Eighty years on from the decisive campaign, Australian Army soldiers have walked the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea (PNG), commemorating the service and sacrifice of those who fought in the defence of Australia during World War II.
Members of the 39th Operational Support Battalion and 16th Royal Western Australia Regiment walked from the opposite ends of the Track, meeting at the Battle of Brigade Hill site on the 80th anniversary of the battle. The units have their roots in the 39th and 2/16th Australian Infantry Battalions – some of the first Australian units to engage the Japanese on Kokoda.
Lieutenant Lorraine Cheesewright walked in the footsteps of her great uncle Corporal Frederick Cheesewright, who was killed on the Track aged just 27. “I hope my being here would be important to him and a sign that we still care. His family never forgot or stopped loving him,” Cheesewright said. “You can’t properly imagine the hardships they faced until you’re here. War is bad enough, but to fight in this terrain would’ve been terrifying. I wanted to leave a photo so the people who see it know this was a man. He was a son and a brother. It’s not just a grave, it’s a person who was loved. There’s no one left who knew him. So this is a way we can keep his memory alive.”
16th RWAR Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Leigh Partridge said the trek had been a bonding experience for the unit. “There is a reason why ‘mateship’ is one of the words on the Isurava Memorial; it would have been impossible to get through this campaign without trusting the soldier fighting beside you,” Partridge said. “This trek has brought us closer together as a unit, and as members of Army. There are so few World War II veterans left. We need to thank them for their courage and service in the defence of our nation, and remind ourselves of what they achieved in almost impossible conditions.
Over nine days, 38 Army soldiers completed the trek and held a memorial service with PNG porters at the Battle of Brigade Hill site. “It’s been a privilege to be part of this trek and be joined by some of the children of veterans who fought here for the commemoration,” Partridge said.