Japanese Surrender 15 August 1945

Bede and his Platoon were on Mt Shibarangau near Wewak on 15 August 1945. Bede was told that Colonel Hutchison, 2/3rd Battalion Commander, wanted to speak to him on the field telephone. When he answered, Col Hutchison said “The Japanese have surrendered but stand by your post.”

The general response from the Platoon was ‘We’ve heard that one before’ and they stayed in position, rifles trained toward the Japanese.

Two days later a Japanese soldier came in looking for boots for his Officer. When  asked what to do with him, Bede said “Sit him over near that  tree and give him a cup of tea.” The same thing happened when another soldier came in looking for cigarettes for his Officer. Once the Japanese soldiers sat down with their tea, the Platoon were back to there positions, ready for any Japanese action. The two prisoners were later taken away.

Over time 12,000 prisoners were placed on Mushu Island near Wewak and held there until Japanese ships came to take them home. Bede and others stayed on until January 1946 just in case the prisoners ‘cut up rough’. They didn’t.

In the weeks following the surrender, Bede built the Battalion Officer’s Mess and a sailing boat. The last he saw of the boat, when he was leaving, was as some New Guineans took it out to sea, loaded to the gunwales with food and anything else that could be scrounged from the departing Battalion.

This film from the Australian War Memorial collection shows  Japanese prisoners on Muschu Island meeting Australian soldiers as huts are prepared. It also shows the official surrender at Cape Wom, near Wewak on 13 September 1945. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/F07243/

Notes for a recorded interview conducted at RMC Duntroon on 30 October 2013

Background

Bede, can you please tell us a little about your life before joining the Army.

I was always gainfully occupied. I wanted to be a carpenter. I was apprenticed to a builder in my home town Whitton came to Canberra and worked as a carpenter on good money which I enjoyed. I met a lovely girl Joan at a dance in Tharwa. Life was great.

Why did you join the Army?

In 1940 I was called up as a universal trainee being 20 years old. I made the best of the situation from there on. Transferred to AIF in Port Moresby.

Prior to the war, were you in the militia?  If so, what sort of training did you receive?  Individual.  Collective.  Resources etc

No. You had to have private means of support or similar. As mentioned, I was gainfully occupied. Where I grew up, no militia depot in the area.

Which Bn were you sent to?  Did you have any say in this?

3 Inf Bn AMF. No, I would have preferred to be in the Engineers being a carpenter. On making many friends in the 3rd Bn, I wanted to stay there.

3 Inf Bn AMF Kokoda Track

2/3 Inf Bn AIF Aitape -Wewak

Did you have other family members in the Army?

Yes. Cpl Alf Tongs 56 Inf Bn AIF, later 2/1 Pnr Bn Balikpapan Borneo.

Pte Reg Tongs 2/20 Inf Bn AIF POW Malaya Japan.

My father No 1071 A Coy 13 Inf Bn AIF, WIA 13 May 1915 at Quinn’s Post, in a war to end all wars, 1914-18.

When were you told that you were going to New Guinea?

14 May 1942 at Saltash, Medowie area where14 Bde were. Given final leave, report back to wood chopping arena Sydney Showground 1200hrs 17 May 1942. Embarked on troopship Van Heutz 17 May 1942 Arrived Port Moresby 27 May 1942. Saw Joan and her family in Queanbeyan. No time to go home to see family in Whitton. Dad came to Sydney.

How did you feel about that?

Australia was at total war. I was a Sergeant, in most instances Platoon Commander10 Pl B Coy 3Bn. My father said, “For survival, learn the Art of Warfare,” which I did.

Arriving in New Guinea

When did your unit land at Port Moresby?

27 May 1942. (Tropical paradise?). By transport to Bootless Bay to set up defensive position and training, in kunai grass.  Unloaded ships, guarded airstrips, trained in savannah bush.

What sort of support was there at the time?

(Gen McArthur bought the American war machine with him, helped to save Australia.)  Australia was at total war. We looked on things as a continuation of the 1914-18 war. (CO 3 Bn 1914-18 vintage.) Fortunately we had been bought up to War Establishment, Bren LMGs, .45 Thompson Sub-machine Guns, web equipment, Bren Gun Carriers, etc,

Were you physically and mentally prepared to meet the challenge?

Yes. (Bully beef and biscuits amazing food!) We were young, well trained as infantry. An infantry soldier is adaptable, we could use our infantry weapons effectively. We were not trained for jungle warfare. We soon became adapted. (Learnt some from the Japanese – we thanked them.) Using our weapons as infanteers. Our survival.

What stories had you heard about the Japanese as jungle fighters?

Very little. Unstoppable. Maj Gen Gordon Bennett left Malaya with supposed story how to beat the Japanese? Told by Lieut at Moresby: Japs all short stature, wore glasses, fired small calibre weapon. Also unbeatable. (We proved him wrong.)

What equipment were you issued?

The going equipment of the time. .303 Service Rifle, .303 Bren LMG, .45 Thompson Sub-Machine Gun. HE36  Hand Grenade. 2 inch Platoon Mortar. Bn Mortar Pl 3 inch Mortar. MMG Pl Vickers .303. (All good.)

What were your initial thoughts on seeing the terrain and experiencing the tropics?

We were young with many friends. Australia at total war, the tropics our station. We would have liked to fight in savannah country, however, I became accustomed to jungle warfare. (I liked the jungle, tree orchids, colourful butterflies, foliage.)

Were you able to do any training before moving forward?

Yes. (3 Bn) Mainly for open-type warfare. Savannah country out from Moresby. No jungle (thanks to brilliant command in Moresby). Plenty of .303 for rifle and Bren practice, .45 Sub-Machine Gun.

Your first CO was LTCOL Paul, who was a WWI officer and fell out near the ‘golden stair case’.  Was physical robustness vital in leaders?

Yes. In Australia CO rode a horse. In Moresby area rode around in ‘battle buggy’ (as troops called vehicle). We marched to keep fit.  Troops queried CO.

Col Paul 53. Col Cameron 35. Bede 22. My Dad at Gallipoli 22 in 1915.

On the Track

Initial contact intense Japanese fire, stay in cover then open up with your intense rapid fire (A winner)

Principles of War

Vital. Lead by example. Lead from the front. Respect your enemy. Fire power not men’s bodies modern battles were won. Exploit success. Never reinforce failure. Keep up momentum.

Were you always aware of the aim of the mission and did you receive clear and frequent orders?

Yes, from my CO Lt Col Alan Cameron direct. I would and did always obey impossible orders. I would never obey an unreasonable order. Many of these unreasonable orders came from my Company Commander, never from my CO.

How much did your section and platoon spread out once you were on the Track?

Very little fighting on Track. Mainly virgin jungle. On Track single file, distance between soldiers as warranted. Forward scout, second scout then me (CO Pl). Always ready for instant action.

Was there close cooperation between the sections and platoons in terms of supporting each other?

Yes. As much as jungle density allowed. Mainly close quarter fighting, 20-25 paces from enemy in jungle. I never lost a forward scout in the Kokoda Track and Beyond Campaign 3 Bn, or with 2/3 Inf Bn AIF Aitape-Wewak campaign.

Were you able to deceive the enemy as to the location of your actual position?

Enemy hard to pinpoint, to deceive. That is, to deceive them, you had to know where they were. As Platoon or Patrol Commander, once found, we got stuck into the bastards. No pussy-footing, which proved the way to fight.

Were you able to adapt rapidly to the ever changing conditions?

Yes. Our firepower on contact was accurate and successful. Rapid fire.

Did your morale change while you were on the Track?  If so, why do you think this was the case?

No. Australia was at total war. We never lost our spirit to win.

Principles of Leadership

Were your officers and SNCO well trained and proficient in their duties?

The one’s who had stuck to Army pamphlets and trained and attended schools and courses were good.

Some Officers thought they knew everything, were discarded and were a menace to have around for front-line activity.

Do you think that the officers in the battalion tried to learn new things and adapted to the changing conditions?

The intelligent one’s did.

Did the officers lead by example and aim to set the standard?

Some did.

Did your battalion get AIF officers allocated to it? If so, what qualities did they bring that were not as evident or good in the militia officers?

No allocation of AIF Officers. Some 16 Bde soldiers told me they were surprised to see Officers in Port Moresby area who had been sent back from Battalions in the Middle East as SNARLERS. (Services No Longer Required.)

Were the officers able to give clear orders and explain the overall situation?

Not really. NCO’s were main. Most jungle action was instant. I always had set things for the Pl to do for example, when we sprung an enemy ambush, go to right side of Track. I knew then where all my soldiers were. Very little time to talk and jungle thickness for deployment and passing messages. By knowing what to do there was instant action between one’s eye and trigger finger.

Were the soldiers looked after by their officers?

In most instances. NCO’s generally closer to the soldiers.

Did you have the opportunity to use your own initiative?

My survival and members of my Pl’s survival was through me and my initiative. I applied my training from good Army courses and Army pamphlets and it worked.

Were the officers clear and decisive in their actions?

My chief Officer contact was Lt Col Alan Cameron, CO 3 Inf Bn. I was a friend of his, even though we first met on the Track. I always obeyed his orders.

Did you experience any bad officers in the 3rd Battalion? If so, why were they bad officers in your estimation?

They never had the stomach for a fight. Lacked moral courage. One of our first B Coy OC. The other Pl Com A Coy patrol, Mount Bellamy.

Do you think the officers expected more from you than you could deliver?

The only Officer I had full confidence in was Lt Col Alan Cameron CO 3 Inf Bn and I delivered everything he expected and more.

Did you feel that you were part of a team or just a group of individuals fighting together?

As an infantry battalion team. As Pl Comd, 10 Pl, I was in sole command and worked with 3 Bn CO.

To the best of their ability, did the officers keep you informed?

The CO 3 Inf Bn and Intelligence Section were my informants. I was a good friend of IO and I Sgt.

Battle of Gona

10 Pl B Coy 3 Bn. After crossing Kumusi River 18 November 1942, Col Cameron said to me, “Bede take your Pl up Kumusi for stray Japanese. After 2 days go to Popondetta to find out where 3Bn and join.” I re-joined 3 Bn 26 November 1942.

When did the 3rd Bn arrive at Gona? What day did your battalion attack? Why was it unsuccessful? How would you describe the Japanese defences?

I was told 3 Bn at Gona Mission area and Jumbora area. 24 November. I do not know of their activity. Col Cameron told me the 3rd was always in their allotted position. Brig Dougherty, Brig 21 Bde (later Sir Ivan) always praised the 3rd Bn. On re-joining 3 Bn I had malaria, scrub typhus and yellow fever. Sent back to Fld Amb Popondetta. No evacuations under 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

What was the battalion’s strength in officers and men on arrival in new Guinea. What was your strength after the battle of Gona?

