Category Archives: Kokoda Track
|Onto the Kokoda Track from camp at Bootless Bay, 5 September 1942.|
What do you say to a Dying Man? p85
|Forward positions as retreating Australian Battalions pass through then retreat to Ioribaiwa then Imita.|
Stand-To in the Jungle. p22
|Japanese advance stopped and then they retreat. Australian’s in pursuit.|
Kokoda Track Prayer. p45
Field Burial. p41
Occupying Templeton’s Crossing
|The Japanese made a stand at Eora Creek with Templeton’s Crossing their forward positions.|
The Ultimate Leader. p34
Kokoda to Oivi
|Back to Myola, then forward to Alola, Kokoda and Oivi.|
Keep Smiling. p86
|Fighting at Oivi, then Gona. Relieved on|
4 December 1942.
Watch your Front. p30
|Targets. Statistics. Reflection.|
Absent Friends. p15
Return to the Kokoda Track. p47
Poetry written by Bede Tongs OAM MM. Page numbers refer to ‘Poems of an Infanteer in the Firing Line’ by Bede Tongs, published in 2011 by Nerrigundah Publishing.
“But it was so long ago…”
Should I only write about now, or tomorrow?
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.
We went straight into the wharf when we got into Port Moresby, we didn’t wait off the coast at all. Things started to move straight away. They had trucks to transport us to Bootless Bay. It was a clear day, we never got a lot of rain around Port Moresby. We got in about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
We had no idea where we were going to fight. We took up our positions and all our weapon pits were sighted to defend Bootless Bay. See the Japanese had landed in Salamaua in March but in Moresby there didn’t seem to be that much concern at all. We heard nothing other than we knew they had landed. We had no information about where they were moving or whether they were moving or not.
The trouble is General Morris, he was the head fellow there, but they were out of touch with reality with what was in front. It was a young soldier’s war and a young Commander’s war but we were still saddled with a lot of 1914 1918 activity which wasn’t the way to go. It was only the individual soldier’s themselves who saved the day.
No one talked about Singapore, just that it was one of our greatest disasters, the fall of Singapore.
At no stage did we have a defeatist attitude by any means. At no stage. Our attitude was that things were pretty rough and going to get rougher but we would win. We would win.
We only heard of such a thing, that there was a track, in July when some of the 39th Battalion were sent up. Part of the reason we knew then was there were a certain number of Bren Guns taken from the 3rd Battalion to give to the 39th. Before we went up onto the Kokoda Track on the 5th September all those guns had been replaced. But the thing is, in July I think, there was 40 guns from the 3rd Battalion, we polished them up and oiled them and so on to go to the 39th Battalion.
It was mainly AMF Militia in Port Moresby. There was an odd AIF, same of the Anti-Aircraft batteries and so on and some of the ASC were AIF. Some, but not that many. The Airforce fellows were always friendly and co-operative, the Australian Airforce. But they were Australian’s, that was why they had that approach.
Nothing was set up for us at Bootless Bay, we were just allocated an area. We had our normal ground sheet and half a two man tent. You and another soldier put the two half-tents together and made a little shelter but that was only three feet high and the kunai was four feet high. There’s no breeze in the kunai and the sun was beaming down. In the daytime we were training or unloading ships or guarding airstrips. In the nighttime it was pretty warm still in our tents.
We dug a two man slit trench in our tent about 18 inches wide and three or four feet deep which meant that you had a little sleeping device on either side, which generally added up to be a bundle of kunai so you had a little sleeping bed about eighteen inches wide and on the edge of that was your slit trench and then the canvas tent came down and touched you on the knee so there was not much movement before you fell into the slit trench. To get out of the tent, you generally had to get into the slit trench, which was in the middle and climb out the other end. It was a good idea for protection but it was pretty restrictive.
They didn’t seem to worry much about inspecting our tents but in 10 Platoon, my Platoon, it was all pretty standard. At that stage our Platoon Commander, Col Richardson, would come back sometimes. We always had a Platoon Commander nominated but you didn’t see them that much. I operated as if I didn’t have one, as my concern was the fellows and, being a Platoon Sergeant, you looked after all their cares, equipment, training and so on. It was pretty good as there was never a dull moment, as far as I was concerned. The same with my friend Bob Taylor, the Platoon Sergeant of 12 Platoon of B Company. Bob cared for his men very much. But the fellows themselves, they were very good, they were pretty cooperative. There was no disgruntlement in 10 Platoon, because any disgruntled soldier, the ordinary, happy-type soldier sorted them out. They would tell him to wake up to himself.
We had a number of reinforcements from Dubbo camp. There was Les Alexander, Bill Carter, Graham Toddman and others and they all blended in very well. A number of us transferred to the AIF there. Not that that mattered because there was still the same attitude and everything. It was read out from Routine Orders from Battalion that those who wished to transfer could do so.
There was no change whatsoever in our status as a result of transferring but then in about July some time, when Bob and I used to work at the wharf at Moresby, the Air Force Catalina base was not far down, so one day Bob and I went down and we told them we wanted to join the Air Force so the Officer there gave us some papers to fill in, which we did. We used to see the Air Force fellows, we’d be working pretty hard and the Air Force fellows had a little bit different life also a fair bit of activity so we thought we would probably contribute more by being with them at that stage. About half-way through the Kokoda Track campaign, later on, we received orders that we could report somewhere and be accepted into the Air Force. We were almost half-way through the Owen Stanleys so we both disregarded our letters.