National Remembrance Day in Papua New Guinea is celebrated on 23 July each year. It is a memorial day designed to honour PNG soldiers who died during military engagements, including World War I and World War II.
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More than 600 Australians were killed and more than 1,680 wounded during the Battle of Kokoda which began on 23 July 1942. The Japanese were attempting to capture Port Moresby, the main base in Australia which was located in New Guinea. Over the next few days, the Australians fought to protect Kokoda, but the village fell to the larger Japanese force.
Conditions were extremely uncomfortable as the battle continued over the next four months. Australian soldiers not only fought to keep the Japanese from reaching Port Moresby, but also to push them over the Owen Stanley Range to the northern coast. The battle was so fierce that the date was chosen as a day to remember fallen soldiers in Papua New Guinea.
Importance of Battle
The battle sealed the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea as the countries fought side-by-side to block the Japanese advance. It was one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war. Had the Japanese been successful, the mainland of Australia would have been threatened.
Kokoda was Australia’s most significant campaign in World War II with more Australians dying in the conflict in PNG than any other campaign. The average age of the Australian soldier was 18 and many are now buried at the Bomana War Cemetery.
Traditions and Celebrations
An official ceremony is held at Remembrance park in Port Moresby. The ceremony is held in front of a war memorial that depicts Raphael Oimbari aiding a wounded soldier. Raphael Oimbari was one of the “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels,” a group of people who assisted and escorted wounded Australian troops down the Kokoda trail. Many were villagers who knew nothing about war and some had never even seen Australian patrol officers.
During the Battle of Kokoda, the villagers carried supplies and seriously wounded soldiers as far as Owers’ Corner. The men named them their “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels,” a title that has remained and is emblazoned on the memorial dedicated to their service. There is also a poem written in their honour by Sapper Bert Beros. Wreaths are placed on the graves of fallen soldiers and the day is spent honouring their memory at cemeteries like the Bomana War Cemetery.