On arrival in Port Moresby, close to 1,000 soldiers (World War 1 establishment.) 5 September 1942 560 advanced onto the Kokoda Track. 4 December 1942 Gona Bn withdrawn, 110 answered the roll call.

I was evacuated back from Popondetta strip by biscuit bomber USA ‘Chatanooga Choo Choo’, to 2/2 CCS Koitaki for treatment. Then to Con Depot. Back to Australia January 1943. (Recovered from malaria, scrub typhus and yellow fever.) `

General

What were your thoughts when you engaged the enemy for the first time?

Our infantry training came to the fore. Rifle range, assault courses, live ammunition training and practice. I am going to survive. We had good weapons. Firepower not men’s bodies, put into practice.

Did you feel any grief for killing Japanese soldiers?

No. We agree to no quarter after seeing a decapitated Australian’s skeleton. We carried out the Law of the Jungle, kill or be killed.

Did you lose any close friends on the Track?

Yes. Every 3Bn Soldier KIA, DOW or Illness was my friend. My very best friend, Sgt Bob Taylor was KIA Gona 29 November 1942. 3 Bn withdrawn from action Gona 4 December 1942.

What sort of medical treatment did you need and what did you get?

Our Regimental doctor Dr M Dan and his orderlies were efficient and did their best under adverse circumstances. We had what medication was prevalent at the time but could have had more.

How were you resupplied once on the Track?

Survival supplies. Command at Port Moresby was cursed by Soldiers on lack of quantity to allow for dropping in jungle terrain. Loss, also variety. Luckily ammunition kept up. More hand grenades would have helped.

You have commented that whilst the 3rf Inf Bn was in a position to enter Kokoda Village, but the Militia were held back so that an AIF Bn could be the first to enter the village.  How did this make you feel?

As spoken by 3rd Bn Front-Line Soldiers, whose life was on the line. Front-Line Soldiers were not fools. On leaving Alola, 3 Bn was ordered by Brig Eather, 25 Bde, to Kokoda through rough terrain. Bush-bashing the 3 Bn Soldiers called it. Known in the 3 Bn that an AIF Bn was to be first into Kokoda. (2/31 Bn) However, when B Coy 3 Bn came out of the jungle onto the top end of Kokoda Airstrip, Col Cameron ordered them back into the jungle and to wait until 2/31 Bn Soldiers could be observed in Kokoda area. (Afternoon of 2 November 1942.). The Australian Flag was raised in Kokoda on 2 November 1942 by Pte Merv Shea, 3 Bn, of Yass.

I did not go from Alola to Kokoda with the rest of the Battalion. The story of my patrol from Alola to Kokoda via Savaia village (1 to 4 November 1942) can be found at wp.me/p2pRor-2s

Re-joined 3 Bn near Oivi on 5 November 1942. 3 Bn then joined the 2/3 Bn in the battle for Oivi until 11 November 1942. My Platoon, 10 Pl, occupied Oivi.

Kokoda Track Foundation Dinner 2013. Ralph Honner Oration. Capt Bede Tongs MM

Thank you Patrick, thanks Dr Gen Nelson, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and fellow soldiers of the Kokoda Track and as Patrick mentioned, from 10 Platoon of B company 3rd Battalion tonight is Lt Colin Richardson, Owen Baskett and myself. We were all members of 10 platoon in the battle at Templeton’s Crossing.

Now, I’ll talk about survival first. My survival is alertness, sense of humour and being with lovely people as tonight. That’s survival.

Firstly, I want to pay my respects to the four Front Line Battalion Commanders who paid the supreme sacrifice in action for this great country of ours, Australia, in the Kokoda Track and Beyond Campaign. And to all gallant Australian’s in the Navy, Army, Airforce and gallant people of Papua New Guinea who died for our great country.

Our gallant Battalion Commanders who died:

Lt Col W T Owen 39th Battalion. Mortally wounded in action at Kokoda on 29th July 1942, aged 37. Buried at Bomana War Cemetery.

Lt Col A S Key 2/14th Battalion. Captured at Eora Creek in August, died 10th September 1942, aged 36. Commemorated on the Memorial Plaque at Bomana War Cemetery.

Lt Col K H Ward, 53rd Battalion. Killed in Action at Eora Creek on 27th August 1942, aged 39. Buried at Bomana War Cemetery.

Lt Col J Miller. Previously Second in Command 2/1st Battalion and then given Command of 2/31st Battalion from Lt Col Dunbar On 7th November 1942, died from illness, scrub typhus, Gona area, 14th December 1942, aged 38. Buried at Bomana War Cemetery.

They were all young Commanders.

Jungle warfare was a young Soldier’s war, a young Commander’s war.

It is no place for a Commander to be miles behind the Firing Line, away from where the real action is being carried out, carrying a shiny leather swagger stick, saying ‘Tally Ho the Fox!’, ‘Jolly Good Show!’, ‘Some more ice in my whisky!’

Commanders at all levels need to be where the Front Line Soldier expects him to be, close to the action. Allowing for various levels to be in a safe area where applicable.

Leadership comes from the very top. When command is mentioned the name and position of the General needs to be mentioned. For the Soldier to lay down his life he responds to orders known to have originated from an Officer he has complete trust and confidence in.

One who, besides asking, is not afraid to do.

In most instances, Soldiers look on Command as something mythical, something without substance. That is why it is important for names and positions to be always mentioned. Also for the General to show more appreciation of the Soldier’s efforts in the field, through Liaison Officers or such and personal effort.

I was selected to attend a number of Army Schools and Courses also attended by Officers and NCO’s from various Units. The main one was the Eastern Command Training Course at Studley Park near Camden in June 1941. The Instructors were AIC Soldiers, the Australian Instructional Corps. The course included instruction on supporting arms and weapons, all Infantry tactics, operational orders, appreciations and other battle plans.

Selection for courses continued when I was a Sergeant in the 2/3rd Infantry Battalion, the Commanding Officer Col Ian Hutchison MC. Col Hutchison’s daughter, Mrs Susan Ramage, a keen supporter of the Kokoda Track Foundation, is here tonight. Col Hutchison selected me to attend the 16th Brigade Tactical School. The Officer in Command was Major Charlie Green of the 2/2nd Battalion. Later Lieutenant Colonel, he Commanded the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in Korea, however he died of wounds in October 1950 from a wound caused by shrapnel from an artillery shell.

The Schools gave a technical side to Leadership. As a Front-line Platoon Commander, I adhered to the following:

NEVER ASK A SOLDIER TO DO WHAT YOU WOULD NOT DO YOURSELF

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

APPLY THE ART OF WARFARE

KEEP SMILING AS THERE IS STRENGTH IN A SMILE

MAINTAIN ALERTNESS

HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE YOUR ENEMY

RESPECT YOUR ENEMY

LEAD FROM THE FRONT

EXPLOIT SUCCESS

NEVER REINFORCE FAILURE

KEEP UP THE MOMENTUM

MY FAITH WAS MY STRENGTH

It is with firepower not men’s bodies that modern battles are won. I trained my Platoon Soldier’s in what was known as Fire and Movement. The firepower from a Front-line infantry Platoon was intense and deadly. Jungle warfare in virgin jungle 20 to 25 paces apart. anybody who has been in the jungle, the virgin jungle, it is 20 to 25 paces apart.

The Japanese Service Rifle was .256 calibre and had 5 bullets in the magazine. Our Service Rifle was .303 with 10 bullets in the magazine. The Bren Light Machine Gun used the same 303 rounds as our Rifle and had 25 rounds in the magazine. The Thompson Sub-machine Gun – the one the gangsters used in America – was .45 calibre with 15 rounds in the magazine.

We also had Hand Grenades with a 4 second fuse and 2 inch Mortars. They were all very effective in the hands of determined, trained Soldiers. My Soldiers were always ready for action, instant action, there was no time to think about it.

THERE WAS INSTANT ACTION BETWEEN YOUR EYE AND YOUR TRIGGER FINGER. You saw something and you fired, otherwise the other bloke got you.

The 3rd Inf Bn advanced onto the Kokoda Track on 5th September 1942. Our Bn Commander Lt Col Paul was 53 years of age. The first decent climb in the mud and slush near Uberi he could go no further.

We were fortunate when our old Commander was replaced by a young Commander, Lt Col Alan Cameron who was 33 years old, an active CO. Col Cameron had temporarily led the 39th Battalion between the death of Col Owen and the arrival of Col Honner.

Twice a year I attend an Army Reserve Officer Training module at RMC Duntroon where the participants learn about the Isuarava Battle. The mud-map shows the placement of the 39th Battalion at Isurava as Col Cameron had set it up and Col Honner adopted that plan for the battle.

When Col Cameron returned from Isuarava he took over the 3rd Battalion. We worked well together. He knew I would do what was asked of me and more and I knew that he would back me up against unreasonable or incompetent leadership.

Soldiers of the 3rd Bn were critical of High Command for allowing a Commanding Officer 53 years of age to be in Command of a young Soldier’s Unit, in a young man’s war.

I was 22 years of age when I went onto the Kokoda Track. My father George Tongs, was with the 13th infantry Battalion. He landed at Gallipoli 22 years of age on 25th April 1915. These are replicas of dad’s medals, he went on to be wounded at Quinn’s Post in 1915.

The youngest soldier in the Bn was Joe Rorkin (Rovkin) of Sydney, Joe was a volunteer 16 years of age. He was wounded in action at Templeton’s Crossing on 18th October – on the 18th of October – but died on 10th November from his wounds.

The oldest soldier was George Clark. George was 61. I was good friends with George. He had been a regular soldier in England. In 1912 he arrived in Perth as an Instructor with the 16th Infantry Battalion, he went to war with the 16th in 1914 and returned after the end of the war in 1918. He continued to be a regular soldier in Perth. In 1939 authorities in Perth knew his proper age. He arrived in Sydney and sailed with the 2/1st Bn to the Middle East.

George Clark’s story to me from there on is in the Middle East there were a number of 14-18 soldiers and at a parade they were ordered to wear their Campaign ribbons, seeing there were so many 14-18 soldiers amongst them. When the inspecting officer came to George Clark, besides having 14-18 ribbons, he also had ribbons from the Boer War which was fought from 1899 to 1902. George would have been 18 years old in 1899.

George was sent back to Australia immediately and somehow managed to join the 3rd Bn and saw action with us on the Kokoda Track.

We were fortunate to have an old soldier with us. At one instance on Ioribaiwa Ridge, when we were being shelled by a Japanese artillery piece and had some casualties, George was wandering about saying, ‘Don’t worry boys, it’s only a 2 pounder.’

The inspiration gained from that old soldier was great.

There were two types of orders that I would receive. An unreasonable order or an impossible order. I would not obey an unreasonable order. I would and did obey impossible orders given by Colonel Cameron.

