Missing War Medal of Kokoda Trail Veteran Returned to Family – Clarence Hubert MASKIELL – 2/16th Infantry Battalion, AIF & the Battle of Brigade Hill 1942

During March 2012 – Alan MASKIELL performed a ‘Google’ search on the internet under his grandfather’s name. He received quite a surprise to find a missing piece of his family jigsaw puzzle on the Medals Gone Missing website . As an Aussie ‘ex-pat’ based in the Netherlands, Alan joined the growing number of family researchers who have discovered that a simply geneology search can unlock a family mystery. Questions such as “whatever happened to grandpa’s missing war medals?”

IMAGE RIGHT: The missing Defence Medal of Kokoda Trail veteran Clarence Hubert MASKIELL; a Private serving with the 2/16th Infantry Battalion AIF. This war service medal was located by Medals Gone Missing for sale on ebay during July 2010.

According to the World War Two Nominal Roll, Clarence Hubert MASKIELL joined the Second AIF on the 15th June, 1940. As a new recruit from Western Australia, he would join one of the most famous battalions to emerge from this secluded state. And it was in a jungle battlefield on the Kokoda Trail that Hubert would come face to face with death.

IMAGE LEFT: Defence Medal of Private Clarence Hubert MASKIELL from Western Australia’s 2/16th Infantry Battalion, AIF. A part of the 21st Brigade (Maroubra Force) Clarence fought on the Kokoda Trail where he was wounded during the battle for Brigade Hill.

It is not known how the Defence Medal awarded to Clarence Hubert MASKIELL ended up on ebay, however it was purchased by Medals Gone Missing in the hope that his descendants would like to recover the missing medal. Upon discovering the medal on the M.G.M website, grandson Alan contacted his family in Perth and wheels were put in motion to send the medal home.

IMAGE RIGHT: A quaint photograph on hand at the State Library of Victoria (Click Here) shows Private Clarence Hubert MASKIELL in hospital recovering from his injury received on the Kokoda Trail. In an amusing ‘conflict of interest’ that would send modern health authorities into a spin, Sister E.M. ISON is seen here lighting a cigerette for her wounded patient.

A search through the National Archives of Australia reveals a very interesting tale of Clarence and his military service. Page 8 of his service record states on the date “26/09/1942” the words “WOUNDED IN ACTION. NO DATE GIVEN”. However, closer scrutiny to comment dated 15/10/43 identifies the date 08/09/1942 as being the time of Clarence’ wounding. Based on this, it can be said with some authority that Clarence was dug in on Mission Ridge and Brigade Hill at the time of the September battle.

Page 183 – of Lex McAulay’s magnificent account Blood and Iron indicates that the 2/27th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Colonel Geoff COOPER, dug in on Mission Ridge, overlooking wartime Efogi Village around 2pm on the 5th September. It is highly likely that Clarence camped in wartime Efogi on the night of the 5th September and the next morning his unit moved through the 2/27th position. On the 6th September, 1942 the 21st Brigade was together for the First Time on the track astride Mission Ridge on the Kokoda Trail. At this time, both the 2/14th & 2/16th had been so badly battered, that they only had a combined total of approximately 400 men. (Together, at full strength, they would have had a total of around 1,300 men) …. so it is clearly evident that the fighting withdrawal had taken its toll on the Victorians of the 2/14th and the Western Australians of the 2/16th.

IMAGE LEFT: Colour patch of the 2/16th Infantry Battalion, AIF. The “white over dark blue” colour patch had a grey coloured background, to denote the Second AIF. This Western Australian Battalion formed a part of the 21st Brigade on the Kokoda Trail.

Having held the right flank on the Abuari – Missima Track at the time that the 39th Battalion (AMF) and the 2/14th Battalion AIF were fighting at Isurava; the 2/16th Battalion was then tasked to hold the pointy end of the stick during the famous ‘fighting withdrawal’ masterminded by Brigadier POTTS. This ensuing action depleted the ranks of the Western Australians through battle casualties and illness. In Peter Brune’s A Bastard Of a Place, page 199 indicates that it rained on the unfortunate Clarence and his mates on the night of the 5th September, whilst they were in wartime Efogi village – filling their foxholes with water. BRUNE goes on to state that the 2/27th were fresh, but the 2/14th had been reduced to about a company strength and the 2/16th had suffered in recent rearguard actions. The 2/27th Battalion mustered approximately 588 men …. so with the 400 odd men of the combined 2/14th and 2/16th, the 21st Brigade was in bad shape in terms of numbers. The first inwards mail for five weeks arrived and it was one of the few pieces of fortune that befell the Australian troops as they prepared for battle. Peter Brune states that troops hastily wrote replies on anything available, including scraps of paper – the letters were collected and sent back. As Clarence had been fighting on the track since late August, he would not have had much in terms of stationary available to the poor fellow.

