Tag Archives: Kokoda

Excerpt from “Green Armour” by Osmar White ~~Kokoda Trail~~

Osmar White, Chester Wilmot and Damien Parer – war correspondents – made the journey along the Kokoda Trail at the time of the Japanese invasion of Papua New Guinea in 1942.

 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt did not take me long to realize that carrying a 50-pound load up and down razorbacks demanded quadruple the energy expended in straight, unburdened climbing. We made Uberi after three hours’ scramble over a stiff ridge. The forest was comparatively open and the trail in fair condition. No rain had fallen for nearly a week. The main body of troops had gone through four or five days before. Since then there had been just enough traffic on the drying ground to settle the clay.
The engineers had done considerable work on the old native path already. Before that, traveling had been almost impossible. On one clay slope elements of the 39th Battalion were reported to have taken 17 hours to travel 600 yards. They had to cut their way up the chute as mountaineers would cut a traverse on a snowfield.
In spite of the improved route the second stage was a long , extremely hard day. After leaving Uberi the route lay along the river flats for awhile. Then it slanted up a razorback into which more than 1,000 steps had been cut. In three or four miles it rose 2,000 feet. From the crest was a magnificent prospect of ranges sweeping down into the valley of the Brown River.
The formation of the trail had psychological drawbacks. The more or less regular steps seemed to make the going more difficult than an unimproved native trail, where stepping from root to root broke the monotony even if it slowed progress. At the foot of Uberi ridge a severe rainstorm caught us in the early afternoon. Parer started worrying about his film again, but I found the rain refreshing, the violent claps of thunder stimulating.
Eoribaiwa village stood on top of a 2,500-foot ridge. The engineers had let in 4,000 steps on the approach. That night I saw what the country could do to raw troops. A detachment of engineers came in behind us in full marching order. Most of them were big men and fit by normal standards. They made the last few 100 feet climb out of the valley in 5- or 10-yard bursts. Half of them dropped where they stood when they reached the plateau. Their faces were bluish gray with strain, their eyes starting out. They were long beyond mere breathlessness. The air pumped in and out of them in great, sticky sobs; and they had 100 miles of such traveling ahead.
Parer again distinguished himself for guts. Clipped by a sharp dose of fever – his first acute attack – pale, streaming profusely with sweat, and at the same time shivering violently, he refused stubbornly to stop. In the morning, almost forcibly, I made him split his pack between us. He would stop every hour or so, reeling on his feet, and protest that he was capable of carrying his own gear.
The ‘beef’ was vanishing from chubby Wilmot before our eyes. His technique of travel was amusing. Downhill he took terrific, two-yard strides that would have broken my ankles. He went like a whirlwind, outstripping the rest of us by miles. But when we struck the next hill, we drew even. Halfway up we would pass him hoisting one leg after the other with agonized slowness. Three hundred yards away his grunts, groans, whistlings and profane cries were audible. He clawed his way to the crest and fell flat on his face. If he had not been as strong as an ox he would have scrambled his guts. He was the wrong build for this sort of work – but the right temperament. He was still grunting, cursing and whistling at the end of the day – and still traveling.
There was rain every afternoon. The nights were getting chillier as we climbed, and the staging camps were yet inadequate. I could hardly believe that 2,000 troops, raw to such conditions, had passed that way and left so few stragglers. They were men of great heart.

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Excerpt from “Those Ragged Bloody Heroes” by Peter Brune ~~Golden Stairs~~

