Veterans of the 1942 Kokoda Campaign

10 May 2022
Soldiers crossing river in Papua New Guinea during the Kokoda Campaign in 1942

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

In all Kokoda Challenge event locations, participants will notice that each 18, 30, 48 or 96 kilometre distance will have a "school cup". These cups are awarded to the fastest school team in their division, with the exception being our Bruce Kingsbury VC fundraising cup, which is awarded to the school that raises the most amount of funds for the Kokoda Youth Foundation that year.
Each of these school cups are named after a Veteran who fought during the Kokoda Campaign in 1942. These are their stories: 
 

gold coast kokoda challenge school cups:

Stan Bisset 96km Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Lieutenant Stanley Bisset 

Stan Bisset was awarded the Military Cross for ‘gallant and distinguished services in the South West Pacific Area’. He was also the oldest, living rugby union Wallaby, until his death in 2010.

He grew up with older brother Harold in Melbourne for most of his life. Being tall and athletic, Stan excelled in a number of sports, but he played rugby union professionally. He was selected for the Australian Wallabies team against England in 1939. When the team arrived on English soil, war was declared, and they were forced to return home.

He enlisted with the 2/14th Battalion along with his brother, now known as ‘Butch’. They were a part of the effort to push back the Japanese forces, Stan as an intelligence officer, and Butch defending a key position of the battlefield.

On the 30th of August 1942, Butch was badly injured by gunfire, and the medical officer saw no hope. Stan stayed at his brother’s side for six hours, keeping him company until Butch passed away.

In the battles following, the 2/14th Battalion suffered many casualties, including their commanding officer. Stan took charge, inspiring his men to continue fighting.

After the war, he dedicated his life to service, becoming a council member and chairman for the community service committee. In 2000, he received a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to veterans, especially the 2/14th Battalion. He maintained a passion for singing and played golf into his 90s. 

 

For more information:

NOMINAL ROLL  MILITARY RECORDS  OBITUARY  BUTCH BISSET

Jim Stillman 48km Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Private James Robert Stillman 

James Robert Stillman would much rather be remembered for his love of the Geelong Cats than his heroic efforts in Kokoda. He was born and raised in Alexandra, Victoria, a rural town with rich pastoral lands. The town is central to the beef industry in Victoria, so naturally Jim worked as a butcher, before enlisting in 1941.

He was officially posted to the 39th Battalion, where he bore witness to some of the most gallant efforts in Kokoda’s history. He fought in the battle of Isurava and in the Northern Beachheads campaign, before returning to Australia on the 28th of November 1946.

He married his sweetheart Olive in 1944 and had a son. After the war, Jim worked as a builder, truck driver and caravan park owner in Victoria. He moved to the Gold Coast after a number of decades, finally ready to rest. He also began to speak about his experiences in Kokoda with his son.

His efforts as a part of the 39th Battalion saw him recognised as the oldest living Kokoda veteran on the Gold Coast. Jim was also a great supporter of the 39th Battalion Association, visiting the ANZAC services at Cascade Gardens annually. He enjoyed fishing at Mermaid Beach and supported his Geelong Cats until his death on the 2nd of August 2016, aged 95. 

  

For more information:

NOMINAL ROLL    MILITARY RECORDS    OBITUARY

John Metson 17km Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Corporal John Metson

Born in Richmond, Victoria, John Metson was awarded the British Empire Medal, an award for military service worthy of recognition from the crown, for his ‘courage, tenacity and unselfishness’.

He worked as a salesman in St Kilda, and volunteered part time with the 5th Battalion of the Victorian Scottish Regiment. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in May 1940, aged just 21 and was posted to the 2/14th Battalion.

n the short time he had before leaving for Papua New Guinea, John married his sweetheart Dorothy on the 17th of April 1942. During the battle at Isurava, he was shot through the ankle and could no longer walk. His group was cut off from the rest of the battalion while they withdrew, but was found by another party, led by Captain Sydney Buckler.

The party had a number of wounded men who couldn’t walk so they made stretchers out of bush poles and vines. Eight bearers had to carry one stretcher in addition to their equipment and weapons.

John refused to be carried on a stretcher, padding his hands and knees with bandages and crawling behind the bearers.

The party wandered through the jungle for three weeks, searching for help, but John’s cheeriness in spite of his injury inspired the rest of the men. Captain Buckler decided that the seriously wounded men would be left in the care of villagers in Sangai, while the others sought help.

Corporal Tom Fletcher volunteered to stay behind with them. On October 4th 1942, an Australian party reached Sangai, finding the bodies of John Metson and Tom Fletcher along with the other soldiers, executed by the Japanese army. Captain Buckler recommended John for the British Empire Medal, which he received posthumously. 

