SYDNEY, June 6 /PRNewswire/ -- Former Army Captain and Kokoda Track specialist, Brian Freeman today revealed he had discovered the location of "The Lost Battlefield" of Kokoda. The location of the final major engagement of the Eora Creek battle has been found 1000m west and 450 vertical metres above the wartime village of Eora Creek.
Significantly, the discovery of the Lost Battlefield will enable Australian and Japanese Veterans' services to begin the process of identification and repatriation of dozens of lost soldiers.
The Battle of October 22, 1942;
The largest battle on the Owen Stanley section of the Kokoda campaign began on October 22, 1942 during the time of the Australian advance. 79 Australians died and 145 were wounded at Eora Creek, more than in any other battle in the Owen Stanley mountains.
The Japanese held the high ridge over Eora Creek gorge, giving them a significant geographical advantage over the Australians. After the battle was concluded an official count found 69 Japanese bodies were recorded, however it is widely believed that there were many others unaccounted for.
By October 28, 1942, the Australians had taken this strategic and well-fortified position enabling them to proceed unopposed into Kokoda, which they reoccupied on November 2nd, 1942.
Despite so many soldiers unaccounted for, the location of this pivotal final battle was thought to be closer to Eora Creek - until today.
The Discovery of the Lost Battlefield;
Brian Freeman has trekked Kokoda over 35 times and set the world record for the fastest one way unsupported crossing of the infamous World War II track in 24 hours and 59 minutes. Over the course of ten years Brian has gained a unique respect and understanding for the region that saw 625 Australian soldiers killed in action.
Brian's understanding of this isolated region of Papua New Guinea is largely due to his strong working relationship with the Alola people, in particular former head of the village, Eddie (who passed away in 2008) and his son Kila Elave. The relationship between Brian and the Alola people has been mutually beneficial; they gave Brian an insight into the region and he, in turn, built their elementary school, visitors' huts and transported their sick or injured to Port Moresby for treatment.
Eddie was Brian's chief guide for 25 treks over 8 years. The role of chief guide is now held by Eddie's son Kila, who is also Brian's close friend. It was Brian's time spent with Eddie and Kila, coupled with years researching detailed battle maps and battle diaries, which led Brian to believe that the Japanese had held a significant, unidentified position in the Owen Stanley Ranges for the period of their advance to the rear.
Brian Freeman believed that there was evidence to indicate the Japanese had established an advanced care centre or hospital at the site during the Japanese advance in early September 1942. The location of this advance care centre or hospital remained a mystery until now.
The location of the Lost Battlefield has remained a secret, to all but the Alola people, since October 29, 1942. The plateau, that includes the site of the Lost Battlefield, is a hunting ground for the village, but even the villagers did not enter the battle site - approximately 600sqm - because of its history. The villagers have avoided the site because of their deep beliefs that the spirits of those who died there still inhabit the site.
"I am honoured that they trusted me with the location. On our inaugural trek, we were hoping to find the remnants of a make-shift Japanese hospital and, potentially, relics of guns and ammunition. I never anticipated that we would find war dead," said Brian.
"As soon as we realised that Japanese and, potentially, Australian soldiers were buried at the site, we discussed with the villagers the need for those men to be identified and returned home. The villagers understood completely and have offered us every assistance."
The Australian and Japanese soldiers of the Lost Battlefield;
Brian Freeman trekked to the Lost Battlefield for the first time on 23 April 2010. He and fellow adventurer, David Moffatt, spent the weeks following the discovery meeting with Australian and Japanese officials to inform them of the Lost Battlefield and the suspected war dead on site. They have been informed of the appropriate protocols and process that need to be followed to ensure the repatriation of the soldiers of the Lost Battlefield.
Brian Freeman said, "79 Australians and 69 Japanese died at the Lost Battlefield. The bodies of five Australians and dozens of Japanese soldiers were never found and are currently listed as Missing Presumed Killed in Action. Our hope is that we have found those fallen soldiers, that they can be identified and returned to their families for appropriate burial.
"As a former soldier of the Australian army, the identification and repatriation of the Australian and Japanese soldiers is my highest priority. We will not know the identities of the soldiers buried at the Lost Battlefield for many months, but both Governments understand the need to inform families as soon as possible.
General Peter Cosgrove was one of the first people to hear from Brian of the Lost Battlefield discovery. He accompanied Brian and David Moffatt to the site on Saturday, May 29th.