An unreasonable order. The 3rd Inf Bn led the advance from Ioribaiwa at the start of October 1942. We came to the village of Naoru and later in the afternoon, our Company Commander said, ‘On reaching the next village, Menari, tomorrow a number of huts were still standing and because of the bad hygiene of the Japanese, they had to be burnt.’

Next morning, 5th October, before we left, this Company Commander added a rider, ‘No eating before one o’clock.’ We left at about 0700 hours. At about 10.30 we arrived at Menari. I had 32 soldiers in 10 Platoon and they were good. We immediately set about igniting the existing structures. About half past eleven, I discovered a clean 4 gallon bucket and said to two soldiers, ‘Take this down to the creek, bring up a couple of gallons of water and boil the billy.’

A little while later we made some tea and I was giving 8 soldiers at a time a drink of tea as they had been working very hard and our morning ration of bully beef and biscuits was all we had had to eat. On the second issue of tea, an irate Company Commander came up and said to me ‘Sgt Tongs, didn’t I tell you no eating before one o’clock?’ I said. ‘This is not eating sir, we are just having a cup of tea.’ He said to me, ‘Tip it out!’ I said  ‘I’m not going to tip it out.’ He said again ‘Tip it out!’ which I refused to do. He ordered a soldier close by to tip it out, the soldier shook his head.

The  Company Commander was walking over to where the tea was warming near a fair batch of coals, it looked as if he was going to kick the bucket of tea over with his foot. But in the meantime the remainder of the Platoon was closing around in a semi-circle. Nobody had ordered them to do so but they were doing it. They were closing in and if the company commander had tipped that tea over he would have been thrown into the fire without any hesitation whatsoever.

He walked away and when he did some bright spark offered him a mug of tea. He didn’t even shake his head, he just stormed off.

That was one of his unreasonable orders, I don’t have time to give other examples.

I was given impossible orders by Colonel Cameron.

On the afternoon of 5th of October, the afternoon of the tea incident, the Bn runner found me at about 1700hrs and said, ‘Colonel Cameron wants to see you at Bn HQ.’ I went up and Colonel Cameron said to me ‘Bede the Japanese have disappeared on the Track.’ He repeated, ‘The Japanese have disappeared on the track. I want you to take a patrol forward and find them.’ He was very definite in using the word ‘find’.

He said, ‘The patrol leaves tomorrow morning at 0700hrs consisting of eight soldiers, two to come back one full days march from Menari.’ Then he talked to me about the route out from where we were at Menari. Up through Efogi, North Efogi, Kagi, head towards the track between Kagi and Templeton’s Crossing. He said. ‘Find the Japanese and report their position and strength.’ I saluted him and said ‘Yes Sir.’

On all my exploits with the Platoon, if I knew something in advance of an activity the following day, I never told the soldiers, I let them have a good night’s rest and told them after first light the next morning.

After stand down the next morning, I selected the eight. I’d already worked out who I was going to take. There was no problem with these fellows, they were all good and keen to go. I said ‘At 0700hrs we move forward on this patrol, get your ammunition and rations from the QM.’

These eight soldiers were raring to go, they were pretty well jumping out of their skin. We saw the Colonel and he wished us well. I saluted him and away we went. Every step those soldiers took was taking them closer to the Japanese and a step away from their own protection.

On the way to Kagi, on Brigade Hill, we went around a bend and there were some skeletal remains of Australians, probably six or eight, in stretchers on the side of the track. They looked as though the carrying party had been ambushed or hunted off because the stretchers were in line with one another and the skeletons in the stretchers were just bones with bits of khaki. Up in the mountains, between the rats and the large cockroaches it didn’t take much time for a skeleton to be cleaned.

We left the identification discs on them because I knew other soldiers would eventually come to look after them.

We went on from North Efogi and we climbed a pretty fair climb to Kagi. As we were going up to Kagi, we came across eight or twelve Japanese on the right-hand side of the track. They all appeared to be dead. They had no water, they had no weapons. At times the Japanese either deserted or cast aside [their own soldiers] they always looked after their front-line troops though. These fellows had probably been deserted.

We were still on the move and as our patrol went away one Japanese sat up with a grenade in his hand but luckily there was another patrol from the 3rd Bn coming behind led by Sgt Hogan. He detached a couple of soldiers. The Japanese was too weak to throw the grenade and they took the grenade from him, cleaned him up and I believe he was rescued and taken back.

The patrol of Con Hogan’s was to go from Kagi to the left through the Seregina Valley and link up to Alola. I believe that if that patrol had been carried out to completion, we would have successfully outflanked the Japanese.

I took my patrol into Kagi, there were two huts still standing and in one hut – we always approached these things carefully – as I approached the hut, a man from Buka, over New Britain way, came out, he was moving pretty well, but inside the hut were two other Buka bois, one had been shot in the instep the other had been shot in the foot and they couldn’t move as their legs were so badly inflamed and they said that when they became too sick to work, the Japanese shot them. They could speak English and said they were lucky because the Japanese generally shot them dead.

We put some field dressings on them and we were able to tell the patrol of Con Hogan and that got word back and those Buka bois were saved.

We kept going. From Kagi not much cover and you go slightly down before you start to climb again so we were very vulnerable. All we could do was to space ourselves out and hope that there was far enough distance between each one of us. We kept going and we passed the junction where the track went over into the Myola valley.

At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon on the seventh we decided it was time to stay and camp. We had camped at North Efogi on our way through on the first night. In the meantime we’d had a fair bit of torrential rain coming down and so we just moved off the Kokoda Track into a position in the jungle where, without being seen ourselves, we could observe the track forward and the track we came along.

At this stage there was myself and six soldiers. I had sent two back to inform the Battalion where we were. So there was just myself and six soldiers. We never tried to light a fire because we didn’t know where the Japanese were. Another thing it was very heavy rain. So all we did was move into the jungle, any word that was spoken had to be whispered because we weren’t too sure where the Japanese were but we formed a sort of  hollow circle and had some bully beef and biscuits and then we still had two sentries all night.

At dawn we moved off again at first light, the heavy rain had stopped. We had our meal of bully beef and biscuits and water and got going. We were extra cautious from here on. We had gone about two and a half hours and then the forward scout George Webb signalled me – my scouts were always volunteers there was no limit on the scouts time. I never put a limit on a scout, I told him he had all the time that he wanted to take.

Some patrol Commanders and other commanders limited Scouts to ten minutes, whatever it was, which was not the right way to go, because the scout was more interested in when his ten minutes was up than being alert. in one instance a forward scout was sent out as punishment by an officer. Needless to say, that scout was killed. Any scouts I used where always volunteers and there was no time set.

I never lost a Forward Scout or Second Scout in all my engagements with the enemy as a Platoon Commander with the 3rd Battalion on the Kokoda Track or in the Aitape-Wewak Campaign with the 2/3rd Infantry Battalion.

The formation I used was the forward scout, the second scout then myself, we were always taking as much cover as we could off the track but at the same time moving forward and George Webb gave me a signal to close on him.The signal to close was a clenched fist on top of his steel helmet. I went up to George and he pointed to a bump just off the track, and on this muddy bump were five squats as we called them. there were trees with large leaves.It appeared the Japanese were sitting there as a listening post. There was nobody there when George spotted the squats.

I got word to the rest of the soldiers to expect that the Japanese were about 150 yards further up the track, to be extra careful. So we took more cover in the jungle and we went forward and roughly at about 150 yards we were in the jungle just off the track far enough not to be hit by anything that was fired directly down the track. We were in the jungle and prepared for action, then all of a sudden we saw the Japanese as they saw us. We were only about 20 paces apart. they were on a ridge and we were going up the ridge towards them. Our immediate action was to engage the enemy and open up with rapid fire. That meant rapid fire from the rifles and the Thompson sub-machine gun. In this instance we had no Bren Gun with us.

We were fired on by the Japanese pretty well from right in front and we eased up a bit and they started firing again. I worked out there were approximately forty Japanese in that area. We gave them more fire and having discovered what I had to find out – their strength and location – we just faded away into the jungle. We had no casualties. I am not to sure whether we inflicted any upon the Japanese, if any. However, we disengaged from them on the morning of the 8th and we were still two days away from our Battalion. Myself and six soldiers.

When we disengaged we were very cautious on our route back, we pretty well went back along the route we came and got back to the Battalion on the afternoon of the 9th October and then of course Col Cameron saw us straight away and shook hands with all of the patrol and thanked them. I told him what we had found out which he was thankful for.

A little later he said, ‘Bede I want you to go back as a guide to ‘A’ Company patrol led by an Officer and they will be leaving pretty well straight away.’ So on the 10th I was on the move again. There was over 20 soldiers and a Lieutenant, and Sgt Armstrong was the Platoon Sergeant. But to cut a long story short eventually we came close to where the Japanese were on the squats. The squats were still there but there were no Japanese.

I said to the Lieutenant in charge of the Platoon, ‘The Japanese are only about 150 yards up the track, if I were you I’d take the two forward scouts off the track and let them have more cover as they move forward.’

He was a Lieutenant, I was a Sergeant. He looked at me and said This is my platoon, I’ll do as I wish.’ He wasn’t a very popular fellow anyhow but I tried to talk to the two forward scouts but he told me in no uncertain manner it was his patrol. I was unable to warn them to take more cover. As they advanced further forward there was a burst of fire from the Japanese position and the two forward scouts were killed.

One Section went forward and then Sgt Armstrong and I went through the jungle and we observed the two scouts bodies on the track. We were able to extricate the section of ten men.

We went back and this Lieutenant was really on the move. He didn’t carry out his instructions to fight the Japanese as he had been ordered by the Commanding Officer.

We eventually got back to the Battalion, they were on the move and were near North Efogi on the way to Myola and the first thing Colonel Cameron said to me was, ‘What gives, the two forward scouts killed!’, and I said to him, ‘The Officers no bloody good sir!’ All Col Cameron said was ‘He isn’t, is he?’  So that Officer was sent back from the 3rd Battalion, back to Port Moresby.

The thing there is that the fair dinkum soldier went forward with a chance of being killed and the Officer who had not performed was sent back out of the firing line and he survived.

But that was one of those impossible orders when Col Cameron said earlier to take the patrol forward and find the Japanese.

I was never idle. I was on patrols, attack, defence, close-quarter fighting 20 to 25 paces apart. On 18th October 1942 we were in action against the Japanese which we started on the 17th. the element of surprise was gone. We could hear them talk, they could hear us talk. They had one grenade which they used to tap, and sometimes you would hear this ‘tap, tap, tap’ and some of my fellows get very cheeky and would call out, ‘have a go you little so and so.’ And he’d oblige.

When we advanced onto the Kokoda Track on 5th September we went on through to Ioribaiwa. Col Cameron got our Company to go to the Spotter’s Hut which was about four hours to our left.

