I first went to Papua New Guinea in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, on a Russian cruise ship, the Mikhail Sholokov. On board were a group of men and women I will never forget. Among them was Lindsay ‘Teddy’ Bear who, in August 1942, fought the Japanese at a place called Isurava in the Owen Stanley Range; Bruce ‘Buster’ Brown who flew a Kittyhawk fighter plane called ‘Polly’ during the Battle of Milne Bay in September 1942; Ron Moss who fought in the jungle between Wau and Salamaua in 1943; Reverend Roy Wotoon who buried the dead of Kokoda; and John ‘Jack’ Harris who before going to fight in New Guinea in 1943 had been a ‘Rat of Tobruk’. This was no ordinary cruise but a ‘pilgrimage’ of 117 war veterans who had served and fought in Papua New Guinea in World War Two. They were an extraordinary group of Australians the likes of which we will never see brought together again for they represented virtually every aspect of not only Australian experience in PNG during those terrible years between 1941 and 1945, but of Australia’s war in general in the Pacific, the Middle East and Europe. Now, in this book – Ten Epic War Treks Retold and Papua Revisited – one of those ‘pilgrims’, Alan Hooper, has brought us his own account of those months of 1942 and 1943 when the fighting against the Japanese was at its most desperate.
What do most Australians know about the war in Papua New Guinea? I suspect little beyond something of the story of that much written about, filmed and walked over jungle track between Ower’s Corner near Port Moresby and a little village on the northern side of the Owen Stanley Range called Kokoda. Alan certainly takes us into that terrible struggle but with personal reminiscences and accounts of those whose contribution to victory has been largely eclipsed by the contemporary focus on the young militiamen and soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force who fought at places like Kokoda, Isurava, Efogi, Ioribaiwa, Buna and Gona. Here are men such as Clen Searle who carried out surveillance in the rear of the Japanese; Bert Keinzle who put together and supervised that essential force of native carriers which made war possible in the jungles and highlands of PNG; Tom Grahamslaw who supervised the making of stretchers on Kokoda and led arduous reconnaissance patrols; and Douglas Joycey who took a party of carriers to support an isolated RAAF spy post. Joycey’s story is an amazing one for as a Canadian soldier in World War I he had fought at what many regard as the defining battle of Canada’s war – Vimy in April 1917 – and then found himself in Papua at the start of another war.