Shining light on courage
The battle of Gorari is one of our lesser known battles in PNG but that’s about to change
AS A nation, we remember them. They are our fallen soldiers, those who bravely fought for freedom in the theatre of war, properly and respectfully acknowledged, whether it be today on Remembrance Day or Anzac Day, or even in a less formal way, kneeling at the grave of a loved one.
They are mostly young men, their lives extinguished in their prime. And among all the bloody battles, those we know a great deal about and those we know not so much, today we honour the men who died in a brutal fight in Papua New Guinea that little is known about. The battle and its significance have been largely forgotten. Yet it tore apart so many lives. The Battle of Gorari claimed the lives of 133 Australian Diggers.
It took place from November 4 to 11, 1942. It was the biggest battle of the New Guinea campaign up to that point and the first time Australians were able to engage the Japanese in relatively open country.
The battle went for eight days with the soldiers on both sides pretty much at the end of their tether after gruelling and savage fighting. Battalion diaries describe the condition of the men at that time as “pitiable”.
The Australian commanders threw every available unit into the battle. There had been no monuments or plaques to commemorate the battle and honour the fallen. Until now. A Gorari monument was opened to the public a little over a week ago, listing the names of the 133 soldiers who perished.
It will now form part of any military tour of PNG and be a rite of passage – just as Kokoda is – for Aussies wanting to honour our fallen soldiers. One of the challenges for those that put the project together was that nearly all of those killed were young and single and left no direct descendants.
Other stories uncovered by organisers were simply heartbreaking.
For example, take the Simmonds brothers from Forbes, NSW. They were killed less than a minute apart by the same sniper. They had gone into attack on the morning of November 10, 1942, their company losing a third of their men, killed or wounded within half an hour.
The Simmonds brothers’ company had swung into action after the carnage of the first strike became clear. They were killed metres from each other.
In preparation for the Gorari monument, organisers spoke to one of the nieces of the Simmonds brothers. She conveyed the emotion and grief in the Simmonds household the day two separate telegrams arrived informing the boys’ parents of their deaths. The Simmonds family have been cattle farmers in the Forbes district for many generations.
Then there’s Norm House. He was an exceptional Digger, a cattleman from central Queensland, married, aged 35 years. In the Middle East and along the Kokoda Track, he constantly protected the younger blokes by taking their place on dangerous patrols.
Near Menari, he risked his life to save his commanding officer, a chap called Arch Barnett. Norm House was killed a few weeks later on the last day of the Battle of Gorari. Norm House’s mother wrote a poem to her son after his passing (above).
It embodies the spirit of the Anzac, the very definition of what today means to this country.
Lest we forget.
The brothers were killed less than a minute apart by the same sniper … a third of the men, killed or wounded within half an hour
SACRIFICE: Corporal R.D. Somerville from Queensland was injured in the battle of Gorari. Picture: Australian War Memorial