Lest we forget


Part 3: Charlie Lynn’s 100 Treks Across the Kokoda Trail

War relic: Rifle at Ofi Creek, April 27,2007

Lest we forget
With ANZAC Day this Sunday April 25 we visit two relevant chapters from Charlie Lynn’s book. The significance of sites such as Bomana War Cemetery and Isurava on the Kokoda Trail is not just measured in terms of tourism potential for Papua New Guinea, once we overcome the current challenges before us, but more importantly in the shared history and mateship between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Now more than ever this should not be forgotten.

Bomana War Cemetery
Bomana War Cemetery lies in a serene tropical garden 19 kilometres north of Port Moresby off Pilgrims’ Way. The cemetery was begun by the army in 1942 and formally dedicated by the Governor-General of Australia, Field Marshall Sir William Slim, on 19 October 1953. Those who died fighting in Papua and Bougainville are buried here.
The graves of 3,823 servicemen are marked with polished marble headstones and dressed in uniform rows on sloping lawns between the Stone of Remembrance and the Cross of Sacrifice.
The architectural design of these sacred places has its origin in the principle of commemoration in perpetuity which was adopted by the Imperial War Graves Commission in 1917. The core ideology was that there should be no distinction between officers and men. All Commonwealth war cemeteries were to be based on principles of equality and uniformity. There is no distinction in style of commemoration of headstones, plaques or memorials made based on military rank, civil rank or wealth of the veteran or his family.
The Cross of Sacrifice at Bomana is a tall, carefully proportioned, sandstone Latin cross standing on an octagonal base with a downward pointing bronze sword attached to its face. Together the sword and cross embody the military and spiritual nature of the cemetery. The Cross was intended to represent the faith of the majority of the dead it overlooked.
The Stone of Remembrance at the base of the cemetery was designed to capture one of the key purposes of commemoration – to forever remember our war dead. It is a simply-edged slab suggestive of a sarcophagus, set at the top of three steps.
Non-denominational and universal in its design, it is a monument to represent those of all faiths and of none. Its design was based on complex geometry from the Parthenon. Their name liveth forevermore is engraved on the front – the words were chosen by Rudyard Kipling from the Book of Ecclesiasticus in the Bible.
On a rise at the rear of the cemetery is a Memorial to the Missing which consists of a rotunda of cylindrical pillars enclosing a circle of square pillars with bronze panels engraved with the names of 703 Australians as well as Papua and New Guinea local forces listed as missing-in-action. The names of the battlefields on which the men died are carved on the entablature above the pillars. In the centre is a topograph with a bronze compass showing the direction and distance of the battle fields.
Memorials to the Missing were first inspired by the words of Field Marshall Lord Plummer at the unveiling of the Menin Gate Memorial in 1927: He is not missing. He is here.
On entering the surrounds of Bomana War Cemetery, we are struck with the landscape, design and serenity of the place.
It takes a while to absorb the significance of the visit however as one walks slowly among the polished granite headstones and reads the phrases chosen by their families it is easy to feel the grief of their loss decades ago. Students who visit it today are struck by the fact that the youngest solder in the cemetery was 16 years old.
When you go home
Tell them of us.
Tell them for their today,
We gave our tomorrow.
Discoveries along the trail
Most of those who choose to trek Kokoda come in search of what makes us Australian or Papua New Guinean and often find the bond that exists between our two nations.
For me it has been far more than a journey of self-discovery. There have been some remarkable discoveries of more historical importance along the way.
The Kokoda campaign was what the army would classify as a ‘small arms war’ – there were no army tanks or heavy artillery because it was not possible for them to operate in such a rugged jungle environment. It was therefore man against man – mortars, grenades, rifles and bayonets… and fists.
The trail is littered with these relics and you don’t have to move far off the track to find them.
The most significant finds for me were the battle sites of Brigade Hill and Isurava which had been bypassed since the war and reclaimed by the jungle.

Charlie Lynn at Isurava with Alfreda Chow and Margaret Aitsi, May 2, 2009

Brigade Hill
The first group I led for the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign was camped at Efogi village on the fourth night. I was not familiar with the trail at this stage and had to rely heavily on our guides. I was woken around 4.00am and asked to meet with the landowner of Brigade Hill. His name was Siosi Liaomi and he told my guides he wanted to take me to a ‘special place’. I woke my group and told them to get ready to leave.
We followed Siosi for a couple of hours up the mountain to reach his ‘special place’ at dawn. The area had been cleared and 72 sticks had been placed in a couple of rows.
Siosi explained that after a big battle during the war the soldiers had left the area and he and his villagers helped to bury 72 Australian soldiers and one Japanese. He was 15 years old at the time.
A closer look at the ground revealed a slight depression underneath each stick. We wondered if they could possibly be graves.
We reported the ‘discovery’ after we returned, and the army sent up a special team from the Unrecovered War Casualties unit to examine the area. Siosi would only allow them to examine three of the graves because he did not want them removed from his land. They found relics of Australian soldiers which included boots, bayonets and shilling coins.
We later learned that it had been an interim gravesite established soon after the battle, but the bodies had later been identified and transferred to Bomana War Cemetery.
Our next important discoveries along the trail were the Isurava battle site which had been reclaimed by the jungle and the famous ‘golden staircase’ on Ioribaiwa Ridge.

