Trekking for history and self

The Kokoda Track was always in the back of Squadron Leader Jamie Stirling’s mind during his more than 25 years serving in Air Force.

CAPTIONWarrant Officer Rodney Wallace and Squadron Leader Jamie Stirling (fourth and fifth from left) with the other 11 Squadron personnel at Owens Arch along the Kokoda Track. Story by Corporal Jacob Joseph.

His grandfather was a cook with the Australian Allied Imperial Force in Papua New Guinea during World War 2.

Much of his grandfather’s service was a mystery to the search-and-rescue liaison officer until invited to join other 11 Squadron aviators on the 96km trek through the PNG wilderness from June 28 to July 5.

In 1939, 11 Squadron was formed at the outbreak of the war before they deployed to Port Moresby to carry out maritime surveillance.

They’ve since traded their Catalinas for Orions and then Poseidons, but the mission remains largely unchanged.

The physical challenge not only brought Squadron Leader Stirling closer to his own family’s service, but to all those who took part in the campaign.

“You can still see Japanese and Australian remnants of war, including ordnance like hand grenades and mortars,” Squadron Leader Stirling said.

“We had it pretty easy compared to the diggers back then, but it helped us get an understanding of what they must have gone through.”

CAPTIONPersonnel from 11 Squadron on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.

Seven aviators from the squadron took part in the trek, a first for all and bucket-list item for many, including Warrant Officer Rodney Wallace.

“We covered 22,000 feet in elevation, dodging tree roots through ankle-deep mud. It wasn’t easy,” Warrant Officer Wallace said.

Halfway through the trek, the team took a moment to reflect on the diggers’ sacrifice at Brigade Hill.

Some of the fiercest fighting took place on this hill, where Aussie battalions fought to break free of Japanese encirclement and reclaim the track.

“There were Aussie and PNG flags, the Last Post played. The whole group was pretty emotional and broke down because it was very poignant,” Warrant Officer Wallace said.

Warrant Officer Wallace said there were plans to invite more aviators from 92 Wing on the next journey to PNG.

Squadron Leader Stirling’s daughter, who commissioned last year, had hoped to share the experience with the family.

“She was going to come with me but was busy with her new posting. I’d really like to do it again with her,” he said.


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