Recently 2 members of our Caulfield Branch RSL undertook the arduous Kokoda Track journey following in the footsteps of the 39th Battalion in their 1942 fighting withdrawal campaign over the rugged Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea. The Australians were fighting to slow and eventually turn an overwhelming Japanese force that outnumbered them at times by more than 2 to 1. Additionally the Japanese were experienced jungle fighters, much better equipped and armed against the poorly equipped militia that comprised the 39th battalion.
Peter and Ray participated in a Stand To service at evocative and now serene Isurava - the site of Bruce Kingsbury’s posthumous VC , and the first won on Australian territory; they were also involved in a morning service at Brigade Hill. Notably, the day they reached there was the 77th anniversary of the Battle of Brigade Hill, a battle in which some 87 Australian soldiers died.Both Isurava and Brigade Hill were significant battles in the Kokoda campaign which considerably slowed the Japanese advance.
Peter and Ray’s trek commenced at Kokoda airstrip – itself the scene of considerable fighting between Australian and Japanese forces and continued over the Owen Stanley Ranges for 8 days to Owers' Corner- the beginning of the Kokoda Track near Port Morseby. All up they covered 117 kilometres over some of the most rugged jungle terrain in the world, with brutal climbs that seemed to go on forever, along razor back ridges, then plunging down precipitous descents and repeating the same process over and over for hours on end. The Track was intersected with crossings over precarious rickety log bridges, and through waist high raging river torrents. All this in 95% humidity.
Every step for the whole journey had to be carefully planned and considered with tree roots and mud everywhere, interspersed with oil-slick slippery rocks and clay that varied between stick-to-the- feet glue and instant slide on your backside slippery.
Peter and Ray, both 68 years old believe it was the most challenging thing they have ever done, physically and mentally. Ray said it was even more gruelling than a trek he completed some years ago to the foot of Mount Everest. They both have a profound respect for the young men (average age 18.5) of the 39 Battalion and the various 2nd AIF battalions that fought along the track in defence of Australia.
They began training 12 months ago and both report they have lost a significant amount of weight – in Peter’s case 4kg in training and another 4kgs on the Track. This was despite enormous high carbohydrate meals 3 times a day, interspersed with morning and afternoon teas and other snacks. Each day commenced with reveille at 5 AM, and two starts at 4 AM. These early starts were required to cover sufficient distance each day over the rugged terrain to enable getting off the track at about 4:30 PM each day.
The trek was organised through Adventure Kokoda whose principal, Major Charlie Lynn, is a Vietnam veteran. The trek was led by Bernie Rowell. Bernie is an expert on the Kokoda campaign, and he was able to illustrate the placement of Australian and Japanese forces as well as demonstrate in detail the strategies and tactics employed by both sides at each battle site.
At the end of the Trek the group visited Bomana Cemetery outside Port Moresby. It was a very moving experience; the cemetery is very well maintained by the Australian War Graves Commission.
Peter and Ray are in the club most Thursday evenings and if you are interested to know more about their adventure just approach them; they will be more than happy to talk to you