picture-RaggedBloodyHeroes-BruneFrom Uberi lay an extremely hard day’s march to Ioribaiwa. Distance, so the soldier would quickly learn, was to be measured not in miles but by the number of gruelling hours’ marching with, of course, usually a 65-pound pack and a weapon to carry. Many men quickly acquired a body-length stick to assist them in their labours. Such a stick was to become a trade mark of the appearance of troops on the Kokoda Trail. The first day’s march across the mountains began with a mile’s rough journey beside the Goldie River, and then a steep and daunting climb up a razorback spur on the Imita Ridge. The soldier was confronted by the first, but by no means the last, excruciating ascent on the Trail – the Golden Stairs.
The Golden Stairs consisted of several thousand logs of wood pushed into the ascent and held in place by wooden pegs. Filthy, putrid mud constituted the rest of the ‘step’. At some points the exposed roots of trees formed the steps thereby making them irregular in distance and shape and often harder to climb, especially for shorter men. The stairs became permanently sodden and slippery because of the daily rains that soaked and saturated the jungle. Men fell, banged knees, shins and ankles on the exposed log steps, gave vent to their anger and struggled agonisingly to their feet; and orderly progress became impossible.
Lieutenant Hugh Dalby, 39th Battalion:
They were so steep . . . We soon had it worked out that instead of trying to walk over the mountain range in sections as we started off doing, and nearly killed ourselves, the next day we set off at intervals . . . So you might be five minutes getting rid of your men. But instead of getting to the next staging place at five o’clock at night when it was dark and have people out looking for you, you’d get there at two in the afternoon because you weren’t hampered by this stop start, stop start.
Periodically the soldier would catch and clutch at a glimmer of hope through the foliage – sky. The top of the ascent was near, extra strength was summoned; the ultimate exhausting effort was put forth; the Golden Stairs were beaten. But the beguiling point of success was repeatedly found to be a false crest and the daunting reality that there were many hundreds of steps still to climb became evident. When the summit was eventually reached, to reveal that the distant horizon bounded a succession of ridges and valleys all of which appeared as formidable as the one just conquered, the true proportion of the torture of the Kokoda Trail began to appall even the toughest soldier.

Soldiers and a native bearer climb the Golden Stairs rising towards Imita Ridge

Soldiers and a native bearer climb the Golden Stairs rising towards Imita Ridge

picture-KokodaTrail-ImitaRidge

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Excerpt from “Retreat from Kokoda” by Raymond Paull ~~Potts~~

picture-RetreatFromKokoda-PaullIn the clearing where Potts had established his headquarters, the sentries heard no movement on the steep hillside during the night, and the customary stand-to before first light passed without incident. Potts and his staff heard the crescendo of fire when Horii redoubled his assault against Cooper’s front. They took mental note of its onset, received Cooper’s report, and went about their duties.
Known among other things for his regular personal habits, Potts walked across the clearing soon after dawn to a newly excavated pit near the jungle’s edge. A sentry – Pte. Gill, one of the “Old and Bold” of the Guard Platoon – manned a Bren-gun post on the forward slope of the knoll overlooking the point where the track broke from the jungle saddle. The two men exchanged the pleasantries of the morning.
Returning after a few minutes, Potts had barely reached the roofless shack when a sudden shot rang out across the clearing. He turned to see the sentry fall. Alert, armed and ready in an instant, Potts and his staff scanned the clearing for the enemy, asking, “What happened?” “Where are they?” No fusillade followed. The dead man lay sprawled over the shallow hole of his post. The Australians listened intently for evidence of the enemy’s presence – the tell-tale locking of a rifle-bolt, the crack of a twig. Nothing stirred.
For the first time since the campaign began, the enemy’s tactics, the unprecedented announcement of their proximity, took Potts and his staff unawares. The Australians had become accustomed to an onslaught from the enemy’s first shot. The silence in the clearing mystified them.
Captured records suggest that it was 1st Lieutenant Kamimura, instructed to locate the Australians’ rear, who occupied the top of the ridge at the northern end of the clearing. Awaiting Sakamoto and his Machine-gun Company for an attack at 5.30 a.m., Kamimura may not have suspected at first the presence of the small group on the opposite side of the knoll, and the Japanese who shot Gill probably did so on impulse. Potts will never know how close he came to death on his walk to and from the latrine, of being lined up in the sights of the Japanese marksman who chose instead to shoot Gill.
Potts’ Liaison Officer, Lieutenant Cairns, dissipated the momentary uncertainty. Taking Corporal Beveridge, of the Brigade Transport Platoon, Cairns crossed the clearing. The two men had passed Gill’s post on the knoll and were approaching the north-western corner when Beveridge said quietly, “Look, there’s a Jap there now.” “Give him a grenade,” Cairns replied. At the same time, he saw the Japanese in the shadows, his light machine-gun aimed at them and his finger curling around the trigger. He called, “Look out,” and cast himself flat in the grass, escaping the burst of fire which echoed his words. The grenade had left Beveridge’s fingers when the same burst crumpled him. In the next instant, the grenade killed the enemy and destroyed his gun.
Cairns, his rifle out of reach, backed away without guessing that Beveridge was mortally wounded. Then, realizing that the Corporal had been hit, he circled, saw his body, and returned to retrieve it. His outstretched hand was barely its own breadth from Beveridge’s ankle when a Japanese leapt from the scrub and charged down upon him. Cairns scrambled to his feet and ran, somewhat blindly, until a deafening roar startled him and he beheld Lieutenant Burnham Fraser, his fellow Liaison Officer, armed with the cherished marksman’s rifle which invariably accompanied him. “Couldn’t miss him,” said Fraser triumphantly.

