Angels of Kokoda




With a foreword from Australia’s former Governor-General Michael Jeffery endorsing this fictionalised account of the events in Papua New Guinea in 1942, Angels of Kokoda is a moving and engaging account of a bloody time in Australia’s history.


12 year old friends Morso and Derek come together when Derek Anderson’s family arrive to work on a mission at Gona. Derek’s doctor father is particularly racist (not to mention sexist) and does not like Derek ‘fraternising with the natives’ p. 12. Derek is caned for his friendship with Morso and banned from seeing him while Derek’s parents vow to bring ‘God to the poor heathen’ p. 20. However, their house is served by twelve local children, unwilling and unpaid.


On the brink of war in PNG, Derek and Morso are initiated together. Surviving such pain and bonding can only augur well for the boys. Approximately 500 weekend soldiers, average age 18, are sent to PNG to try to halt the charge of the Japanese towards Australia. Yet most of these ‘Chocos’ (short for chocolate soldiers) have never even held a gun. The fall of Singapore and the bombing of Darwin heighten the importance of PNG in the war.


As the Japanese advance on Gona, Dr Anderson decides to evacuate those remaining at the mission. Soon after, they are under fire and Morso saves Derek’s life. The boys become runners for the company, then scouts. Dr Anderson provides any medical aid he possibly can. And the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ and the Salvation Army provide amazing support for the army. The local men carry the army’s food, ammunition, arms, equipment and medical supplies, and later, wounded soldiers to safety in difficult and unforgiving terrain. The boys increasingly become part of the war, seeing unspeakable things yet supporting the soldiers the only way they know how.


As history tells us, somehow against the odds, these young soldiers held the Japanese back for 62 days, even though the Japanese had nearly 30 times the soldiers that Australia did in PNG. Angels of Kokoda pays tribute to these young men, as well as the local men, boys and the Salvation Army. It is easy to forget that during the story, our protagonists turn 13. The story also confronts what happened to those affected by war once it was over and how they coped with what they had encountered.


Told in the third person, with occasional letters from Derek to his sister, this story is confrontational, disturbing, moving, enlightening and a major part of our history. The use of maps, a list of references and genuine (some grisly) photos helps this account to become real to the reader. Unfortunately, so many of our younger Australians have no idea of the courage, bravery and commitment that a small group of young men demonstrated in Papua New Guinea in 1942. Angels of Kokoda and the new movie Kokoda will definitely change that and indeed could be used together in the classroom.


Part of the reader’s reflection of this important book could be the concept of the Japanese in the Australian consciousness then and now; the debate about whether our former enemies should march on ANZAC Day and how long it might take one nation to recover enough to forgive the other.


Angels of Kokoda is a chilling yet highly engaging and action-packed tale and it deserves to be studied at length. At just over 200 pages, and with its easy to read dialogue, narrative and letters, it is very accessible to the younger secondary student. Obviously a lot of research has gone into this novel, making it accurate, yet personal and involving the reader emotionally. Highly recommended.



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