Veterans gather for 75th anniversary of Kokoda and the Beachheads

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The Kokoda and the Beachheads’ campaigns were two of the most significant campaigns fought by Australian forces in the Second World War.

To mark the 75th anniversary of these campaigns, eleven surviving veterans gathered in Canberra for a series of commemorative events held in their honour. Each have recalled elements of their experience in Papua below.

 

Cyril AllenderCyril Allender – 2/14th Battalion

In August 1942 Cyril arrived at Port Moresby where the 2/14th was marched up the Kokoda track to fight in the Battle of Isurava. Cyril has vivid memories of becoming separated from his platoon during the fighting, of hiding from the Japanese, being wounded in the toe at Eora, and of the grim retreat to Imita.

 

William ButlerWilliam Butler – 7th and 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion

William remembers hearing that Australia was at war whilst, listening to the news on a radio broadcast when walking down Hunter Street in Newcastle on his lunch break. William was called into the Militia when he was 19 and then enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force at the age of 21.

When the war had ended William had been in Wewak and was in the last contingent to return to Australia.

 

Leslie CookLeslie Cook – 7th Division

Les describes walking the Kokoda track as a process of climbing “never ending hills with a multitude of heartbreaking false crests. When we got to the top of each one, too tired to take off our equipment, we just collapsed on the ground as we were”.

 

Ronald DixonRonald Dixon – 2/5th Field Regiment

Ronald was involved in the Battle of Buna and helped to push the retreating Japanese forces out the beachheads. After the war, Ronald returned to New South Wales and raised a family. Ronald now has 18 great-grandchildren.  

 

William GraydenHon. William Grayden AM – 2/16th Infantry Battalion

Bill remembers that during the campaign he, “was always full of confidence that we (the Australian’s) had the upper hand at all stages of the initial Isurava-Ioribaiwa stage of the campaign”.

 

Leonard GriffithsLeonard Griffiths – 3rd Infantry Battalion

Len recalls that although he was conscripted, he was “very happy to have been selected for Army Service”.

 

Alexander JenkinsAlexander Jenkins – 30 Squadron  

Alex was one of the first mechanics in the RAAF to work on the Bristol Beaufighter, a plane so new that Alex said: “the instructors were reading out of a book to teach us; no one had seen one!”

“Papua New Guinea was such an awful place, a very dangerous place, to be trying to get on and off in a plane [in the mud and rain],” Alex said.

 

Richard LewisRichard Lewis – 2/33rd Battalion

Richard recalls that the most memorable aspect of his military service was, “hearing that peace was declared”.

 

George PalmerGeorge Palmer – 39th Battalion

“The Japanese landed at Gona and eventually reached Kokoda. Our battalion had attempted to retake Kokoda but we were overwhelmed and we were pushed back to Isurava. During the battle of Isurava the Japanese were attacking in wave after wave and our Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner, informed us that if the 2/14th Battalion who were coming to relieve us didn’t arrive by afternoon we would be over-run that night. Fortunately they did arrive and they were magnificent,” George recalls. 

 

David Bruce RobertsonDavid Bruce Robertson – 30 Squadron

Bruce remembers the day Australia joined the Second World War. “I was in bed on a Sunday night, and the Prime Minister Mr Menzies came on the radio to speak to Australia… My mother came into my bedroom and said ‘don’t you think you’re going to war’, because she remembered the First World War and knew what it was like to have a loved one at the war.”

“I tell everybody ‘don’t have a war; don’t go to war'. It’s no picnic, and you don’t recommend people go to war.

“When someone tells me they were too young, I say ‘I’m so pleased you were’.”

 

William StuartWilliam Stuart – 39th and 2nd/2nd Battalion

William remembers his first one on one encounter with the famed ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ of the Kokoda Campaign, "I set out on my own, (to explore the surrounding areas) without sufficient water for the hot jungle conditions and collapsed near the summit of nearby peak. When I regained consciousness I found myself surrounded by natives and thought my time was up as I believed they were cannibal tribe’s people. Instead, the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’s’ brought me water and help me find my way back to camp."

 

To learn more about Kokoda and the Beachheads, visit the Anzac Portal website.