FRONTLINE – W.W.2 Extracts from Lance Corporal David Wigg – Part 3.
At one time the number of wounded requiring attention had increased to about 60, and the surgeon was unable to carry out all the operations necessary. He appealed to the sergeant for help but he declined. The surgeon then asked me if I would help, and from that time I carried out a good deal of the minor surgery to the best of my ability.
The steady retreat of our troops, created a horror story for the Medical Light Section. We were in a very difficult position with a large number of wounded and the enemy across the track between us and Port Moresby. However we set off down the track with a large party of native carriers with our wounded and slowly in single file we went back towards our lines. I prayed we would get through and a heavy mountain mist came down and obscured us completely, we could hear the Japanese voices either side of us in the trees they were so close. It became dark and each man had to hang onto the bayonet scabbard of the man in front as we shuffled along We waited for the rattle of a machine gun and the shrill cries of the Japanese, but the Lord’s hand was over us and we arrived safely amongst our own men in the early hours of the morning – we didn’t lose a man.
We struggled on throughout the day until we reached Eora Creek where there was a staging post. This ‘creek’ is as large as a river and swollen by the regular afternoon rains, becomes a raging torrent crossed only by a large slippery log and from boulder to boulder.
Here we stayed overnight, almost no shelter for the Medical personnel, in pouring rain and violent thunder storms. We set out at dawn and crossed a 7,000 ft ridge to a staging post at Templeton’s Crossing, then proceeding in the direction of Port Moresby. The track had become a slippery treacherous quagmire of roots and slush, making it very difficult for the native bearers to carry the wounded, and there were many slips and falls in the course of the day with pains to patients and bearers alike.
The map below has been split into 3 sections for readability, tracing David’s journey from the base hospital 30 miles from Illola, right across the Owen Stanley Ranges to Deniki, then the battle for survival as he cared for the wounded all the way back on the fighting withdrawal to Imita Ridge.
We had to cross the 7,000 ft peak of Myola at night. There was a general state of disorder and- ‘terror on every side’, with Japs keeping up the pressure of their advance, constantly infiltrating, constantly encircling much to the discomfort of the dogged defenders. The strain on human bodies was enormous, nerves and muscles stretched to breaking point. Exhaustion, lack of sleep, no hot food; always wet and cold at night. The situation was now extremely difficult with many wounded and trying to transport our supplies back with us. Large quantities of valuable food and ammunition had to be abandoned on the track. Several times when we found quantities of food being abandoned we would split the sacks of rice and prick the cans of bully beef, which in the tropical conditions would rapidly go off, no doubt, causing the hungry advancing Japanese chronic stomach upset. Our troops reported hearing the pained cries of the Japanese at night after we had ‘spiked’ a dump. Our troops were constantly being pressed by the Japanese as we fought a delaying action all the way back towards Port Moresby. The Brigade Headquarters were overrun and the Japanese thought they had a clear road to Port Moresby.
The Japanese were masters of jungle warfare and experts at trickery. One wounded soldier told Ted Crutcher how the Japs, from deep cover, would call out confusing commands in English to our side, or mimic dying calls of Australian wounded – “Oh! They’ve got me – over here Dig, They’ve got me!” The Australian would-be rescuers, of course would be shot down by invisible Japanese snipers. Or to draw fire from hidden defenders and get them to give away their positions, a Japanese would dance out onto the open track and give his life for the Emperor, when shot at by nervous members of our side.
Extract from another soldier about Dave during this period. (by Ted Crutcher)-
I was very worried about Dave Wigg – as to where he was. It was about this time that a Jeep came into the hospital area one day with an Australian driver and to my immense delight, sitting alongside the driver was David Wigg and sitting up behind him in the Jeep were a couple of New Guinea natives – one was a very big Fuzzy Wuzzy – quite naked except for a tiny little loin cloth – and the other man was a bit lighter colour and he was sitting up there, perched up there, looking very important – up behind Dave Wigg. I also noted that one of the natives – I found out that his name was Amoz – was the custodian of a 303 rifle.
It was obvious that Dave had been through a very severe ordeal – nervously and physically. He was sick in his body and it really took him many years to get over it. I was never free to ask him the details about his ordeal – how they met up with the 39th Battalion and other reinforcements that were pouring up the track and how they had desperately attended the wounded. Fearful conditions, confusion and fighting going on close by and Japs infiltrating through, fearful thunderstorms in the dead of night: – they never ceased their relentless attacks and advance. Our men would set up a bit of a hospital, a bit of a regimental aid post with Captain Adsett and the other orderly and try to give an anaesthetic or try and give a blood transfusion or try and set a fracture and suddenly the Japs would be all around them and they would have to withdraw and escape for their lives. Early on, they had to leave patients behind who were too injured and too ill to move. They could only administer morphine in such cases – a good heavy dose and leave them behind and flee again and try and set up further back. The pressure on the nervous system, no food, no regular meals, no hot meals, cold and wet, the highest elevation on the track – not enormously high, but its 8000 feet or thereabouts in the Gap, and quite cold and misty.
They – Dave only told me in recent years – 1992 – that he had a very fine pair of leather gaiters – very finely crafted gaiters that his father had had in the First World War – they were an excellent thing for the jungle. They preserved the legs from bamboo spikes, roots and thorny lianas and bushes, leeches and bull ants and a 1001 other things in the jungle that bite and sting and poison you. But he told me recently that he attempted to retrieve a wounded man and carry him up a cliff on his back and I don’t think the poor man survived but Dave made the effort – It wouldn’t have been the only time – and in the evening, he found that his gaiters were full with the man’s blood – I could never talk to him about this period, after the war – he used to get so upset
At this stage one A.I.F. Battalion (2/27) became cut off and completely lost in the jungle. They found their way back to our lines a week later, exhausted and starving.
The next night we stopped at Efogi, a 5,000 ft ridge where we spent the night, I was given the job of cooking up a large quantity of rice and sultanas to feed weary dispirited and hungry troops. The next stage was Menari and the following day they got to Nauro, after crossing a 5,000 ft ridge. The pack store, where they had left most of the gear was situated in this village and this fell into the hands of the Japanese a few days later.
From Nauro we crossed the Maguli Range, 4,400 ft, and spent the following night at Ioribaiwa. From there they went to Uberi and then to Owers Corner where there was a jeep loading post. The wounded were now carried to Illolo by jeep and from there by truck to the Port A.G.H. 30 miles away.
To be continued