Heroism no boast: Herald Sun Editorial 22 October 2012

MILITARY historian Professor David Horner has every right to opine that Australia has developed a tendency to exaggerate the significance of our country’s military campaigns, including the Kokoda battle.

It’s his belief, and freedom of speech was among the democratic values more than 100,000 Diggers have given their lives to protect.

However, few are likely to agree with his claim.

The World War II Kokoda campaign, waged by brave young men in the most appalling conditions, must receive due recognition in our history.

Prof Horner says the efforts of our soldiers at Kokoda did not save Australia from Japanese invasion because Japan did not intend to invade our shores. [Read more…]

Military tradition behind the awarding of the Battle Honour: ‘Kokoda Trail’

Public interest in the Kokoda campaign over the past decade has been accompanied by the emergence of pop historians and wannabees whose new-found ‘passion‘ for our veterans seems to coincide with the opportunity to make a quid out of it. Many seem to share a couple of traits – they have never served in uniform, they have a strong bias against America, and they try to outstrip each other in their denigration of General Sir Thomas Blamey.

Their ignorance of the significance of military traditions is evident in their refusal to acknowledge the Battle Honour awarded to the 10 infantry battalions who fought in the Kokoda campaign i.e. The Kokoda Trail.

These prejudices have manifested themselves in the emergence of ‘Kokoda Track‘ as the more acceptable politically correct term. This will eventually correct itself as people become more aware of the tradition behind the awarding of a Battle Honour and its significance on the Regimental Flag or ‘Colour’.

The term ‘Colours’ broadly encompasses the four distinctive forms of Honourable Insignia that are the symbol of the spirit of a regiment, for on them are borne the battle honours and badges granted to the unit in commemoration of gallant deeds performed by members of the unit from the time their unit was raised. [Read more…]

KOKODA: A paper on the Kokoda Trekking Industry by Charlie Lynn

In September 2012, the Australian War Memorial convened a major international conference to mark the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda and Papuan campaigns in 1942.  Kokoda now dominates Australia’s popular memory of the Second World War and has become the focus for the war’s commemoration. Popular narratives of Kokoda, however, rarely discuss the campaign in the war’s broader context or pose new questions concerning its conduct. Bringing together military historians and emerging scholars from the world, the conference reassessed the principal battles fought in Papua and discussed the campaign from both an Allied and Japanese perspective.

Adventure Kokoda trek leaders, Rowan Tracey and Charlie Lynn were invited to speak at the conference – an abstract of all speakers can be found at this link: http://www.awm.gov.au/conference/2012/abstracts_speakers/

Following is the presentation by Charlie Lynn on the Kokoda Trekking Industry:

“Kokoda is a powerful word.  According to the Orokaiva ‘koko’ means place of skulls – ‘da’ is village.  The combination of syllables’ conjures up ‘adventure’ in the minds of sedentary beings. It makes sense.  Many early explorers and missionaries searching for gold in the Yodda valley ended up in cooking pots.

“Then came the war.  Kokoda was the first pitched battle fought against the Japanese.  It signalled the beginning of a campaign where Australia’s fate hung in the balance as our diggers fought a fanatical enemy, treacherous terrain, legions of deadly mites, malarial mosquitoes, venomous snakes, hunger – and fear.  [Read more…]

Kokoda ‘Tricks’ and Hidden Extras

Negotiating the current plethora of Kokoda trek operator websites can be as challenging as trekking the trail itself.  Prior to 2003 there were only a handful of trek operators on the trail.  These companies specialised in the military history of the Kokoda campaign and had developed a good relationship with the local villagers by providing them with alternative source of income and support for local projects.

Since 2004 there has been an explosion in the number of operators claiming to be expert wartime historians, explorers, adventurers, anthropologists, etc.  Among them is the usual band of tricksters and carpetbaggers attempting cash-in on the market.

They do this by hijacking original material to create a perception that they are ‘genuine’.  They claim to be ‘passionate’ about our diggers, ‘expert’ in the history of the Kokoda campaign and ‘sympathetic’ to villagers. They claim to stay in the ‘village huts’, eat ‘village food’ and follow the original wartime trail for an ‘all-inclusive’ cost.

Prospective trekkers should therefore be warned that if it sounds too good to be true – it usually is. [Read more…]

THE Spirit of Kokoda – 70 Years On!

The 70th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign will be the last significant commemorative period for our veterans from the war in the Pacific.  Whilst the world as moved on and times have changed we must ensure their sacrifice is never forgotten.  We must ensure that their experiences are judged through the world as it was in 1942 and not from the perspective of armchair commentators and politically correct historians.

In 1942 the reality of the situation our veterans confronted was dire and they were unprepared for the missions they were assigned by a government that had neglected its responsibilities for the defence of Australia.  It wasn’t as if they weren’t aware.

General Vernon Sturdee, director of military operations and intelligence at Army Headquarters in Melbourne, warned in 1933 that Japan would pose the major threat to Australian security.