Not long after, I was involved in the extrication of the remnants of 2/14 and 2/16 Battalions. we bought them back to Ioribaiwa.

Another one, I was on a 5 day patrol from Imita Ridge back to Ioribaiwa. The Lieutenant in charge, Bill Dullard, of the first Section. I was in charge of the second Section. Bill Dullard went to the left, he was killed and three other Soldiers with him. I went to the right and we engaged the jJapanese. I had no casualties.

As I mentioned on the 17th october we started this attack at Templeton’s Crossing. we were pressing the Japanese back to Eora Creek. We were still in contact with them until Tuesday, the following tuesday the 20th. At 1700hrs a Platoon from the 2/1st Battalion came and relieved my 10 Platoon.

That’s where I met Col Cullen, later General, Paul Cullen. Col Cullen at the time, he always thanked me for setting up this firm base for the 2/1st of the 16th Brigade to go into Eora Creek.

When we got to Alola, I led a patrol along the foothills of Mt Thumb to protect the left flank of [the] advance of the Australian’s into Kokoda.

During that patrol, Col Cameron had mentioned that we [would] climb over the foothills of Mt Thumb, 8600 feet high. I looked at him and he said ‘It will be cold up there’ because our dress was khaki shorts and shirt and grey army pullover.

I came into a little village, there are a lot of stories there, but anyhow. We came into there and I was confronted with 18 papuans with bows and arrows. I had sixteen soldiers with me.

It was a bit of a rough confrontation for a while but anyhow we all ended up friends. I asked them the way to Kokoda they pointed it out and we arrived in Kokoda.

And then we went on to fight at a place called Oivi where the 2/3rd Battalion and 16th brigade were already engaged in a fight. Col Ian Hutchison was in command of the 2/3rd Battalion. He was very pleased to see us there to contribute to the battle.

On the 10th of November Col Cameron said to me ‘Bede, take your Platoon on patrol and find the left flank of the Japanese.’ A lot of patrols had been out and could not find anything so away we went and I found them about three hours later. One of my Sergeants was wounded.

The next day was the 11th November 1942, in those days it was known as Armistice Day and I led 10 platoon in the attack on Oivi and I also thought, my dad who had been wounded at Quinn’s Post, was in the war to end all wars and here was I, myself on this Armistice Day 42 leading this attack. Aanyhow it was successful.

We crossed the Kumusi river and then Col Cameron said to take a patrol up the Kumusi looking for stray Japanese. I came across some Americans and some time later I swung around a place called Popondetta where I left some of the soldiers who were sick.

On the morning of 29th november I saw Capt Dan, he was the Regimental Doctor. You had to have a temperature of 104 degrees before you could be evacuated from the front-line on account of the shortage of soldiers.

I don’t know what my temperature was. He pinned a tag on my shirt and told me to report back to the Field Ambulance at Popondetta about 30 miles away.

I was flown out from Popondetta for Port Moresby the morning of 30th November.

I was admitted that day to the 2/2nd CCS at Koitaki, I had malaria, scrub typhus and yellow fever. But I was still around.

560 men of the 3rd Battalion went on the Kokoda Track on 5th September, 110 answered the role call on 4th December at Gona Mission, when the 3rd Battalion was taken out of action. There was a lot of sickness. There were 53 killed in action, died of wounds, died of illness and close on 102 wounded.

People have asked me why do I keep going back to Papua New Guinea. I have been in New Guinea 9 times, Kokoda 8 times. The last time with my son Garry in November last year.

I landed there on 27th May 1942. I met these lovely Papuan people, there has been an evolution in the meantime, but all the time to me they are such lovely people and we can never thank them for how they helped us and died for us in those grim days of the Kokoda Track campaign and beyond.

To give you an idea how the country and people affected me, I passed that enthusiasm on to my son Garry who was fifteen years old when he first visited Papua New Guinea. And then later my wife Joan and I went up when Garry and his wife were in Mendi in the Southern Highlands.

I mentioned that I fought in the Aitape-Wewak campaign, 2/3rd Battalion.

I have also been able to experience being on the Track with my son and grandson David. In 1983 we trekked the Track, my grandson David was 12 years old, I was 63 and Garry was 37.

I was in Savaia, the village of Savaia where I was confronted with the Papuans, early in November last year and they made me Honorary Chief of Savaia. pigs teeth and all sorts of regalia, which was pretty good. We’re going back again. We took up some things for their school, chalk, exercise books, pencils, pencil sharpeners and so on. Stainless steel cooking utensils for the lovely women of Savaia and I’m looking forward to us both being there for the opening of the new Kokoda College next year.

We support The Kokoda Track Foundation and it is amazing the amount of activity and work that Dr Genevieve Nelson is doing and Patrick Lindsay.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

10 Platoon Patrol (16 men) from Alola to Kokoda. November 1942.

After the success of the Australian Forces at Templeton’s Crossing where the 3rd Infantry Battalion was the main participant, there was movement further along Eora Creek.  Units of the famous 16th Brigade pressed on chasing the Japanese on the right flank of Eora Creek and beyond to Oivi.  The 25th Brigade moved on to Gorari.  After a nights rest at the village of Alola, the main body of the 3rd advanced on a left flanking movement from Alola through Naro to Kokoda, despite an attempt by Brigadier Eather to slow it’s progress.

The role of 10 Platoon now was to patrol.  The CO sent the runner from BHQ to see me at B Company.  On reporting to the CO he explained the object of the patrol was to proceed along a rarely used native track which skirted Mt Thumb, came out of the high moss jungle-country and eventually reached Kokoda.  The CO told me that the Japanese may make use of this track from the direction of the Yodda Valley and menace the Australian left flank of the movement on Kokoda.  Information regarding the track was sparse.

I had 16 men all up and we still had out Platoon Bren guns (3), Thompson Sub machine carbines, 1 per section (3), 2 inch mortar and approximately 6 bombs.  The remainder carried the trusty .303 rifle with a good supply of ammunition, plus our ever reliable HE36 hand grenades with a 4 second fuse.  Amongst our weaponry was one HE36 grenade discharger cup.  I always carried a few .303 Ballistide cartridges for grenade discharge activity.   We had our normal ration issue for 5 days.

10 Platoon was in fine fettle, lithe and lean and with high morale.  I think the Platoon was happiest when on a definite role, which had been proven at the capture of Templeton’s Crossing when we were a Platoon in attack and against numerous savage Japanese counter attacks.  We won the battle and were now well blooded.

The village of Alola was a pretty place resting on the western side of Eora Creek, very high up and a long way down to the creek.  Across the valley was the village of Abuari with Missima further on to the east.  The 16th Infantry Brigade AIF were on the move through Abuari and Missima on the right flank of Eora Creek keeping the pressure on the Japanese.  A small banana plantation in Alola was the starting line for the 10 Platoon Patrol.  Lt Col Cameron told me to expect to climb over approximately 8600 feet through the moss forest on Mt Thumb.

For the first 3 hours, the native track was clear and fairly well used and then, like native tracks from villages, pretty well disappeared with only a human foot wide.  Going up we needed to have more breathing spells as perspiration was soaking us, even though the air was starting to get the crispness of higher altitude.  The track got to a stage of only being visible on tree roots, mainly through the healed scars of the bark which at some stage had been hacked off. Fortunately at the time of progress the scars were not fresh nor did the track show any recent signs of use.  We knew not to be over confident with these signs.

With extreme care and observation, using all our knowledge of bushcraft and the experience of close to 6 weeks of living and fighting in the Papuan jungle, knowing the ferocity of the Japanese, we advanced while proceeding cautiously.

I cannot express too strongly my admiration for the members of my 10 Platoon, Platoon Sergeant, Barry Flint and three section Commanders.  Proven brave and gallant soldiers.  The first days progress was drawing to a close.  We were now in amongst the moss jungle.  There was an eerie greenish light with the canopy of trees very high up and moss about six inches in length projecting straight out from the trees trunks and from the base of the trees to at least 10 yards up, moss on the trunks amongst the branches and on the tree branches.  A ‘ghostly sight’, one of the Platoon soldiers remarked.

We had no chance of lighting a fire and the altitude made us very cold.  We used all the clothing each one carried to try to keep ourselves warm.  We wore khaki shorts and shirt, Army pullover, had our 1/2 grey army issue blanket and a spare shirt which was wrapped around ones knees and issue groundsheet.  Dawn was welcome as we knew we would be warmer on the move.

The second day in the moss forest jungle, there was a damp, foggy mist and still the eerie greenish light mixed with some rays from the beams of penetrating sunlight.  The going was slow, as we had to watch our step and if you did not step into the available tree root next in front, you would sink up to your knees and sometimes to your waist in decaying leaf mould.  Probably centuries old.  I have often since thought it could have been disastrous if one or more of the Platoon had sunk out of sight.

We just had to be very careful as the roots were very wet and slippery.  It was hard, tough going especially for the soldier carrying the LMG Bren. We all shared a turn in carrying (a Bren weighed 23 pounds) and with the projecting pieces of metal, it was an awkward weapon to shoulder.

At times for an extra steep climb, each Bren was dismantled into the basic groups of barrel, body and butt.  Fortunately, being only a group of 16 we were able to keep up, meaning no stragglers, something which occurs with large numbers in a single file column.  In mountain and jungle, movement could become spread out.  The tail end of a column always has a job to keep up, even on flat, dry country going, let alone the mud slush and steep climbs of the Papuan tracks.

We were pleased to see more daylight penetrating the jungle and less moss on the trees.  These characteristics meant that we were gradually leaving the moss forest behind, and were more on the way down. Even the track became more recognisable and slightly wider, but with no fresh marks indicating enemy activity. Here again came the strangeness of Papuan jungle tracks.  A real track when approaching or leaving a village and then it virtually disappears.

Of all my activities in the Owen Stanley Ranges Kokoda Track, the Patrol through the high moss forest was the quietest, most tranquil and eerie march experience.  We were all wet, cold and hungry.  Wet to our waist through slipping into damp leaf mould, wet shirts through perspiration and brushing against wet moss, tree leaves and branches.  The physical effort of movement in the Papuan jungle going up or coming down made one perspire even though your clothing was being more or less water cooled.

The thick, long moss really tricked us as a method of estimating whereabouts and direction.  In the Southern Hemisphere the most moss growth is on the south side of a tree, up in the moss forest jungle the moss was the same length and density all around the tree trunk.  We still had the odd glimmer of sunshine to use for direction but scarred roots were our real direction of the track.

At approximately 0800hrs on our third day out from the village of Alola, 10 Platoon came down out of the moss jungle and entered a small native village.  Our main concern being to light a fire and have a meal of whatever we could concoct from the rations we carried plus, of course, a drink of tea.  The village was checked out and found to be unoccupied but the inhabitants could not be far away.

