Hellenic RSL President embarks on the legendary Trail

Michael Sweet

Steve Kyritsis, Vietnam veteran and tireless chronicler of Greek Australian duty and sacrifice in war, is about to undertake a new challenge; walking in the footsteps of the Diggers who fought along the Kokoda Track in World War II.
Kyritsis will fly to Papua New Guinea and begin the arduous 94 km trek on 30 June.

Steve’s preparations, like the man himself, have been thorough.
“I get up at 20 to 6 every morning and do an hour’s walk, and I’ve been training, doing longer walks at the weekends for three months now. I think I’m in pretty good shape,” he told Neos Kosmos.

The former infantryman with the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, who went to Vietnam when he was 21-years-old, says that mental preparation for the trek is as important as the physical.

“There’ll be a lot of obstacles, but knowing how our Diggers did it back in 1942, facing so much opposition, I think it should be possible to do it, if not comfortably, it should be relatively straightforward.”

The Kokoda campaign consisted of a series of desperate battles fought by Australian forces between July and November 1942 to prevent the Japanese from occupying Port Moresby.

The fighting took place along a rough jungle track that wound through the Owen Stanley mountain range in New Guinea.

After having to retreat in the first phase of the campaign, around 2000 Australian troops were finally able to push back the Japanese to New Guinea’s northern coast, despite being outnumbered.

The Kokoda Trail fighting was some of the most desperate and vicious encountered by Australian troops in the Second World War.

Victory on the Trail ensured that Allied bases in northern Australia, vital in the eventual counter-offensive against the Japanese, would not be threatened by air attack.

At the time many believed that if the Japanese took Port Moresby they would invade Australia shortly after.

At least 625 Australians were killed along the Kokoda Trail in second half of 1942 and over 1,600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4,000.

During his 10 day trek, Steve will be walking in the footsteps of a number of soldiers of Greek descent who fought along the Trail – many of whom are mentioned in his most recent book, Greek Australians in the Australian Armed Forces WWI and WWII.

“There were at least 193 Greek Australians who served in New Guinea in WWII, and a number of those served in the Kokoda campaign,” says Steve, who will use his own journey along the Trail as part of his research into those men’s connections to the Kokoda legend.

In October 1942 near Eora Creek on the Track, two brothers of the Manusa family from NSW – Guy and Perry, who served in the 2/1st Battalion – were killed in action within days of each other.

Victorian Jack Manol (1921-1985), a private in the inexperienced but immensely courageous 39th Militia Battalion, faced the full force of the first Japanese attack. Manol became part of Kokoda folklore, having been immortalised in a 1942 photograph of Diggers, ankle deep in mud, climbing one of the track’s steep jungle paths.
Australian troops were helped during the campaign by local people who became known as the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’. The ‘Angels’ were responsible for ferrying tons of supplies to the frontline and carrying wounded soldiers back to field hospitals.

Kyritsis’ Kokoda journey is the result of meeting military historian David Howell, who works at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance where Steve is a guide. Howell organises regular treks along the Trail with his company Kokoda Historical.

Though a new generation of ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ will be assisting some members of the trekking group that Kyritsis is walking with, Steve will be carrying his own pack weighing 15 kilograms.

Asked if his experience in Vietnam would stand him in good stead for Kokoda, with a chuckle Steve said:
“That was a long time ago, but overall the body’s still OK and the survival instinct is still there, but you have to prepare, your mind has to be ready.

“I thought even at my age, my mid-sixties, I should give it a go. It’s an inspiring story.”

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