Thursday, November 02, 2017

Diggers and Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels: Trench foot on the Kokoda Trail

The Kokoda Trail holds memories for many families in both Australia and Papua New Guinea . The Battle of Kokoda was fought in 1942.

The Kokoda Track or Kokoda Trail is single-file track starting at Ower's Corner (50 km east of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea) and runs 90 km overland through the Owen Stanley Range to Kokoda. The track crosses some of the most rugged and most isolated terrain in the world and it is only passable on foot. It includes a height of 2,250 metres at Mount Bellamy.

In 1942 the Australians had withdrawn from Ioribaiwa to Imita Range (near Port Mosby) and made their way up the hill in preparation for a last stand battle . There were roughly 1000 Diggers against over 6000 Japanese yet despite being outnumbered the Australians held off wave after wave of Japanese attacks. In the bitter fighting that followed many men from both sides died.

Brave “fuzzy-wuzzy angels ” carried the injured Diggers out against all odds down dangerous narrow mountain tracks. Their bravery still goes unrecognized by the Australian Government. The Japanese commander's objective was to squeeze the Australian perimeter between his reinforced attacks from front and rear until nothing remained. However the Australians' elusiveness and their refusal to acknowledge defeat denied him. The tail provided ideal cover but was traitorous terrain. The Australians were constantly tired, wet and hungry but despite this climbed the narrow, winding slippery track up and down the towering mountains covered in thick forest. Many fast flowing creeks had to be crossed and some soldiers drowned when they lost their footing and were swept away. On some parts of the track soldiers had, to crawl on their hands and knees. It rained heavily both day and night with the soldiers having to wade through knee-deep mud that could pull the boots right off their feet.

Clothes and boots just rotted from being constantly wet and Trench Foot was a constant fear.

In recent years walking the track has become a pilgrimage for numerous Australians of all ages.

Renewed interest in running the track was created when Australian Brian Freeman broke the track record in August 2004 with a time 24 hours and 59 minutes. Papuan New Guinean, John Hunt Hiviki was keen to reclaim the record and ran the last six hours bare-foot after his shoes fell apart.

The trail was first used in the 1890s by Europeans miners traveling to the Yodda Kokoda goldfields. Hot humid days with intensely cold nights, torrential rainfall and endemic tropical diseases such as malaria make it a challenge to walk. Locals have been known to be able hike the route in 3 days but tourists take between 6 and 12 days (depending on fitness) to complete the trip. There are a number of guesthouses located along the way, some at villages others at traditional rest spots. For anyone intending to walk the Kokaoda Trail it is important to wear the proper clothes and shoes. Salt is deposited when the sweat evaporates causing clothing to dry hard which causes chafes between the legs. Walkers are recommended to change and wash their clothing as well as carry creams to lubricate the skin. Adhesive plaster is also advised to provide a second skin to the effect parts. Well fitting shoes are recommended. Moving downhill causes the feet to push forward and toes suffer. Going uphill causes friction at the heels. This is exacerbated because invariably the feet are wet. Feet swell over the day so a good fitting boot with a thicker pair of socks can be replaced with thinner socks in the afternoon. Keeping socks pulled up prevents wrinkling which can cause further irritations. It is important to take care of foot problems as they arise otherwise leaving them until later may be too late.

Reviewed 4/02/2107

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