Two upright timber posts were side by side and freshly covered in Japanese characters, signifying the Japanese had been in the Village and somehow or other, two had died.  Our CO appeared to have been correct in assuming the possibility the track could have allowed the Japanese to menace the advance of the Australian troops toward Kokoda.  A fire was lit and the billy was boiled.  The drink of tea, plus bully and biscuits, was strengthening and delicious.  No cooking was possible.  Being a well-trained infantry Platoon, all members were alert at all times, with the various weapons ready for instant action.

My intention was to push on to Kokoda as soon as we had eaten.  This village was high on the mountainside and the view across the Yodda Valley was magnificent.  At last we were leaving the tortuous Owen Stanley Range behind, also leaving behind many comrades.  We all took a deep breath in readiness for the continuing task ahead.  We could even see a transport plane way off to the right in the direction of Kokoda.

Kunai grass grew around the village on three sides, the fourth being the jungle from where we had just come.  Looking between the four huts in the village, a track about a metre wide ran through a green patch of kunai grass and disappeared at a bend approximately 200 metres away.  As I looked down the kunai track just coming around the bend in the track was a scruffy looking fawn dog, as most of the village dogs looked.

Members of 10 Platoon spotted the dog.  We realised human beings weren’t that far away.  I called out to stand to.  The immediate response was all weapons at the firing position from the hip.  Take it from me, these men could really use their respective weapons from the hip, the success at Templeton’s Crossing proved that.

We were spaced about three paces apart in the village clearing, in a semi-circle.  The dog proceeded to come towards us along the track into the village and was approximately 30 paces away when a light tan-coloured arm came out of the kunai grass and dragged the dog out of sight.  Our battle reflexes took over.  Our trigger fingers took up the position learned in some training ‘bullring’ when we were taught holding aiming and firing.  I had trained the men of 10 Platoon to be very accurate when firing their service rifle from the hip at close quarters and we had tough active service in real battle up our sleeves now.

No sooner had the dog been dragged into the kunai grass than eighteen Papuans stood up, armed with bows and arrows.  They formed a semi-circle just under 30 paces away.  Just about chest high in the kunai grass, the bows taller than the bowmen.  Each bow had an arrow pointed in our direction.  As patrol leader and Commander my first thoughts were, ‘I don’t want to kill these people’, knowing full well that some of us would also be casualties.

In a split second many thoughts went through my head, including the sturdiness of the Papuans and how to communicate with them.  My well disciplined men were as steady as a rock.  Needless to say, so were the bowmen.  For communication in this nasty situation, I recall the first words one of my Platoon uttered was, “We’re Australians. We’re on your side!”

I stumbled through some imperfect Pidgin English, “This fella bilong Australia, we all bilong friends bilong Papua New Guinea bois.”  No response from the bowmen.  More of the Platoon tried to get the message across to them, mainly with ‘We are not Japanman!’

I do not know precisely how long the confrontation went on but it seemed a long time, I called:  “We’re your friends,” many times.  No one broke and squeezed their trigger which would have been tragic for both parties.  Suddenly one of them called out and at the same time all the bows were lowered and arrows removed.  Our stance never changed.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of some movement on the track toward the village.  I looked again and the women and picaninnies were coming up the track.

I knew that the possibility of a fight had ended so I said,  “Platoon, lower your weapons, but be alert.”  The villagers came toward us as we tried again to be friendly.  We offered a couple of tins of our scarce bully beef and a few army biscuits.  I had some salt and broke off a leaf from a broad leafed plant and poured some salt on it.  I wet the tip of one finger with my tongue and tasted it, the lead man did the same. He smiled, followed up by a noise like a grunt.  The rest of the bowmen gave noises of approval. I knew then the confrontation was over.

They accepted our couple of tins of bully beef and a few biscuits.  The women, who wore grass skirts, and the picaninnies were friendlier than the bowmen.

I had worked out how the two Japanese graves were in the village.  The bowmen had got them.  I tried to get a conversation going with the headman, mainly how far to Kokoda.  It seeped through a little as he pointed in the general direction to where we had observed a ‘biscuit bomber’ circling.

The sun was bright, we were all refreshed after our drinks of tea, bully and biscuits and the bloodless confrontation with the villagers.  On speaking about this to learned Papuan New Guinean scholars they knew about their existence, but had never actually seen the moss forest.

As for the salt, WOII Jarrett of ANGAU told me when we were back at Menari to carry some salt for trading and difficult situations. The salt was obtained at the supply dropping ground at Myola.

The patrol moved on from the village, with waves and cheers from both sides.  There was no let-up on preparedness.  The formation was two forward scouts (with Thompson SMGs), Platoon Commander and Platoon HQ with the 1st section Bren Gunner and his No 2 with PLHQ, then the 3 Sections. Although light on in numbers, we were still acting as Infantry Platoon Sections.

We felt great being out of the jungle we had known since the early days of September.  Mud slush, very little sunshine.  Now we had the sun beaming down on us as we went through the stretch of kunai, and downhill.  The track was firm.  No mud, no tree roots to watch out for.

We did not know how the advance on Kokoda was progressing, nor the whereabouts of any Japanese troops, but somehow a feeling of no distraction, at least as far as Kokoda.  Through being in the Owen Stanley Ranges with the lack of sun, we could feel the sun hot on our lily-white skin and we appreciated our dress of khaki shorts and shirts.  Dress we had found to be very much light on at night time in the moss forest and other high mountains on the Kokoda Track.

We found the valley track interesting, mainly because of the terrain and being able to see such a distance.  We were accustomed to the dim and at times very dark, jungle, where visibility was only a few paces.  The pace we were moving at was much faster than our mountain advance but full alertness was maintained at all times.  Aircraft activity was visible as we came closer to Kokoda and we could hear the noise.  It was a great sight and a great feeling for me.  With the Kokoda aerodrome, wounded and sick soldiers now had a better chance of survival, not to mention a more adequate supply of ammunition and food.

There was no incidence of the enemy on our way along the Track from the village to Kokoda.  Australian Infantry were now visible and we knew then that the Japanese were further afield.  There fluttering in the breeze was our Australian Flag, flying high, what a sight!  We gave a cheer and onlookers understood our glee.  No doubt they had cheered earlier.

I asked regarding the occupation and was told that Kokoda had been occupied on the 2nd of November by the 3rd Battalion and the 2/31st Battalion.  It was now the 4th of November.  We moved across the Kokoda Plateau and a creek leading into the Mambare River on our way to re-join the 3rd Battalion.  It was good, fast going through rubber plantations.  It appeared as though troops we came across were anxious to press on as a matter of urgency to catch the Japanese.

My Platoon caught up with B Company of the 3rd Battalion on the morning of 5th November.  However, as the action had moved so far since we left the village of Alola, Lt Col Cameron told me we had done a good job but tough work was in front.  He listened with interest about our confrontation in the village and said that it was still unknown country.  He said there was no need to write a patrol report. Looking at me in a conspiratorial manner, he said, “We know, don’t we.”

Capt Bede Tongs MM

The sequel.

Bede didn’t know the name of the village he had entered on the 4th, so we decided to find it when we went back to Kokoda in February this year, 2012.  After some discussion with Priscilla Ogomeni, who operates a guest-house in Kokoda, we decided that we should try the village of Savaia, not that far away by vehicle.

After some discussion, two of the older men joined us in the village.  One of them told the story of Australian or American soldiers coming into the village and that the men of the village were watching the village from the kunai, observing.  And then “my father’s dog started to walk down the track and gave them away.”

We had found the village, although we were in the new Savaia, the old village begin further up the ridge.  We thanked them and the next day when two of the men came into Kokoda, gave them beanies, exercise books and pencils.  Not long after arriving back in Australia from the trip, we received a message saying that the villagers were cleaning up the old village for Bede to visit ‘next time he came to Kokoda.’

On 4 November 2012 we returned to Savaia, 70 years to the day that Bede was there on 4 November 1942.

Garry Tongs

Patrol from Menari – to find the Japanese.

(Originally presented at The Military Historical Society of Australia at the MHSA 2002 Biennial Conference, 5th and 6th October, 2002.  Published in ‘Sabretache’, Vol XLIV, March 2003, Number 1. pp 3-10)

On the afternoon of the 5 October, I received word to report to the CO, Lt Col Cameron. He said, “Bede, the Japanese have to be located as there is no sign since they withdrew from Ioribaiwa.” He asked me would I lead a patrol along the Kokoda Track through Kagi, Templeton’s Crossing and beyond to find the Japanese. I answered, “Yes Sir.” He then detailed the object of the patrol, strength, route and drew a sketch map on the back on an Army signal form. Patrol to leave Menari at 0700 hrs on the 6 October.

Lt Col Cameron had been in the forward area on the Kokoda Track with the 39th Battalion and the 53rd Battalion. This enabled him to pass on information of importance regarding the general topography and approximate timings between villages and strategic points.

It was to be a reconnaissance patrol, strength eight men, two men to return with a report on progress one complete day’s march from Menari. The sketch map listed Menari, Seventh Day Adventists Ridge (generally referred to as Mission Ridge), Efogi, Kagi, Templeton’s Crossing, Eora Creek, Alola, Isuarava, Deneki and Kokoda. During the briefing, Lt Col Cameron was suffering an attack of malaria, however it did not delay the issuing of orders for the task ahead.

My orders were to keep going until I found the Japanese, report on location and approximate strength. I was also to protect the left flank of a fighting patrol from the 2/25th Battalion, strength 53 men and commanded by Lt Barnett with Lt Cox. Their route was from Efogi by branch track to Myola then Templeton’s Crossing to find and fight the Japanese.

Also in my orders was to keep an eye out for the CO of the 2/14th Battalion, Lt Col Keys and a party from his Battalion. His group was missing after an encounter with the Japanese in the Isuarava/Alola area around 30 August. Lt Col Cameron shook hands with me and wished me good luck. I saluted him and returned to B Company and my 10 Platoon area. I saluted the eight men–all good, solid performers. Members of the patrol were Corporal Barry Flint from Queanbeyan, my Second-in-Command; Lance Corporal George Webb, Griffith; Privates Fred Carman, Bombala; Jack Roberts, Queanbeyan; Ted Miners, Bombala; Graham Todman, Mudgee; J C Baker, North Coast and Dick Mason, Sydney.

Extra rations were collected. The Regimental Quartermaster was always kind to me when on patrol. He would say, “Bede, take as much as you and your boys can handle.” Ammunition checked and replenished where necessary, some extra four second hand grenades. We had to travel as light as possible. Even so, we carried all our worldly possessions. There was no leaving anything behind as the Battalion was on the move.