 

For more information:

NOMINAL ROLL    MILITARY RECORDS    BIOGRAPHY

 

brisbane kokoda challenge school cups:

Bert Kienzle 48km Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Captain Herbert Thompson Kienzle 

Bert Kienzle was born in Fiji on the 15th of May 1905. Due to his German heritage, Bert’s father was interned as an enemy alien in 1917, during the First World War. Bert and his family joined his father in an internment camp in Bourke, before they were moved to Molonglo the following year.

After they were released, Bert lived with relatives in Germany and in 1927, he moved to Papua New Guinea to work on rubber plantations. By 1941, he was manager of a gold mine, and establishing his own rubber plantation in the Yodda Valley, near Kokoda. As he was fluent in Motu, the language of Papua New Guinea at the time, and well-liked by the locals, he joined the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit.

He helped establish the Kokoda Track as we know, leading the first Australian troops (the B Company from the 39th Battalion) along the track. Bert’s knowledge and ability to communicate with the locals helped to reduce the amount of deserters, who listened to and trusted him. He was also responsible for establishing Myola, the only place in the mountains where large supply drops could be conducted.

By finally being able to supply the troops in the jungle with the equipment they needed, the battle over the Kokoda Track turned into the Australians’ favour. After the war, Bert and Doc Geoffrey Hampden Vernon worked together to ensure the Indigenous population of New Guinea received the recognition they deserved.

For his military service, he was made a Member of the British Empire, and for his civil service in Papua New Guinea, he was awarded the Commander of the British Empire. After Doc Vernon’s death in 1946, Bert arranged for the construction of the Memorial at Kokoda, an iconic piece of the track’s history. He also gives his name to the Herbert Kienzle Memorial Museum, opened in 1995 by then Prime Minister Paul Keating. 

  

For more information:

NOMINAL ROLL    MILITARY RECORDS    BIOGRAPHY

Clarrie Meredith 30km Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Sergeant Clarence Meredith 

Clarence ‘Clarrie’ Meredith was born in Strathfield, New South Wales on the 6th of August 1920. Strathfield is settled in the inner west of Sydney about 12 kilometres out from the CBD.

He enlisted on the 28th of May 1941 and was assigned to the 53rd Infantry Battalion. With the 53rd Battalion, he was posted to Alola where the 53rd were supposed to support the Australians fighting at Isurava. They intended to stop the Japanese from flanking the 39th and 2/14th Battalions but were quickly overrun.

Their commanding officer was killed in an ambush and many of the men tried to escape through the jungle. Despite this loss, the 53rd Battalion returned to Port Moresby, trained further, and fought valiantly in the battles on the Northern Beaches of Papua New Guinea.

After the war, Clarence worked to keep the memories of his battalion alive, supporting a number of charities to not only help those living on the Kokoda Track, but also fellow veterans in Australia. He travelled back to Kokoda Village to see the good work being done by the charities in 2014. Sergeant Meredith passed away in 2018, aged 98.

   

For more information:

NOMINAL ROLL    MILITARY RECORDS    OBITUARY

George Palmer 15km Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Corporal George Palmer 

With a brother already enlisted and a father who served in the First World War, George Palmer felt it was his duty to fight for his country. His father was a sergeant in the British Army, badly wounded and decorated for his efforts.

George was born in Korumburra, a small mining town in South Gippsland, Victoria. He was working as a clerk at the local hardware store when news of war broke out. His older brother was already in the army, so George enlisted July 13th, 1942 in Port Moresby. He was a part of the 39th Battalion who fought against Japanese forces to retake Kokoda.

After the 39th Battalion was disbanded, he joined the 2/1st Field Ambulance until he was discharged in April 1946. After the war ended, he returned to Australia and established the George and Josie Palmer Fund with the Kokoda Track Foundation to support families and children living along the Kokoda Track.

He visited the track four times after the war, to see the impact of his work. After dedicating himself to keeping the spirit of Kokoda alive for over sixty years, George Palmer passed away in October of 2018, aged 97. 

  

For more information:

NOMINAL ROLL    MILITARY RECORDS    OBITUARY

 

sunshine coast kokoda challenge school cups:

John French VC Sunshine Coast 48km Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Corporal John Alexander French 

John French was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for ‘most conspicuous bravery in operations at Milne Bay’. Born in 1914 to a barber and his wife, John grew up in Crows Nest, a rural town in the Darling Downs, about 43 kilometres from Toowoomba.

As a boy, he played rugby league and was respected by his peers for his fair play and sportsmanship. In 1929, he joined his father’s business, apprenticing as a hairdresser. When war broke out, John was the first person to enlist in Crows Nest and was posted to 2/9th Battalion.

In late August of 1942, they were deployed to Milne Bay to protect the Allied airfields from Japanese advance. The 4th of September 1942, John’s company were ordered to attack the Japanese from the rear. They were held up by intense gunfire from three gun posts.

