Home Forums General Forums Introduction Kokoda Battles Historical Poetry By Mike Mcarthur

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    G'day All,
    Like all that have the honour to walk the Kokoda Track I was deeply affected. I am disappointed that so many Australians are still not aware of the courage, sacrafice, mateship and endurance that occurred over there. I have written a series of poems in an effort to help people learn some of the history with out the need to read a large in depth historical book. Who knows maybe one day i will get them published? Any way i thought to day which is the anniversary of the beginning of the battle of Isurava i would share one with you .
    regards Mike


    In 1942 there was a life and death struggle,
    Against the Japanese in the New Guinea jungle.
    The invaders landed with a force 2000 strong,
    Encountered only 110 Aussies, to take them on.

    By 13th August now 500 defenders at Deniki,
    Severely outnumbered by the swarming enemy.
    After a full day of fighting there were nearly cut off,
    So they had to withdraw or all lives would be lost.

    Retreat to the next village, about 2 hours back,
    Isurava that sat astride the Kokoda Track.
    C.O. Colonel Ralph Honner after a good look around,
    Concluded, the best delaying position to be found.

    A natural stronghold perched above the valley below,
    To the front and to the rear tributary creeks flowed.
    Provided obstacles to slow, no were to hide.
    A belt of thick scrub but cleared spaces each side.

    To outflank on the right, a stiff uphill climb,
    Through thick jungle left side, to pass the line.
    Dug in north-south between the two creeks,
    For 500 metres and 400 metres west–east.

    Defenders spread to protect the perimeter,
    Close enough for their fire to interlock each other.
    This way everyone supported the man next to him,
    Each section, platoon, company did the same thing.

    Practiced manoeuvres so reserves new what to do,
    If the storming Japanese managed to break through.
    Over the ensuing days Honner further drilled the men,
    How to predict flanking movements, be waiting for them.

    Although physically exhausted from weeks of fighting,
    After practice and practice, confidence was rising.
    The message from Moresby, the AIF are on their way,
    No give in, fight till the death, here they must stay.

    No more retreat for these brave Militia Men,
    Hold this ground, reinforcements are coming.
    So while the 39th Battalion prepared Isurava for attack,
    The 2/14th were making their way over the track.

    The hit and run tactics used by the Aussies to date,
    Confused the enemy leaders made them hesitate.
    They were amazed at the resistance there’d been,
    The defenders only boys by the bodies they’d seen.

    They were not aware only 400 faced them,
    Thinking 2 thousand were now waiting dug in.
    If their commander Major General Horii only knew,
    He’d have ordered his army to keep pushing through.

    Keep pressure on the defenders, give them no time,
    To fortify positions and prepare a protective line.
    This hesitation could well have changed history,
    If they’d of quickly pursued it is difficult to see.

    How the small band of exhausted Australian men,
    Could have held for long against the might of them.
    But for nearly two weeks the Japanese regrouped,
    Now 5 battalions massed, 6 thousand crack troops.

    On the morning of 26th August the assault begun,
    The booming sound of the Japanese mountain gun.
    Rolling along the ridge top near the most forward post,
    Entrenched out there to warn of the enemies approach.

    As the gunfire continued and intensified that day,
    It was clear to all the battle was under way.
    But there was no panic waiting for the enemy,
    The preparations, as thorough as they could be.

    The huge mountain gun caused havoc that day,
    Round after round from 500 yards away.
    In the distance a load whump noise, 5 seconds to wait,
    Huddle in the foxhole, life in the hands of fate.

    The gun was disassembled and carried by teams,
    The barrel took three men, it weighed 94 kilograms,
    The myriad of parts were placed into rucksacks,
    Dozens of troops struggled with them over the track.

    The 39th possessed an obsolete Lewis Machine Gun,
    First seen action on the Western Front in World War 1.
    No long range artillery to counter the Japanese,
    Have to wait until they got closer to inflict damage.

