"A Bastard of a Place"

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"A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Fri Oct 17, 2014 1:39 pm

Given that we are right in the middle of the anniversary of some of the most brutal fighting on the Track (retaking Templetons through to Eora Creek) and Mathews brilliant figures are "all the rage" I thought some of you may like some photos of the area.

You can get some basic details and maps from this site: http://kokoda.commemoration.gov.au/batt ... o-eora.php

From the north crest of Bellamy, just below where the "2190" is in blue on the cross sectional map of the page above. Ready to decend 1000ft in the short distance to Templetons.

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Typical slope of the area. The track is 6-8 feet wide, in some places only 2 or 3. You can see how thick the jungle is off the sides and also the morning mist/cloud hanging in the scrub.
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A good bridge:

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An average bridge

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Eora Creek in full glory (January in this case, middle of the wet season! This is the creek that Basil Catterns crossed on a rough log bridge to the Jap held side):

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In most parts the terrain is like this, the slope towers above you one side and plunges below you the other side of the track, making movement "off track" hazardous and difficult WITHOUT someone shooting at you!!

And the sort of bridge he would have crossed
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Imagine patrolling through this section waiting to be ambushed! Note the gradient above and below the track:
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An ever present danger, particularly in the lower parts of the track, the aggressive and highly venomous Papuan Black.
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But some moments of sheer joy and wonder...a hidden corner at Eora Creek
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And finally a reminder that everything we do in this field should be to honour those who fought, not to make a game or light of them and their sacrifices:

Bomana War Cemetery, the largest number of Australians buried in a single War Cemetery anywhere in the world...just under 4,000.
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Last edited by Kokoda Guy on Wed Feb 18, 2015 6:11 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by oozeboss » Sat Oct 18, 2014 2:41 am

Fantastic photos, and an invaluable insight for those of us passionate about this truly mind blowing conflict. I am inextricably drawn to the 1942 campaign in part because the typography and environment were every bit as deadly to the respective combatants as they were to each other (if not more so).

Many thanks for adding to the pool of resources for what, in my eyes, is an vastly under appreciated aspect of our (as well as Japanese, American & Papuan) history. I can never get too much of the visions & first hand experiences of those who have been there.
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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Dropbear » Sat Oct 18, 2014 5:24 am

Thank you for sharing these.

A person in one photo reminds me of someone I know (the 4th last photo).

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Sat Oct 18, 2014 12:27 pm

Cheers Guys,

Always happy to share. It is a passion of mine too. I love and hate the place in equal measure. Between my trips I have photos of just about anything you could want. I am happy to dig any specific request out, it may take me a while but I will get there.

Dropbear, that is Charlie Lyn, Vietnam vet and current NSW politician. He runs Adventure Kokoda and is probably the Australian who knows more than any other about the track.

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Dropbear » Sat Oct 18, 2014 12:56 pm

Darryl wrote: Dropbear, that is Charlie Lyn, Vietnam vet and current NSW politician. He runs Adventure Kokoda and is probably the Australian who knows more than any other about the track.
Thanks - not the person I was thinking of. I was thinking of an old Battery Captain I know.

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Sat Oct 18, 2014 1:27 pm

Ok..so stop me if I start to bore you....

Some general views through ( ?? :) )more of the thick jungle whilst walking along the track.

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A revealing glimpse of life on a razor back ridge. Usually the side would be covered in jungle and the full effect is hidden except for sobering moments when the distance to the bottom reveals itself through a gap. Many of these are literally 12 inches wide on top and many, many times men coming under fire, cheerlessly threw themselves over the side.

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A more usual view of a razorback..this one the small one leading up to the top battlefield at Isurava.