He ordered his men to take cover and attacked the first post with grenades. He ran back to his men to collect more, destroying the second post. Armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, John attacked the third. He was badly wounded by the returning fire, but he pushed on. When his men began to advance, they found the third post destroyed and Corporal John French’s body right in front of it.

His bravery saved many casualties, ensuring the attack was a success. The battle led to the Japanese army withdrawing from Milne Bay, representing their first full-scale defeat on land. 

   

For more information:

NOMINAL ROLL    MILITARY RECORDS    BIOGRAPHY

Doc Vernon MC Sunshine Coast 30km Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Captain Geoffrey Hampden Vernon 

Geoffrey Vernon was 60 when he enlisted with the Australian Army Medical Corps, serving not only as a medical officer, but also a fatherly figure to the troops on the Kokoda Trail. Known as Doc Vernon, he fostered good relationships with both the Australian and Papuan soldiers.

Born in 1882, Geoffrey’s family moved to Sydney from Sussex in England, hoping it would improve his father’s health. He obtained a Bachelor of Medicine in 1905 and a Master of Surgery in 1907, both from the University of Sydney.

In March of 1915, he was appointed as Captain in the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance. June that same year, he was posted to the 11th Light Horse Regiment as a medical officer. He was awarded a Military Cross in 1916 for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’ after tending to the wounded under heavy gunfire

Doc was wounded in action and returned to Australia in 1918. He enlisted in the Second World War on the 27th of February 1942, putting his age down eight years so he could join the Australian Army Medical Corps. He served as a Captain again, now attached to the 39th Battalion.

He treated the sick and wounded in the Australian Army as well as the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, Papuan war carriers who supported the troops on the Kokoda Track. In 1943, Doc Vernon was posted to the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit as their resident medical officer.

By 1946, he retired to his plantation in Port Glasgow, helping Bert Kienzle with his efforts to have the local Papua New Guineans’ efforts recognised. He passed away in May of 1946, aged 63, after becoming ill with tuberculosis. 

 

For more information:

NOMINAL ROLL    MILITARY RECORDS    BIOGRAPHY

Raymond Baldwin Sunshine Coast 18km Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Ramond Baldwin

Ray was with the 2/27th Battalion in Syria where they took part in the coastal advance against Vichy French forces including French Foreign Legion forces. The Battalion was left Syria in January 1942 in order to take part in the war against Japan. Ray was sent to Papua New Guinea with the 2/27th in August 1942. After leave and further training, Ray was sent to Papua New Guinea with the 2/27th in August 1942. He fought on the Kokoda Track during the fighting withdrawal. At Efogi, he and 13 others were separated from the main force and were cut off behind Japanese lines for 14 days without food or shelter. By the time they reached friendly lines, Ray was hallucinating due to starvation.

 

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Bruce Steel Kingsbury VC Kokoda Challenge School Cup

Private Bruce Kingsbury 

Bruce Steel Kingsbury was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour for members of the Australian Armed Forces, for ‘most conspicuous bravery in operations in New Guinea’.

Bruce was born the 8th of January 1918 to Philip and Florence. His father was a real estate agent in West Preston, Victoria, a city just north of Melbourne’s CBD. Bruce always preferred living in the bush, working on a number of sheep stations with his childhood friend Allen Avery. Following their journey through New South Wales, the two returned to Melbourne, Bruce working for his father, and Allen as a nurseryman.

When war broke out in Europe, the men enlisted in 1940, on the same day, but in different recruitment centres. Originally assigned to the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, Bruce requested a transfer to join his best friend in the 2/14th Infantry Battalion. In August of 1942, the 2/14th Battalion were sent to the Kokoda Track to stop the Japanese advance.

After two days of heavy battle, the right flank of the Australian forces broke, and Japanese soldiers threatened the Australians’ headquarters. On the 29th of August, Bruce and Allen volunteered for the counter attack. Rushing forward, Private Kingsbury faced terrific gunfire from the enemy with a Bren gun at his hip. He fired back, inflicting many casualties and allowing for the Australians to push the enemy back.

A Japanese sniper shot and mortally wounded Bruce as their forces retreated. His valour and bravery inspired the 2/14th Battalion to continue the fight, proving that the previously undefeated Japanese Army could be beaten. 

 A memorial has been erected honouring Bruce Steel Kingsbury VC along the Kokoda Track and he rests at Bomana War Cemetery.

 

For more information:

NOMINAL ROLL    MILITARY RECORDS    BIOGRAPHY

Thank you to Megan Vermeulen for writing this article

"I was truly honoured to be approached for this project. History has always been a passion of mine and being able to work on something this special was a great experience. I've just graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Griffith University, majoring in History so I would like to take my research further with Honours and a PhD. Ultimately I would like to become an academic that inspires future students to follow in my footsteps, highlighting the importance of history and honouring those who came before us."

Megan Vermeulen in front of Aboriginal painting