IMAGE RIGHT: Wartime Efogi north (please refer to the red dots leading down from the modern Kagi airstrip).  This is the area where the Japanese lantern parade took place on the evening of the 6th September, 1942. The ‘light blue’ dots indicate the lower slopes of Mission Ridge. The 21st Brigade were dug in on Mission Ridge further up the slope to the left and out of photo.

On the late afternoon of the 6th September, Brigadier Potts pulled the 2/27th back about 800 yards (or 1km) so that his units were more compact. The South Australians of the 2/27th became the lead battalion, then 2/14th higher up, 2/16th and then Brigade H.Q. There is a very strong possibility that Clarence MASKIELL witnessed the Japanese Lantern Parade which came down Efogi North (roughly where the Kagi airstrip is now situated) in a south/west direction towards Mission Ridge. The track could be clearly seen from Mission Ridge near Brigade Hill, where the Australians were dug in.

To quote from (Page 185 – 186 of Lex McAulay’s Blood and Iron) “On the night of the 6th September and early on the 7th September, the Japanese lit their way out of Efogi (north) with lanterns. They were obviously aware that the Australians had no weapons capable of bringing fire down upon them. (No mortars or artillery – the Vickers Machine Guns were back in Moresby) From the 2/14th observation post, the watchers were amused by the sight of distant lights flying through the air as Japanese lost their footing and slipped over. Roy Watson’s opinion of the Japanese being so brazen was “conceited bastards” . By morning, the Intelligence Section had counted at least 1500 Japanese passing through Efogi.

IMAGE LEFT:A rare occasion.  Mission Ridge is usually covered with thick scrub, but we were lucky during one particular trek in September 2010 to find the hill devoid of vegetation.  Cleared by the local landowner for cultivation, the bare earth revealed quite a bit of battlefield refuse.

From (Page 224 – of Bill James Field Guide to the Kokoda Track) Private A. “Slim” Little of the 2/27th, who had to dig in using a bayonet and a helmet said, “And coming down the other hill towards the river were the Japs, hordes of Japs …. we had to sit there watching them come up. It was pretty nerve-wracking.”

Brigadier Potts actually called for an air strike upon wartime Efogi for the morning of the 7th of September and this lasted for about one hour. The Japanese suffered many casualties. It is likely that Clarence could have witnessed this event as it was the first time that Australian troops saw the Japanese being hammered by an air attack. It is said that troops who saw this air action all cheered, every time a bomb was dropped on the Japanese or a fighter came in and shot the Japanese up with machine guns. One account states that many troops “cheered” as if they were at a footy match. The Japanese subsequently named this “Hell Valley”. (Page 267 – Field Guide) The fighting for Mission Ridge started around mid morning on the 7th and went through to the following day to the 8th September when the Japanese circled around the Australian left flank and cut the track.

IMAGE RIGHT: The eastern slope of Mission Ridge, between Brigade Hill and wartime Efogi.  Note the rusty relic in the form of an Australian M-36 fragmentation grenade in the foreground.  The Field Guide to Kokoda by Bill James states the 2/27th Infantry Battalion had used up their entire supply of 1200 grenades + the Battalion reserve of grenades during the fighting of 7 September.

Clarence’s war record clearly indicates that he was shot in the left arm during fighting on the 8th September.  One can only speculate as to how he managed to be evacuated from the front line, as it is not known where Clarence was located at the time that he received his injury.  The 2/16th were split up, with the majority of soldiers on the Mission Ridge side of the knoll that is Brigade Hill.  However, ‘D’ Company under Captain Breton LANGRIDGE and one platoon of ‘C’ Company were on the opposite side of the knoll just forward of brigade H.Q.

IMAGE LEFT: Close up photograph of the above mentioned M-36 fragmentation grenade.  Of course, this relic (and numerous .303 cartridges found) was ‘live’ and not to be handled.

There were a number of attacks made by men of the 2/14th and 2/16th to clear the Japanese from the track. The track was the Australian “lifeline” and had to be cleared.  So a number of possibilities exist:- If Clarence still fighting on Mission Ridge, being wounded on the 8th of September, it is possible that he made his way out with the wounded of the 2/14th and 2/16th along Bert Kienzle’s hastily cut escape path towards Menari.  It is well documented that this group was slowed by the wounded and the Japanese got to Menari first.  This meant the wounded had to continue on a wide arc around Menari.