    At the forward patrol post Lieutenant Simonson,
    Lead a counter attack to silence the gun.
    But it was well protected, by soldiers dug in,
    So he and his gallant men had to fall back again.

    As the missiles continued to rain in causing hell,
    The infantry started pressing the perimeter as well.
    To the North side way up on the high ground,
    And launching flanking movements around.

    The human waves of attacks pressed all afternoon,
    Impossible to hold on, if help doesn’t come soon.
    Physically exhausted and ammunition getting low,
    Any breach of the perimeter would be a fatal blow.

    On the high ground were they copped the most heat,
    B Company held on by the skin of their teeth.
    All reserves committed, hold on they must do,
    Nobody behind them but three officers at H.Q.

    Although Brigadier Potts new his men had fought well,
    As he assessed the grim situation he could tell.
    This brave band of men could not survive the night,
    They’d be overrun and wiped out before the day light.

    Miraculously that evening around 5pm,
    The reinforcements arrived, a fine body of men.
    C company of the 2/14th all strong, fit and tall,
    The confidence they showed obvious to all.

    When the two groups laid eyes on each other,
    They stared momentarily in wonder.
    The newcomers looked at the men to be relieved,
    The state they were in was hard to believe.

    Men dressed in uniforms that were in shreds,
    Raggedy scarecrows, eyes sunken into their heads.
    Smelt like latrines that had been left in the sun,
    Not bathed for weeks, since the campaign begun.

    Bodies racked with dysentery and fatigue,
    Lucky they had arrived in time it seemed.
    It was hard to believe they could hold a gun,
    They’d done an incredible job every one.

    Now relieved the 39th were due to fall back,
    They’d done their bit to protect the track.
    But the situation was dire it was clear,
    Every man available was needed here.

    The 2/14th were like gods to the militia men,
    Bronzed muscular bodies, twice the size of them.
    Dressed in green, well equipped and ready to fight,
    They would learn jungle warfare that first night.

    Recently returned from fighting in the Middle East,
    There you could see your enemy at least.
    Here the fire fights were over a short distance,
    The enemy could creep in close to the defence.

    Dark in the jungle, couldn’t see a bloody thing,
    Very seldom could the enemy be seen coming.
    Had to stay alert because skilled enemy fighters,
    Would infiltrate positions and bayonet defenders.

    On the 27th hell was unleashed by the enemy,
    At 1st light the full power of their artillery.
    Mountain gun shells, mortar bombs rained down,
    Heavy machine gun fire levelled the tall grass all round.

    Just a prelude to what next was in store,
    Troops stormed from the jungle, waves of 100 or more.
    Rushed the perimeter on the north and west sides,
    These most vulnerable positions held back the tide.

    The Aussies responded to these frontal attacks,
    Hand grenades and storms of fire turned them back.
    When due to weight of numbers they reached the lines,
    Met with bayonets and hand to hand struggles at times.

    Often threatening to over run the thin line,
    But desperate fighting repulsed them each time
    The probing Japs found a weakness mid afternoon,
    Between B Company and D company 16th Platoon.

    The jungle was so dense only a limited view,
    The enemy was on them before they new.
    With overwhelming numbers they breached the line,
    A highly dangerous situation for sure this time.

    Fresh troops mounted a counter attack,
    Expelled the enemy, the line was back intact.
    The wave attacks continued through the day,
    Near the front lines a thick cover of bodies lay.

    In the distance Major General Horri watched,
    As attack after attack was squashed.
    Three days in this battle had come at great cost,
    With 1000 wounded and 350 lives lost.

    Getting impatient tomorrow must be the day,
    Called up his reserve battalions to enter the fray
    This massive frenzied human tide,
    Again attacked the North and West sides.

    C Company’s position to the front right,
    Took heavy casualties in the relentless fire fight.
    Attacks so ferocious threatening to break through,
    Coming forward the reserves were mauled too.

    Sensing victory attacked at this weakened spot,
    The perimeter in jeopardy, they must be stopped.
    Just as another Banzai attack had began,
    Private Bruce Kingsbury ran straight at them.