Field dressings were checked. I carried some spares. We had no specialist in first aid or stretcher bearer with us. Unfortunately, my own training in first aid was practically nil. During our army training we were so busy being taught how to kill that survival was left to the luck of the draw. I was always concerned about my lack of knowledge in being able to deal with a wounded soldier, such as stopping bleeding. We also had an issue phial of morphine in a small wooden case. I was told not to inject it for head wounds but otherwise it was in order. I still have my issue phial in my possession. The phial carried on the individual soldier was to be used on the particular person if necessary.

The members of my patrol were informed of the task ahead. The route was explained.

We had been under attack before by the Japanese. At least four of us had taken part in the successful 58 man volunteer patrol from Imita Ridge to Ioribaiwa Ridge in September when we clashed with and killed some Japanese.

All members of the patrol knew it was to be no pushover and I said, “We keep going until we contact the Japanese, as ordered by the CO.”

Prior to leaving Menari at 0700hrs, on the 6 October, there were three smokers in the patrol with little or no tobacco. I asked Warrant Officer Jarrett who was with ANGAU, and who had a Papuan carrier party in the village. “Have you any spare boong twist tobacco, as my soldiers who are about to go on a long patrol have none.” He answered, “Yes, I have some but unfortunately it is packed away and the cargo boys are just about to move.” The Warrant Officer said he was taking supplies to an aircraft spotter somewhere out from the village of Kagi. He said, “If you can arrive in North Efogi the same time as the carriers, I will unpack the boong twist and give your boys some.” I thanked him and said that we would do our best. I thought, `That’s goodbye to the tobacco,’ as whoever heard of a group of Australian’s racing a Papuan carrier team. However, we arrived in the village a quarter of an hour ahead of the carrier team. Warrant Officer Jarrett was as amazed as we were. The patrol smokers received some sticks of boong twist and expressed their gratitude.

Back to the patrol moving out of Menari. It was an enthusiastic group, the high morale was as if the boys were going on a picnic. Yet all members of my patrol, since early September, had witnessed the tragedy of jungle warfare–walking wounded with blood and mud soaked dressings, some being led and aided by less disabled wounded. Walking wounded who normally would have been stretcher cases and had probably been walking for up to seven days. They were walking because they knew the Papuan carriers were stretched to the limits of human endurance. Even so, these carriers were still able to smile, and protected the Australian soldiers with banana leaves or similar.

The soldiers coming back had been tested beyond any normal type of combat. This included the terrain, shortage of rations, limited ammunition and the Japanese enemy with victory after victory as their driving force.

With that background and knowing we were going to make contact with the Japanese the best thing to have on one’s side was high spirits, high morale and a sense of humour.

We were told that it was a reasonably safe journey to Kagi but be careful after North Efogi, even so our order of march was two forward scouts with Thompson Sub-machine Carbines, then me and members of the patrol. The last man was nominated as dragman whose job was to get away and report to the Unit the fate and location of the patrol, if the patrol was ambushed or attacked.

As a small patrol of nine men, we were able to keep up a pretty good pace. We also had the incentive to reach North Efogi on or about the same time as Warrant Officer Jarrett and the Papuan carriers.

The Kokoda Track showed signs of much movement. The Japanese had left imprints of the familiar split-toe footwear in the hardening mud. There was another type of boot with the steel heel protector, a little over half a horseshoe, whereas the Australian Army boot had a full steel horseshoe. We were experts in detecting signs of movement left by the Japanese.

The patrol faced a super test. As things stood by the time we made contact we would only be seven men strong. Two runners would have been dispatched with word of our progress once we were one full day’s march from Menari.

Along the part of the Track, especially the Mission Ridge area, where the 21st Brigade AIF troops had made a gallant stand causing many Japanese casualties the unburied remains of Australian Soldiers were a disturbing sight. Some remains were still in stretchers in line one behind the other on the Track, wounded or sick had met death, the stretcher party having been ambushed or attacked whilst on the move. They would have been shot or bayoneted to death. Identification discs were on the skeletal remains. We left them there as I knew authorities moving forward would be the best ones to secure the discs.

Along the Track to Efogi and beyond, bodies of our troops were on or near the Track. The Japanese advance had been costly to both forces. No doubt the gallantry of these Australian troops had taken some of the momentum out of the Japanese advance, enabling a build up of additional troop resistance further back along the Track.

As a member of the 3rd Battalion, I witnessed the introduction of the 25th Brigade AIF at Ioribaiwa Ridge, the withdrawal to Imita Ridge and the fight forward. Now as we passed fallen Australian comrades, our step became more resolute, determined the tide on the Kokoda Track had turned. Late afternoon we moved into the jungle and camped for the night.

Another patrol from the 3rd Battalion was close behind us. Next morning, as we commenced the steep climb up to the village of Kagi, the patrol led by Sergeant Con Hogan with Sergeant Len Griffiths their role being to proceed from Kagi into the Seregina Valley in the search for Lt Col Keys, CO of the 2/14th Battalion AIF, also to report on the track Seregina to Alola.

A number of Japanese bodies were on the right hand side of the Track on the climb to Kagi. The bodies were in a deplorable state, fly blown and apparently victims of dysentery by the added stench and visible filth. The steep climb to Kagi must have been too much for their spirit and bodies. The number of dead was approximately sixteen. There appeared to have been no water available to them so they must have died a painful, lingering death.

I would like to record that the Japanese were glorious in victory but devastated in defeat.

I have spoken to Sergeant Len Griffiths regarding the patrol he was with on the approach to Kagi. (Sergeant Con Hogan was killed in action at Templeton’s crossing in October with the 3rd Battalion.) My patrol had continued to climb to Kagi, Sergeant Griffiths was just passing the last group of what appeared to be dead Japanese, when a soldier amongst the bodies sat up with a grenade in his hand, about five paces away. Sergeant Griffiths, who was the dragman, said he shouted a warning to the patrol, but the Japanese was too weak to throw the grenade. When the soldier was confronted and disarmed, he was found to be fly-blown from dysentery. He was eventually evacuated.

My patrol reached the village of Kagi. I directed the forward scouts to skirt the right side of the nearest hut as this direction proved the most cover from any enemy still in occupation. Many huts had been destroyed by fire and only charred black upright timbers remained. An odd grass covered structure however was still standing. Having made sure no Japanese were visible in the village, I investigated the nearest hut, approaching with caution, covered by two patrol men, my service rifle on the hip and ready to fare. A native came to the doorway, not speaking but with a wide grin on his face. He put out his hand for me to shake, which I did. A conversation in Pidgin English started and we learnt he was from Rabaul and had deserted the Japanese. We found inside the hut two more Rabaul natives who had been shot by the Japanese. One through the instep of the right foot and the other through the calf of his leg. Both were incapable of walking, the wounds badly inflamed with pronounced swelling. They were pleased to see we were Australians. As we applied field dressings to each wound we were told they had been brought from Rabaul by the Japanese and forced to work as carriers and in this case, on becoming ill and unable to carry, were deliberately shot by the Japanese.

They went on to say that in most cases the sick native was shot dead. The third native said he deserted the Japanese to care for his friends and they managed to reach Kagi and the shelter where we found them. The friend of the wounded had provided water and vegetables from native gardens. We gave them some tins of bully beef and three packets of our army biscuits.

My patrol moved forward from Kagi, our haste slackened and extreme caution was the order. In the far distance the tree covered mountains was distinct narrow gap, the famous Kagi Gap. With many spells during the climb and hopefully no hindrance from the Japanese, we would be passing through it in a few hours. The Track goes down a little after leaving the village and as there was not much scrub for a few hundred yards it was not good for concealment. All we could do was space ourselves further apart to make a less easy target. We came across the isolated remains of an Australian soldier. The skull bare of any coveting and looking closely I found a bullet hole to the back of his skull. He was probably doing the best he could to outdistance the Japanese when a well-aimed shot on this straight stretch of track caused his death, no identification discs were on his skeletal remains–Mr Billy.

We started to climb steadily, the Track skirted a native garden of some size. All edible food had apparently been removed. The track surface had hardened. We had many breathers short spells always moving into the bush a little off the track and making no noise. We knew that being so far out from any Australian force we were very vulnerable from the front, rear and odd side tracks, right and left–even with all the jungle covering us from view we felt like the proverbial `shag on a rock’. However, morale was high, spirits high, our sense of humour intact. Corporal Flint carried a small tin of meat extract, from where he obtained it I do not know, but the objective was to boil the billy at Kokoda and brew the contents.

The village of Kagi seemed to be a long way behind, we were now in the Kagi Gap, slightly misty at an altitude of 7000 feet. Beautiful green ground fern about 9 inches high with worn foot track visible an area of beauty and quiet. Nine pairs of human feet could not disturb the tranquillity, I thought for a second of a comparison with heaven. I soon put that thought out of my head as it was a bit too close to possible reality.

The soldiers in the group were at their peak of excellence–members of the 3rd Battalion at their best. There were no moans, disgruntled talk or remarks, we all knew every step we took on this part of the Kokoda Track we were one step closer to the Japanese–our objective.

The two forward scouts did not ask to be changed. Lance Corporal George Webb was the number one scout, our formation was as we had left Menari. As we proceeded I nominated various places such as the odd prominent bump, suitable large tree or clump of jungle along the track. The objective of this was to identify rendezvous points (RV) in case we became separated through ambush or similar surprise attack. All my patrol knew their response on making contact or being fired on by the Japanese–go to the right hand side of the Track no matter what. Whenever I took a patrol out against the Japanese they were always told a definite movement on contact. The ideal one was to go to the high side of the track, the important lesson is for a definite move to be nominated early because it is too late to nominate right or left when the action starts a split second can be the difference between life and death.

The altitude and freshness of air was invigorating, the hardened track showed no visible signs of recent movement except at damp areas.

The time of day was creeping towards time to call a halt, we had been awake since stand-to at North Efogi at 0430 hrs. On the go since 0700 hrs with never a dull moment. Our bodies were starting to say `watch it, don’t walk into a Japanese trap now’. We approached a fair sized creek with water flowing rapidly. Fortunately a tree trunk spanned from bank to bank. We observed from cover to make sure no Japanese were waiting. One of the scouts crossed and looked around. I decided we could camp after such a gruelling but satisfying days activity. After filling our water bottles we withdrew along the track approximately 200 yards to a reasonably snug position in the jungle growth but still able to observe the track from both directions.

I decided we would light a fire and boil up for a well-earned drink of tea. Speed was essential and in a short while enough tea was brewed to share.

Low cloud or mist settled over us. I don’t like the word `shroud’ to describe the mist but it was a dense white protector as far as we were concerned and any smoke from our fire was mixed with the eerie dense semi-transparent friend.

With only nine men we formed an all-round defensive position, a kind of hollow centre and circle. I decided one sentry at a time was sufficient. The mist covering the Track was in our favour. Phosphorous sticks glowed in the damp jungle also an odd fire-fly entertained us. Each one of us was in touching distance of a boot of the next soldier which was the method used for communication and waking up the next sentry for duty.

