Lost Kokoda battlefield rediscovered

By AG staff with AAP 8 June 2010
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A former army captain has discovered the site of a pivotal battle between Australian and Japanese troops near Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Trail.

A SIGNIFICANT AUSTRALIAN BATTLEFIELD from the Kokoda campaign has been rediscovered, complete with the remains of Japanese soldiers, plus weapons and military equipment left over from savage fighting in 1942.

Although known to local villagers, jungle reclaimed the site of the battle of Eora Creek in Papua New Guinea. That was until Kokoda Track specialist Brian Freeman was guided to the site in April, discovering that the pivotal clash of the Kokoda campaign occurred some distance further from Eora Creek than previously thought.

Brian says the plateau, which includes the battlefield, was a hunting ground for Alola village people but the battle site, covering some 600 square metres, had been avoided because of a belief that spirits of the dead were still present. That means the site has apparently remained untouched since 1942.

“On our inaugural trek, we were hoping to find the remnants of a make-shift Japanese hospital and, potentially, relics of guns and ammunition. I never anticipated that we would find war dead,” he said in a statement. “As soon as we realised that Japanese and, potentially, Australian soldiers were buried at the site, we discussed with the villagers the need for those men to be identified and returned home.”

High death toll

The battle of Eora Creek was the single most costly clash of the Kokoda campaign, although different sources cite different casualty figures. Brian’s Lost Battlefield group says 79 Australians died with 145 wounded, while the Australian War Memorial website says 99 were killed and 192 wounded. This occurred as Japanese forces withdrew along the trail, establishing strong rearguard positions on a ridge overlooking the Eora Creek crossing. This tactic was described by official historian Dudley McCarthy as offering the Japanese most favourable conditions for defence.

Australian troops encountered strong Japanese positions on October 22, 1942 with fighting continuing for six days. Uphill attacks by soldiers of the of the 2/1st Battalion made little progress against determined Japanese resistance. However, the 2/3rd Battalion managed to outflank Japanese positions, attacking downhill, with the result that the Japanese defenders broke positions and fled. Five Australian soldiers remain missing in action.

Human remains

Brian says a preliminary survey of the site revealed fighting positions, Japanese and Australian weapons, ammunition, helmets and other equipment. Medical equipment was found at one position which was apparently used as a Japanese field hospital and the remains of three Japanese soldiers were found.

He argues that the site should be retained in its current pristine condition. “Our priority is to identify and repatriate the fallen soldiers and to honour their memory by ensuring all other elements remain intact and untouched.”

Australian Geographic Society Kokoda expedition