The 75th Anniversary of a defining event in World War II, the Battle of Wau, was commemorated in a dawn service on 30 January in Morobe Province.
Around 400 people, mostly Papua New Guinean families, took part in a service arranged by the Australian Consulate-General in Lae with Wau-based business and community leaders, led by NKW Fresh. The Member for Menyamya, Hon. Thomas Pelika, Australian Defence Force, Papua New Guinea Defence Force, and Australian Federal Police all participated in the service.
The Battle of Wau itself was a fierce campaign which saw Australian soldiers, known as the “Kanga Force”, fight back a Japanese attack which reached the Wau airstrip itself. In associated fighting, 349 Australians perished. Estimates put the number of associated Japanese causalities at up to 1,200.
The dawn service was a time of remembrance and reflection. After the Pacific War began, Wau had become an evacuation centre for refugees from Lae and Salamaua. Australian women and children were evacuated via the “Bulldog Track” while Australian men of military age were called-up for duty.
“For us standing here today, as free citizens of our own independent countries, the sacrifices of those at the Battle of Wau form the bedrock for the freedoms we hold dear,” said Australia’s Consul-General in Lae, Mr Paul Murphy at the event.
The United Church’s Reverend James Karava reminded all to celebrate the lives of the fallen and not forget them. Wau local representative Ninga Yawa, from Kaisenik village of the Biangai Tribe of Wau spoke on the meaning of the events on behalf of his people.
The service ended with a flag raising at the newly renovated Wau memorial, followed by rousing renditions of the national anthems of Australia and Papua New Guinea by Francisca Tulungenaram, 2017 winner of Vocal Fusion.