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A Bougainvillean song to the Papuan

The young men, black and white, who saved Papua

John Fowke - JOCJOHN FOWKE

MRS SHORT, NA OL LAIN OLI gat intres ya, it is well to remember that the original regiments of Australian soldiers to arrive in Port Moresby were not volunteers. They were conscripts forced into service by martial law then prevailing.

As were the carriers and labourers - those many Papuan men who supported the Australian soldiers on the famous Kokoda Track, and in Port Moresby and at Milne Bay.

Besides carrying supplies and wounded men, these  Papuan conscripts were employed building Army camps and digging drains and pit latrines out at 6 Mile and elsewhere.

Our familiar Jackson's Airport was upgraded from a tiny dirt landing-ground to a major airstrip capable of landing DC3's and other large aircraft. Upgraded by these same Papuan conscripts, equipped with shovels, picks and wheelbarrows.

The young Aussies were youths who had not volunteered to serve in the AIF. They were lads who had remained in their jobs as office-boys, apprentices, labourers and farm-boys until they were compelled to enter training for service in a militia brigade.

Australia's mature, well-trained, volunteer-manned infantry force had been sent to support British troops in North African and Mediterranean countries invaded by Germany soon after hostilities began in 1939.

These other young men, untrained and unwilling, were all that was left in Australia to form a second fighting force.

Under law it was illegal for an Australian militia detachment to be deployed overseas, but as Papua was an Australian Protectorate it was deemed to be of similar status as mainland Australia and on this basis the young militiamen were embarked and taken to Port Moresby.

They were a very discontented lot when they realised that they had been tricked, and what they were expected to do. They showed their anger by looting houses, shops and the Anglican Church in downtown Port Moresby soon after their arrival. Eventually their mainly elderly, superannuated officers managed to settle things down.

The young white-men soon found friends in the shape of the conscripted Papuan labourers and carriers who served beside them in the thick of battle.

Both sides saw that they had much in common, and they shared smokes and biscuits and mugs of tea along the track, at the same time learning something of each others customs and world-view.

Here was the beginning of the legend of Kokoda which we recall every year. It represents a real bond between two peoples, established in the heat of battle, and we do ourselves and those brave men, black and white, a great injustice if we lose sight of the reality of this period in our common history and our primary and secondary school-syllabus.

For their part the Papuans had been rounded up by Patrol Officers in their villages everywhere from Daru in the west to East Cape. As the census roll was called, each male with hair under his arms, excluding those with grey or white hair on their heads, was lined up and loaded aboard a waiting vessel. These brought them to Port Moresby and several years of often-dangerous service with the Australian Army.

The friendship and understanding between black and white conscripts blossomed and led to an association which was set down in a poem published in the Australian Womens Weekly magazine in 1943. Here the unforgettable name "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels” was coined and came into common use

The young Australians, when faced with the Track and the reality of Japanese opposition to their advance, changed overnight, and with the seasoned soldiers who returned from the Middle East months later, established the legend of Kokoda-Buna with great bravery and not a few losses as well as numbers of badly wounded.

It is sobering to reflect that at Bomana, more than 9,000 Australian servicemen and women lie buried. These are those whose bodies were found. Others lie in Lae and at Rabaul, but a few still remain where they fell or crashed from the sky, unseen and lost forever.

There is no officially-designated and consecrated burial ground for the Papuans and New Guineans of the military labour force who fell beside their Australian and American allies in the war.

Those men who were already members of the two territorial police forces and the Papuan Infantry Battalion are in possession of medals awarded and received service pensions on retirement from their employment in peacetime.

There have been efforts within PNG to recognise the Angels, but the process has not run smoothly.

I am aware for instance of the aged father of a friend of mine, an old Angel from the Malalaua area of Gulf, who often made trips to Port Moresby when rumours of medals and parades were about, but he never met with a welcome and the recognition he deserved. He died a disappointed old man three years ago.

Over the last three years, I have contributed several article to PNG Attitude dealing with WW2 and PNG.

I have written two or three times about the Fuzzy Wuzzies, the Australians and the war in PNG, the part played by native police and soldiers in the war, about the hangings at Higaturu and about the late Tommy Kabu, who learned much from his wartime experience and came back to be a real and not-forgotten pioneer of village-based enterprise.

I should be glad to email these articles to anyone interested. zaukave@optusnet.com.au will find me.

Comments

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Bryant Allen

Phil Fitzpatrick asked: "When the Japanese landed near Buna to start along the Kokoda track they brought Tolai carriers from Rabaul. These carriers did what their counterparts on the other side were doing for the Australians. Whatever happened to them?"

The Japanese carriers were not Tolais. They were indentured labourers from the Sepik, Madang and Morobe, working on Gazelle Peninsula plantations.

The Japanese told them they were taking them home, but instead delivered them to Gona, from where they carried to the top of the Owen Stanleys.

Some I have met said they could the lights of Moresby from up there.

To cut a long story short, most were captured by the Australian forces; some joined the PIR; some worked as labourers for the Australians.

Of those that survived, most did not get home until 1946 or 1947.

David Wall

John, this link might interest you:

http://deberigny.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/successful-and-dramatic-rescue-of-indian-prisoners-of-the-japanese-by-the-allied-intelligence-bureau-aib-sepik-party-in-february-1945/#comments

Phil Fitzpatrick

When these reluctant recruits arrived in Moresby the ships that brought them had been packed so badly that vital stores like tents, cooking gear and mosquito nets were at the bottom of the holds and couldn't be got at for days. When they were put to work as labourers they saw empty houses with nets and other gear inside and they broke into them to get it. Peter Ryan, for instance, spent three weeks in the Waigani swamps without a mosquito net or cooking gear.