Comment:
This happened on 8 September 1942 at a point in the Kokoda campaign when the Australians were engaged in a fighting withdrawal against overwhelming Japanese forces.
Brigadier Arnold Potts (WX700102) was born on the Isle of Man on 16 September 1896, and died on 1 January 1968, aged 71 years.
Private John Gill (NX11728) was born in England, enlisted in March 1940, was posted to the Headquarters Guard Battalion, and was killed in action this day in September 1942.
Lieutenant Norman Cairns (VX29956) was born on 26 October 1916 in Melbourne, Australia, and was discharged on 9 October 1945.
Corporal Cyril Beveridge(VX14989 ) was born in Carlton, Victoria on 11 October 1912, enlisted in May 1940, was posted to HQ 21 Australian Infantry Brigade and was killed in action this day in September 1942.
Lieutenant Burnham Fraser (VX8349) was born in London, England on 28 February 1901, enlisted in May 1940, and was discharged on 30 October 1943.

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Excerpt from “No Memory For Pain” by F. Kingsley Norris ~~Kokoda Trail~~

For us there was only one narrow route of advance over the densely jungle clad mountains, and this was the only route for the evacuation of our casualties. Before the war little was known of this track, which was considered impracticable for troops, but this narrow native path was to become historic as the Kokoda Trail, and to witness what was probably the last of long marches for any army. I quote from my diary:

‘Imagine an area approximately one hundred miles long; crumple and fold this into a series of ridges, rising higher and higher until seven thousand feet is reached, then declining again to three thousand feet; cover this thickly with jungle, short trees and tall trees tangled with great entwining savage vines; through the oppression of this density cut a little native track two or three feet wide, up the ridges, over the spurs, around gorges, and down across swiftly flowing mountain streams. Where the track clambers up the mountain sides, cut steps, big steps, little steps, steep steps, or clear the soil from the tree roots. Every few miles bring the track through a small patch of sunlit kunai grass or an old deserted native garden, and every seven or ten miles build a group of dilapidated grass huts as staging shelter, generally set in a foul, offensive clearing. Every now and then leave beside the track dumps of discarded, putrefying food, occasional dead bodies and human foulings. In the morning flicker the sunlight through the tall trees, after midday and throughout the night, pour water over the forest, so that the steps become broken and a continual yellow stream flows downwards, and the few level areas become pools of putrid mud. In the high ridges about Myola, drip this water day and night softly over the track and through a foetid forest, grotesque with moss and glowing phosphorescent fungi and flickering fireflies.

‘Such is the track which a prominent politician publicly described as being “almost impassable for motor vehicles”, and such is the route to be covered for ten days from Kokoda to Ilolo.’

 

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Excerpt from “Recollections of a Regimental Medical Officer” by H.D.Steward ~~Withdrawal~~