Not a twig was snapped or leaf ruffled as we blended into the damp jungle. We wrapped our half grey army blanket and ground sheet around one’s body and slept until it was your turn to be sentry. The nights silence was interrupted by the ever-present drip, drip of accumulated moisture dropping from leaf to leaf high up in the tree tops–the call of an odd night bird and off in the distance some jungle giant crashing through trees and undergrowth to earth and so the night passed.

No fire for breakfast just bully beef and army biscuits, quietly pack up and wait for a little better visibility on the Track before moving forward.

Two of the patrol were to be despatched to take word of our progress back to the 3rd Battalion Headquarters message giving condition of the track, signs of enemy movement and the condition of the patrol. Seven of us set off after waving silently to the two runners departing in the opposite direction. No thought crossed my mind that I would never meet up with them again.

From here our progress was slow. The forward scout set the pace. As far as I was concerned, he had all the time he thought fit. I had experienced forward scouts being thrust into death. Never under my command but when I had moved with a patrol who had been commanded by another.

We never met any Papuan people. It was better for us that no native people were on the move as we could treat any movement to our front as suspect. It was formation as yesterday, right side of the track–blend into the tree and scrub growth as best we could. The going was hot. We had to be careful with our water bottles as we did not know the distance to the next refill although we were pretty sure it would rain at about 1400hrs.

The Kokoda Track wound its way up and down and through picturesque heavy jungle with thick undergrowth to the edge of the foot pad. A section we advanced through was unusually interesting. A stand of high pandanus palms with mist seeping through the supporting roots a scene which seemed to belong to another planet. The trunk appeared to be balanced with no visible means of attachment to the numerous slender root structure as the density of the mist smothered the point of joining. Towering up into the mist were very tall beautifully, straight pandanus palm trunks–a vision I’ll never forget. I saw this again in 1980 and 1983.

The patrol kept any thoughts about this wonderland to themselves, we all knew any noise–even a spoken word–could be our undoing. Every ridge or bump ahead of us now was being approached with all the skill we knew. I always believed in `never underestimate your enemy.’ The ideal places on the Kokoda Track for an ambush or solid defensive position was the high ground and we were starting to climb again steadily but on the way up. We were wet through with perspiration and the torrential downpour commenced. We never unrolled our groundsheets and splashed along the track trying to control our tan issue army boots to avoid taking a header into the mud. Tropical downpours are noisy and visibility was down to about two yards. We kept moving. Our service rifles carried in the slung position but reversed, rifle muzzle pointing down. A little ungainly and not as fast for being bought into instant action, however it was better than having a barrel full of water.

On patrol when approaching a suspect area, weapons were carried in a ready for action manner for instant use. The seven man patrol was wet to the skin as we had been many times since the 3rd Battalion’s entry into the Owen Stanley Ranges, however the downpour was starting to ease, but the squelching mud still existed and as we moved forward the moisture on our clothes mined from rainwater to perspiration. The visibility on the track was greater so extreme care was the order.

Some signs of the Japanese having been on the track, even after the heavier rains was starting to show–broken branches, the odd footprint, tree roots which crossed the track showed fresh scars. There was also the feeling that something would soon be happening. I decided we would take a spell and moved off the track into the jungle. After a breather, we adjusted our bootlaces and pulled up our socks–that is, those who had them, checked the lacing on our yankee-type gaiters, wriggled our shoulders to cope with the always-there web equipment shoulder traps, the weight of our full haversack which caused the shoulder straps to bite as though intent on severing one’s arms at the shoulders and away we went. The patrol was in good spirits. Good-luck bid to first and second scout whose answer’s were, “She’ll be right Bede,” we silently advanced.

In the distance to our right we could hear short bursts of automatic fire and rifle shots, the time was 0815. I thought Lieutenant Barnett and the 2/25th patrol must have contacted the Japanese in the Myola area. From then on our advance was extremely cautious, blending into the jungle growth on the right-hand side of the track all weapons ready for instant action. The track had widened to approximately two yards. Footprints–the split-toe type–were fairly fresh.

The forward scout signalled to me using the close on him signal, his clenched fist placed on top of his steel helmet. The members of the patrol moved silently into the jungle growth just far enough to be able to maintain visual contact with each other. I moved up to the forward scout and he pointed to the reason for his signal. On a pronounced bump were five neatly arranged large green leaf squats were apparently a Japanese standing–or sitting–patrol had been, by all appearances, a short time ago. It was the first time I had come across the use of leaves to sit upon by the Japanese. A good idea but this certainly gave us the message that the Japanese were not very far away. The members of the patrol were informed of the evacuated Japanese squat and we continued our advance. I undid the flap of my equipment basic pouch–the one in which I carried two hand grenades with four second fuses. I also carried another four grenades in my haversack on my back.

We crept silently forward off the track still in visible contact with each other. Strangely enough, the jungle undergrowth had thinned, not cut about by the Japanese. Fortunately for us there were large trees which we took advantage of for cover from view and fire. I estimated the Japanese who had presumably occupied the green leaf squats would have been approximately 150 to 200 yards forward of the Japanese main defensive position and apparently had heard us approaching or just by chance withdrew to their main position.

Whichever way it was, the whole seven of us would soon be in contact with them. We closed our spacing but were slightly staggered to give each man a field of fire unobstructed by his friend in front. The forward scout, Lance Corporal George Webb, signalled enemy in sight at the same time a burst of fire from a Japanese light machine gun. The shots appeared to be on our left down the track. Our two Thompson sub-machine carbines and each rifleman started firing. It was rapid fire–our usual reaction on contact. I also threw a grenade.

The time was 0900hrs. Understandably the Japanese replied with intense fire from a front similar to fire from a full strength platoon. I noticed some movement to my left front which I interpreted as defence in depth. There was Japanese machine gun fire to our left and down the track. Some bullets started cracking over our heads and I gave the order for the two scouts to pull back. George Webb was occupied in firing his Thompson sub machine gun, when all of a sudden he exclaimed, “The bloody thing won’t work!” I called out, “Come back, George!” Luckily a sturdy tree was handy for him to take cover the Japs were starting to concentrate fire in our direction.

The .45 calibre Tommy Guns we took into action were nearly worn out through use in training, especially the H-piece or lock which caused a stoppage. The drill was to hit the body part on the top near the actuator a smart heavy blow with your right hand. Faulty cartridges often caused misfires. I never had a misfire from the numerous .303 rounds fired from my faithful Lee-Enfield service rifle.

However, George Webb was taking cover and called, “The bloody thing still won’t work!”, and we wanted him back. He was approximately two and a half yards from me, a long way in the jungle. Another hand grenade was thrown and the rest of the patrol fired rapid fire into the Japanese position as George made a successful dash back to us.

We immediately broke off our engagement and kept in the foliage. Machine gun and rifle fire was still coming from their defensive positions and was cracking overhead. We kept moving until we arrived at a position I had pointed out on our move forward. We had a welcome spell. We badly needed a breather. The seven man patrol was a happy group, still in one piece.

Our orders had been successfully carried out, although we were still in no mans land. We had located the Japanese on the Kokoda track, the first contact on the Kagi–Templeton’s Crossing track made by any Australians since the Japanese retreat from Ioribaiwa Ridge.

As members of the 3rd Infantry Battalion we were justly proud of this achievement. We made our way back along the track pausing at various points I had indicated on our move forward. We were always ready to counter any Japanese who could have followed us. Through the Kagi Gap we were on a downhill track and eager to re-join our Battalion. We kept up a pretty fair pace, always in proper formation.

All of a sudden the forward scout signalled halt. We all immediately took cover, I went forward to the scouts, protected by foliage, I looked down the straight stretch where there appeared to be movement seventy yards along. After some time a figure moved onto the track. He was an Australian soldier with a Thompson sub-machine carbine. He disappeared as he had appeared–silently and quick in movement.

As patrol commander I was working out how I was going to let our forces know we also were Australians. Undoubtedly they had been informed about a patrol from the 3rd Battalion being on the Kagi track. I had experienced being fired on by Australians earlier, a devastating experience coming under fire from your fellow Australians. One successful way I found to stop then firing was from a well protected position start swearing as only an Australian Digger can. The words, `Stop firing, you bastards, or we’ll open up on you!’ Generally there was no immediate result, the call would be repeated a number of times. The Japanese used words spoken in English but were suspect as only an Australian can use the word `bastard’. The greeting generally was, on meeting up with the attackers, `thank goodness you mob are rotten shots, none of us were hit.’

Now back to the seven man patrol, knowing it was an Australian soldier we had observed, I called out, “We are Australians, you silly bastards!” No shots were fired, a few more calls including, “It’s a patrol from the 3rd Battalion!”

After a time an Australian soldier appeared, immediately moved on to the track and waved, more troops came onto the track, my patrol moved forward. On reaching the Australians we all had a happy greeting. They were a group from the 2/25th Infantry Battalion. They were impressed with the information and expressed admiration for the 3rd Battalion recce patrol. They said they had not been sure who was coming down the track. The Officer said only when he heard the word `bastards’ coming through loud and clear did he know it was Australians.

We carried on to Kagi were we met up with a 3rd Battalion Signal detachment with a 108 wireless set, then kept moving until we reached our Unit near Efogi North. Our CO, Lt Col Cameron was very pleased, he asked me to express his thanks to my patrol members, which I did. I gave my report to the CO, Adjutant and Intelligence Officer. All were pleased with the success of the operation.

On re-joining 10 Platoon and B Company we were looked on as something special. My good friend, Sergeant Bob Taylor organised a dixie of tea for each. Bob was happy about our safe return. After our tea we immediately set about shaving our couple of days growth of whiskers.

The 3rd Battalion was preparing to move forward, via Myola. No rest in sight, a little later in the day I received a message to report to our CO Lt Col Cameron, addressing me as Bede he said, “I want you to go back as guide to where you found the Japanese, with a Platoon from A Company. The fighting patrol is to move out next morning.”

Here I go again, I also believed in the process of elimination, the more you stick your head out, the less chance of being able to pull it back in, however.

Advance from Imita Ridge

When we went onto Imita on the 16th of September we took up defensive positions.  Then a couple of days later we were called upon for volunteers for the patrol forward, which we did.  But when we returned to Imita, the 25 pounder gun back at Uberi was firing which was great to hear, music to our ears the fellows said.  But we also knew they were getting ready for the move forward and I think it was about the 27th, 28th of September one of the three battalions of the 25th Brigade went forward to move the Japanese off Ioribaiwa. When they got there they discovered the Japanese were already on the move, so the 3rd Bn set off and we got to Ioribaiwa. Must have been about the 29th of September.  We weren’t able to look around much, or our B Company weren’t unfortunately, we were down below where we had been before and where the main Japanese positions were but we could see enough of the Japanese positions that they were pretty well dug.

