The day had been long, filled to over-flowing with appointments due to our shortened time to deal with the matters originally we thought we had two days to handle. However, everyone one of us was well-versed in our products and the areas we represented. Each one of us had been well-received and felt satisfied with the results. Of course, the fruits of our labours wouldn’t begin to come into effect until about eighteen months down the track. Speaking generally, normally it takes that long for the ball to start rolling. When one is dealing with tourism, one is dealing with future holiday periods. Holiday-makers usually plan well-ahead, some may have just had their annual vacation, so another twelve months period comes into contention before their next holiday. Eighteen months became our rule of thumb. There were always exceptions to the rules, of course, as there is in every area of business.
I’d not set foot out of the hotel since the day of arrival, neither had the rest of my new-found friends, except Graeme, of course, who had escaped the clutches of Port Moresby earlier in the day. He’d disappeared to the hills. None of us missed him. Speaking for myself, I was relieved he was no longer in our party. I think, silently, the others felt the same way. We felt like children left at home alone without our parents to watch over us. We were enjoying the feeling! School was out and it was time to play, even if our playground was limited.
Security to us “green-horns” was of utmost importance, our own personal security, that is. I was quite happy to take photographs of colourful postcards to prove that I’d been there. I certainly wasn’t going to be wandering the streets alone, either day or night. My fellowmen felt similarly, following my words on the first day of us being chained together by an imaginary chain to the letter.
Prior to and at the time of our visit to
As we were willing prisoners of our “home-base”, the “Islander Hotel, the manager of Avis in Papua New Guinea (the manager, David, an Aussie ex-pat actually was the South Pacific Regional Manager. He and his young family were based in Moresby) invited us to dine, as the guests of Avis, that evening in the main restaurant of the hotel, an invitation we eagerly accepted.
After packing up all our presentation materials, hurriedly we returned to our respective rooms to shower and dress for the evening.
Entering the restaurant, a long table had been set up and beautifully decorated for our benefit. The very attentive waiters, dressed in the customary white shirts, bow-ties, cummerbunds, black trousers, this bore no shocks when it came to footwear. There wasn’t one “Manuel” amongst them. They hovered politely and efficiently around our table throughout our dinner. It was perhaps amongst the best service I’ve ever witnessed in a restaurant. All our needs were met promptly without asking. Delectable arrays of various hors d’oeuvres were presented on a cream enamel rectangular contraption that stood about five feet high. The waiter turned a handle on the side of the upright trolley and a rack holding matching cream enamel rectangle dishes filled with delicacies was presented. The waiter would do the rounds of the table and start again at the top and repeat his actions; another rack bearing enamel dishes filled with different hors d’ oeuvres were at our disposal. I don’t know if the piece of interesting, intriguing equipment had a name. I’d never seen one before, nor have I seen one since. To me it looked like something from the early part of the twentieth century, of European heritage. Perhaps it had originated in
The meal that evening was comparable to any meal I, or the others had had in Australian restaurants. The service was faultless.
We certainly were a high-spirited, yet well-behaved group that evening. Conversation and laughter flowed freely along and back and forth across the table. It was very generous of Avis to cater for us in that manner. I can only say, David, the South Pacific Manager of Avis must have had a massive expense account! He announced over dinner that if any of us wished to join him as a guest of Avis the following day, he would take us for a trip in an Avis Nissan Tarago up to the start of the Kokoda Trail, where we would lunch at the “Kokoda Inn”, now named, I believe the “Kokoda Motel”. We all jumped at his most generous offer.
It seemed appropriate to do the trip as the next day was July 23rd, Remembrance Day, the day that marks the anniversary of the first engagement between opposing troops, the Australians and the Japanese, on
The Australian force was out-numbered and the long fight, withdrawing over the
There they attempted to position themselves to stop the advance of the Japanese, who, at that stage, had over 10,000 men.
This was the start of a historical part of World War 11, for both
Much of the Kokoda Track was through dense rain-forest, mud, mist, thick bush with steep, near-impenetrable ridges to deep valleys below, flanked by mountains rising to over 2,000 metres. In those days, the track was seldom-used. Our men had to battle not only rapidly-running creeks, but moss-covered rocks and logs. It was on
Shortly afterwards, the
The Japanese, who were regularly bombing
A small force of Australians known as "Maroubra Force" arrived at Buna on
What followed will forever go down as one of the most heroic defensive actions in the annals of military history.
The first engagement between the opposing troops was on the
*“Kokoda is a small plateau on the north-east slopes of the Owen Stanley Range and possessed a small airstrip the retention of which, for at least as long as it would take Australia to fly in supplies and reinforcements, was of great importance.
However, the remnants of "Maroubra Force", exhausted by a month's constant fighting, were unable to achieve this.
Valiant though their effort was, they even recaptured the plateau after being driven out, the Japanese need was of equal importance as they required a forward base at Kokoda for their drive over the ranges along the "Kokoda Trail" to
The initiative now remained with the Japanese and Australian withdrawal began again - through Isurava, Alola, Templeton's Crossing, Myola, Efogi, Menari and Nauro until at Ioribaiwa Ridge, beyond which the Japanese could not be permitted to penetrate, a final stand was made.
From August 26 to September 16 in 1942 Brigadier Potts’s Maroubra Force, consisting of the 2/16th Battalion, together with the 2/14th, the 2/27th and the militia 39th and scattered elements of the ill – trained 53rd Battallion - outnumbered and outgunned by an estimated 5 to 1 - fought the Japanese to an eventual standstill on the ridges overlooking Port Moresby.
Two main battles were fought during that period (Isurava August 26 to 29 and Brigade ‘Butchers’Hill from September 6 to 8).
In the main, the desperately tired but determined force kept themselves between the Japanese Major General Horri’s South Sea Force and Port Moresby – defending, retreating and then counter – attacking in a masterly display of strategic defence.
Conditions were almost indescribable.
It rained for most of the time, the weary men endured some of the most difficult terrain of the world and they were racked by malaria and dysentery.
But they kept on fighting, making the enemy pay dearly for every yard of ground.
They bought time for those being prepared to come up from
The Australians, however, had a surprise in store for the enemy.
This was in the form of 25-pounder guns brought from Moresby to the road head at Owers’ Corner and then laboriously dragged into position at Imita Ridge, opening up on the enemy's barricades and it was now the turn of the Japanese to suffer what the Australians had suffered in the preceding two months.
Australian shelling smashed Japanese defences and aggressive patrols inflicted severe losses.
On the morning of September 28th the Australians were closing in and it became evident then the Japanese were withdrawing.
The chase, with the Australians the pursuers, was now on.
The Japanese, despite sickness and hunger, were still formidable and tenaciously defended all the places in their withdrawal as the Australians had in their retreat some weeks earlier.
Kokoda was entered on November 2 and this was the beginning of the end of Japanese hopes in Papua.
The campaign now entered a phase known as "The
The Japanese were bottled up in the area from which they had commenced their drive on
This final campaign commenced on
Lt Col Honner DSO MC, who commanded the gallant 39th in the campaign, later wrote of these men in the foreword to Peter Brune’s book ‘Those Rugged Bloody Heroes’: “They have joined the immortals.”
Of those that did not survive, he wrote: “Wherever their bones may lie, the courage of heroes is consecrated in the hearts and engraved in the history of the free.”
*Taken from Second World War Kokoda Trail Annals.
Of course, I wanted to go to the start of the Kokoda Trail, or “Track” as it is also known. I knew I would probably never get the chance again. It never entered my mind to say “No” to the trip on offer.To Be Continued...