Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimons

Peter Fitzsimons’ original claim to fame was as a Wallaby, a representative Rugby Union player, who got sent off the field during a game against the All Blacks. He went on to sports journalism which led to writing numerous books, including biographies about Australian icons such as Nancy Wake, Les Darcy and Charles Kingsford-Smith. 

Yeah, he wears a bandana seven days a week.

Fitzsimons has since become a bestselling non fiction writer with his military history books, Tobruk, Victory At Villers-Bretonneux, and my personal favourite, Kokoda.

Kokoda details the Japanese invasion of Papua New Guinea, just north of the Australian coastline, during World War 2, and the Australians’ efforts at turning the tide of that war. 

Are the Events of Almost Eighty Years Ago Still Relevant?

A friend of fifty years standing recently shared that her father, whom I used to wave too as a child whenever he drove past, took to swinging a Japanese sword at the neighbours as he aged. He had taken it from a dead soldier at Kokoda. I never knew Old Billy was a soldier, only as the father of my friend who drove the blue car.

I nearly lost another friend recently. I had known previously that her Dad returned from serving at Kokoda with half the sole of his army boot still imbedded in his foot. I had no idea that when she was born some years later that she was quarantined in a hospital ward for the first three months of her life because his Equatorial disease had passed to her, thereby weakening her heart.

A younger friend, with two beautiful round, brown babies, recently shared that her grandfather, a native of PNG, used to share food with Australian Soldiers on the Kokoda Track.

My daughter’s friend, a military lad, recently related how a program to assist young men with behavioural issues included trekking the Kokoda Track where they learnt life skills such as team work, persistence, and personal strength.

Best Things About Fitzsimons’ Kokoda?

  • Written in a language that is easy to read for those who don’t usually read military history, particularly the female demographic. Military objectives are clearly explained as are outcomes, and personality and power conflicts between world leaders, as well as military leaders, are not swept under the carpet
  • The characters have been personalised which emotionally connects the reader. For example, we follow the Bissett brothers as youngsters, to playing football at the local club in their teens, to their enlistment, to service in North Africa, and then at Kokoda. I even retained the Obituary Notice for Stan Bissett when I spotted it in the local paper in recent years . Another farm boy, meets his sweetheart before the war, marries her once demobbed and we learn what maintained the couple for the next forty years.
  •  Perspective. World War 2 began less than 170 years after Australia was settled by Europeans. She was a young country still learning her way. I was fascinated by the political decision making processes. In WW1 Australia followed the orders of the British Empire. When the Japanese invaded the Pacific in WW2 the Australian Prime Minister fought tooth and nail for leadership of the Australian Army in order to better protect our own nation. Fitzsimons also provides the perspective of boys on the front, Padres, nurses, medics, families waiting at home for news, and the individual leaders.
  •  There are so many fascinating tidbits of information within these pages. Did you know that acclaimed Kokoda War Photographer, Damien Parer, was apprenticed to Charles Chauvel, the Australian film maker who made Wake of the Bounty with a very young Errol Flynn in 1933? Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s visits to Oz, especially with his family, are a good read and will raise a smile or two, as well as provide insight as to the reasoning behind certain haunts around Brisbane still bearing his name. War Correspondent, Chester Wilmott’s dismissal when he savagely reported on the preparedness, or lack thereof, for battles on the island is also interesting stuff.

“ In the Kokoda battle their qualities of adaptability and individual initiative enabled them to show tremendous ability as fighting men in the jungle. They were superb.” Lieutenant-General Tsutomu Yoshihara, chief of staff of Japan’s South Seas army.

This book so beats little old gentlemen in suits writing dates on a blackboard with chalk. One of my all time favourite books…..

With special thanks to my beautiful friends who shared their stories. Our Dad’s kept their daughters in the dark, didn’t they….

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