Wanted: volunteers to help PNG landowners
QUT honours Brian Bell’s achievements

Victory in PNG due to 'fuzzy wuzzy angels'

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 support

Wesley_Akove & Alan_Griffin 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 considered ‘acceptable’).

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 liquid mud.

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]


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Paul Oates

I think those PNG people who helped the allies win the war should have been recognised and decorated well before this. As Australians, we need to accept this as something that is long overdue.

The fact that many 'Angels' were 'drafted' or forced to carry supplies and received little in return at the time is also a fact that should not be forgotten. Does the end justify the means however? Well that depends on your relative perspective. Would it have been better to allow the Japanese to win? Would the people of PNG have been merely innocent bystanders who would not have suffered like to Chinese if the Japanese did win? I don't think so.

It's very easy to apply the circumstances of peace and overlay them on the circumstances of war, especially when it was touch and go at the time. Sure, the Australian government did not respond effectively to requests for an adequate defence of PNG as the Japanese started their build up in the Pacific. That much is known. Would a proper build up of a defensive capability in PNG have prevented or delayed the Japanese invasion? That's unlikely but impossible to determine. Given their advance through the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea it seems unlikely. Proper planning might well have lessened the effects of the war on all concerned, but at the time, the focus of the nation was on Europe and North Africa until PM Curtin pulled our troops home against Churchill's wishes.

PNG and Australia have a shared history. That is something we should not forget.

Bob Curtis

There is no doubt that the assistance given by the "Angels" was a material contribution to the ultimate victories in the various Battlefields in Papua New Guinea, and there is also no doubt that their input was fully appreciated by the Servicemen at the time.
It should be remembered that it was a total War and a loss in the Kokoda Theatre could have easily meant future domination by the Japanese.
Australia has honoured the assistance by continuing to support Papuans and New Guineans in the post War period during the winding down of the Colonial regime during 1945 t0 1975, and the further development of the Nation during 1975 until now.
During the latter period, over Fourteen and a half billion Dollars of Australian Tax Payers money have gone into supporting the people who supported us in our time of need, and we continue to contribute over sixty years after the event. Our contribution should also not be forgotten.
The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels were predominantly Papuan drawn from as far away as the Mekeo and surrounding areas, and slave labour used by the Japanese should also be remembered. I believe the massive cash contributions and general aid have been a more potent form of compensation than belated Medal bilas.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)