picture-RecollectionsofaRMO-StewardAt Alola, in addition to the normal Battalion RAP, there was also a combined RAP to handle casualties from any of the four battalions then in the line – the 39th, 53rd, 2/14th and 2/16th. Captain A. B. Hogan, RMO of 53rd Battalion, and I each had a dual role: to treat our own casualties from Abuari and check the wounded from 2/14th and 39th Battalions staging at Alola, a half-way house between Isurava and Eora Creek. Most of the patients were in a large hut previously used as a quartermaster store. Here I first saw the boys from the 39th Battalion, gaunt spectres with gaping boots and rotting tatters of uniform hanging around them like scarecrows. Their faces had no expression, their eyes sunk back into their sockets. They were drained by malaria, dysentery and near-starvation, but they were still in the firing line, facing a much more powerful enemy equipped with much heavier weaponry.
From Abuari the Japanese overlooked Alola, and their heavy Juki 57 mm machine-guns swept the areas of both Brigade and Battalion HQ, and also the RAPs. This weapon outranged any of ours, and spat its lead with a deeper, repetitive thud than lighter machine-guns; the troops called it the ‘woodpecker’.
We told the wounded men to lie as flat as they could but, although most of the bullets went high, we had five casualties, including one man killed. Captain Hogan was shot through both legs, a flesh wound in one and the other fractured. A recent graduate, he looked little more than a boy as he lay there looking ruefully at his wounds. He touched our hearts as he said how worried his mother would be. In a little while I would be thinking more about my own mother.
It now seemed certain that the wounded would have to be evacuated to Eora Creek, a carry of five or six hours. The RAP boys and I moved through the rows of wounded men, assessing those who would need stretchers and those who would have to walk. It was a silent pilgrimage. I wondered what I should say to the men in greatest need who were to receive an injection of the merciful morphine. I was a stranger to the men from the other battalions, but even with my own men I knew what an anxious moment it is when a doctor approaches with a hypodermic in his hand. I said: ‘I’m giving you an injection to relieve your pain’. To have said ‘to make you more comfortable’ might have raised in their minds the most appalling doubt of all.
. . . Not one of these men complained. Their restraint and dignity lifted them above common humanity. That grim afternoon proved for me the dictum of the great war correspondent Quentin Reynolds: ‘The wounded don’t cry’. Often they don’t even talk. Yet what could be more demoralizing for a wounded man to lie there under machine-gun fire, when he was entitled to believe that he had already done his bit, and that he ought now to be allowed to live?
All was quiet in this communal aid post, where men from four infantry units lay in silence with their thoughts. Their fate lay with us, and not one doubted that we would get them out. It is easy to feel proud that not one man was abandoned at the RAP, but one should not forget that they would not have got that far without the help of their mates in the platoons, and of the gallant stretcher bearers, every one of them a Sir Galahad. The bearers were not caught up by the mad exhilaration of violent action, and they carried no weapons to strike back. But each man for the sake of mercy exposed his life again and again on that long withdrawal to Ioribaiwa.

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Excerpt from “Retreat From Kokoda” by Raymond Paull

Between the main track and the creek, the mounting violence of the Horie Battalion’s attack also achieved a break-through into Dickenson’s perimeter. The impetus of the enemy’s advance carried them on, to overrun parts of 13 and 15 Platoon areas, as well as that of 9 Platoon, which Key had sent forward in response to Dickenson’s appeal for assistance. The Japanese moved swiftly into the gap, to consolidate and extend their costly gain.

Key and his Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Stanley Bisset, a brother of 10 Platoon’s commander, going forward to study the situation, had themselves dispersed an enemy patrol. By now, Key possessed few reserves, but he sent the bulk of them, from Headquarters Company, forward in support of C Company, and for an immediate counter-attack. Amongst these troops was a Signals party, led by Sergeant R. N. Thompson, who also took command of the remnants of 9 Platoon, in which Lieutenant Cox had been killed, and all wounded men of non-commissioned rank.

On this part of the flank, the intense fire from both sides had created a wilderness of devastated jungle. The smaller trees and the foliage of the larger timber, cut down in great swathes by the bombardment, lay in a tangled mass amidst the splintered debris. Before the counter-attack, Thompson led a fighting patrol out from the patch of ground held by 9 Platoon, hoping to push the enemy back along the track. Seven men of 9 Platoon and the Headquarters Company joined him, including Pte. Bruce Steel Kingsbury, aged 24, of Preston, Melbourne. Twenty yards away, the Japanese were preparing for a fresh attack when Kingsbury charged into their midst. Armed with a Bren-gun and a plentiful supply of magazines and grenades, Kingsbury scattered and for some moments utterly demoralized the enemy.

Farther back, the Japanese machine-gunners saw him and opened fire, intent on bringing him down. Kingsbury ran on, heedless of danger, sweeping the enemy positions with the fire of his gun. The patrol, close behind, finished what he began. They passed two native huts, and reached the edge of the jungle beyond a small clearing where a tall rock, twelve feet high, protruded on the left-hand side. Kingsbury and the patrol had regained 100 yards of ground, and Thompson resolved there to prepare temporary positions. Kingsbury then was fifteen yards ahead. He had fitted a fresh magazine and was maintaining the attack when a sniper’s bullet killed him.

Thompson and Pte. Alan Avery, who had been Kingsbury’s lifelong friend, saw the Japanese on the top of the tall rock. But before anyone could intervene, the enemy marksman fired one shot, dropped to the ground on the far side of the rock, and escaped into the jungle. In the instant that they saw the Japanese raise his rifle, and heard the shot ring out, Thompson and Avery saw Kingsbury stumble and pitch forward in his stride.