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Another mind focussing bridge. I confess that after all the ones I have crossed, I still loath them. The addition of temporary ropes is a relatively new thing. We used to just walk over and I am not ashamed to say that I have shimmied across on my behind on occasion! Vital to remember to undo your pack buckles so you can ditch it should you fall in. The chances of surviving a fall into Eora Creek from some of those bridges are slim..... with a pack dragging you under, almost nil. The power of that creek (which would put most Australian RIVERS to shame) is incredible and can be heard a very long time before it appears through the jungle.
The photo below was in September and a dry one at that. The height of the bridge above the water gives you some idea of the variation...and, inevitably these bridges get washed away every wet season to be replaced when the river drops again. The September of 1942 was one of if not the wettest in living memory.

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The fabled Lake Myola (the larger of two) on an unusually clear day. In the far distance the rough, now abandoned airstrip and short lived, also abandoned village/trekkers huts. At one point the one place on the track that offered a hot bucket shower.....very few people make the trip to that side of the lake and the whole thing folded. It was a wet, cold, miserable flooded, insect ridden camp anyhow.

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Little wonder that a large proportion of supplies were never found...crossing the "lake" in a pretty dry period. If it has rained much the crossing can be calf to knee deep mud for most of the way.

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And now one that will give a stark insight into the evacuation of the wounded in the early stages...looking down at the aid station site at Eora Creek which was choked with wounded and dying and where many men had to be left as the withdrawl proceeded.

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Now I would ask you to go back and look at that photo again with this in mind: It is taken from the site of the Japanese Woodpecker and Mountain Gun positions above the hospital!

Finally a photo taken by a friend that is much better than I could ever take...Bomana again.

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Last edited by Kokoda Guy on Mon Oct 20, 2014 2:18 pm, edited 2 times in total.

"I've never shot a man who wasn't at the end of my bayonet."
- Bayonete Pete, a man largely unclear on small arms tactics

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by straylight » Sat Oct 18, 2014 2:19 pm

Thanks Darryl, fantastic photos and commentary.

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Dropbear » Sat Oct 18, 2014 8:31 pm

These are fantastic - a really good look at the different terrain. Loving it!

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Sun Oct 19, 2014 1:03 am

Cheers Guys,

I'll dig some more out tomorrow afternoon.

Any specific requests? Some of the villages (Alola springs to mind) have moved over the years and battlesites often have little left to be seen but I will try to find something relevant to most places/areas/battles.

Brigade Hill probably next.

Just one "mood piece" for the evening:

"Home" for the night at Naro village, in a passing "shower". Who would want a tent like this, a good meal, a 40lbs pack, hitech boots and modern medicines ... when you could have half a blanket to share, rotting clothes, hobnails, a 60lbs pack (plus rifle and ammo) malaria, dysentery and a "stand to" to jolly up the evening?

Image
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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by oozeboss » Sun Oct 19, 2014 8:30 am

:shock:

An amazing and literally eye opening thread, Darryl, and many thanks for your generosity in compiling these images.

The second pic of Myola (especially) astounded me, and I do see why it was still such an essentially inefficient drop zone. I planning to do up a couple of tables of Papuan terrain so as to play out the 1942 campaign, and this one thread will undoubtedly be my primary source & inspiration.

Oh, and Satan will be slipping on some snowshoes before I get even remotely close to tiring of your fantastic contributions here.

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Captain Darling » Sun Oct 19, 2014 8:17 pm

Hey great pictures, this trek would be quite an experience.

I think your meaning of bridge varies from mine though... :D

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Sun Oct 19, 2014 10:05 pm

Glad you're enjoying them fellas.


OK, Brigade Hill.


First, heading down to modern Efogi with Brigade Hill in the background. Wartime Efogi is way up to the right out of this picture up on Mission Ridge.

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Looking back towards Mission Ridge and the famous parade of lights (right of screen) from about halfway up Brigade Hill. The light area on the second ridge next to the lowest left treebranch, behind Mission Ridge in the foreground, is Kagi airstrip (post war). You can see how frustrating it must have been to watch that parade, out of rifle range but well WITHIN range of tripod mounted machine guns which they "didn't need".

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The flat, clear top, Brigade HQ in this area.
Note the ground sloping away right....more of that in a moment...

