‘Lost Battlefield’ of WWII found

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Friday, June 11, 2010

‘Lost Battlefield’ of WWII found

Site of largest battle between Australian and Japanese forces discovered in Papua New Guinea

By KEDE LAWSON
Kyodo News

SYDNEY — The location of the largest World War II battle between Australian and Imperial Japanese forces in the jungles of Papua New Guinea has been discovered after 68 years, former Australian Army Capt. Brian Freeman said.

Known as the “Lost Battlefield,” the site was hidden on a remote plateau, 1 km west and 450 meters above the village of Eora Creek, in the Owen Stanley Ranges.

Found along the Kokoda Track, the site has been touted as the most significant World War II discovery of the 21st century.

“Significantly, the discovery of the Lost Battlefield will enable Australian and Japanese veterans’ services to begin the process of identification and repatriation of dozens of lost soldiers,” Freeman, who runs a Kokoda Track trekking company, said in a statement Sunday.

Freeman has spent years researching battle maps and diaries in an attempt to discover the elusive site and was assisted in his search by the local Alola people who live close to the battlefield.

The site falls within the hunting grounds of the Alola tribe, but villagers have avoided the 600-sq.-meter area because they believe the spirits of those killed there still inhabit the area.

Australian and Japanese forces clashed on the Kokoda Track during World War II and 6,500 Japanese soldiers were killed in the jungle-covered mountains.

The fighting in the area began on Oct. 22, 1942, with 79 Australians and 69 Japanese soldiers killed during a four-day, four-night firefight.

“The bodies of five Australians and dozens of Japanese soldiers were never found and are currently listed as missing presumed killed in action,” Freeman said.

“Our hope is that we have found those fallen soldiers, that they can be identified and returned to their families for appropriate burial,” he added.

Freeman, who discovered the site April 23, and fellow adventurers found the remains of three Japanese soldiers.

The skeleton of one Japanese soldier was found sitting against a tree with his helmet still on.

Freeman believes the Japanese forces set up a field hospital at the site in September 1942 and his group found kidney-shaped medical trays at the site.

“Our metal detectors picked up rifles, ammunition and helmets of Australian and Japanese soldiers, all illustrating that this location was a significant Japanese defensive position,” said Peter Cosgrave, an Australian general who also visited the site.

“You can see the positions held on both sides. You can see where they treated their wounded. You can see the Australian advance and ultimately the casualties,” Cosgrave said.

The Lost Battlefield Trust has been set up to restore the battlefield and the Japanese field hospital to the condition they were in 68 years ago.

“From here, we will continue to work with Alola village and the respective governments to preserve the site in its current pristine condition,” Freeman said.

“Our priority is to identify and repatriate the fallen soldiers and to honor their memory by ensuring all other elements remain intact and untouched,” he said.

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