Prologue

Men had been killing each other in tribal warfare in the jungles of the Pacific islands for generations. Some had been eating the flesh of their enemies.

In the dappled green darkness of the jungle on the Kokoda Track in 1942, they would do it again.

But the fight between the Australian and Japanese soldiers in New Guinea was in some ways darker, because these men, each in their own way, believed themselves to be civilised. But the jungle could change them.

There was a vengeful god lurking in the steamy cathedrals of trees and clinging vines.

To survive, for a time, some men would become savages.

Others would become dark angels of vengeance, still others would be forced to assume power over life and death; to benevolently grant life… or to abruptly take it away.

In the early chapters of this book, I have relied heavily on accounts of the war service in Syria of the 2/27th Battalion described in the official battalion history, The Brown and Blue Diamond at War, The Story of the 2/27th Battalion A.I.F.

I have done so because, outside the battalion’s War Diaries held by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, there is limited information on the battalion’s service as part of the “Silent 7th” Division and its campaign against the Vichy French and the French Foreign Legion in the Middle East in 1941.

The battalion war diaries provide a military account of the battalion’s movement, action and casualties, but are often sketchy on the humanity of the daily lives of the group of some 800 men who were bonded in brotherhood.

The Brown and Blue Diamond at War, published in 1960, is a long time out of print and the few remaining books available are now expensive collector’s items.

This book is an attempt to ensure the story of the 2/27th Battalion is not lost, hidden on a shelf in the back of a second-hand bookstore, its yellowing pages quietly fading into the past.

In print and via ebook, The Lost Battalion is an attempt to bring back to life the unsung heroes of the 2/27th Battalion for a new generation of Australians, to again pay homage to their sacrifice before it is lost in the dusty vaults of the histories of ordinary men who gave their all in extraordinary times.

Like all heroic stories, it is worth the retelling.

Just as the symbolic but ultimately futile actions of the 300 Spartans and their stand at Thermopylae, the “Hot Gates”, against the advancing Persian army have lived down through the ages in the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, it is hoped this book will give new life to the deeds of the young men of the 2/27th Battalion AIF.

Along with all the soldiers who have fought and lost their lives in all the wars down through the ages of civilisation, they deserve no less.

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The Lost Battalion
Kokoda's forgotten foot soldiers