Looking back gives me the opportunity to reflect on circumstance, freedom to choose (or not), being directed, fearful, courageous, seeing friends hurt and die.
It is a valuable perspective, a window into our common future through the lens of war.
These thoughts are in the context of this blog, 3rdBattalion1942. It started as a diary but has lain dormant for a while. The immediate source, my father, has passed away, leaving me to store and curate his stories. He and my mother Joan collected many stories from men of the Battalion, over the years.
Through a collaboration with a good friend, the next step for this ‘diary’ is to publish a series of vignettes telling the story of the 3rd Battalion AMF on the Kokoda Track and beyond.
Stuart Boag narrates the stories of men who, through circumstance, had no choice once they were called up as Universal Trainees. They were trained in Australia, landed in Papua then sent forward to help stop the Japanese advance along the Kokoda Track. Earlier, Battalions in action around Kokoda and other villages fought hard and delayed the enemy advance, stretching their supply lines. Australian retreat became attack.
I hope that the stories and the selected poems of my father Bede Tongs, give some idea of what it was like for these Australian Soldiers from September to December in 1942.
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/