Australia as a young nation served with its Allies, far away from its shores, in both World Wars. Australia had never been threatened but all that changed in WWII as Japan entered the war against the US.
When Japan surprised and attacked the US fleet at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, a new era of fear began to mount within the Australian people. The Japanese forces very swiftly deployed in the Pacific, capturing many countries including Singapore, which the British forces surrendered, resulting in over 100,000 British and Australians taken prisoner.
On 19 February 1942 Darwin was bombed by the Japanese forces, and for the first time an international war came to Australia. It was a frightening period for all Australians and the government requested from Britain that their forces supporting its Allies in Europe must return and defend their country.
Japan in 1942 had a large naval force and aircraft carriers in the Pacific, but they needed a base at close range to attack Australia.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) was the area the Japanese wanted to capture to help with their objective of landing in Australia. The capital, Port Moresby, also had a large airfield which was ideal for Japan to use and attack Australia. Japan began its push to capture PNG in May 1942, but lost its large naval battle against the American and Australian fleets at Coral Sea. However Japan was determined to capture Port Moresby and the only way to do it was to land its ground forces at the northern part of PNG, and proceed towards Port Moresby through a narrow track known as the Kokoda Track.
In the Second World War, over 2,500 Greek Australians served their new country in the Australian armed forces. Some of these men and women were born overseas and some were born in Australia.
On the Kokoda Track and in the Papua New Guinea campaign, over 300 men of Greek origin served their country in need, halting the Japanese capture of Port Moresby. Some of these men fought bravely on the Kokoda Track in the early stages in July 1942 when the Japanese forces pushed hard towards their aim, but the brave young Australians stood firm and by December 1942 the Kokoda Track was cleared, and ultimately Japan was defeated after three more years of war. Japan surrendered in August 1945.
This new book Greek Australians in the Australian Armed Forces: Kokoda names and honours the brave Greek Australians that served on the Kokoda Track, the units they served under, the battles they endured from July to December 1942, and the names of those killed, and those wounded in action. This publication will be a historical source for all generations and nationalities, as it brings to the forefront the ideals and courage of these Greek migrants who were willing to fight for their adopted homeland when called upon during wartime.
The 600-page book contains over two hundred photos of veterans, and other historical items.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda Track campaign, and many historians believe that the future generations will look upon it as the most important and decisive event in Australia’s history, which was the ‘Battle for Australia’.
Steve Kyritsis OAM is a Vietnam veteran and served with the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. He is the president of Victoria’s Hellenic RSL sub-branch and a volunteer guide at the Shrine of Remembrance. This is his third book.
Coinciding with the 75th anniversary commemorations of Kokoda, ‘Greek Australians in the Australian Armed Forces: Kokoda’ will be formally launched at Queen’s Hall, Parliament House (Spring St, East Melbourne, VIC) on Friday 21 July at 3.00 pm.