FRONTLINE – W.W.2 Extracts from Lance Corporal David Wigg – Part 1.

1942 a Japanese seaborne advance was carried out from Rabaul and some 13,000 Japanese were landed in a month, in the Gona-Buna area, coastal villages on the North coast of New Guinea, opposite the track to Kokoda.

The only troops there to meet them were a few hundred of our troops- the 39th Militia Battalion. Their average age being about 19 years. These were poorly equipped and had scarcely received any training and had no experience. The Japanese that landed were the world’s best jungle fighters, some were veterans of 8 years experience fighting since the 1930’s, in China and down through Indo China.

Our poor inexperienced youthful boys fought bravely and desperately and gradually fell back to Kokoda. The enemy advanced strongly and took Kokoda and the small airstrip there. Our troops had radioed, of course, for help, and were told the Air Strip was vital, so our troops recaptured it! The Commanding Officer of the 39th was killed about this time and they were deprived of veteran leadership. A few planes turned up over Kokoda strip, with reinforcement troops, but in the confusion they decided the drome was in the hands of the Japanese, and flew back to the safety of Port Moresby.

Plymouth Brethren - Frontline

Fighting retreat from Kokoda First stage

The hopes of the 39th Battalion were dashed, and their only choice was to fall back on the slopes of the Kokoda Trail proper, to Deniki. They desperately resisted, staging ambush after ambush. The Japs were experts at jungle camouflage, wearing green/grey uniforms with nets over helmets and face, twigs and leaves entwined. They were also suitably equipped, with light, high powered small bore rifles, ideal for jungle warfare and most of them trained marksmen- snipers.

Our poor men were encumbered with the slow firing massive ‘303’ rifle designed for W.W.I, trench warfare!

It is important to understand that our side had no supply system for food and ammunition, or for treatment and evacuation of their wounded. The misery and terror of the 39th Battalion is better imagined than described. The Japanese performed best in the crashing, blinding thunderstorms, raining an inch every five or ten minutes. They infiltrated around our tiny defence positions, firing small 2” (50mm) mortars and creating panic among our troops, and by firing across gorges with their ‘mountain gun’, an efficient small artillery piece that could be dismantled, carried, and reassembled in a few minutes. Our men had no artillery, no shelters, hardly an axe or a shovel – graves were dug hastily with bayonets and ‘tin hats’.

Plymouth Brethren Frontline

David relaxing outside his tent

The 14th Field Ambulance – serving the 14th Brigade, had been in Port Moresby since the first week in June 1942.The Head Quarters of the unit was at Bomana, 12 miles inland, running a Main Dressing Station.

The medical situation up on the Kokoda Trail was chaotic. I was part of the Medical Light Section, two doctors (Captains) and 14 other ranks, including a Sergeant, sent up to the front from the Head Quarters of the 14 Field Ambulance

At this stage I had just turned twenty. We set off from Port Moresby and went by jeep up to the start of the track, and then set off along the Kokoda Track, carrying all our gear.

The medical group (which I was with) proceeded up the Track for several days, over very rugged mountain terrain and it proved very heavy going. We trudged through waist deep odorous swamps, up knife-edge ridges with sheer drops either side for hundreds and hundreds of feet.

Plymouth Brethren - Frontline

These steps of the so-called Golden staircase were not yet constructed by the Army Engineers when the 39th battalion were sent across the rugged Owen Stanley ranges to the north coast of New Guinea. Two native carriers and a Field Ambulance man slowly toil up the ‘Golden Staircase’ towards Iorabaiwa. The 3500 stairs lead up and up, disappearing out of sight in the jungle. Each step was battened at its edge with logs which quickly became very slippery with the daily deluge of rain and coated with mud. The soil that was used to fill in behind each log was mostly washed out, meaning the men had to lift their leg over each log and put their foot down in what was often a puddle of mud up to six inches deep.
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Rations and medical supplies all had to be carried, so from the start food was light -on. Natives do not live in the deep dark jungles, but at Nauro and Menari, mountain clearings, I saw the unspoiled character of the jungle and village life. I thought these two open places were the most beautiful I had ever seen, surrounded as they were by banana palms, coconut palms , betel nut palms, poinsettias etc, all adding to the picture. The Party left one Officer and 7 other ranks at Templeton’s Crossing, to form a Convalescent Camp and staging Post, to care for the wounded on their way to Port Moresby. The remaining Officer and seven other ranks of which I was one, proceeded to Isurava where they established a main dressing Station, in a native rest house. It was constructed of rough jungle timbers, with a roof thatched with Kunai grass cut from jungle clearings and no floor. Isurava was near Deniki, where the 39th Battalion was in combat with the Japanese and was the scene of some of the fiercest and most desperate fighting of the New Guinea Campaign.

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9 thoughts on “FRONTLINE – W.W.2 Extracts from Lance Corporal David Wigg – Part 1.”

  1. never knew the army was that hard work! got sumthing to learn….

  2. David says:

    From what I know serving as a medic in New Guinea was equally as dangerous as engaging in the actual fighting. With no weapon to protect themselves, only their faith in God these young men lived through indescribable conditions. These members of the PBCC saved countless lives during the savage conflict in New Guinea.

  3. DavidM says:

    It is inspiring to read of the bravery of these young men facing such terrible odds against a merciless foe.

  4. Bernard says:

    Amazing. Shows us young ones up, the dedication and effort that they put in.

  5. gaw says:

    What the Australian Army endured in New Guinea is an honorable chapter in the history of WW2 and it is fine to read of men who whilst not taking up arms didnt hold back from the horrors of the Kokoda Trail and the forward field hospitals.

  6. Ken says:

    Dedication! what selfless work.

  7. Jem says:

    I’ve read about the Kokoda Trail elsewhere.. sounds pretty tough, eh?!

    1. Llew says:

      How many miles/kilometres long is the track?

  8. Scout says:

    Really interesting!!!

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