Remembering Kokoda 80 years on

This Thursday, 21 July 2022, marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Kokoda campaign in Papua New Guinea.

The opening months of 1942 were perhaps the darkest days of the Second World War for Australia, with the seemingly unstoppable advance of Imperial Japanese forces across Asia and into the Pacific.

Historians say the conditions experienced along the Kokoda Trail were among “the most desperate and vicious” endured by Australian troops in the Second World War.

“The Kokoda Trail is one of the most iconic Australian campaigns of the Second World War,” Dr Karl James, Head of Military History at the Australian War Memorial, said.

“Eighty years on, it is important to continue to honour those veterans still with us today and to highlight Australia’s long connections with our Pacific neighbours.”

Intent on capturing Port Moresby and isolating the Australian mainland, Japanese forces landed around Gona, on Papua’s north coast, on 21 July 1942 and moved inland across the Owen Stanley Range along what would become known as the Kokoda Trail.

“The five-month Kokoda campaign would become an epic feat of endurance, requiringing hand-to-hand combat and many acts of individual bravery,” Dr James said.

Australian troops – with Papuan support – fought vicious actions at Kokoda and Isurava. They then went on the offensive, achieving hard-fought successes at Templeton’s Crossing and Eora Crossing, and liberated Kokoda in early November.

“Australia emerged from the Second World War industrialised and confident, with a sophisticated relationship with Britain, a new friendship with the United States of America, and ready to engage with Asia and the Pacific,” Dr James said.

“The Second World War was the conflict that most shaped Australia during the 20th century.

“Kokoda has become one of Australia’s best-known wartime campaigns. It has come to represent qualities such as courage, sacrifice and mateship. Remembering Kokoda reminds us of what it means to be an Australian.”

The Australian War Memorial will commemorate this significant event at a Last Post Ceremony highlighting the service and sacrifice of Lance Corporal Denis Hackett of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion, who died in Papua.

His is just one of the 641 stories of Australians who lost their lives during the Kokoda campaign.

“The significance and understanding of Australia’s involvement in the Second World War evolves because of how we remember. It is crucial for Australia to remember and share this knowledge,” Dr James said.

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