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31 Kokoda (c) Vincent Ross.jpg

Unsung heroes

On August 14, 1942, 777 men of the South Australian 2/27th Battalion AIF, battle-hardened from fighting in Syria and the Middle East, disembarked from a troop ship in Port Moresby, New Guinea.

They were young and fit. They had seen war and knew how to handle it.

But they had not yet seen the Kokoda Track, had not faced waves of suicidal Japanese soldiers, had not been lost in the steaming jungles of New Guinea's Owen Stanley Ranges... which the Commander in Chief of World War II's Second Australian Imperial Force, General Sir Thomas Blamey, would later assert was a cowardly retreat.

Isolated in the jungle, far from life-saving medical support, mortally wounded soldiers cried out to their mates to put them out of their misery with a bullet, rather than be left suffering, spending their last moments on earth alone, waiting to be run through with a bayonet by an advancing Japanese soldier.

One profoundly courageous man did help end that suffering. It would haunt him for the rest of his life.

A few months later, the infantrymen would fight grimly to route the Japanese and restore the battalion's reputation in bloody but often futile battle at Gona on the north coast of Papua, pushed on by their military superiors back in Australia at any cost to secure a quick, visible victory.

That was their destiny.

When the 2/27th Battalion was withdrawn from action at Gona on January 6, 1943, its fighting force had been reduced to 70 men, three officers and 67 infantrymen.

There is no word in the military parlance of Ancient Rome to describe what they had endured. In little more than four months, the battalion had been far more than decimated.

It would never be the same again.

Through defeat, desperation, humiliation, heroism, victory and vindication, the esprite de corps of the South Australian 2/27th Battalion endured. is their story.

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