When the 2/27th were forced to pull out and vacate their positions on Mission Ridge, robbed of the lifeline that was the Kokoda Trail – they had to force their way through virgin jungle and effectively were cut off for two weeks.  The 2/27th men had some wounded from the 2/16th with them …. is it possible that Clarence was with this party? If so, it meant a journey of hunger and deprivation that has been described as sheer hell.

IMAGE RIGHT: A typical scene which springs to mind when we remember the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’.  This Australian War Memorial photograph depicts four Papuans carrying a wounded Australian soldier to safety.  Clarence however suffered a gun shot to his arm however, rendering him one of the “walking wounded”.  A humbling thought for any modern day Kokoda trekker.

If Clarence was dug in on the reverse slope of Mission Ridge, it is possible that he was wounded during the attack made by the composite 2/14th & 2/16th Battalions; back towards Potts’ headquarters to clear the Japanese from the Kokoda Trail?   Or, did he participate in the ill fated charge made by Breton LANGRIDGE and his men of ‘D’ Company from Potts’ headquarters back towards Mission Ridge?  LANGRIDGE along with many others was tragically killed in this attack, but Clarence may have been able to get back towards the H.Q. position where he was evacuated.

It can even be considered fortunate that Clarence had his arm fractured as a result of the gunshot wound.  For this was a wound which possibly saved his life.  The injury prevented his participation in the battle of Gona on the beach heads to the north and it was serious enough to have him discharged from the army.

Gary TRAYNOR, Administrator for Medals Gone Missing states:- “It is not often that we come across missing war service medals of men from Kokoda, let alone one who received such a horrible wound – so as to remove him from the order of battle. No doubt about it, Brigade Hill and the fighting withdrawal between Eora Creek and Mission Ridge would have been a terrifying time for Clarence”.

IMAGE LEFT: The Defence Medal with ribbon attached, similar to that awarded to Clarence Hubert MASKIELL of the 2/16th Infantry Battalion.

The descendants of Clarence Hubert MASKIELL have indicated that he never elaborated about this incident on the Kokoda Trail which nearly cost him his life. His grand daughter Linda states “He never really spoke of the war but as children we were always fascinated by the wound in his arm and the various stories he told us how he ended up with it! The stories he told us about his bullet wound had nothing to do with the war!  But maybe as we were young at the time he thought it easier for us to understand.”  And how this once missing war medal came to be on eBay is anybody’s guess.   Linda was very generous in her praise and went on to say “I think it’s a wonderful service you provide and I’m sure the return of these medals to their rightful families brings many people great joy and appreciation of your efforts”.  In response, the Medals Gone Missing Administrator was very humbled to be able to restore this precious award to its rightful place.

The other war service medals of Clarence Hubert MASKIELL are still missing.  Can you help to return these medals to his descendants and reunite this set?

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About gary

Gary Traynor is the volunteer Administrator of the Militaria based website MEDALSGONEMISSING. The aim of this "NOT FOR PROFIT" website is to reunite families, with lost War Medals and other items of militaria. Anything from medals to items of uniform. What Gary refers to as their "lost heritage". He has been actively involved in the Militaria world and researching of Military History for well over 30 years. As a result, Gary also conducts valuations and offers advice on all items of militaria. He has acted as advisor to a number of television and Foxtel productions; including Sir Tony Robinson's "Tour of Duty" series which featured on the History Channel. Gary is a field historian and conducts tours to Gallipoli, The Western Front, Kokoda and many other major battle sites around the world. He was a member of the Australian Army Reserve (UNSWR & 4/3 RNSWR) and served for 23 years with the New South Wales Police Force. He is perhaps the only person who has been employed at the Australian War Memorial in all three capacities .... as a volunteer, part time and full time employee .... starting as a qualified tour guide, working in the public galleries as an Information Assistant and finally Assistant Curator in Military Heraldry & Technology. Medalsgonemissing is a website that will assist you in locating your family's lost war medals and other awards. If you have an ancestor who served in any of the British Commonwealth Armed Services at any time - and whose medals are lost/stolen or simply missing....then so long as the medals are out there - this site will help you to locate them. However the site also contains articles of interest in relation to Military History, War Memorials & Uniforms / kit. Please explore our website as there is sure to be something of interest to you.
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