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Australia's War 1939 - 1945
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'angels'
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Private A Baldwin, 2/33rd Battalion, receives a drink of water from his Papuan stretcher-bearers in October 1942.
[AWM 026856]

Kokoda
'Fuzzy wuzzy angels'
painting
Stretcher bearers in the Owen Stanleys, William Dargie, 1947.
[Oil on canvas 143.2 x 234.4cm AWM ART26653]
The evacuation of the wounded was a serious problem. The native
bearers carried the stretchers, sometimes under fire, back to the
ADS [Advanced Dressing Station]. The Papuans constructed the
stretchers: blankets slung between two poles with spreaders at each
end. Eight natives were allotted to each stretcher and they stayed
with the same patient until they reached their destination.
[Papua Campaigns, Report dealing with Medical organisation, 1942.
AWM54 481/2/48]

The people who lived in the villages along the Kokoda Track knew little about the war until it came to them. They had lived a traditional life, with only occasional contact with Australian patrol officers. Then Australian troops began moving over the tracks, some occupying huts and trampling over gardens. As the fighting came closer, most villagers ‘went bush’ to camps away from the main tracks. While they were away, Australian and Japanese troops wrecked many huts and, when villages were occupied by the Japanese, Allied aircraft bombed and strafed them. Hungry soldiers raided the village crops and shot their pigs. With villages wrecked by the two armies, and dead often lying in the vicinity, the villages were no longer habitable and were not reoccupied after the battle. New villages had to be constructed nearby.

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document
Gunner Wheatley’s letter
praising the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy
Angels’ was published in the
Australian Women’s Weekly,
9 January 1943.

Many of the villagers also worked in support of the battle, carrying supplies forward for the troops. Teams carried seriously wounded and sick Australian soldiers all the way back to Owers' Corner. Their compassion and care of the casualties earned them admiration and respect from the Australians, who dubbed these men their ’fuzzy wuzzy angels’.

After the battle for Kokoda ended, many villagers continued working for the Allies, carrying supplies and building tracks, bridges and huts. Others joined the Papuan Infantry Battalion or the New Guinea Infantry Battalion. Gradually life returned to normal after the war but the friendship between the people of Australia and Papua New Guinea has continued to this day.

In his well-known poem,‘The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’, Sapper Bert Beros praised the work of the carriers.

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One of the Papuan carriers on the
Kokoda Track in October 1942.
[AWM P02423.007]
Captain GH 'Doc' Vernon, the
medical officer responsible for the
carriers on the Kokoda Track, wrote
that 'the immediate prospect before
them was grim, a meal that
consisted only of rice and none
too much of that, and a night of
shivering discomfort for most as
there was only enough blankets
to issue one to every man.
['Doc' Vernon, quoted by Victor
Austin, To Kokoda and Beyond:
the story of the 39th Battalion
,
1941-1943, Melbourne, 1988, p.125]

'Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels'

Many a mother in Australia
when the busy day is done
Sends a prayer to the Almighty
for the keeping of her son
Asking that an angel guide him
and bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are answered
on the Owen Stanley Track

For they haven't any halos
only holes slashed in their ears
And their faces worked by tattoos
with scratch pins in their hair
Bringing back the badly wounded
just as steady as a horse
Using leaves to keep the rain off
and as gentle as a nurse

Slow and careful in the bad places
on the awful mountain track
The look upon their faces
would make you think Christ was black
Not a move to hurt the wounded
as they treat him like a saint
It's a picture worth recording
that an artist's yet to paint

Many a lad will see his mother
and husbands see their wives
Just because the fuzzy wuzzy
carried them to save their lives
From mortar bombs and machine gun fire
or chance surprise attacks
To the safety and the care of doctors
at the bottom of the track

May the mothers of Australia
when they offer up a prayer
Mention those impromptu angels
with their fuzzy wuzzy hair.

Bert Beros

 

 

Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Private A Baldwin, 2/33rd Battalion, receives a drink of water from his Papuan stretcher-bearers in October 1942.
[AWM 026856]