FRONTLINE – W.W.2 EXTRACTS FROM LANCE CORPORAL DAVID WIGG – PART 4.
Following David Wigg’s experiences on the fighting retreat from Kokoda to Port Moresby with the 39th Battalion, (Read his the earlier parts of this story here(Part 1), here(Part 2) and here(Part 3)) he was given some rest in Port Moresby while other fresh troops pushed the Japanese all the way back, through Kokoda to their strongholds on the north coast of new Guinea.
David and most of the 14th Field Ambulance returned to Kokoda, this time by plane – the reliable DC3. They had only been there a few days when David’s friend Ted Crutcher with a small party of 3 men staggered in. They had walked right across the Kokoda Track, bearing news of their desperate situation – over 212 battle causalities and 226 sick were held at Myola, stranded as the fighting against the Japanese had moved on.
The A.N.G.A.U. (Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit) was at once engaged to provide native bearers to go up to Myola and bring down the sick and wounded.
David recalls “Because I was familiar with Police boy Motuan and the dialects of the Orakivas, and with a working knowledge of Pidgin English (the native languages), I was given responsibility for the Medical care of patients to be carried down from Myola to Kokoda for evacuation. From here they would be airlifted back to Port Moresby where they would be treated before being sent by hospital ship back to Australia.
We had 200 native bearers now available to go up onto the Kokoda Trail and relieve Myola. They had been recruited from various tribes (quite forcibly) and many were hereditary enemies. I had my hands full preventing a ‘Civil War’ between the different factions!
As we ascended the mountains again, (now from the Kokoda side), we established staging camps for overnight rest and ration distributions at Templeton’s Crossing, Euroa Creek and Isurava. Being a fast walker I always did four or five trips from the start of the carrier line to the end each day, attending to the needs of the wounded and sick. We were now covering the ground where we had been before. The track was more muddy and treacherous than before and the stench of death and corpses were all along the way. It was hard going, and it took several trips to get all the wounded evacuated. In a message to headquarters General Allen wrote, “The track between Alola and Myola is the roughest and most precipitous throughout the complete route….” This gives some idea of the extreme difficulty of the task we had on hand.
The track was a deep quagmire with mud above knee depth and the jungle was shattered and ruined from the gun and shell fire. When I first crossed the Owen Stanley track several months earlier it had been like a green springy carpet shrouded by thick jungle and layered with vines. Everything was dripping wet.
Each stage was manned by 14th Field Ambulance orderlies. The native carriers worked hard. Some of these had had contact with various missionaries. An opportunity to speak a word for our Blessed Lord Jesus, to both bearers and patients was a refreshing experience.
The jungle stretchers of poles and blanket slings were not the most comfortable litters for desperately ill men. The four to eight bearers for each stretcher, with often raw and bleeding shoulders, were taxed to the limits of their physical endurance in their task.
I remained on this work with Lieut. Lord (A.N.G.A.U.) until all patients from Myola were airlifted from Kokoda, back to Port Moresby. When this work was completed, we walked forward to where the fighting was going on. A soldier’s work never ends……..