Peter & Harold Jesser: New Guinea WW2

Posted on: Mon 23 Jul 2018

Seventy Six years ago this month,  the Japanese landed  in Papua New Guinea, with a view to seize Kokoda and advance south towards Port Moresby. Today is all about that period in our history, as we repeat an interview from Anzac Day this year but with a little bit more detail.

The Japanese invasion of Buna-Gona, New Guinea

…  as soon as trucks could be unloaded, a company of infantry was driven inland. When the road ended the Japanese loaded their equipment on to carts and bicycles and continued their rapid advance. On 23 July 1942 the first engagement of the campaign took place near Awala when 38 men of the Papuan Infantry Battalion, under Major William Watson, fired on the Japanese then retired. A private of the Papuan Infantry Battalion said that they each fired eight or nine rounds, ‘then Major Watson told us to run for our lives’.  The widely dispersed defenders in the region numbered 420 men of the Papuan Infantry Battalion,  the Royal Papuan Constabulary and B Company of 39 Battalion. By 26 July 145 men, of all three units, had been collected at Oivi, 16 kilometres east of Kokoda.                   Ref:  Australian Military History Online; Australian War Memorial;

Harold Jesser:  An Aussie Digger in New Guinea

Harold himself tells his son Peter about the lead-up to this event, and what happened next.

Harold’s son Peter Jesser writes:   For his patrol work behind Japanese lines, Jesser was awarded the Military Cross. The citation for his Military Cross (approved for immediate award) stated:

  • “During the night of 22/23rd July, 1942, at great personal risk he took a small patrol of natives and penetrated beyond Sangara, a distance of 12 miles behind the enemy lines, and returned to his Headquarters with valuable information of the enemy strength and disposition thereby enabling the P.I.B. to take up a position and greatly retard the enemy advance.  Again on the night of 26/27th July, 1942, he repeated the performance with similar results.”

Captain (later Major) Jesser’s Military Cross was the first to be awarded in the Papua New Guinea theatre in World War II. Sergeant Katue, who accompanied Jesser during most of his patrols, was awarded the Military Medal. This was the first decoration to be won by a Papuan or New Guinean soldier.

We asked Peter Jesser how his father fitted back into civilian life after the war….

Producer Helen Meyer

Main Photo:  New Guinea WW2 …  Governor General Lord Gowrie visits New Guinea and inspects a Papuan Infantry Unit.   AWM Accession Number 014913  copyright expired


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