STUDENT TASTES KOKODA
Victorian Year 11 student Ben Camm didn’t just walk the Kokoda trail – he lived it, right down to wearing a WW2 uniform, lugging a SMLE rifle and sporting a 40s haircut. And he loved it!
Picture: Ben takes a break along the way. Picture courtesy David Jenkins and Sophie De Wit
Victorian Year 11 student Ben Camm didn’t just walk the Kokoda trail – he lived it.
Ben was part of a small band of 13 military reenactors of all ages who marked the 75 Anniversary of Kokoda by taking on the persona of a member of ‘B’ Coy 39th battalion and trekking Kokoda as if back in the 1940s.
The Dromana Secondary College student’s transformation included full period uniform, haircut, SMLE .303 rifle, food rations, and minimal bedding, utensils and toiletries.
“We were to adapt and portray the persona of a soldier that was assigned to us in order to better understand the life of these individuals. Over the course of the trek we were referred to by our allocated soldier's name and rank,” Ben said.
In June of 1942 the 39th was ordered to proceed up the Kokoda Trail from Moresby to block any possible Japanese overland advance. The 39th B Company and troops from the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) reached Kokoda on 15 July. Japanese forces landed at Gona, on the north coast of Papua, a week later and quickly moved inland. B Company faced the full might of a fresh Japanese invasion force.
While the reenactors didn’t have the enemy to deal with they faced challenges of their own. With only WW2 kit and boots Ben found the Papuan climate the first big challenge. The humidity and heat made the going tough and early in the trek one trekker was airlifted out of the jungle suffering dehydration.
“The many rivers and creek crossings allowed for water to seep through our boots, which gave us our fair share of blisters. We ate rice, bully beef, spam, damper, porridge and fruit when it was available from the jungle. We slept on a ground sheet, one side of a blanket (with the other side over us) and our gas capes as a shelter from the rain.”
As part of the journey, the trekkers stopped along the way to pay respects to the diggers who had fought and died on the trail.
Ben says participating and completing the Kokoda Trial was the best thing he has “ever done in my life so far” and was a real eye-opener. He hopes to return soon but not as a trekker. Instead, he wants to use his St. John Ambulance training to help out at the medical posts along the trail.
The cost of Ben’s trek was partially funded by his school, which through its School Nurse, Mark White, is active in sharing the memories of those who served. Mr White and Ben are both members of the National Military Re-enactment Group (NMRG) and are proud to educate the public on the sacrifices that soldiers of WW1 and WW2 made.
Find out more about reenacting and get involved at the Australasian Living History Federation.
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