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The sticks are memorials to the dead in that area.

The edge, further right (West-ish) up which the Japs assaulted.

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Another reality check...this is the start of a really steep pinch up Bigade Hill, heading South. From right to left in this photo is the slope in the area...up which the Japs attacked(so across the track in this photo, rather than along it!!) An almost super human act.

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Last edited by Kokoda Guy on Wed Feb 18, 2015 6:09 pm, edited 4 times in total.

"I've never shot a man who wasn't at the end of my bayonet."
- Bayonete Pete, a man largely unclear on small arms tactics

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Mon Oct 20, 2014 12:35 pm

'boss,

Yes, Myola is very different from what you would expect. For a start they are both extinct volcano craters rather than "lakes". The rising terrain around made it quite a challenge to drop into them too.
There were various problems even after supplies were found. For a start, many bags broke. Funnily enough it was the Australians who pioneered air resupply in the "first war" and learned to double bag things...but that particular skill/knowledge had been lost by WW2 and had to be re-learned. More tragically, the two and three inch mortar shells go "bang" after the second impact on them....thump into tube to fire, explode upon impact at target. Far too many, early on, took the "drop" as the first thump...exploding in the tube when they were dropped down...not nice.


Captain,
No, my definition of bridge is pretty much the same as yours...but that's what THEY call them :) The track is a truly life-changing experience for most and an addiction for the few "tragics" such as myself.

As an aside, I often get the comment that "doing it a few times you must know more of what the guy's went through"....Quite the reverse actually..I probably understand better than someone who reads the books and imagines the conditions, that I will NEVER know what those poor blokes went through!! Even the trip I did with Dysentery didn't come close to the hardships those guys suffered AND they were getting shot at, the constant danger of their throats being cut at night...even something as simple as sleeping wet....
Last edited by Kokoda Guy on Mon Oct 20, 2014 4:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

"I've never shot a man who wasn't at the end of my bayonet."
- Bayonete Pete, a man largely unclear on small arms tactics

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Mon Oct 20, 2014 3:46 pm

Another couple of more general, random bits. I'll do the photos first this time then comments/explanations:

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Above, a look at what passes for "dry" on many hills...such mud can be alternately sticky, slippery or neutral without much warning. Next...

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After/during any sort of rain it is very common to be climbing hills like this with ankle deep water cascading down. Note also the way the track zig-zags ... giving a defender great opportunity to lay ambushes, dig defensive positions that can hold up an advance by only allowing two or three attackers to bring weapons to bear...IF they have survived the trap. A classic tactic was to have a defence in depth dug as supporting pits around a corner and then up on the hill/razor back, or ideally in stages around corners and up successive small crests. There is a great example of this type of defence near Eora Creek dug by the Australians. Outlying pits would then be dug to help defend against the inevitable (and physically exhausting) attempt to outflank the position through the virgin jungle and murderous slopes off the track. Imagine going straight left in the photo above to try to outflank a position firing on the first couple of trekkers up ahead....only to run straight in to their flanking pits near vertically above you OR to discover after that effort that they have withdrawn and are now waiting to do the same to you all over again 50 yards further on.

It is easy to tell Australian from Japanese pits too. Australian pits are two man pits generally giving not only mutual support within and between pits but some measure of a line of retreat back past each other. Japanese weapon pits are generally one man and you were pretty much expected to stay there or die.

An interesting fact I didn't know until recently but relayed to us by an expert soldier...Australian pits had the spoil dumped behind them. Japanese pits in front. The reasoning for the Australians was apparently that loose spoil gives almost zero practical protection from bullets but a large illusory "protection" encouraging soldiers to expose themselves more than they would otherwise...in the mistaken belief that they were still "in" the safety of the weapon pit. The sorts of things we "civies" rarely get to learn.


Image

In some areas the Jungle can just open up, giving remarkably good views at a distance.

