Today's Honour Roll
|Name||Date of Death||Conflict|
|GRAY, Hector Victor||4 Dec 1917||World War 1|
|FAIRHEAD, Leslie Herbert Ephriam||4 Dec 1944||World War 2|
|FEWQUANDIE, Francis John||4 Dec 1967||Vietnam War|
|STUART, James||4 Dec 1915||World War 1|
|CORBETT, Charles||4 Dec 2019||World War 1|
80th Anniversary of the Kokoda / Milne Bay Campaigns
80th Anniversary of the Kokoda / Milne Bay Campaigns
By Steve Larkins
November 2022 marks the culmination of arguably the most important land campaigns in Australian history, not necessarily because of their scale, but more because of what was at stake strategically.
Australia and its Allies had been subjected to a string of catastrophic events from the commencement of hostilities with Japan on 7 December 1941. Port Moresby, Milne Bay and the Solomon Islands appeared to be ‘next on the list’.
With our best trained and most experienced land forces hastily returning from the Middle East, the initial defence of New Guinea fell on untrained, inadequately equipped and in some cases poorly led Militia Battalions. These first troops committed to New Guinea were woefully under-prepared; an indictment of complacency among Government and higher command rather than the men themselves.
Fig 1. Soldiers of the Australian 39th Battalion in September 1942, at Isurava
Worse, their operations were being directed from a distant headquarters in Brisbane, totally out of touch with the realities and challenges of the terrain, tactical options and most importantly, logistics and resupply.
The campaigns are described in detail elsewhere on this site.
The outcome at Milne Bay and Kokoda, (and the Battle of the Coral Sea before them) secured Port Moresby and the easternmost tip of New Guinea from Japanese occupation.
Fig 2. A No. 75 Squadron P-40 Kittyhawk at Milne Bay in September 1942. AWM 026644
It is now generally acknowledged that the Japanese were not planning an invasion of the Australian mainland. At the time the perception was quite different. The reality was , had Australian forces not been victorious at Kokoda and Milne Bay, and US Forces later at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the protection of our sea lanes, supply chain and communication with the United States would have been critically impaired, and Japanese land-based aircraft would have been within much closer striking distance of north eastern Australia.
Fig 3. Soldiers of the 2nd/27th Battalion, cut off from the Brigade withdrawal from Mission Ridge, finally regain touch with their colleagues after almost two weeks with very little food. They brought in the wounded of the their own and two other Battalions of the 21st Brigade. AWM 013289
Perhaps the most powerful and evocative account of those momentous times was delivered in an Anzac Day Speech by then Prime Minister Paul Keating in 1992. A redacted version is reproduced here. It has stood the test of time.
"The Australians who served here in Papua New Guinea fought and died, not in the defence of the old world, but the new world. Their world. They died in defence of Australia and the civilisation and values which had grown up there.
That is why it might be said that, for Australians, the battles in Papua New Guinea were the most important ever fought. They were fought in the most terrible circumstances. One correspondent wrote: "Surely no war was ever fought under worse conditions than these. Surely no war has ever demanded more of a man in fortitude."
They were fought by young men with no experience of jungle warfare. By the very young men of the militia with no experience of war at all. They were fought by airmen of outstanding courage, skill and dedication. They were fought against a seasoned, skilful and fanatical enemy.
At Milne Bay the Australians inflicted on the Japanese their first defeat on land. Sir William Slim, who was then commanding the 14th Army in Burma, wrote: "It was Australian soldiers who first broke the spell of invincibility of the Japanese army: those of us who were in Burma have cause to remember."
On the Kokoda Trail it was again the young and inexperienced militia men - this time of the 39th and 53rd battalions - later reinforced with soldiers of the 7th Division, who fought gallantly - and eventually won.
When it seemed that Papua New Guinea would fall, when it seemed it would be another Singapore, another Rabaul, these troops gallantly held out and finally drove the enemy back to the sea. These were the heroic days of Australia's history.
Today we must also pay tribute to the servicemen of Papua New Guinea who fought and died under Australian command.
Fig 4. Local carriers negotiating a creek crossing with a stretcher case. It generally required eight men to carry a stretcher case any distance. The carriers were indispensable in the supply chain maintaining supplies of ammunition, rations and general supplies to the front line, then extracting casualties to the rear. AWM 013641
And, perhaps above all, we should honour and express our profound admiration for the Papua New Guinean carriers whose stalwart support was crucial to the final victory.
The support they gave to Australian soldiers, the terrible conditions and dangers they endured with the soldiers, the illness, injury and death many of them suffered, constitutes one of the great humane gestures of the War - perhaps the great humane gesture of our history.
It has never been forgotten, and never will be forgotten, it is the best possible reminder that these battles were fought, not for the glory of war, but for humanity.
And it, too, created an enduring bond - between Papua New Guinea and Australia.
The full speech can be found HERE
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