As I became more familiar with the trail it was obvious that the original wartime route had changed and some of the villagers had relocated since the war.
One of the more obvious questions that emerged was the location of Isurava village. My understanding of the battle and the ground over which it was fought did not match the location of the current village. I therefore decided to do more research and obtained copies of army topographical maps which had been printed from data collected in 1942; some wartime sketch maps from the Australian War Memorial; a portable global positioning system (GPS); and as much information as I could glean from the books I had read.
According to the readings I took from my GPS the battle site was located approximately one hour’s trekking time south of where the village of Isurava is located today.
The discovery led to Prime Minister John Howard engaging a military heritage architect, Michael Pender, ‘to create a place of monumental scale to commemorate the struggle and sacrifice of the men who fought on the Kokoda Trail in 1942’. Pender’s design was based on a sequence of tiered platforms for trekkers to descend to the memorial platform on a formal view axis with the Kokoda Valley in the distance. The stone and bronze circle, a simple geometric form in a wild landscape, symbolises a defensive army position known as ‘harbouring up’. The solid granite sentinel blocks symbolise the values of the men – Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice. The final platform in the sequence is an interpretive viewing area. The memorial was officially opened by the PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare and Australian Prime Minister John Howard on 26 August 2002, the 60th anniversary of the battle.
The Isurava Memorial will be a timeless reminder of those special qualities that came to the fore during one of the most desperate battles ever fought on Australian territory.

Identifying Ples Names
As I became more familiar with the trail, I used to ask our guides the names of various creeks and features. I soon learned that every nook and cranny along the trail has a name. I was frustrated by the fact that these were not recorded anywhere so I decided to purchase a Garmin GPS and acquired official maps from the Royal Australian Army Survey Corps. These had been compiled from a collection of sketch maps drawn during the Kokoda campaign.
During my Parliamentary breaks I would go to PNG and select a small group of guides from a selected area and spend a few days with them following the wartime trail on the army maps. These were some of my best days. Each time we came to a place, creek or feature I would ask them the name. They would have a group discussion then spell it phonetically for me. When there was a difference between and ‘i’ and an ‘e’ I would take a vote and record the majority view into my GPS. Another challenge we faced at the start was ending up in a ravine in thick scrub. I would explain that when I indicated direction, I expected them to read the ground and stay on the top of ridges as their fathers would have done. Once we got the routine down it was an experience we all enjoyed. The boys were proud to be part of an expedition that would improve the experience for future trekkers and I don’t think there is a better experience than to be alone in the jungle with a group who are not only proud to be part of something special but who keep a watch of everything you do because of their concern for your safety.
On my return I would download the readings to our cartographer, Laurie Whiddon, of Map Illustrations. Laurie was an adventurer who was keen to be part of the production of an accurate topographical map for the trail.
Our other trek leaders were also gathering information on their treks to download. They included Major Chad Sherrin MM a Vietnam Veteran and former army jungle training instructor; Commodore Simon Hart CSC, a former Naval Captain of two of our frontline warships – HMAS Brisbane and HMAS Hobart; and Lieutenant-Colonel Rowan Tracy who is regarded as Australia’s most knowledgeable military historian regarding the Kokoda campaign because he understands ‘ground’.
Laurie Whiddon constantly probed and tested us on the information we provided as he is pedantic in his quest for accuracy. Our work was recognised by the investigators into a fatal air crash on the trail near Abuari in 1999. The Chief Investigator called to see if we would allow them to use our map as part of their investigation as it was the only accurate map he could find in Australia or PNG.
A time for reflection
On 15 February 1995 I was walking past the cenotaph in Martin Place, Sydney and paused to listen to a service attended by the few remaining veterans of the 8th Division. The speaker was the late Sergeant Stan Bryant – his closing words resonated with me:
I say to all you people were today. To you who are responsible for governing this country, to all you who hold positions of leadership in the community, to all Australians. It is from the men we honour today that you inherited this land.
These were the men who helped build this nation. They were the ones associated with the building of our harbours and our bridges. They sealed the roads across the black soil planes, and they built the railways across Australia. Then they fought off the Japanese invasion so that you could inherit this country.
You now have the fruits of our labours. The cities and the harbours and the plains are yours. We few survivors are aged and can only look on with pride and wish you success in the future.
But we do charge you, to accept the responsibility of your inheritance and nourish and guard them with care.
And remember always, the men of the Eighth Australian Division and the two ships who stood between the Japanese invasion and Australia. They paid the price of your future. Only they know the real cost.
And remember – remember – we solemnly promised God that we would never forget!
Lest We Forget

Next week: What it’s like to trek Kokoda – three days of a 12-day trek

  • Excerpts reproduced by kind permission
  • 100 Treks Across the Kokoda Trail by Charlie Lynn with Glenn Armstrong