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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

KOKODA – Commemorating 80 years

By Gary Traynor

Eighty years …. for many young Australians, that figure seems a lifetime away and far from relevant in their modern world.

But for older Australians with a living memory of the 1940’s, eighty years has passed in the blink of an eye. And that decade will evoke memories of a time when mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles or aunties donned military uniform and left Australia’s shores for a second world war. Hard to imagine it had only been 21 years since the First World War!

2022 has seen many anniversaries come and go, of a time when war cast a dark shadow over the free world. In February we recognised the 80th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore and the Japanese attack upon Darwin. In May we acknowledged the battles of the Coral Sea; the infiltration of midget submarines into Sydney Harbour and the battle for Midway Island. All these events dramatically shaped the future of Australia and the alliances which would carry us into the 21st century.

So, if you had an ancestor who found themselves in New Guinea during 1942, then you will be very familiar with the word ‘Kokoda’. It really does not matter if you call it ‘Kokoda Track’ or ‘Kokoda Trail’ …. what is important is that we never forget the men and women who faced a seemingly unstoppable enemy which stood at our very gate. And if the name ‘Kokoda’ has any meaning to you, then you should mark the 5th of November on your calendar.

The Moruya Golf Club has joined forces with the Moruya Remembers Committee to ensure this major anniversary does not go unnoticed. Whilst the village of Kokoda was liberated on the 2nd of November 1942, ‘Kokoda Day’ in Moruya will be commemorated on the first weekend of this month. Special guest and keynote speaker Mr. Garry Tongs will travel to Moruya from the ACT to remind us of the sacrifice made by that wonderful generation of Australians who fought for our freedom. For Garry, this battle has made an indelible mark in his life.

Garry’s father was Sergeant (later Captain) Bede Tongs who was awarded the Military Medal for his efforts on the Kokoda Trail at a place called Templeton’s Crossing. As Platoon Sergeant of 10 Platoon in the 3rd Infantry Battalion CMF, Bede Tongs commanded a number of men who called the Eurobodalla their ‘home’.

Many readers from the Moruya area will remember the names of Owen Baskett and Trevor Knight.

The concept of standing at some random bus stop, awaiting the arrival of a bus for school or work is such a mundane and ordinary undertaking. Quite remarkably, Owen stood at a bus stop near the old Moruya Post Office (now a bed and breakfast) to go to a war. At this time, Owen had never heard of Kokoda and had absolutely no idea where it was! Little did he know that in a few short months, he would be fighting for his very life in the steaming jungles of New Guinea. Decades later, Owen would recall how the actions of Sergeant Bede Tongs, saved his life.

On the 3rd of December 1941, an eighteen-year butcher’s assistant named Trevor decided that working for W. Turnbull of Moruya was nowhere near as exciting as joining the army. In our modern world, many 18-year-old Australians are sitting their HSC. So, to trade life on Mantle Hill Moruya (near Moruya High School) for the rugged hills of the Kokoda Trail is a huge contrast. In our modern world, most 18-year-old boys are sitting for their HSC. Trevor Knight would serve in the 3rd Infantry Battalion with his friend Owen Baskett but interestingly, he would be selected to work closely with the famous ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’. Trevor had been transferred to a unit called ANGAU (Australia New Guinea Administration Unit) in what would prove to be a challenging and difficult role. There is absolutely no doubt that if the Fuzzy Wuzzies failed to supply our troops on that track, the battle would be lost. Trevor and the wonderful Papuans did not fail, and the rest is history.

Sadly, that generation of Australian who served on the Kokoda Trail is almost gone, but at the going down of the sun, we will remember them. New Guinea veteran Arthur Bush (a post war Batemans Bay resident and a soldier of the 3rd Infantry Battalion) was one of the thousands of Australians who succumbed to the unseen enemy that plagued the Kokoda campaign. That enemy was the tropical diseases which caused far more casualties amongst our troops and Papuan Carriers than bullets and bombs. His son (named in his honour) will be there on the 5th of November to remember.

So, if you are a descendant of a Kokoda veteran …. or you have joined the ranks of modern Australians who have walked the Kokoda Trail, we hope you will join us at the Moruya Golf Club for this free historical presentation. There will be relics, uniforms and items recovered from the battlefield placed on display. Plus, the unit banner of the 3rd Infantry Battalion, which meant so much to Owen, Trevor and Arthur will take pride of place in the auditorium.

This is event is free, however seats are filling fast, and organisers request you register your interest to attend. This presentation commences at 5.30pm. Meals and refreshments are available at the Moruya Golf Club bar and restaurant. This event is also a must for anybody who wishes to trek Kokoda in 2023.

In accordance with Kokoda Day, a Free Bunkers Tour is also taking place at the World War 2 bunkers near Moruya Airport commencing at 10am.

The Moruya Golf Club is hosting a Charity Golf Day on Friday 4th November to benefit the Moruya Remembers Committee. The aim is to raise funds to secure the centrepiece of the WW2 Bunkers War Museum collection, a replica of a WW2 aircraft cockpit. This item will also be on display at the Moruya Golf Club.

For further information, please contact the Moruya Remembers Committee on ph. 044 969 2401 or email Facebook: - When War Came to Moruya.


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