    Mowing them down as he fired his Bren gun,
    Stopped the advance, caused them to run.
    This brave action had turned the tide,
    As other diggers joined in by his side.

    Tragically after the enemy had fled,
    A snipper shot Brave Kingsbury dead.
    He was awarded a posthumously a V.C.
    For his actions of unselfish gallantry.

    Despite Kingsbury’s sacrifice to stop the breach here,
    As the Japanese assaults continued it became clear.
    Shear weight of numbers meant only one outcome.
    The Australians must withdraw or be overrun.

    Chaos and mayhem each time they broke the line,
    Expelled over and over, more difficult each time.
    When the gallant C Company lost the high ground,
    Meant the enemy could rack machine gun fire down.

    Also some enemy moved along an alternate track,
    Near Missima the 2/16th made frontal contact.
    Sent by Horri to attack Alola and secure it,
    Cut of Isurava there will be no exit.

    So after 4 days of constant fighting and strain,
    With no shelter, soaked by the torrential rain,
    Not even hot cuppa or meals to eat,
    Standing to all the time, deprived of sleep.

    The evening of the 29th the order came to fall back,
    To a place one hour walk on the track.
    This withdrawal must be done the right way,
    To keep the pursuing enemy at bay.

    It was carried out with much skill and precision,
    A battalion go back, dig in a defensive position.
    Allow the others to move safely through them,
    Leap frog each other and do the same again.

    The Australians were not aware as they went,
    The cost to the Japanese this battle had meant.
    Lost two thousand troops to death and wounding,
    And held up four vital days in their track crossing.

    The momentum of the Japanese drive was in tatters,
    Horii’s ambitious ten day time table shattered,
    Weeks of continued stubborn resistance on the track,
    Would eventually cause his men to turn back.

    If the defence at Isurava had been over run,
    It may have been a completely altered out come.
    Over the ranges could march the enemy.
    Unimpeded all the way to Port Moresby.

    Australia could suffer heavy aerial bombarding,
    And a real possibility of the Japanese invading.
    Against the overwhelming odds the diggers had fought,
    This battle is now considered Australia’s Agincourt.


    In one word, Brilliant! I only wish Dad was still alive to read it, he would have loved it.



    Wow Mike. This is fantastic. Really captures the essence in a nutshell.

    39th Decendant – Your father's poem moved me greatly. Also captures the spirit in a nutshell – or should that be 'bombshell'?



    thanks Fluppy and 39th decendant. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for shareing your Dads poem with me , it was very moving. He was a very talented man and may i say if he was a member of the amazing 39th militia he was a legend and a true Australian hero!! All the Diggers were heroes!!!

    Is it only me or does anyone else get a little annoyed that the anniversary of The Battle of Isurava can occur with out a mention at all in our media ( well i did not hear anything on commercial radio or Television) This battle was surely the most important in Australian history , why is it that after 67 years it is still pretty much ignored?
    Ask your friends, neighbours and work mates if they have heard of Isurava, I think i know the answer.
    Shame! Shame! Shame!


    We had a couple of lovely poems read out on our trek. I cant remember the name of the poems but Im sure Gail will know.


    i am glad i put a couple of my informative poems on this website.
    they have been pretty popular with lots of views……BUT…… i
    have no idea if people liked them and learnt from them!!!!
    would like to here from someone who read my poems
    to hear what they thought,
    cheers Mike


    I think that poetry like this is a good way to learn and remember history.


    QUOTE(peterh13 @ 12 Sep 2009, 05:44 AM) [snapback]10290[/snapback]
    I think that poetry like this is a good way to learn and remember history.



    Thanks for the comments Peter and Fluppy! I do enjoy reading the history books and then trying to put it all together in poetry to make it easier for people to learn the history.
    Cheers mike


    It certainly beats "The boy stood on the burning deck".
    I really look forward to your next poem.

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