Dr Rebecca Crozier, a University of Aberdeen archaeologist has been part of a team of specialists involved in the recovery of World War Two casualties from the Owen Stanley Mountain Range, Papua New Guinea.
Co-ordinated by the Unrecovered War Casualties-Army (UWC-A) unit through the Australian Defence Force, the team was led by Professor Marc Oxenham, who has appointments with both the Australian National University and the University of Aberdeen.
The operations involved collaboration with other Services, agencies and stakeholders, including specialists from the Australian National University, Queensland University of Technology, James Cook University (Townsville), the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and had the approval of Papua New Guinea authorities. All relevant permissions were sought through PNG national, local and landowner authorities.
The recovery was planned in response to reports of human remains, uncovered at a former field cemetery site at Templeton’s Crossing, on the Kokoda Trail. The cemetery was previously believed cleared and disestablished at the conclusion of the Second World War.
Records indicate up to 65 Australian soldiers were buried at Templeton’s Crossing during fighting on the Kokoda Trail. These Australian servicemen were subsequently interred at Bomana War Cemetery and are commemorated with individual headstones.
The Battle of Kokoda was a four-month struggle which began with the Japanese landing in Papua in July 1942. The Japanese strategy was to take Port Moresby via a track over the Owen Stanley Range. Along this track were fought engagements between the Japanese and the Australians at Kokoda, Deniki, Isurava, Eora, Efogi, Templeton’s Crossing, Ioribaiwa and Oivi-Gorari.
The Kokoda Trail was a path that linked Ower’s Corner, approximately 40 km north-east of Port Moresby, and the small village of Wairopi, on the northern side of the Owen Stanley mountain range. From Wairopi, a crossing point on the Kumusi River, the Trail was connected to the settlements of Buna, Gona and Sanananda on the north coast. Its name was derived from the village of Kokoda that stood on the northern side of the main range and was the site of the only airfield between Port Moresby and the north coast. – Kokoda Trail Campaign
Approximately 625 Australians were killed along the Kokoda Trail and over 1,600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4,000.
The human remains recently recovered by specialists working with the UWC-A unit between June and July 2023, representing 15 soldiers, will now undergo forensic examination and identification processes, before being respectfully laid to rest at Bomana War Cemetery. There are close to 25,000 Australian soldiers with no known grave from the wars of the 20th century.
Finding and contacting the relatives of soldiers believed to have been buried at Templeton’s Crossing has not been possible in advance of the activity. Family members of soldiers who died on the Kokoda track, particularly those who fell close to Templeton’s Crossing, are welcome to contact the UWC unit at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
Dr Crozier senior lecturer in archaeology and director of the MSc osteoarchaeology programme, who spent June and July working to recover soldiers buried at a temporary cemetery at Templeton’s Crossing on the Kokoda Track, said:
“I feel so honoured to work with such an amazing team of specialists and contribute to the recovery of these soldiers who had laid in a remoter part of the jungle for over 80 years.”