An Australian soldier, George “Dick” Whittington, is aided by Papuan orderly Raphael Oimbari, at the Battle of Buna-Gona. Whittington died in February 1943 from the effects of bush typhus, this little-known killer of many Allied and Japanese soldiers in the Pacific.
During the war in Papua New Guinea, the local population who were sympathetic to the Australian troops would assist where they could. Notably, they would help in transporting stores and equipment over the rough terrain. Teams carried seriously wounded and sick Australian soldiers all the way back to their bases.
Their compassion and care of the casualties earned them admiration and respect from the Australians, who dubbed these men their fuzzy wuzzy angels. The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels were named for both their frizzy curly hair and helpful role.
As one Australian digger noted: They carried stretchers over seemingly impassable barriers, with the patient reasonably comfortable. The care they give to the patient is magnificent. If night finds the stretcher still on the track, they will find a level spot and build a shelter over the patient.
They will make him as comfortable as possible fetch him water and feed him if food is available, regardless of their own needs. They sleep four on each side of the stretcher and if the patient moves or requires any attention during the night, this is given instantly. These were the deeds of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels – for us!”.
In June 2008, Australian senator Guy Barnett called for his country’s Parliament to give official recognition to Papua New Guineans’ courage and contributions to the war effort: “I was stunned to learn that Australia has not officially recognized these wonderful PNG nationals who saved the lives of Australian servicemen.
They carried stretchers, stores, and sometimes wounded diggers directly on their shoulders over some of the toughest terrains in the world. Without them, I think the Kokoda campaign would have been far more difficult than it was”.
The government agreed to consider the motion. Recognition may entail a medal, a small ex gratia payment, and additional Australian aid to improve people’s education and health in villages near the Kokoda trail.
(Photo credit: US Army Archives / Library of Congress / National Archives).