Ken Schoeffel

The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.

By David Schoeffel

It was another hot, dry March, in 1943, and I was back with Jean, my wife of just eighteen months, for a fortnight’s R&R, at our little farm at Narellan, near Camden. For the first time, I met my nine month old daughter, Penny. She was a small baby, and so had been named “Miss Peabody” by the ladies. But she could not have been dearer to me: a lovely new life, safe here, from my world of hardship and killing. The fortnight, a second honeymoon, during which we rode around on our horses, ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Wendy’, made love and showed off our baby, rushed by. All too soon, I was back in New Guinea.

My regiment, the 2nd 14th Field Artillery, had dragged and carried their dissembled 25 pounder field guns up some forty kilometres of that narrow, slippery and almost impossibly steep pathway, known as the Kokoda Trail. We had dug in on one of the high jungle razorbacks, Imita Ridge, to provide artillery support for our infantry in what became known as the Battle of Iorabaiwa : the first battle ever lost by the Japanese Army. Port Moresby had been saved. Now we had to drive the retreating, starving Japanese troops back past Kokoda, out of the Owen Stanleys, eastward, through the lowland fever-swamps of Gona, to the sea at Buna.

By and large, though we worked and sweated till we looked like wiry, skinny rats, we didn’t see much of the fierce, hand to hand fighting of the infantry, except through field-glasses, from some hilltop “O-Pip”, or observation post. Personally, my most scary moment probably was when I found myself sharing an O-Pip dugout with a rather large Papuan black snake – arguably the world’s deadliest snake!

We had found bodies with pieces cut from the thighs. Everyone was horrified to think that the Japanese had sunk to cannibalism. Then one of our boys was found, after wandering, lost, in the jungle for nearly a month. His response to this had been “Christ! You blokes have never been hungry! I’d have eaten a Jap like a shot, if only I could have found a fresh one!”

I had taught many of the gunners calculus and spherical trigonometry; maths essential to the calculation of trajectories, back at Holsworthy Barracks. They called us ‘the nine-mile snipers’. Also, I was quite strict in matters of cleanliness and hygiene, for the prevention of disease. With ironic grins and behind my back, they’d call me “Winnie the war winner”. But I got on with them all pretty well, I think. When our Major went down with appendicitis, in the Owen Stanleys, I became their acting Brigade Major.

When next on leave, I found I had not only a daughter, but a son as well! This one, we called David John, after my wife, Jean’s, two brothers. At the war’s end, we moved to Melbourne, where I went into business, bringing some of my artillery friends with me, and also, shortly after, back into dairying. Twenty years later, when I was building our new house at ‘Cotswold Park’, on the Moira Irrigation Scheme, near Mathoura, some of my fellow gunners found what was said to be the right-ranging field gun from the Battle of Iorabaiwa. They presented it to me, for protecting the new garden against invaders.