You will notice reading accounts that there seem to be large areas on the track that never really get mentioned. This is usually because of these types of views or flatter easier going, that although it would pass for perfectly good defensive ground anywhere else, here there were much BETTER areas to defend. So around Myola, across the Moss Forest etc there was little fighting. The Aussies withdrew through there quickly as they were on the ropes being forced back to Ioribaiwa/Imita and the Japs decided to make their first main delaying position near Templetons. Opportunities for long distance engagements also give opportunities for easier, flanking, counter attacks.

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A nice easy creek crossing. The perfect place to stop, relax and get water....until you start thinking about fields of fire and how many enemy may be concealed on the opposite bank that you would never see until you stepped on them.



Oh, Dropbear, your Battery Captain's name wasn't "Dick ______" was it?

"I've never shot a man who wasn't at the end of my bayonet."
- Bayonete Pete, a man largely unclear on small arms tactics

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by oozeboss » Mon Oct 20, 2014 4:24 pm

I'm sorry to be dipping into my pool of praising phrases yet again, but I cannot remember a thread which has induced so many gob smackingly illuminating moments for me as this one. Largely because of these images (and the accompanying narration), I have put aside my very great fondness for War Thunder, ordered my Australian platoon, and gone back to work finishing off my IJA soldiery.

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Mon Oct 20, 2014 4:50 pm

Thank you sir...and it is my very great pleasure. I hope to see some progress photos of your board and figures!

I have a couple of platoons of Aussies coming from Mathew right now myself.

"I've never shot a man who wasn't at the end of my bayonet."
- Bayonete Pete, a man largely unclear on small arms tactics

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by straylight » Mon Oct 20, 2014 5:15 pm

more excellent photos, you've done a great job capturing what is a really difficult subject, jungle, jungle and more jungle.

I set up a scenario in steel panthers many moons ago, based on Milne Bay, but could never come to play it, it was just too close to home. I feel the same way about Kokoda, something I would find difficult to play. I need a measure of detachment and the brutality of close quarter jungle ambushes knocks any enjoyment of a wargame for 6. I've never dabbled in Vietnam for the same reasons, but I'll happily roll dice over ancients, napoleonics, WWII and modern micro-armour. Funny thing isn't it ?

Thanks for walking the track and assembling the fantastic images. I have visited Bomona and had a glimpse of the start, but I can say that walking the whole thing has never been an ambition.

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Mon Oct 20, 2014 7:02 pm

Thanks for your comments mate. I appreciate them.

I've known quite a few vets of jungle fighting over the years WW2, Malaya and Vietnam. I can't say I know a single one who would relish "re-living" the experience in miniature....but many who would discuss/play Napoleonics until "les vaches retournent".

As a civvy even, my own attitude towards gaming it changed completely after seeing the jungles of PNG and Vietnam. Seeing it, seeing things materialise a yard away, looking over the edge and trying to imagine (semi) voluntarily jumping down into the jungle growth, climbing into a weapon pit, gives you maybe just the slightest inkling of why real soldiers believe it to be the worst place to possibly fight a war.

It is my fervent hope that these photos will make wargamers think that extra bit next time they rattle a couple of dice at that lead figure that just came into sight around that plastic bush.


Best

"I've never shot a man who wasn't at the end of my bayonet."
- Bayonete Pete, a man largely unclear on small arms tactics

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Mon Oct 20, 2014 10:47 pm

More in the "useful terrain types" series:

Kunai in the Brigade Hill area
Image

Image

Eora Creek again, middle of wet season and at a similar level to what I would imagine it was in September 1942 after the heavy rains...anyone bring their swimming trunks?

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Image

Bridge looks safe enough??

The same area in lower rainfall times (repeated from above)
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And last one for tonight...an idea of the perilous position of the Eora Creek Aid Station, the rugged terrain and the short distances that take a LONG time to travel...

