Kokoda Front Line!

Running time
8 min 31 sec
Date made
Place made
Kokoda Trail, Papua New Guinea

Copyright expired - public domain

Documentary made by celebrated war correspondent and cameraperson, Damien Peter Parer, and film-maker, Kenneth George Hall. It was filmed on location in New Guinea in 1942. In this footage, we see Australian troops along the Kokoda Track, the fighting conditions in the jungle, and the help of indigenous carriers to remove wounded soldiers from the front line. This film would have been shown at cinemas throughout Australia. It was one of 4 winners of the 15th Academy Awards for best documentary, and the first Australian film to win an Oscar. AWM F01582


[On screen]

Damien Parer, Australian ace war correspondent, in 4 months took his cameras into the far corners of New Guinea, securing many amazing pictures.

Parer was through the campaigns in Libya, Greece and Syria and has been responsible for some of the classic newsreel coverages of the war. He is, in addition, an experienced and reliable observer.


Parer: 8 days ago, I was with our advance troops in the jungle facing the Japs at Kokoda. It's an uncanny sort of warfare. You never see a Jap even though he's only 20 yards (18m) away. They're complete masters of camouflage and deception. I should say about 40% of our boys wounded in those engagements haven't seen a Japanese soldier, a live one anyway. Don't underestimate the Jap. He's a highly trained soldier, well-disciplined and brave, and although he's had some success up to the present, he's now got against him some of the finest and toughest troops in the world. Troops with a spirit amongst them that makes you intensely proud to be an Australian. I saw militiamen (Citizen Military Forces) fighting over there, fighting under extremely difficult conditions, and alongside the AIF (Australian Imperial Force), and they acquitted themselves magnificently. When I returned to Moresby, I was full of beans. It was the spirit of the troops and the knowledge that General Rowell was on the job.

Narrator: Jungle warfare is a new kind of warfare. It tears up textbooks and confounds the experts. It has played and will play a vital part in the Pacific conflict. The Allied nations must master jungle tactics and all that the term implies if the Japanese are to be torn out of their conquered empire. It has remained for an Australian to bring to the world the first vivid starkly dramatic glimpses of the eerie jungle conflict. Battle with unseen enemies, almost incredible hardship, the never-ceasing struggle to maintain supplies. These aircraft are dropping supplies just behind the front line. They traverse in around 30 minutes, a distance that takes troops on foot 6 days to cover. Down comes food, blankets and the necessities of war. Some of it by parachute because of its fragile nature. Most by straight dropping, in specially prepared packs made up to withstand the shock of landing. There's plenty of excitement among the bush boys and some caution.


Narrator: He's not going to clear that hill, the sticks right back but it doesn't look like she'll get over it, but she did, just. It's come the hard way but they needed it anyway. Relief units about to go forward and hungry men coming out of the line must be fed. The overland supply route presents difficulties that must be seen to be understood. In Australia, we hear about austerity meals, fighting men in the New Guinea jungles eat them.


Narrator: Within an hour, these fresh troops, AIF units with splendid battle records won in the Middle East, will be in contact with the Japanese. They move up through the dim dank steaming jungle. The rarely seen enemy is close. Green uniforms, faces and hands painted, hidden in treetops, slinking through the green wilderness. Where the patrols go, the bearded para goes too so that this strange uncanny warfare may vividly be brought to the outside world. The Japs are masters of camouflage, quickly our men are learning to play them at their own game. The frontline! Men fire at sounds.

[Sound of machine-gun fire and an explosion.]

Narrator: Japs are believed to have used that hut. Machine-gun bullets search for any who seek to escape. It's a grim business of man against man, kill or be killed.


Narrator: Coming out after 6 weeks in contact with the enemy, battle-scarred militia troops who have upheld the proudest traditions of the Australian Army. They have suffered fearful privations, fighting day and night. Their casualties have not been light but they've carried on. This is war; the real thing. The utter weariness of sorely tried men is evident in their faces but they've won their spurs. Quietly, they accept praise for the job they've done but they don't forget the cobbers who did not come back with them. (VX60779 Private William) Snowy Parr [of the 39th Battalion, filmed with V68410 Arthur Chambers, at Efogi], militia man at left, got 15 Japs with a single Bren (light machine) gun burst in a one-man ambush. These unutterably weary soldiers must walk 6 days before they reach the comparative ease of Moresby. There is no other way. At the forward dressing station, minor wounds are attended to.


Narrator: Close shave [NX127366 Lieutenant John Topping Hutchinson showing off his dented helmet]. That's why soldiers wear tin hats. Only serious cases can be carried. 45 stretcher cases in the group Parer travelled with needed nearly 400 native carriers. They must work in relays because of the exhausting labor. By these things, do we begin to grasp the appalling difficulties of the New Guinea campaign. Some of these boys are sorely hurt and were literally snatched from beneath the noses of the Japs by heroism of their companions. They face a long painful journey. Men quite badly hit walk, to relieve the pressure on the carriers, and right up there near the front, a banner every soldier will salute, a great organisation doing a great job. There's a dramatic reality about all this, that cannot be escaped. Cheerfulness and courage, contrasting sharply with suffering. It will take a lot of Japanese to conquer that kind of spirit. The care and consideration shown for the wounded by the natives has won the complete admiration of the troops. With them, the black-skinned boys are white. Rain, sheeting down, every day, monotonously. Falling from the tropic skies as if the clouds had burst. Turning the track into a quagmire, adding a thousand-fold to their difficulties. These are grim pictures, brutally terribly real. They smash at complacency as nothing written or spoken ever possibly could. This is happening less than 300 miles (483km) from Australia's coastline. Half the distance from Sydney to Melbourne. Men are sweating, suffering, dying in that jungle, so that it cannot happen here. Are they getting all the support they deserve? From the mines. From the factories. From the ordinary civilian. Can every man and woman in this country truthfully say, 'I've done all I can, given all I can'.

Parer: I've seen the war, and I know what your husbands, sweethearts and brothers are going through. If only everybody in Australia could realise that this country is in peril. That the Japanese are a well-equipped and dangerous enemy. You might forget about the trivial things, and go ahead with the job of licking them.

On Screen: The End. Cinesound Review.


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