateau to raise the Australian flag. It was a poignant moment because it signalled the end of the Kokoda campaign which started with the Japanese attack on the Kokoda plateau three months before on 27 July 1942.
Japanese plans for a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby were thwarted by Australian and American naval forces in the battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 and the battle of Midway in June 1942). This left them with the only option of a land assault over the Owen Stanley Ranges via the Kokoda Trail.
Their preparations and subsequent plans were continually disrupted by the constant heroic actions of our fighter and bomber pilots who continually bombed Rabaul and the Japanese landing fleets on the northern beaches at Buna and Gona.
The Kokoda campaign began with the first contact between the 39th Militia Battalion and the advancing Japanese South Seas Detachment at Awala forward of Kokoda on 24 July 1942. The first battle of Kokoda was fought on 27 July when the Australians were forced back into the Jungle. After a bitter and desperate campaign over the ensuring three months the Australians turned defeat into victory and recaptured Kokoda on 2nd November 1942. The Kokoda campaign was concluded with the crossing of the Kumusi River on 16 November 1942.
The tide of the war turned with these defeats – the first suffered by the Japanese war machine.
Australia currently has two official commemorative days to remember our sacrifice in World War 1 – Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. Anzac Day commemorates the landings of our Anzacs on the beaches of Gallipoli and Remembrance Day commemorates the end of the war.
Kokoda was our Gallipoli in World War 11 and it deserves similar recognition. The raising of our Australian flag on the 3rd November is the most representative symbol of the turning of the tide in the defence of Australia. This flag would never have been raised if the navy had not defeated the Japanese armada in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. It would not have been raised if our air force had not intercepted Japanese fighter planes and bombed naval landing craft. It would not have been raised if our troops had not defeated the Japanese amphibious landing at Milne Bay. It would not have been raised if our commandos had not interfered with Japanese lines of communication. It would not have been raised if our troops had not conquered the adversity of the Owen Stanley Ranges and the elite Japanese South Seas Island Force along the Kokoda Trail.
But more importantly from our point of view, it would never have been raised if our diggers had not been assisted in the campaign by the Papua New Guinea Wartime Carriers – the legendary ‘fuzy-wuzzy angels’.
To our great shame, these heroic Carriers, have never been officially recognised for their service and their sacrifice. They have never received an official medal.
We currently have a day proclaimed to commemorate the end of our war in the Pacific with the signing of the surrender documents in Wewak on 15 August 1945 – it was originally known as VJ Day but is now referred to as VP Day.
With the growing awareness of Kokoda now feel it is timely to select an appropriate day that will cause people to pause and remember the sacrifice made by servicemen and women to protect our homeland and our mandated territory from invasion and occupation.
It has been said that Gallipoli created a nation but Kokoda saved a nation. Others have reminded us that at Gallipoli we fought for Britain and lost – at Kokoda we fought for Australian and won.
t is therefore timely for us to recognize the symbolic significance of the raising of the Australian flag on the Kokoda plateau on the 3rd November 1942 to allow us to reflect on those four words carved into granite pillars at Isurava: Courage – Sacrifice – Mateship – Endurance’.
The Board of the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway have therefore declared that 3rd November will be Kokoda Day and that it will be dedicated to the memory of the PNG Wartime Carriers.
‘This event should be as important to Australian history as the raising of the American flag at Iwa Jima is to American history’ according to the Chairman of the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway, Rusty Priest.
The official speaker at the 2010 Kokoda Day service was Charlie Lynn who has trekked Kokoda 59 times over the past 19 years. The flag was raised by Don Oughtred, a Kokoda veteran. The ceremony included a performance by a local PNG cultural group.