It took 60 years, but the contribution of the fuzzy wuzzy angels to the victory against the Japanese in PNG in World War II has now been
officially recognised. DON HOOK lauds their critical
The Allied victories in PNG during World War II owed a great deal to
the so-called Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
At the peak of the war, 55,000 PNG males over the ‘apparent age’ of 14
served as conscripted carriers, often under dreadful conditions.
They carried food and ammunition to troops in forward positions. On the
return journey they brought out the wounded.
The role of the carriers always will be associated with the fighting
along the Kokoda Track. But well before the Kokoda campaign, carriers supplied
the Australian Kanga Force based on Wau through one of the most extraordinary
lines of communication in modern military history.
Small coastal steamers took supplies for Kanga Force from Port Moresby across the Gulf of Papua to the mouth of the Lakekamu River. There they were trans-shipped to
whale boats and pinnaces and ferried across the bar at the river mouth, and
upstream to Terapo.
From Terapo, food, weapons and ammunition were taken by canoe for two
days up the fast flowing, crocodile-infested Lakekamu to the old mining camp at
Bulldog. Loads weighing about 50lb were made up for the carriers who completed
the journey to Wau – a seven day walk with loaded shoulders.
According to the PNG war historian, Peter Ryan, the carriers worked
under shocking conditions, up and down precipitous mountain ridges more than
7,000ft high, mostly through dank rain forest, constantly wet.
Temperatures at night dropped almost to freezing and carriers were
lucky if they had a cheap cotton blanket. During the day their attire usually
was merely a loincloth or G-string.
The main food for the carriers was rice, which they had to cook for
themselves when they arrived exhausted at the end of the day. Occasionally, a
tin of meat or packet of Army biscuits supplemented the rice.
Malaria and other deficiency diseases took a heavy toll on the
carriers. At times the sickness rate reached 25 per cent (14 per cent was
The Army believed the carriers could deliver 6,000lb of cargo daily to
Wau. In fact, they were lucky to deliver 600lb a day.
Fortunately for the Army, and more especially for the carriers, Dakota
aircraft began flying supplies from Port Moresby to Wau in late May 1942, swiftly reducing the
reliance on the Bulldog Track.
The carriers along the Kokoda Track also worked under shocking
conditions carrying heavy loads along a narrow, rough foot track. They too
climbed precipitous ridges and plunged into the dark narrow valleys of the Owen Stanley Range. Some of the mountain peaks exceeded
13,000ft and conditions were cold and wet. The track was soon churned into
A peace-time miner and planter, Captain HT’Bert’ Kienzle, of ANGAU
recruited many of the carriers. He and the tall, elderly Dr Geoffrey Vernon of
the Papua Medical Service were unsparing in their efforts to improve the
health, accommodation and working conditions of the Fuzzy Wuzzy.
Captain Kienzle, who was interned in Australia during World War I
because of his German background, was awarded the MBE for his services during
the Kokoda campaign.
The recruitment of young men to work as carriers had a profound effect
in their home areas. Some villages were left bereft of fit men, leaving the
women, children and elderly to fend for themselves. In areas of fighting,
thousands of Papua New Guineans lost their houses, gardens and all their
possessions. After the war, the Australian Government paid these people
$4million as some recompense for wartime losses. Much later, there were other payments and
recognition of the service provided by the carriers.
The suffering of the Papua New Guineans was never fully recorded and
will never be known in all its detail.
The official records show that 81 PNG soldiers and policemen were killed
and about 200 wounded. But there is no record of the number of carriers who
died or the village people who were killed in a war fought on their soil and
over which they had no control.
Photo: Wesley Akove after receiving his much belated commemorative medal from Australian Veterans' Affairs Minister Alan Griffin [Sydney Morning Herald]