A Poem


He stood at the shrine
With a boy by his side,
A digger and grandson –
With them was pride.
I heard him say
In a faltering voice
Words that were poignant:
“We didn’t have choice


“We went up the steps
On the Imita Slopes –
Two thousand there were,
With no guiding ropes.
Then over Maguli
With three thousand more;
We did it for peace –
Though this was war.


“We passed through Maguli
And went to Nauro,
Then on to Menari
With Efogi below;
Then up to the Gap
And Iora Creek
And Isurava
Where history speaks.


“Kokoda was nestled
In a valley ahead,
And while we waited
Our orders were read.
If we were defeated
All would be lost –
Port Moresby would fall,
Invasion the cost.


“We were a battalion
Consisting of boys,
The new Thirty-ninth
To stall was our ploy.
We had to hang on
And live by the sword
Till veterans returned –
From serving abroad.

“The cream of our forces
Were coming back,
And of fighting men
They were the cracks.
We were militia
We hardly trained
For this encounter
In terrible terrain.


“But after a week
Word went around:
We would withdraw
On treacherous ground.
Through jungle mountains
In fighting retreat,
Through tropical rain,
Coldness and heat.


“Japanese were advancing –
But they hadn’t won.
Tired and exhausted
We carried our guns
On that track of hell,
Waist deep in mud –
But leaving a trail
Of sweat and blood.


“The natives assisted –
They acted as guides,
They lent their shoulders –
On them we relied.
We fought for time –
An hour was a day;
We knew reinforcements
Were on their way.


“Imagine a track
Designed by the devil
To torture and probe,
And where he could revel
In the suffering and pain
Of God-fearing men –
Imagine it boy,
And think again.


“For unless you were there
With a pack on your back,
In the mud and the slush
And your mind on the rack,
You cannot believe
What diggers went through
For freedom, their country,
Your sister and you.


“One hundred miles
They said it would be
For us to defend
With backs to the sea;
One hundred miles –
Where a step was an inch,
One hundred miles –
Where you would flinch


“As leeches ravaged
Your legs and your shins
While bodies were torn
By low-lying limbs;
One hundred miles
Where boots peeled away
And clothes became rags
In less than a day.


“But in that withdrawal
We made our stands,
And when reinforced
We took command.
We turned on the foe
And inflicted defeat –
And they broke away
In unscheduled retreat.


“At the river Kumusi
Their general drowned;
We claimed our victory
And reclaimed our ground.
We’d won the battle
For Kokoda’s Track
I’ve reminisced,
I have been back…


“I stood on the ridges
Where I stood long ago,
I thought of those diggers
I used to know.
I looked at the valleys,
The jungle and all,
And thought of those boys
Who answered the call.


“I saw their graves,
I shed some tears;
I couldn’t believe
It’s been sixty years
Since I won a medal –
For valour they said,
But other meanings
Have to be read.


“That medal’s for all
Who battled that track,
It is for mates
Who never came back.
It’s for the courage
Of thousands of men
Who fought in conditions
Not seen again.


“Of five hundred boys
Who saluted with me
In the famed Thirty-ninth
Just a handful I see;
For near all were lost
In that northern war –
Just eighty odd lads
Returned to our shore…


“This is a shrine
That honours all diggers –
This is where memories
Are fostered and triggered;
And when you are here
Think of that trail
Where a step was a triumph,
When victory was veiled.


“And think of Kingsbury
Who won the VC,
The first on our soil –
It’s well known to me
How devoid of fear
He stormed an outpost
And opened a path
Back to the coast.


“The spirit of Anzacs
Travelled that trail –
When there was challenge
It would prevail.
That spirit’s a force
Greater than guns;
It is the reason
We endured and we won”.

© Barry from the Bush – 1/9/02

Authors Note: this poem is written from the perspective of the 39th Battalion, the first to engage the Japanese in New Guinea. I pay tribute to the heroic involvement of the following units in the Kokoda campaign.

Brigades – 25th, 16th, 21st (from 6th & 7th Divisions)
Battalions – 2/14th, 2/16th, 2/27th, 3d, 39th,53d
Field Regiment – 14th
And others

I acknowledge the assistance received from Bert Fry (former Sergeant) of the original 39th Battalion. Emma Robertson of the Army History Unit Department of Defence, Canberra