BY ELISE SNASHALL-WOODHAMS
That’s exactly what members of the 2/22 battalion faced when they were shipped to Papua New Guinea during World War II.
Norm Furness and Sam Blaby [pictured] are two of four remaining survivors of what they label a “bugger-up” of military proportions.
The men were among 1,400 soldiers sent by the Australian Army to Rabaul in 1941.
When the Japanese invaded the New Guinea Islands in 1942 the 2/22 battalion was among the first to engage with the enemy.
Both men said the assault from the Japanese was extraordinary, first from the air, then on land.
The Australians were under-equipped, using antique equipment from World War I.
“They blew our good guns to pieces in 20 minutes,” Sam said. “Australia sent training aircraft up as fighter planes, but the first time the Japanese flew over they blasted them out of the sky.”
When the Japanese forces landed there were 10 Japanese soldiers to every Australian. The allied forces quickly realised the situation was hopeless. Norm and Sam had no other choice but to retreat deep into the jungle if they wanted to survive.
“The order was given, every man for himself, and that’s what you had to do,” Norm said. “You would eat anything that crawled; rats were great, almost as good as chicken.
“It was three months of jungle food. I was 12 stone six when the Japanese landed; when I left the island I was nine stone.”
For those that chose to surrender to the Japanese, their fate was even worse. More than 100 men were massacred by the Japanese after they gave themselves up.
The rest were put on the Japanese ship Montevideo Maru which, days into its voyage, was sunk by the Americans.
More than 1,000 Australians were killed, the nation’s biggest loss of life in a single action. Of the 1,400 soldiers that had landed on the island three months earlier, only 300 made it back to Australia alive.
When Norm landed in Cairns on 28 March 1942, he said the feeling was “marvellous”.
Source: Bendigo Advertiser, 11 November