"This is a hugely significant discovery. I have seen the site first-hand and was struck by the enormity of what lay around me - intact since 1942.
"The revelation of the location of the Lost Battlefield tells a story that will move every Australian."
The Preservation of the Lost Battlefield as a Living Memorial and Museum;
"They say a picture can tell a thousand words. The Lost Battlefield tells its own story without words. Within minutes of reaching the site, we began to understand the scope and scale of what took place at the site; large rectangular pits, typically referred to as rifle pits, indicated that this was more than a make-shift hospital.
"Our metal detectors picked up rifles, ammunition and helmets of Australian and Japanese soldiers all illustrating that this location was a significant Japanese defensive position.
"It is as if time has stood still. We found ammunition running out in a line from the rifle that was dropped as the Japanese advanced to the rear.
"We found kidney-shaped medical dishes, which reinforced our theory that this was also the site of the Japanese hospital.
"However, it was the discovery of a Japanese soldier sitting up against a tree, only centimetres from the surface still in his helmet, with his boots nearby that began to tell the human story.
"We only stayed for six hours, but within that time another two Japanese soldiers were found. I knew the history of this final battle between the Australian and the Japanese. This lost battle led to the greatest loss of Australian lives during the Kokoda campaign. I knew that five Australians and dozens more Japanese were still missing and there was every chance they were all buried at this location.
"The Lost Battlefield is remarkable because it is a living museum to a battle that was fought over four days and four nights almost 68 years ago.
"I can't describe the emotion the Lost Battlefield conjures up. So many men lost their lives and now, potentially, they have been found at a location that tells the story of what they endured. You can see the positions held on both sides; you can see where they treated their wounded; you can see the Australian advance and ultimately the casualties.
"From here, we will continue to work with the Alola village and the respective Governments to preserve the site in its current pristine condition. Our priority is to identify and repatriate the fallen soldiers and to honour their memory by ensuring all other elements remain intact and untouched."
The Lost Battlefield Trust;
The Lost Battlefield Trust has been formed with the intent to re-instate and preserve "The Lost Battlefield" and "The Japanese Hospital" as close as possible to the state the sites were in on October 29, 1942.
The Lost Battlefield Trust will be privately funded by the Trustees and through private philanthropy. Donations can be made through www.thelostbattlefield.com.au
The Trust will fund multiple critical projects;
1) The re-establishment of "The Japanese Hospital" and "The Lost Battlefield"
2) The maintenance of the site, in as close to its wartime state as possible for the benefit of future generations.
3) The establishment of a Community Development Program to benefit the Alola Village and the local community including, but not limited to, programs for clean water; sanitation; health and vaccination; education and vocational training
4) The establishment and maintenance of communication equipment and links between the site, Alola Village, Kokoda and Port Moresby
5) The establishment of any memorial or religious recognition of the fallen at or near the site.
6) To ensure the compliance with all Papua New Guinean laws and regulations for the establishment, maintenance and operation of the site.
Australian businessman and avid adventurer, David Moffatt said, "The overarching objectives for the Lost Battlefield Trust will be to improve the health, living conditions and employment prospects for the Alola villagers and to re-instate the site in dedication to the Australians and Japanese soldiers who fought and fell there during 1942.
"The Trust is determined to maintain the pristine "Living Museum" with weapons and surgical equipment where they were last fired or used; defensive pits and track plans as they were last operated; ordnance where it was discharged and for the soldiers, recovered from the site, their final resting place.
"The site of "The Lost Battlefield" is owned by the Alola villagers and they will have the sole guiding rights to the site. We recognise there will be considerable interest from people wishing to visit this historic location, however until all the bodies have been repatriated by their respective Governments; no groups will be permitted to trek to "The Lost Battlefield'.
"This short term restriction on access will ensure the fallen soldiers are identified and returned to their families as soon as possible. During this time expert opinion will be sought on how best to ensure "the Lost Battlefield" is preserved for future generations."
For images and further information; www.thelostbattlefield.com.au
Please note: VISION will be distributed via Reuters 10pm AEST (12GMT). Vision will be of The Lost Battlefield and contains interviews with:
* Brian Freeman (Former Australian Army Captain and Kokoda specialist)
* General Peter Cosgrove (AC, MC Former Chief of the Australian Defence Force)
* Kila Elave (Alola Villager and Kokoda guide)
* David Moffatt (Australian Businessman and Avid Adventurer)
SOURCE: The Lost Battlefield Trust
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