Veterans remember horrors and heroes
Salute: Bugler Cpl David Scott.

Seven decades ago today, Jim Moir was lying wounded on a stretcher in the dense New Guinea jungle, ripped open from hip to groin by a Japanese bullet.

With eyes that have seen too much, the 93-year-old veteran stood in the sun at Kings Park yesterday and watched children laugh and play on the fresh-cut grass.

He searched for words as he mulled over the terrible price he and others had paid all those years ago on a jungle track known as the Kokoda Trail.

"It was worth it," he said. A heartbeat later his face grew sad.

"It was horrific."

Mr Moir lay on that stretcher for 31 days - 26 of them without medication.

"All we had was field dressings and blowflies," he said.

And all that Australia had was men like Mr Moir and his mates. It was enough.

In 1942 the Japanese war machine was on the verge of entrapping Australia within an iron ring of military might that would leave the nation vulnerable, cut off from allies.

Singapore, the so-called impregnable fortress, had fallen in February. Japanese bombers had boldly invaded the skies above Broome and Darwin and dropped a rain of death and destruction in their wake.

Bomb shelters were being built in Perth's suburbs.

Having had their nose bloodied by a joint task force of American and Australian warships in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese resolved to capture Port Moresby in an overland assault.

They landed about 5000 battle-hardened troops on the north coast of New Guinea in July.

Mr Moir, then 23, was serving with the WA 2/16 Battalion in the Middle East.

By mid-August he and his mates had arrived in New Guinea to be sent into the fetid jungle to support the beleaguered 39th Battalion.

Outnumbered, the Diggers waged a fighting withdrawal in terrible conditions and resolved to make the enemy pay for every step they took towards Port Moresby.

The fighting, often at close quarters, was vicious.

"It was you, or the other bloke," Mr Moir said. On September 8, after two days of heavy fighting at Brigade Hill, Mr Moir and his mates realised too late the enemy had sent a force behind them.

They were surrounded.

Phil Kemp, 89, Jack Connolly, 88 and Jim Moir, 93 who served in the 2/16th battalion. Picture: John Mokrzycki/The West Australian

"We held them up for about two days," he said. "Then they got in behind us. I got shot in the hip. I had a hole in my groin 9cm in diameter."

About 200 men from the 2/27 tried to carry battered and wounded mates through the jungle on stretchers. It was an impossible situation.

"The Japs had control of the track," Mr Moir said.

"The further we went, the further we got behind.

"After about a week the commanding officer decided he would leave us (the wounded) behind, which was a hell of a decision."

Mr Moir's elder brother was also serving in the 2/16. "My brother was with me for seven or eight days after I was wounded, but then they had to leave us behind," he said.

"They had to go and fight. He came and shook hands with me. I didn't see him for five years."

Two men were left behind to care for the wounded.

"They got water from the river for us and dug up yams and sweet potatoes for us to eat," Mr Moir said.

The Fremantle veteran survived 26 days in the jungle without medication. Many others did not.

In Kings Park yesterday, 70 years on, Mr Moir and four other veterans stood with heads bowed before the 2/16 memorial. They remembered mates who held back the Japanese tide against the odds, trading life and limb to protect their country.

Victory came at great cost.

In the Kokoda campaign, 625 Australian Imperial Force soldiers were killed in action, 1600 were wounded and more than 4000 became casualties due to sickness.

At the end of yesterday's service, a woman went up to Mr Moir and hugged him. A wide-eyed little boy in a yellow shirt ran up, threw his arms around him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Mr Moir leaned heavily on his walking stick as he moved away, a bittersweet smile on his face.

"It was worth it," he said again.

Veterans: Phil Kemp, 89, Jack Connolly, 88, and Jim Moir, 93, who served in the 2/16th Battalion. Pictures: John Mokrzycki

The West Australian

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