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Seventy years on we remember the courage of Australians at the Battle of Wau

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Monday, 28 January 2013 VA004


Today we remember those Australians who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice seventy years ago in a little known but decisive battle against Japanese forces at Wau in present day Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Warren Snowdon said all Australians should be proud of the bravery and determination displayed by the small contingent of soldiers who risked their lives to fend off a Japanese advance during the Second World War.

“Massively outnumbered by the Japanese, it was only two companies of brave souls that stood to protect the settlement of Wau. Positioned inland from Japanese bases at Salamaua and Lae, Wau was highly valued for its extremely important airstrip,” he said.

The airstrip was an essential supply line for the Australian ‘Kanga Force’ who defended the surrounding area. Well known for their guerrilla tactics, Kanga Force was made up of men from the local militia force and members of the 2/5th Independent Company.

In early 1943, fresh troops joined Kanga Force, but they were not enough to halt the Japanese who were advancing on Wau from Salamaua. As the Japanese closed in, the Australians attempted to fly in reinforcements but were stopped by bad weather.

It was at this point, on 28 January 1943, that the Australians had to draw upon all their resilience and strength. Fighting a ‘David and Goliath’ type battle, one company of Australians, numbering less than 200 men, held their position against the Japanese force. The fighting was hard, and medical troops, including those of the 2/2nd Field Ambulance, were hard pressed to recover and treat dozens of wounded men.

“They fought bravely, mustering every ounce of courage they had until reinforcements arrived. Luckily, the unpredictable PNG weather cleared and the Australians launched a counter attack pushing the Japanese out of the area, enabling the planned Allied offensive on Lae and Salamaua to proceed.

“Unfortunately in the years since the Second World War, the Battle of Wau has often been overshadowed by other great Australian feats in PNG, namely the defeat of the Japanese at Milne Bay, on the Kokoda Track and at the beachheads of Buna, Gona and Sanananda.

“These great battles have been etched into the Australian psyche alongside other widely known battles from the Second World War. Whilst Wau may be a lesser known part of our wartime history it does not reduce its importance and the level of recognition and admiration these men deserve. Their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Mr Snowdon said.

Media inquiries: Minister Snowdon: Lidija Ivanovski 02 6277 7820 or 0407108 935 Department of Veterans’ Affairs Media: 02 6289 6203