In the rapidly fading daylight a look down the valley towards Isurava from the "Hospital" site. The photo from the Jap position is taken from high up out of frame to the left. The high peak in the distance is the mountain right opposite Isurava/Alola. A good idea of the surrounding mountains and their height can be gained from looking at how bright the sky is and how dark the hospital site is getting already. This is looking North more or less. Darkness falls within 10-15 minutes max in this area because of the surrounding terrain.


Image
Last edited by Kokoda Guy on Wed Feb 18, 2015 6:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.

"I've never shot a man who wasn't at the end of my bayonet."
- Bayonete Pete, a man largely unclear on small arms tactics

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Admin Fella » Tue Oct 21, 2014 7:14 am

Nice mate.

I have the book this thread is titled from, have not read it yet, but with a work trip coming up I should take advantage of the down time and get into it.

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by oozeboss » Tue Oct 21, 2014 8:16 pm

That book's an absolute cracker, AF, and when you do pick it up, you'll find it pretty difficult to put it down again any time soon.
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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Wed Oct 22, 2014 12:27 pm

Brune's book is the best IMHO. It is much more dry than some but more informative. It has got some recent criticism from revisionist historians who feel the best way to write the history of the campaign is to sit in the War Memorial in Canberra...'nuff said!
Fitzsimons is probably the most "accessible" but personally I have a problem with history written with a heavy political bias...whether or not it agrees with mine.

Lex McAulay's book Blood and Iron is a good yarn but not really to my taste..although I did enjoy his book on Long Tan. It covers the air campaign and the Japanese side in more than just a passing fashion if I recall correctly.


Is there anything specific that anyone would like to see?

Barring that I will do Isurava and Deniki next.


And just for interest's sake....Imita (foreground) and Ioribaiwa (background) ridges from Ower's Corner. "What the hell have we gotten ourselves into??"

Image

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Thu Oct 23, 2014 4:58 pm

A small contribution to the understanding of the terrain..... this time a quote from Kingsley Norris which I always keep near me and which is the best I have seen at conveying some feeling of the beautiful, treacherous, stinking, wonderful, draining, uplifting track.....


"Imagine an area of approximately one hundred miles long. Crumple and fold this into a series of ridges, each rising higher and higher until seven thousand feet is reached, then declining in ridges to three thousand feet. Cover this thickly with jungle, short trees and tall trees, tangled with great, entwining savage vines. Through an oppression of this density, cut a little native track, two or three feet wide, up the ridges, over the spurs, round gorges and down across swiftly-flowing, happy mountain streams. Where the track clambers up the mountain sides, cut steps - big steps, little steps, steep steps - or clear the soil from the tree roots.

Every few miles, bring the track through a small patch of sunlit kunai grass, or an old deserted native garden, and every seven or ten miles, build a group of dilapidated grass huts - as staging shelters - generally set in a foul, offensive clearing. Every now and then, leave beside the track dumps of discarded, putrifying food, occasional dead bodies and human foulings. In the morning, flicker the sunlight through the tall trees, flutter green and blue and purple and white butterflies lazily through the air, and hid birds of deep-throated song, or harsh cockatoos, in the foliage.

About midday, and through the night, pour water over the forest, so that the steps become broken, and a continual yellow stream flows downwards, and the few level areas become pools and puddles of putrid black mud. In the high ridges above Myola, drip this water day and night over the track through a foetid forest grotesque with moss and glowing phosphorescent fungi. Such is the track which a prominent politician publicly described as 'being almost impassable for motor vehicles,' and such is the route for ten days to be covered from Ilolo to Deniki."

Sir Kingsley Norris, Senior Medical officer with 7th Division:

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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by fanai » Thu Oct 23, 2014 5:39 pm

Thanks for these photos - it make my reading so real as I am currently reading about this via the book 'The Silent Men"

so opens my eye to what the author is trying to say
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Re: "A Bastard of a Place"

Post by Kokoda Guy » Fri Oct 24, 2014 11:58 am

Glad you are enjoying it mate!


More over the weekend.

"I've never shot a man who wasn't at the end of my bayonet."
- Bayonete Pete, a man largely unclear on small arms tactics

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