Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Trip To Port Moresby...Chapter Four

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 Port Moresby, security or should I say the lack of it was a reason why tourism was high on the list of money-making business. As has happened and is still happening in many developing countries, the young men are educated and then with high expectations go to the cities for work. Once there, their bubbles are burst. Disenchanted they become members of gangs of similar young men in like positions. This was how the “rascal” was born in Papua New Guinea, most particularly in Port Moresby. I wrote earlier about the abundance of barbed-wire, referred to as “razor-barb” in PNG. It is endless, coiled razor-blade share barbed-wire running along the tops of high, strengthened wire fences surrounding homes and business properties. Its ugliness may, in some places, be hidden by the equally thorny albeit, vibrantly blossomed bougainvillea, but its maiming, dangerous purpose and duty remain.

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 Britain or perhaps, Germany. I don’t know but it was a fascinating and useful food server. In my wild imagination, it looked like something that would have been used on the “Titanic”. It was definitely, in my opinion as humble as it has always been, of around that era.

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 July 23rd, 1942.

The Australian force was out-numbered and the long fight, withdrawing over the Owen Stanley Ranges began. On July, 21st 1942, forty-five years to the day before our band of merry folk arrived in Papua New Guinea, Japanese troops landed on the northern coast of New Guinea and began their march over the Owen Stanley Ranges, intent on capturing Port Moresby. (Port Moresby lies in the rain-shadow of the Owen Stanley Range, hence its dryness).Of course, had they succeeded, mainland Australia would be next in their sights. Our 21st Brigade consisting of 1,500 men, under the command of Brigadier Potts was rushed to New Guinea.

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 Australia and New Guinea.

Kokoda became Australia’s most significant campaign of the Second World War. More Australians during that campaign died than in any other campaign during that war. The average age of our fighting men was between 18 and 19 years and many of those young men lie buried in the Bomana War Cemetery, just outside Port Moresby.

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 January, 23rd, 1942 that the Japanese landed at Kavieng on the island of New Ireland and at Rabaul on the island of New Britain. There they overcame the Australian forces. Feeling mighty confident, on March, 8th, the Japanese firmly established themselves at Lae and Salamaua in Morobe.

Shortly afterwards, the Battle of the Coral Sea progressed off the coast of Queensland between May 5th and 8th. This battle averted the Japanese invasion of Port Moresby. In June, a few weeks after the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Americans had success at the Battle of Midway.

The Japanese, who were regularly bombing Port Moresby, then decided on the overland attack across the Owen Stanley Range. On the Kododa Trail the Australian 7th Division resisted the Japanese overland attempt to capture Port Moresby. The advance was halted within 30 miles of the city.

A small force of Australians known as "Maroubra Force" arrived at Buna on July 21st, 1942, as the first Japanese force of 1500 men landed at Gona, eight miles to the west.

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 July 23, 1942. From that engagement, as the Australian force was progressively outnumbered, began the long fighting withdrawal over the Owen Stanley Range.

*“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 Port Moresby and they struck before the Australians were able to muster sufficient strength.

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 Port Moresby to relieve them.

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 Battle of the Beaches".

The Japanese were bottled up in the area from which they had commenced their drive on Port Moresby some months previously - Buna, Gona, Sanananda.

This final campaign commenced on November 19, 1942, and ended on January 22, 1943, when all organised resistance by the Japanese in Papua ended.

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...


  1. Hi Lee,

    Great picutres, is that an actual valcano?


  2. Yes, Janice. It is a rugged country. Thanks for commenting. :)

  3. They are great photos Lee. Obviously very different countreyside from what you saw around Port Moresby.

    That was an interesting history lesson too. I don't remember hearing about it before.


  4. That's strange that you've not heard about the Kokoda Track before, jmb. We were taught about it in school..primary school, even. And it was always mentioned on Anzac Days.

    It's a wild and beautiful landscape away from Port Moresby and its nearby surrounds.

    Nice to see you as usual, jmb. :)

  5. Anonymous12:44 AM

    Being retired military, I enjoy a story like this. Great post. I recall the best service I have ever received while dining. It was in Hong Kong, before being returned to China.

    Hope the refrigerator tasks go smoothly.

  6. Hi Lee, that was a very good precis of the battle for Port Moresby on the Kokoda track, a turning point for WW2.

  7. G'day, Steve...so do I, re the fridge! I forgot you are ex-military...so you would have enjoyed that piece of our history. :)

    Hey Peter...yes, it is a very interesting and moving story, the story of our Aussie diggers and "Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels" on the Kokoda Track.

    Thanks to you both for your comments. :)

  8. Lee, I need some concentrated time to catch up on your writing; I think I'll have some time this evening so will read through and get up-to-date.

  9. You do have an interesting life, Lee! You are such a living-life-to-the-full woman, it's fantastic to read your writing.

  10. I don't about how interesting it is now, Liz...but I did have some interesting escapades! ;)

  11. Well don't forget Lee I went to high school in 1948 and only did History for a year or so, then there was no room in my curriculum, and it was always British History with the odd explorer thrown in.
    It did ring a bell though and I asked my husband if he remembered it but he didn't.
    You probably got it reinforced regularly over the years, whereas I've been gone since 1960.

  12. That's understandable, too, jmb...I think as the years went by and particularly after our involvement in the Vietnam War, Kokoda was brought more to our attention.

  13. I loved this post Lee. This is part of the war we Americans, or at least those of us educated in one room schools, haven't spent much time on. I do know that Australia and the U.S. are pretty closely tied and that war and conflicts many times since is why. They are both great people. Thanks for the lesson and yes there are no photos. They must have been good. At least that's what the rest are saying. I'm entering my crop planting phase so will be sporadic at best but won't forget where the 'good stuff' is. C.

  14. I cannot say it enough how well you tell a story to keep me interested. I love coming to chat and visit with you even if it is only through this blog and not in person. I cannot wait for the next exciting memory you have in store for us.

  15. I loved this post too, Lee. But I am ashamed to say that I'd never heard of Kokoda and that must say something about the way history was taught to my generation in the UK. Thank you for the history lesson. I am glad I took a look at the pictures last night but when they come up again I will be back for another look.

  16. Thanks Cliff, Sandra and Welsh...and apologies from Google for the picture muck-up! ;) They will return one day soon, no doubt..I hope!

    I'll be posting Chapter 5 in a little while...I'm in the process of writing it at the moment...and hopefully...hopefully the pictures I want to upload for it, will show! Time will tell and only Google knows the answer! ;)

  17. Sounds to me like you are a diplomat or at least in a movie with Cary Grant. Love the dinner description.