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

Continued from Part 1

As stated in part 1, the Japanese had advanced from Buna to Kokoda, Australians had regained the airstrip and lost it again, when the Japanese brought up large reinforcements. Hopelessly outnumbered, with scarcely a heavy machine gun and no quick fire automatic weapons in the early stages, we faced elite jungle fighters beautifully equipped.

Light Australian reinforcements, and the Medical Light section to which I was attached, headed into this situation. We constructed operating theatres in the form of Bush shelters, to treat the wounded as they came in from the front line, with beds constructed from jungle poles and blankets around them. The battle line was only twenty minutes’ walk from our dressing station, and we could hear the enemy mortar bombs and mountain-gunshells passing overhead.

Plymouth Brethren David Wigg

This photo taken on the Kokoda track illustrates the native built long pole stretchers, which were actually comfortable and unlikely to spill the patient as they negotiated streams, and steep mountain tracks – everything covered in sticky mud. AWM 013642

Large numbers of soldiers were carried in from the battle line, and the 39th Regiment Medical Officer urgently tried to operate in preparation for the 10-day trek back to a general hospital at Port Moresby. Natives, affectionately called “Fuzzy-Wuzzy-Angels”, transported the wounded. Eight natives carried one soldier on a huge litter, made from bush poles and a blanket sling. Overworked and underfed, they still cared for our wounded with extraordinary devotion. They protected their charges from heavy rain; often using a banana leaf to shield their faces. However, many men died and there was extensive sickness on this journey.

Plymouth Brethren David Wigg

Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels guide a walking wounded man back along the track. AWM 077342

The beleaguered 39th Battalion were now being reinforced by the 2/14, veterans fresh from the Middle East. These at least had some “Tommy Guns’”, but the contrast between desert warfare and jungle fighting is unimaginable! One of these seasoned regular army men collapsed, exhausted and declared – “Dig, I’ve fought these Japanese for 2 weeks and my mates have died all around me, and I’ve never seen one of them!” The veteran unashamedly wept with frustration!

Plymouth Brethren David Wigg

This iconic image by Damian Parer shows members of the 39th battalion, AMF, parading after weeks of fighting in dense jungle during the Kokoda campaign. Their bedraggled dress reflects the hard fighting of past weeks. These were survivors of the brave men David cared for. AWM 013289

A rough operating table set up, the patient anesthetised, the emergency operation just begun, and the medical team would have to flee for their lives! The terror of these times cannot be suitably told – unforgettable were the screams of the wounded we couldn’t carry, being tortured by the Japanese in a bid to draw rescuers into their ambushes. This led us to risk our lives if in any way we could carry each wounded man out.

Plymouth Brethren - David Wigg

Lance Corporal David Wigg

The closest I got to the north coast during this time was between Deniki and Kokoda, during the early part of our withdrawal. I agreed to accompany three soldiers from the 39th into no-man’s land to bring in a badly hurt mate – a dangerous undertaking. We managed to find him somehow; badly wounded in the legs. The darkness and difficult terrain made it impossible to ‘four-handed carry’. The others carried weapons so I picked up the wounded man and carried him on my back, up the precipitous slopes, in cloying mud, at 2 am. I stumbled and would have fallen many times but the others pulled me up and saved us both from disaster several times. We finally made it to Isurava rest house, the 14th Field Ambulance dressing station and operating theatre, completely exhausted. On arrival, I found my leggings were full of the soldier’s congealed blood.

Plymouth Brethren David Wigg

Willing hands lift this severely wounded man onto a bush stretcher to carry him back for more help. AWM 018049

Click here for part 3

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

  1. Pauline says:

    What courage! We must never forget the sacrifice made by many to preserve our liberty and freedom.

  2. me says:

    SO AMAZING WHAT YOU HAVE DONE AND YOU STILL STAND TRUE TO WHTA YOU BELIEVE.
    WELL DONE

    1. COOL says:

      WISH I WAS AS BRAVE AS THAT

  3. Ray says:

    Great service from a “conshie” as they were called. Little do we realised the importance these medical personell in a battle zone. I remember Mr Wigg in his old age and he was always willing to help you out of any sticky situation, as he did here in PNG.

  4. DavidM says:

    The courage, devotion to duty and love for their fellows is beyond words.

  5. Very interesting says:

    thankyou very much.

    It is amazing what the young men went through, yet they still remained true to the position here at home by having small bible readings and prayers out in the bush.

  6. Llew says:

    Very, very courageous.
    “The freedom of those who fought for it has a meaning the protected will never know.”

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