Kingsbury’s initiative and superb courage in removing the enemy’s threat to Battalion Headquarters and helping to restore the Australian line in this sector, won him the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross. A composite platoon, representing A, C and Headquarter Companies, held the ground which cost him his life.

VX19139 Private Bruce Steel Kingsbury
2/14th Australian Infantry Battalion AIF

Victoria Cross Citation

29th August, 1942 at Isurava, Papua

In New Guinea, the Battalion to which Private Kingsbury belonged had been holding a position in the Isurava area for two days against continuous and fierce enemy attacks. On 29th August 1942, the enemy attacked in such force that they succeeded in breaking through the Battalion’s right flank, creating serious threats both to the rest of the Battalion and to its Headquarters. To avoid the situation becoming more desperate it was essential to regain immediately lost ground on the right flank. Private Kingsbury, who was one of the few survivors of a Platoon which had been overrun and severely cut about by the enemy, immediately volunteered to join a different platoon which had been ordered to counter-attack. He rushed forward firing the Bren gun from his hip through terrific machine-gun fire and succeeded in clearing a path through the enemy. Continuing to sweep enemy positions with his fire and inflicting an extremely high number of casualties on them, Private Kingsbury was then seen to fall to the ground shot dead by the bullet from a sniper hiding in the wood. Private Kingsbury displayed a complete disregard for his own safety. His initiative and superb courage made possible the recapture of a position which undoubtedly saved Battalion Headquarters, as well as causing heavy casualties amongst the enemy. His coolness, determination and devotion to duty in the face of great odds was an inspiration to his comrades.

 

 

 

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Excerpt from “To Kokoda And Beyond” compiled by Victor Austin ~~Cowey~~

The main body of A Company had by now withdrawn but, for an unexplained reason, the order did not reach the defenders in the rubber who had borne the brunt of the attacks, and who were virtually isolated during daylight. With his section in the rubber, ‘J.D.’ McKay remembers the final onslaught:

Just on dusk there was a nice little shower of rain and the first assault wave came in and we stopped ‘em. My Bren gun group, Bill Drummond and Bill Spriggs, were firing and I can see the gun firing now – no kidding, you could see the bullets going up the barrel and it ran red-hot. Vern Scattergood had a Bren too and he was firing wildly. We stopped ‘em again. Then there was a bit of a pause before the next wave came in and overran us. So we said: ‘We’d better get out because they’ve gone past us.’ Well old Scattergood (or should I say young Scattergood? – he was younger than me) he got excited. He was standing up firing the Bren from the hip and that was the last I saw of young Scattergood. He must have been hit. We couldn’t find him in the dark and we moved back.

After we came out of the rubber we found Johnnie Stormont in the Company Headquarters dugout. We tried to put a shell dressing on him but the wound was too big and he was dying. We had to leave him. We only moved a few more yards and we were challenged! It was old Jim Cowey, the coolest, bravest man I have ever known. There he was, in the kneeling position, with his rifle pointing at us. Jim’s motto was if you were a ‘digger’ he had to get you out. The rest of the company had gone, but he’d stayed to get us out because he knew we’d been left behind.

Alex Lochhead, another of the last defenders to withdraw, continues:

When I got back to the clearing Jim Cowey was waiting there. He grabbed me and said: ‘Wait with me and we’ll pick a few more as they come out’. The main attack had died down, but there was still some small-arms fire and grenade explosions on the right flank.

McKay takes up the narrative again:

Old Jim had picked up about three or four of us by now and he said: ‘Just stay quietly’, and he dispersed us a bit. And then he got Roy Neal and Larry Downes, and I think that was about all of us. You know most were dead then. There were no wounded in our group. Then Jim said: ‘Good! We’ll walk out!’. I was all for running out but there were Japs everywhere. They were throwing grenades into weapon-pits, they were searching under the huts, and Jim said: ‘We’ll walk out. They don’t know who we are.’ And, if you don’t mind, casually got up, put us in single file and walked us out over the bloody bridge! We walked across the airstrip into the dense scrub and then Jim said: ‘Good! We’ll rest here till daylight’. So he puts us down and then ‘clunk’, being a youth and mentally and physically exhausted, I fell straight asleep. But I suppose old Jim Cowey, being the amazing soldier that he was, stayed awake all night.

The Japanese had not covered the western side of the plateau in their final onslaught; if they had A Company would never have escaped from Kokoda.

James Cowey wearing his First World War service ribbons on his uniform, which included the Military Cross alongside the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

 

 

 

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