Then we received word that the 3rd Battalion was going to lead the advance forward from Ioribaiwa.  I was still Platoon Commander of 10 Platoon of B Company of the Battalion, and we were getting ready to move. We were just ready to move and there was a .303 shot fired in 10 Platoon.  I went back and there was a fellow named S.  He came to us from Dubbo Camp as a reinforcement about four months before. He arrived at Port Moresby as one of the reinforcements for the Battalion. And he was always whinging and moaning that he had come to us, a Militia Battalion. He said he had been trained to be a commando.  He had a tattoo on his right arm, a dagger, he even had ‘Death before Dishonour’ tattooed on his arm and further down he had, of all things, ‘Mum’ tattooed on his arm.  This S was a real pain in the neck. Anyhow when I got back to the end of the column, which was just about ready to move, S was there holding his left hand which was bleeding. He’d put a .303 round through his left hand and I said to him “What happened?” He said, “I was cleaning the weapon and it went off.” I said, “What, with a full magazine on and where’s your cleaning gear?” There was no cleaning gear visible. I called out for a stretcher bearer to come and attend to his hand. I wasn’t sympathetic with him at all because I knew he had purposely shot himself and had a self-inflicted wound. The stretcher bearer arrived and started to work on him.  In the meantime I got his rifle, took the magazine off and threw it into the jungle.  I got his rifle and belted it against a tree, wrecked it up a bit and threw it into the jungle because we couldn’t carry any spare rifles.  If you had a soldier with a sub-machine gun or a Bren gun a casualty, they were always kept but a rifle was always disposed of.  Anyway S wanted someone to carry his gear up to the top of the ridge where it was a bit easier going but I told him not any way, the fellows were going forward and he was going back to Port Moresby.  There was no way that anybody was going to carry his bits and pieces up onto the ridge.  So away we went and then the 3rd Battalion led the advance forward.  I think it was C Company who was forward as vanguard.

I think the 3rd was chosen to lead as we were attached to the 25th Brigade at the time and before we left Ioribaiwa, when the 25th Brigade came up, Brigadier Eather had sent the 2/31st to the left towards the Spotter’s Hut and the 2/33rd around to the right towards Ponoon, which is at the end of Ioribaiwa.  The 2/25th was kept in reserve at the back.  I suppose the Brigadier thought it was the 3rd Battalion’s turn to go forward.  It was probably a good job that he did because the 3rd Battalion knew what they were up to and the advance went well.

We went from Ioribaiwa through the village of Nauro and from there to the village of Menari.

AWM 027083A 027083 panorama

But before we left Nauro Capt Atkinson said to B Company “When you get to Menari, Menari village had been badly rubbished by the Japanese.”  Their hygiene was pretty poor and the existing village huts were to be burnt.  He also said, this was about 6.30 in the morning, “No eating before 1 o’clock”, for some reason.  Anyhow we set off for Menari and got there at about 9.30 or a bit before and then we had fires going.  I spotted a clean four gallon tin so I said to two soldiers take it down to the creek and put a couple of gallons of water in it and we’ll boil the billy. There were fires going and the fellows were working very well.  I had 30 fellows in the Platoon.

Anyhow we boiled the billy up.  It was close to about 11 o’clock and I was giving the soldiers eight soldiers at a time to have a cup of tea so it wouldn’t disturb the work.  I think it was about the second issue when Capt Atkinson came up to me and said “Sergeant Tongs, didn’t I tell you no eating before one o’clock?”  I said, “This is not eating Sir, we’re just having a cup of tea.”  He said, “Tip it out.”  I said, “I’m not going to tip it out.”  I was very adamant about that.  He said to one of the other soldiers close by tip it out and the soldier shook his head.  Meanwhile the rest of the Platoon were closing around in a semi-circle with a determined look on their faces, no nonsense. The billy was about 20 paces away warming up in the coals.  He was walking over toward the fire and it looked as if he was going to tip the tea out or he might tip it over.  Meanwhile 10 Platoon was in a semi-circle and getting closer and closer.  I could see by their movements that if Capt Atkinson tipped it out he would have ended up in the fire.  Some other soldier said to him ‘Have a cup of tea, Sir!’, to rub it into him and he grunted a bit and went off.  But that was him and everything else proceeded smoothly.

The whole Battalion was cleaning up except C Company as they were further forward. In the afternoon at about 5 o’clock I got a message to report to Colonel Cameron and he said to me, “Bede, the Japanese have disappeared on the Track. I want you to take a reconnaissance patrol forward tomorrow morning and find them.”  Capt Atkinson wasn’t there as Colonel Cameron dealt with me individually.  He’d just call me away when he needed me.  A Battalion runner would come and give me the message to report to Battalion Headquarters.

That was on the afternoon of 5th October.  The patrol was to consist of eight men, two men to come back one full days march from Menari to report our progress. We were to leave at 0700 the next morning, the morning of the 6th.

50 Man Patrol to Ioribaiwa Ridge

When we left Imita Ridge to go back as a fighting patrol to find the extent of the Japanese lines on the left flank we were hungry with only six days of emergency rations.  Anyway, we kept going and a bit later in the day we got pretty close to Ioribaiwa.  I was Section Commander of No. 2 Section and Lieut Bill Dullard was Section Commander of No. 1.

We were going up the side of Ioribaiwa, on a small track, toward where the Japanese were.  We came to a branch track, getting close to the top.  The branch track went off to the left and Bill Dullard said to me, “Bede, which way do you want to go, to the left?”  I said, “It doesn’t worry me, whichever you like.” He said, “I’ll go to the left,” and I said, “I’ll go straight ahead,” which I did.

I took my Section straight ahead.  Sgt Bob Taylor was with me and Jimmy Evans from Crookwell.  Jim was one of the party.  We didn’t have to go far until we came across the track which we knew led to the Spotter’s Hut.  There was a small yellow sig wire which we knew was Japanese signal wire.  So we cut it and threw the ends back into the bush.  I also knew that it was probably a touchy thing to do because before long some Japanese would be wandering along wondering what happened to their sig wire.

So we took up a pretty good ambush position. Jimmy Evans was the only one who crossed the track, which I didn’t exactly give him permission to do but he crossed.  Bill Dullard had gone to the left and we heard some firing to the left and not long after four Japanese came from my right along the track. They were just coming along, didn’t seem to be concerned too much about what was going on.

Anyway we opened fire on them and at the same time the Japanese in their position started to rally and they started to fire, some in our direction.  Not too sure how many Japanese we might have killed who came towards us but they were hit by a pretty fair amount of fire.  I called out to  Jimmy Evans to come back, which he did.

Then the Japanese where aiming a lot of fire where my Section was. Earlier Capt Atkinson said that the signal to withdraw was a whistle blast. I didn’t query that at the time. There was a bit more firing to our left where Bill Dullard’s Section had gone.  The Japanese were concentrating on where we were and I never heard a whistle blast, so I sent the fellow in the rear of the Section to see if he could find out what was going on.  He wasn’t away long and he staggered back up the track and said ‘They’re gone!’  Exactly what he said, ‘They’re gone!’ So I got my Section out and it took us a good half an hour to catch up with them.

They were in a dry creek.  So I told Capt Atkinson I didn’t think much of his signal to withdraw in the heat of battle, a little old whistle blast.  We were pretty weak from lack of food, anyhow we kept going. We were going back to where we came from on Imita and our forward scouts were fired on.  It was Australian fire. So we all took cover.  I realised it would be a forward post of the 2/25th Bn.  As soon as we had a bit of movement they’d open fire. Luckily no machine guns, only rifles.  I sang out ‘We’re Australians!’ They still continued with spasmodic fire.  So I yelled out to them ‘We’re Australians, you silly bastards!’  As soon as the word ‘bastard’ got through to them they woke up that there were Australian’s out there.  So one fellow jumped out onto the track and I jumped out onto  the track and waved to him.

When we met up everybody shook hands and one fellow Emmett Franch said to them “Thank goodness you mob are rotten shots, you never hit one of us!”, and rubbed it into them a bit.  Anyway when we met up with the main body they were happy to see us. It was about 4.30 in the afternoon. They gave us dixies of tea and some army biscuits in water and a bit of powdered milk but my stomach had shrunken I could only eat about a third of what I was given.  I could still drink my tea but couldn’t eat much. They hadn’t eaten that long before and there were still some empty bully beef tins lying around and some of the fellows even scooped a bit of the fat out with their finger and ate that even though the flies might have been at it.  We stayed with them and joined up with our 3rd Bn next morning very early, which we were happy to do.

The patrol was successful, but Bill Dullard was killed. At that stage he was missing and three other soldiers in his section were also killed. So the patrol lost 4 Killed in Action.  Other Units had sent out other patrols too but I’m not sure how far they penetrated onto Ioribaiwa.  After we rejoined the 3rd Bn late that afternoon, an artillery gun of the 14th Field Regiment a 25 pounder opened up to fire on Ioribaiwa Ridge.  And as the round went overhead I thought that was music to my ears and the fellows all thought the same thing.  One of the greatest sounds I have ever heard in my life in addition you could hear the ‘crump’ of the exploding shell.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA. 1942-10. MEN LEADING PACK HORSES AND MULES LOADED WITH SUPPLIES DOWN THE PRECIPITOUS CURVING TRACK FROM THE END OF THE ROAD DOWN INTO UBERI VALLEY OVER WHICH TROOPS AND SUPPLIES WERE TAKEN TO OUR FORWARD POSITIONS IN THE OWEN STANLEY RANGES. IN THE FOREGROUND MAY BE SEEN A 25-POUNDER GUN THAT IS BEING MAN-HAULED THROUGH THE VALLEY TO IMITA RIDGE.

When we were fighting Capt Atkinson would have been down the ridge a little bit.  The whistle they used had been used in the First World War.  It wasn’t a referees whistle, it was a long thin whistle and where you might have been able hear it a bit in trench warfare you certainly couldn’t hear it up in jungle activity.  Atkinson was where a patrol commander should have been but when Bill Dullard was missing on the left flank he never seemed to worry too much about investigating about whether he could be recovered.

A Lance Corporal brought the rest of No. 1 Section back, six of them. He got back to Atkinson before we did. They were lower down than we were.  A Corporal had come back earlier and apparently told them that Bill Dullard had been hit, then he went back to join them and he was killed himself.

Up to that date, 19th of September, earlier on Ioribaiwa we had two soldiers killed with the Japanese artillery and another couple wounded and three soldiers killed when the Japanese attacked D Company and probably another three or four wounded.  That would have been back on 15th September.

So we occupied Imita until the end of September, only a few more days. Then the 25th Brigade moved forward first and discovered the Japanese had left Ioribaiwa. We went forward and the 3rd Bn led the advance of the fight forward from Ioribaiwa under Colonel Cameron.