Since 2001, more than 65,000 Australians from all walks of life have trekked the Kokoda Track. By doing so they pay homage to the heroic young men of the 39th Battalion and those in the World War II battalions of the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) who fought and died on it in 1942.
In 2011 I joined a trek group led by Brisbane-based Backtrack Adventures’ Jim Drapes to walk the 96-kilometre Kokoda Track in the Owen Stanley Ranges of Papua New Guinea.
Trekking the Kokoda Track with three friends - Geoff Simpson, Nick McMahon and Steve Flowers - to commemorate the World War II campaign fought against the invading Japanese Imperial Army is not an unusual enterprise for Australians.
Every person’s experience of the track is different. Some have said it changed their life. What did I gain from walking the track?
It gave me a strong desire to find out more about the experiences of the South Australian men who, back in 1942, suffered, endured and died on the KokodaTrack.
The 21st Brigade comprised Victoria’s 2/14th Battalion, Western Australia’s 2/16th Battalion and the 2/27th Battalion, formerly the South Australian Scottish Regiment.
Over three years of searching, I found half a dozen former 2/27th Battalion soldiers still alive and willing to talk about their experiences.
Many of the interviews were enlightening, with the honest, graphic detail provided by the old soldiers, still sharp in their final years, often humbling.
Sometimes they talked around issues, unwilling to break the soldiers’ code of silence for the sake of their mates.
At other times they were confronting and frank in discussing their experiences.
Some of the detail was shocking.
As one of Australia’s most important contemporary military icons of the War in the Pacific, the Kokoda Track stands alone as a 96-kilometre-long living, breathing, experiential memorial to those who died protecting Australia during World War II.
The Kokoda Track is a unique place where Australians honour the fallen by experiencing just a small part of their physical and emotional sacrifice.
A journalist for more than 40 years, I have worked in newspapers, magazines and digital media as an editor, copywriter, and as a freelance writer.
I believe The Lost Battalion is a story worth telling, for the benefit of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the men of the 2/27th Battalion AIF.
The aim in writing The Lost Battalion is to shine fresh light on the experiences of both the South Australian men who survived and those who died on the Kokoda Track and in the ensuing Battle of the Beachheads on the north coast of Papua.
www.thelostbattalion.net is their story.
- Vincent Ross