Kokoda digger Reg Chard recalls WWII battle in Papua New Guinea

Reg Chard, 99, is a humble hero. In fact, call him a hero and you’ll be overlooked.

“No,” he told me unequivocally. “Heroes are the ones who don’t come home. Not me. I had a good life…they got nothing.”

Chard is one of Kokoda’s last diggers.

This deeply honorable man feels a sense of survivor’s guilt.

Reg Chard is one of Kokoda’s last diggers. (A current affair)

Related Clips

READ MORE: New method used by scammers to take your money

“Because of what I got and what they missed…they didn’t get a life,” he said.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign.

To mark the anniversary, Chard wrote his memoir, simply called The Kokoda digger.

Chard was an 18-year-old apprentice baker when he decided to fight for his country.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. (A current affair)

READ MORE: Retirees’ unique way to save money on electric bills

“November 17, 1941,” he told me.

At first, the recruiting sergeant pushed him away because of his job at the bakery.

“Now I can’t tell you what he said to me, but all the guys were laughing because they were all older than me,” he recalled.

“Anyway, I thought it was not good.”

So Chard became a storekeeper for a week.

To mark the anniversary, Reg Chard wrote his memoir, simply titled The Digger of Kokoda. (A current affair)

READ MORE: Angry Motorists Sue Major Automaker Over Peeling Paint

“I went back to the same guy – Martin Place the following Friday,” he recalls.

He was asked the same question: “What do you want?

“I told him,” Chard said.

“He said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Here’s my pay packet – storekeeper.’

“He said, ‘Okay, sign here.'”

Within two and a half months, the boy from Marrickville, Sydney’s central west, was on board a troop ship bound for the unknown.

Reg Chard, 99. (A current case)

The ship docked at Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and on board with Chard was famed war photographer Damien Parer.

“He was a great man,” he told me. “Only one thing was wrong with him…he was too brave.”

Parer’s footage documented the Kokoda campaign. He was later to die from a sniper bullet.

Chard was also an amateur photographer and he managed to slip his camera on board, even though the troops were told they couldn’t have them.

“I wanted to take pictures of all the men – that’s why I really wanted to,” he said.

Chard kept these photos; he has trouble, however, looking at them.

“I cry…all the time, that’s why I don’t watch them too often,” he said.

“They were all ages and they had all kinds of religions, they had all kinds of jobs…but they were still…a lot of them were young men, you know.”

Images documented the Kokoda campaign. (A current affair)

Eventually, Chard and his buddies headed into the jungle that was the Kokoda Trail.

They made the last fight at Imita Ridge.

“At one point there, when the Japanese pushed back right away… [the command] told us, ‘If you’re all killed here at Imita Ridge, so be it,'” he recalled.

“That’s when we knew things were bleak.”

Fortunately, the Japanese withdrew hoping to be joined by 20,000 reinforcements.

“If they had done that, this country was gone, or we were gone anyway, so this country would be gone,” he told me.

“They were better men than us, well, I mean they had been fighting since 1932, so I mean they had 10 years on us.

“So we had to learn, and learn the hard way.”

Chard said he was never scared.

“I can’t describe it. You’re not scared…it just seems to be part of your life,” he said.

Reg Chard managed to slip his camera on board, even though the troops were told they couldn’t have them. (A current affair)

Life was hell on earth – persistent rain, knee-deep mud, terrible terrain – the jungle so dense that the enemy could be inches from us.

Many Japanese spoke perfect English and tried to lure Australians into a trap.

“You could be somewhere in the jungle and hear someone say, ‘Oh buddy, come get me, I’ve got a bullet in my gut, I can’t get up,'” he recalled.

“The only thing they couldn’t say was Woolloomooloo.

“And you sing, ‘Did you live in Woolloomooloo? … ‘No, I don’t live in Wool…’

“They couldn’t say Woolloomooloo, so that’s it, you’d give them a flurry wherever you thought they were.”

Days turned into weeks; weeks turned into months.

“It was a terrible, terrible experience…you can’t describe it,” Chard said.

At night it was unbearably cold.

“I was freezing cold and felt like I was around because in the jungle it is very dark,” he recalls.

Reg Chard was also an amateur photographer. (A current affair)

“I felt something and thought, ‘This is hot’, so I moved next to him.

“As it was getting lighter in the morning, I looked.

“I was lying next to a corpse and it was full of maggots and they were all on me.”

Chard clearly remembered the day he had lost two friends.

They stood on either side of him. One of them had just told Chard about his plans if they made it out alive.

“He said, ‘I’m going to marry Isabel’ – that’s his girlfriend – ‘I want you to be my best man’ and I said, ‘That would be lovely,'” Chard told me.

“He took a step forward and ‘Bang’ and he got shot…and he was dead before he even started falling.”

His other companion was also shot in the head.

Chard thought a tree hid him from the enemy.

“So I did what they don’t expect you to do – they expect you to run away. I ran towards them and disengaged them and I’m still here today.” today,” he said.

Reg Chard has lost too many friends to count. (A current affair)

He has no doubt that if the Kokoda Trail fell to the Japanese, Australia was next.

“Australia was gone,” he said.

Chard has lost too many friends to count; he also took lives.

“You don’t think about it…it’s either him or me,” he said.

I asked him if there was a memory that kept him up at night.

“It was the worst thing I had ever seen,” he said.

It was towards the end of the campaign that Chard and 12 of his comrades came across a camp where Japanese officers had taken a number of women prisoner, abused them and executed them.

“You have no idea…you wouldn’t think another human being would do this to a human being…the things they did,” he said.

The Australians launched an attack and killed the Japanese troops.

“We killed them all,” he said.

“What we found was 25 white women and they’d had them for months obviously.”

The women had been mutilated and beheaded.

Many of the men featured in Kokoda’s iconic photos have now been set in stone at the memorial. (A current affair)

“I won’t tell you the other things they did because it was just inhumane,” he said.

“That’s what haunts me at night.”

The 13 Australians who witnessed that terrible day have made a pact to forever keep the women’s identities a secret so their families will never know the horrific truth.

“I’m the last one left so no one will ever know…but you know…I know who they were,” Chard said.

The Kokoda campaign saw Chard contract malaria and scrub typhus, which killed many of his companions.

“When you get scrub typhus, you’re unconscious for 15 days and you either wake up or you don’t, you just don’t,” he said.

In fact, he had no idea when the war was over.

“I collapsed on January 21, 1943, and the Japanese surrendered on the 22nd,” Chard said.

He is convinced that he owes his life to the people of Papua New Guinea – “the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels”.

“Real angels, yes. And they would never leave you. If the Japanese slaughtered them, so be it, but they wouldn’t leave you,” he said.

Reg Chard is convinced that he owes his life to the people of Papua New Guinea – “the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels”. (A current affair)

Eleven years ago, cancer claimed the life of his childhood sweetheart, Betty.

But while being treated at Concord Hospital, Chard crossed the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway. It saved his life.

Today he is the last Kokoda Digger, educating all about the horrors of that terrible time.

Many of the men featured in Kokoda’s iconic photos have now been set in stone at the memorial. Most are Chard’s longtime companions.

Don’t get me wrong, Chard is a proud Aussie.

While the tears are always close, the memories are closer.

“Even to this day, well, I’m going like this now to begin with,” Chard told me, wiping away a tear.

“That’s what happens all the time.”

In images, in pictures

Ukraine crisis: heroic acts as a nation tears itself apart

See the gallery

Comments are closed.