He predicted: ‘the Japanese would act quickly, they would all be regulars, fully trained and equipped for the operations, and fanatics who like dying in battle, whilst our troops would consist mainly of civilians, hastily thrown together on mobilisation, with very little training, short of artillery and possibly of gun ammunition.’ He was ignored. [Read more…]

Removal or War Relics from the Kokoda Trail

Todays article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald regading the theft of war relics from the Kokoda Trail http://www.smh.com.au/national/trekkers-steal-kokoda-track-war-relics-20120120-1qa7n.html was addressed in our newsletter at almost 5 years ago and is repeated below:

‘There is a need for the Australian Government to work in partnership with the PNG Government to protect war relics along the track.  These relics have been rusting in the jungle for the past 65 years and are now being rearranged and removed as souvenirs.

‘According to some research conducted by one of our trekkers the recent announcement of Kokoda as a place of significant historical interest is virtually meaningless.

‘It seems that a section (390K) was inserted in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act in February 2007 as part of the most recent amendments to the EPBC Act (and further amendments are planned) to establish a list of important heritage sites overseas. [Read more…]

Letter from Major-General Gordon Maitland AO OBE RFD ED re Rowan Tracey’s article on General Blamey

I enjoyed immensly Rowan Tracey’s essay in the June issue (United Service 61 (2) 24-29,2010).  Tracey strongly supports what I and Brigadier Casrey have been saying for years.  What is more, he presents his material so logically and progressively that it leaves little room to disagree with his conclusions.  Three facts are significant here:

. The Kokoda Trail campaign has never been properly analysed from the viewpoint of  ground and tactics.

. There was never any ill-feeling by Allen towards Blamey.  Blamey’s ADC told me  that Blamey visited Allen in Darwin as soon as he could and they spent until dawn yarning in a convivial way.

.  Rowell was the first of the war’s senior officers to come out to present himself in the best possible light.  Blamey declined to write his memoirs for the noble reason that the war was over and he had no wish to damage any of those who fought.

There are three types of military historians: journalist historians, who show little respect for the facts in order to tell a good story; academic historians, who have the time and facilities to unearth new and valuable information, but mainly at the political and strategic levels; and soldier historians, who are the only ones one can trust at the tactical level, for they have been taught to understand the key factor – ground.  Peter Pedersen of the Australian War Memorial is one I have always admired for the latter quality, and now we have Rowan Tracey, who I hope goes on to write further.

Major-General G. L. Maitland AO OBE FRD ED (Retd)
North Turramurra
2 July 2010

Rowan Tracey’s article can be read at:  http://blog.kokodatreks.com/2010/07/21/conflict-in-command-during-the-kokoda-campaign-of-1942-did-general-blamey-deserve-the-blame-2/

Why Kokoda Day?

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. [Read more…]

Historic betrayal of our diggers in Afghanistan

‘Stop firing’ screamed the Afghan interpreter metres away from a suspected Taliban leader as he emptied his magazine towards a small band of Australian commandos. As the walls exploded the insurgent responded by clipping on a fresh magazine and unloading it at them.  The Australians returned fire and lobbed a grenade into the dark room.  The firing ceased.  As they crept into the room they noticed a sight that will haunt them forever.  The suspected Taliban leader lay dead amongst a human shield comprising women and children.

Three of the commandos in the raid, doing what they were sent to do by the Australian government now face charges of manslaughter.  These young men have been double-crossed by our political leaders who have exposed them to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the Hague. [Read more…]

Conflict in command during the Kokoda campaign of 1942: did General Blamey deserve the blame?

General Sir Thomas Blamey was commander-in-chief of the Australian Military Forces during World War II. Tough and decisive, he did not resile from sacking ineffective senior commanders when the situation demanded. He has been widely criticised by more recent historians for his role in the sackings of Lieutenant-General S. F. Rowell, Major-General A. S. Allen and Brigadier A. W. Potts during the Kokoda Campaign of 1942. Lieutenant Colonel Rowan Tracey, a Trek Leader with Adventure Kokoda examines each sacking and concludes that Blamey’s actions in each case were justified in a paper published by the Royal United Services Institute, Volume 61, 2010.

On 16 September 1950, a small crowd assembled in the sunroom of the west wing of the Repatriation General Hospital at Heidelberg in Melbourne. The group consisted of official military representatives, wartime associates and personal guests of the central figure, who was wheelchair bound – Thomas Albert Blamey. Those present were concerned that Blamey’s ill health would not allow him to endure the ceremony that was about to follow. Although the governor-general, Sir William McKell, and the prime minister, Robert Menzies, were late in arriving from the airport to present Blamey with the baton of a field marshal of the British Army, Blamey’s strength held out and he was able to accept the baton from the governor-general. This minor but historic ceremony recognised Blamey’s service to Australia and he remains Australia’s highest ranking soldier. [Read more…]