Screening: ABC, 8:30 Wednesday 23rd May, 2001
“Nobody went to that war, or any other I suppose, that didn’t get wounded mentally, if not physically. It wasn’t possible.” Sergeant Jack Sim, shop assistant from Ballarat, was one of the Australian soldiers who fought the Japanese to a standstill on the Kokoda trail in 1942.
Episode Five of Australians at War is a deeply moving story of the Second World War told through the eye witness accounts of surviving veterans. They bring to life that moment when, for the first time, Australia faced a struggle for its own survival.
It was Kokoda that came to symbolise our vulnerability. This precipitous track through the frightening jungle of the Owen Stanley Mountains was the scene of horror and bravery in the face of a fanatical enemy.
Our veterans remind us that Australia was ill prepared for the Japanese threat. Loyalty to the Empire had left our forces divided across the world. Our airmen in Bomber Command were suffering appalling losses flying against the Germans, our troops fought with distinction at El Alamein. Many thousands more were enduring the brutality of Japanese prison camps.
Episode Five, “The thin khaki line”, reveals the savagery of war. In the words of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Cullen: “No (Japanese) prisoners were taken and if they were they were usually killed afterwards.”
Some of the veterans fought from the beginning, against the Italians and Germans, but even surviving this could not prepare them for the Japanese and the terrors of jungle warfare.
For wives and sweethearts there were the long dark years of waiting. For nurses like Sister Una Mills, there were bedside vigils in field hospitals from Greece to Papua: “It’s not easy to forgive and forget. I know one should forgive, but to do both is difficult.”
Their story is told through the interweaving of interviews with dramatic archival footage, and occasional commentary from the writings of contemporary war correspondents. The archival film includes newly discovered footage of the bombing of Darwin
But above all this is the story of the men and women to whom we owe so much, simply but powerfully told in their own words. Through their stories we honour them and their comrades.
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