The 'Chocolate Soldiers' of New Guinea

By A. E. Lockrey

The heat and the haze of the jungle
Enshroud them on every side,
The dank and the damp so insistent
They contend with in youthful pride:
Dark terrors are there in the lurking,
 In shady concealment they hide,
But the defiant Chocolate Soldiers
Have suffered and bled and died.

Through the trackless mountain passes,
Through the deadly swampland drear,
In the slush of endless mudlands
They plod; and the enemy near
Is crafty, and cunning and silent,
But the Chocos have no fear
As, shedding their blood in the jungle
They fight for their country so dear.

And who will dare with sneering
To say they cannot face,
All this, and more if needs be
For the honour of their race?
And how can mind forget it,
And how can time efface,
Such valour must be given
In history’s page a place.


* Editor's note:

I received this poem from Lyn Lockrey whose father served in New Guinea in World War II and wanted to acknowledge in his poem the heroism of the heavily outnumbered young militia soldiers of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion who blocked the advance of an elite Japanese army towards Port Moresby for a month until relieved by battle-toughened 2nd AIF troops returned from the Middle East.  

In the early days of World War II, Australia began to recruit a volunteer Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) for service overseas in the defence of Britain and its colonial empire against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Australia's conscripted militia army was only permitted to serve in the defence of Australia and its external territories. The limited service options for militia troops earned them the dismissive label "chocolate soldiers" or "chocos" from the AIF who were headed for the Middle East. The implication being that the militia "chocos" would melt if exposed to the heat of battle. As it turned out, it was not the 2nd AIF but the "chocos" who first met and blocked elite Japanese troops of the Nankai Shitai crossing the Kokoda Track and capturing the last Allied base on the large island of New Guinea - Australia's Port Moresby.  

The neglect by Generals MacArthur and Blamey to send seasoned AIF troops to New Guinea at the earliest opportunity could have had disastrous consequences for Australia when six thousand battle-toughened Japanese troops began their determined push along the Kokoda Track towards Port Moresby in late August 1942.  When that happened, all that stood initially between a powerful Japanese army and Port Moresby were several hundred inexperienced, poorly equipped, and poorly supplied militia troops of the 39th Battalion who were determined to make a fighting stand at the village of Isurava located on a high northern ridge of the rugged Owen Stanley mountains. Although exhausted from constant battle, reduced to rags of clothing, and starving, every member of the 39th Battalion knew that if the Japanese broke through they could reach Port Moresby and threaten the Australian mainland. Although always outnumbered by at least five to one by Japanese armed with artillery, mortars, and heavy machine guns, the lightly armed "chocos" of the 39th Battalion held the Japanese for over one month under appalling conditions until relieved by battle-toughened men of the 2nd AIF Seventh Division. 

After Isurava, the Australian militia troops were accepted as brothers-in-arms by the men of the 2nd AIF who never again referred to the militia as "chocos".