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

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