Before Kokoda carriers along the Bulldog Track kept Kanga Force at Wau supplied. Supplies went up the Lakekamu River to Bulldog and then had to be carried for seven days to Wau through high terrain where night time temperatures dropped to near freezing. Bulldog is the subject of Vincent Eri's 1970 novel 'The Crocodile'.

When the Japanese landed near Buna to start along the Kokada track they brough Tolai carriers from Rabaul. These carriers did what their counterparts on the other side were doing for the Australians. Whatever happened to them?

Cygil Glasper
Cygil Glasper: You must have read the whole piece through. Either you are expressing some sort of opinion in an oblique manner, in which case people will wonder about you, or you don't properly comprehend what you read. Don't be frightened to say what you mean.

Yes I read the whole article. Merely that once again the mainstream has given us an entirely sanitized picture of World War II and the men and women who fought it.

Rarely will you see mention that both the chocos and the native bearers were largely coerced conscripts, that rioted and disobeyed orders and showed plenty of discipline problems through the campaign.

John Fowke

Cygil Glasper: You must have read the whole piece through. Either you are expressing some sort of opinion in an oblique manner, in which case people will wonder about you, or you don't properly comprehend what you read. Don't be frightened to say what you mean.

Peter Kranz: certainly young men in several parts of the Highlands were conscripted as carriers and labourers during the war.The same happened in all districts where there was action.
This is not news. Its just that the Kokoda/Buna campaign was the first real confrontation with Japanese, and that poem in Womens Weekly coined and publicised widely, and in an emotive way, the "Fuzzwuzzy" legend.

Tour operators who lead parties up and down the Trail- or the Track as we are advised not to call it- have made much of the story and have contrived to create the impression that the "Fuzzies" were drawn solely from those villages along the ??? Trail.

The late Danny Leahy went into the Southern Highlands and brought out men to build airstrips etc for ANGAU and the army and many caught a new form of dysentery from the coastal people they mixed with.

Some died. Others were nursed back to health on fresh meat soup which Danny caused to be made from his goats which were guarded faithfully, like all his goods, tools and house, throughout the war.

His neighbours in the villages below Kuta near the site of Haus Poroman made sure that nothing was touched.

Bob Cleland: No, I have never heard about any memorial to the indigenous servicemen or the carrier/labourer conscripts in Australia.

Maureen Wari

11th paragraph: '...had much in common, the young white men and conscripted Papuan labourers and carriers, shared smoke, biscuit and tea...'

It could be at this time that they also shared rice and bully beef? This diet has stuck to the Papuan coast to this day. Sentimental value, comfort food from bond shared.

Comforting to know the white boy found a genuine friend in a black boy or in the author's words: "real bond between two peoples, established in the heat of battle".

Thank you Mr Fowke for the story.

Cygil Glasper

They were a very discontented lot when they realised that they had been tricked, and what they were expected to do.

They showed their anger by looting houses, shops and the Anglican Church in downtown Port Moresby soon after their arrival. Eventually their mainly elderly, superannuated officers managed to settle things down.

Wait, what. You mean they weren't brave, noble, saintly, disciplined, heroic men proud merely to serve Australia in the spirit of self-sacrifice?

Anzac day lied to me?

Kevin O'Regan

John, just a bit of trivia and your phrase "Jacksons was upgraded from a tiny dirt airstrip and made capable of landing DC3's".

At the moment it is hosting a Russian made Antonov 124 for the LNG project for the next several months - maximum carrying capacity 150,000 kg; maximum take off weight fuel and load 405,000 kg.

If the early toilers that helped build this by wheelbarrow and pick, shovel etc could only envisage....

Peter Kranz

Tony - there are many hundreds of Indian soldiers buried at Bita Paka. Upwards of 10,000 were shipped to New Guinea - maybe many more.

I believe many were captured at Singapore and were interned at Rabaul. I agree this is an untold story.

http://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j37/indians.asp


Bob Cleland

John, do you know of any memorials or plaques recognising the 'angels' in Australia? Here's details of one of them:

Lieutenant Colin Richardson was severely wounded on the Kokoda Track. Although the front line medics assessed his survival chances as slim, they had him carried back to better medical facilities. Four Papuans carried his stretcher with care and tenderness.

Again, he was thought beyond help and others received treatment ahead of him in the triage assessment.

He was still alive, so was patched up and again stretchered towards Port Moresby. Miraculously, he recovered after a long period in Sydney's Concord Hospital.

He died, only last year, at the age of 91.

I had known Col for twenty-five years. He carried, deep within him, gratitude and acknowledgment of how his life was saved by those four 'angels'. I heard him speak of them on several occasions.

In 1996, he had this plaque cast and fixed to the front of the plinth of the WW I statue of a light-horseman, on the war memorial at Kenmore, a suburb of Brisbane.

David Wall

John, after I read your piece I came across the following:

http://www.pacificwar.org.au/KokodaCampaign/Chocos.html

Tony Flynn

I vaguely remember seeing the graves of Indian soldiers at Bomana. The story of how they came to PNG and in what capacity they fought the japanese would be interesting.

It is also interesting that they have never been mentioned in the war stories. It may have been a dream that I had, it was over 40 years ago.

Mrs Barbara Short

Thanks, John. There is so much that I don't know about World War II, especially in PNG.

Bit like Leonard, with his Bougainville War.

I was born in 1939 and nine of my uncles had been involved with the fighting in World War I so, as a young person, I heard more about that war than the Second World War.

But I have read a lot about World War II. I also remember a lovely old man from Manggai village who had served in the war and had a bullet wound on his back as his souvenir. He was my Fuzzy Wuzzy angel.

.

Peter Kranz

John - some local people were also conscripted from the Highlands. Rose's family has memories of the Kiaps rounding up people in Simbu at the time.

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