The Last Voice

Bede Tongs

The Old Infantry Soldier, still fairly upright at age 93
was guest speaker at an Annual Dinner in Sydney
Raising money for the lovely people who helped
the Australian Forces against a ferocious enemy
in Papua New Guinea
They are the descendant’s of the brave Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels
of the Kokoda Track and Beyond
Some said he was the Last Voice
The Last Voice of the Kokoda Track Firing Line Infantry
Writers and journalists have spoken of the time
along with Soldiers who had not trod the mud slush and grime
Not truthful in saying they fought
and witnessed death on the Track
They should have courage and state the true facts
Through the dedication of Australians who care
the financial response from the Dinner was grand
The descendants of the brave Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels
would benefit in education, health care and medicine
from the truth in what the Old Soldier said
The Last Voice is history recorded forever
In time The Voice will only be a whisper
and from the Old Soldier, always a Smile.

An extract from the Ralph Honner Memorial Oration delivered in October 2013.

560 men of the 3rd Battalion went on the Kokoda Track on 5th September [1942], 110 answered the role call on 4th December [1942] at Gona Mission, when the 3rd Battalion was taken out of action. There was a lot of sickness. There were 53 killed in action, died of wounds, died of illness and close on 102 wounded.

People have asked me why do I keep going back to Papua New Guinea. I have been in New Guinea 9 times, Kokoda 8 times. The last time with my son Garry in November last year. [The speaker, Garry and grandson David had also been there in February that year.]

I landed there on 27th May 1942. I met these lovely Papuan people, there has been an evolution in the meantime, but all the time to me they are such lovely people and we can never thank them for how they helped us and died for us in those grim days of the Kokoda Track campaign and beyond.

To give you an idea how the country and people affected me, I passed that enthusiasm on to my son Garry who was fifteen years old when he first visited Papua New Guinea. And then later my wife Joan and I went up when Garry and his wife were in Mendi in the Southern Highlands.

I mentioned that I fought in the Aitape-Wewak campaign, 2/3rd Battalion. I have also been able to experience being on the Track with my son and grandson David. In 1983 we trekked the Track, my grandson David was 12 years old, I was 63 and Garry was 37.

I was in Savaia, the village of Savaia where I was confronted with the Papuans [in 1942], early in November [2012] last year and they made me Honorary Chief of Savaia. Pigs teeth and all sorts of regalia, which was pretty good. We’re going back again. We took up some things for their school, chalk, exercise books, pencils, pencil sharpeners and so on. Stainless steel cooking utensils for the lovely women of Savaia and I’m looking forward to us both being there for the opening of the new Kokoda College next year.

We support The Kokoda Track Foundation and it is amazing the amount of activity and work that [CEO] Dr Genevieve Nelson is doing and [Chairman] Patrick Lindsay.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.