Sunday, April 26, 2009

WW11 veteran pays an emotional ANZAC Day pilgrimage

Jack Kauffman against the shocking contrast of white marble headstones at Bomana War Cemetery
World War 11 veteran Jack Kauffma pays an emotional pilgrimage at Bomana War Cemetery on ANZAC Day Jack Kauffman (right) and his faithful tour guide Andrew Kagil after the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Bomana War Cemetery
Among the hundreds of people who attended the traditional ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Bomana War Cemtery outside Port Moresby last Saturday was one sprightly 85-year-old, from Canberra, Australia.
His chest bedecked with medals, Harry Kaufmann admired the beautiful wreaths laid at the Cross of Sacrifice, and lay wandered among the white marble headstones to pay respect to his fallen mates.
He was in the country during the dark days of WW11 in 1942 and 1943, a fresh-faced 19-year-old, and after he left, has never been back until now.
Mr Kaufmann admitted that he never took part in actual fighting during WW11, being a member of the 6th Australian Mobile Ammunition Repair Workshop, based at Koitaki and Sogeri outside Port Moresby.
He had three elder brothers, all of whom were engaged in WW11, with one being killed at Singapore.
“I was the youngest of four boys,” he told me.
“One of them was killed at Singapore while another was taken as a POW (prisoner of war) at Singapore.
“My other brother was in the airforce here (New Guinea).”
Mr Kauffman’s unit was responsible for supplying and repairing all Australian ammunition used during WW11, including Kokoda, and he got to know many of the soldiers who now rest at Bomana.
“When there was trouble with ammunition, that’s when we had to go,” he recalled.
“We were based mainly at Sogeri.
“We had to prepare all the ammunition here, prepare them for the aircraft, parachutes, and all that.
“We didn’t do any actual fighting.
“We had to make sure that the ammunition was working.
“I was at Sogeri, Koitaki and Owers’ Corner.”
Mr Kauffman’s tour guide Andrew Kagil said taking him around was one of the most-emotional experiences of his 20 years in tourism.
“I took him to Sogeri, Koitaki, Owers’ Corner and Bomana War Cemetery,” Mr Kagil said.
“He became very emotional when he saw his old stomping ground, and tears flowed freely.”
Mr Kaufmann paid tribute to the Papuans and New Guineans who had selflessly helped the Australians during WW11.
“Your people were on the ground to help us,” he said.
“We never knew what we were doing from day-to-day.”
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people attended the dawn ceremony at Bomana.
Australians and Papua New Guineans stood side-by-side to honour the fallen.
Afterwards, people many laid flowers against the cemetery's white marble headstones, as children of Ela Murray International School sang haunting strains of Pete Seeger’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone?.
New Zealand High Commissioner Neils Holm gave the address, while Ms Christine Coulthard of the Gungahlin Returned Services League (RSL) sub-branch and Mr Joe Filippi of the Port Moresby RSL recited The Ode.
Those who attended included members of the diplomatic corps and hundreds of trekkers who had walked the Kokoda Trail PNG, including more than 50 students from a boys’ high school in Sydney, in the lead-up to ANZAC Day.
More than 3,800 servicemen are buried at Bomana, 702 unidentified.
To the north-west, ceremonies were held in several places along the Kokoda Trail where Australian diggers repelled the Japanese advance during WW11.
Hundreds of Australians walked the Kokoda Trail in the lead-up to Anzac Day.

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