62 Wooden sticks stand alone, on top of a steep grassy knoll near the middle of the Kokoda track. Each one represents a fallen soldier who died during the battle of Brigade Hill which took place here some 74 years ago. Buried here on a lonely hill during the height of the Kokoda campaign they were eventually moved in 1944 to the Bomana war cemetery where they remain now.
A small brass plaque commemorating those that fell here acknowledges the ultimate sacrifice paid by the young men who tried to hold this position against such odds. Standing here looking down the steep sided ridge and out across the valley, it is impossible to conceive how the Australians and Japanese were able to effectively move through such steep terrain let alone engage in warfare with each other. This is the site of a fierce battle, “The Battle of Brigade Hill.” Stories of heroic feats and of hand to hand combat with soldiers “dug into their fox holes” holding their position, shoulder to shoulder, not willing to give an inch, “cause I can’t let my mates down!” So many lives lost, in this one spot. Young boys, never to return home to their families and loved ones. It’s eerily quiet and ironically peaceful here now.
It’s such a fitting place for a small group of 6 trekkers who gather to pay their respects by holding a memorial service and give thanks. The group was made up of Tamara who had trekked Kokoda 2 years ago and now she was back with her partner Dion. It was Dion’s turn to experience the track and the connection Tamara had made before. Honouring her grandfather who recently passed away and was wounded here during the Kokoda campaign made the journey very personal. Like Tamara, Graham had trekked Kokoda 5 years ago and he too had returned, but this time with his son Alex who in his final year of high school is nearly the same age as some of the boys who fought and died here.
Enya from South Australia and Sujan from the U.K. rounded out the group, both here to challenge themselves and to learn and understand more about the diggers and their efforts.
A delayed flight from Port Moresby to Poppondetta saw us leaving Kokoda very late on the first afternoon and push on to Deniki just before sunset. The following day we travelled through Isurava and conducted a memorial service there before travelling through an area affected by a large landslide just a few days previously. A large section of the mountain had slid away taking all of the large trees and vegetation leaving only large boulders and bare earth behind.
Setting off early on day 4 gave us time to visit the B25 Bomber site and travel through to Myola lakes. The extra effort was certainly worthwhile as the contrast of the vast open grass land surrounded by the steep mountain ranges and thick dense forest is an amazing sight to see. Used during the war as a supply drop point for food and ammunition it is a hard to imagine the level of courage and control needed by the pilot and crew to drop down over the mountains into this small grassy bowl, jettison their precious cargo and to pull up in time to avoid crashing into the surrounding hills.
As our porters come from the village of Kagi, we stayed there an extra night to allow them to observe the Sabbath at home with their families. Making the most of the rest day, being invited to attend their church service and experience village life with the porters and their families and the children singing to us were certainly some of the highlights of the trip.
The next few days saw us continue our way South towards Port Moresby and during this time the group experienced and shared many moments along the way.
Alex learned how to conserve supplies in the jungle. Namely ration his remaining snacks and limited toilet paper. (Remember dude- Fold, don’t scrunch!) I think the porters are still laughing at that demonstration on the track.
Enya managed to dig deep when needed and shared reading duties of the one book she had on the trip with Sujan aka. Gandalf.
For Graham, Dion and Tamara, the trip gave them the chance to say goodbye to loved ones. To reflect on and share memories with the group of special times and moments from their lives.
Finishing at Owers Corner and looking back along the mountain ranges that we had passed over is an emotionally sobering and satisfying feeling, leaving mixed emotions on personal achievements and experiencing the environment that the soldiers had to endure.
Visiting Bomana on our way back to Port Moresby was like closing a book on a very memorable story. The combination of learning about the Diggers and the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, being challenged outside of their comfort zone and truly walking in the footsteps of heroes makes standing in the middle of the Bomana War Cemetery a truly special experience. The 3779 headstones here each represent a precious life lost during the campaign. The call of the Last Post across the lawns here during our last memorial service was like a final goodbye and a fitting way to say thank you and farewell to those that paid the ultimate sacrifice on foreign soil for our freedom. With the trekkers being given time to wonder through the grounds and reflect on the enormity of the loss of life and Father and son, partners and new best friends all shared the falls and mud, tears and laughter. It’s all part of the Kokoda experience.
To the trekkers – Thanks for being part of honouring the diggers and the local people along the way, for allowing yourself to be challenged and overcome your doubts/fears. There are many lessons to be learned on the track about the war and ourselves and how to dig deep when you would normally give up.
To the Porters and the PNG operations team- Each time we come back it is like meeting our brothers again! You do an amazing job and you keep the spirit of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels well and truly alive. We could not do this without you. Thank You for looking after us and for sharing your special part of the world with us!
To “The Track” and those that served there – You will always be etched in the minds of those that have experienced this trip leaving great memories and emotions to last a lifetime.
“Nothing will ever be the same again in Papua. Anyone who toiled over the Owen Stanley Range in wartime knows it will never be the same sweet smelling jungle track where man and his indecencies were almost unknown. It is a trail of blood and iron now and in the memory of its generations, will remain so……..” Dr. Geoffrey Vernon – 39th Btn
Until next time……