Soc Kienzle And The Kokoda Flag

Herbert Thomson KIENZLE was born on the 19th of May, 1905 at Levuka in the Fijian Islands.  With the service number of PX177, the World War Two Nominal Roll records his enlistment date into the Australian Army as being the 11th of January, 1943.  But to judge his service on this record alone, would give the casual reader absolutely no inkling at all; as to the valuable work that this man was performing during 1942.  Bert (as he was more commonly known) had been a plantation manager in Yodda, north of Kokoda –  before the outbreak of hostilities.  He was also just one of  a few ‘Europeans’ who had walked the Kokoda Track before “B” Company of the 39th Infantry Battalion, AMF began their march into the unknown.

IMAGE RIGHT:  A bronze relief of the Carriers which forms part of the Papuan Memorial at Kokoda plateau.  This image and the one below, were designed by Bert Kienzle as a proposed ‘Service Medal’ which should have been commissioned and awarded to each and every carrier who served Australia on the Kokoda Track.

 He had been asked to  take charge and organise the Papuan labour force (approximately 600 men) which was being assembled to assist the Australian troops.   However, as no thought had been put into the living conditions and general treatment of these Papuans – their morale was not good and they were far from happy about their circumstances.  Taking grasp of this situation, Bert Kienzle spoke to the men in terms that they could understand and with the commencement of building clean, dry shelters for the Papuans – their demeanour began to improve.  As with any human nature, it merely takes a touch of empathy and human kindness to alter one’s frame of mind.  Hence – the legend of the Papuan Carrier was born; however it was a constant struggle by Bert Kienzle and ANGAU to recruit and maintain suffiecient Papuan manpower throughout the Kokoda Campaign.  Much has been documented about his work which he continued to do, up until his discharge from the Australian Army on the 4th Feb  1946 with the rank of Captain.  He would be honoured as a Member of the Order of the British Empire; and would go on to raise his family in Papua New Guinea after the war.

IMAGE LEFT:  A second relief, showing the Papuan Stretcher Bearers who worked with the “care of a nurse and the love of a mother”.  This bronze plaque is also on the Memorial at Kokoda and immortalises the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ that help to save Australia.  It is disappointing that this design was not utilised for the concept of a New Guinea Service Medal;  having been designed by the man who knew and cared for the men.   Even in modern times when a suitable image was sought – this version was overlooked.

One of those children was Soc, who as a boy – grew up in and around Kokoda.  In fact, most of the artifacts currently on display in the ‘Bert Kienzle Museum’ at Kokoda, had been located by Soc as a young lad.

IMAGE RIGHT:  Soc Kienzle gives his address at the Kokoda Memorial Walkway.

 I had the privelege of meeting Soc and Robyn Kienzle at the Kokoda Memorial Walkway near the Concord Hospital on the 3rd of November, 2009.  They were there as official guests on the Anniversary of the Flag Raising at Kokoda Village in November of 1942.  Of historical signficance was fact that Soc had brought with him the actual Australian Flag that was hoisted on that day – 67 years previously.

The ceremony was well attended by the public and of particular note was a Papuan choir whose rendition of the National Anthem of New Guinea is second in my mind, only to the school children of Naduri Village who sang it for my group in 2002.  I was a little bit perplexed as to why Soc himself was not asked to act as M.C. for the ceremony, however I was very interested to learn the story behind this particular flag.

IMAGE LEFT:  The original Australian Flag (on left) is being raised alongside the flag of Papua New Guinea on the 3rd of November, 2009.  This flag , which is over 67 years old – has been very well preserved by the Kienzle family and is in almost pristine condition.

Soc revealed that this flag had been dropped onto Kokoda Airstrip on the 2nd of November, 1942 by an American fighter pilot in a U.S. Army P40 Kittyhawk (dubbed Warhawk by the Americans)  Perhaps this was done upon a request by Brigadier Ken Eather of the 25th Brigade, whose 2/31st Battalion was the first to enter the Village.  (For further information on this issue, please refer to the story “Chocolate Brown Over Green” which is also in the Articles of Interest). 

I was particularly fascinated by a further account which Soc indicated, took place a few days later on the 6th of November, 1942.  He indicated that his father (Bert Kienzle) was standing by General George VASEY who had given a special address to the Papuan Carriers; and had also awarded a number of medals.  During this ceremony, an American P40 flew low over the Kokoda Airstrip where the carriers were located and as the pilot was flying in a ‘north-east’ direction, it is clear from the track and speed of the aircraft – that the pilot was not attempting to make any type of landing (emergency or otherwise – as stated in an American report)  The pilot performed a “Victory Roll” and then appeared to lose control of the aircraft.  It could not be known if the aircraft suffered a structural or internal problem, but the aircraft crashed near Saga Village which is ‘north-west’ from the approach end of the strip.  Bert Kienzle immediately sent off carriers in the direction of the crash and sadly it was found that the pilot had not survived the impact.  The Papuans returned with the pilot’s body wrapped like a shroud, in his parachute.  Judging from the state of the wreckage, the aircraft was certainly travelling quite fast at the point of impact. 

IMAGE RIGHT:  An American P40 Warhawk (known in Australian service as the ‘Kittyhawk’) similar to the type of aircraft which dropped an Australian flag at Kokoda airstrip on the 2nd of November, 1942.  This flag was raised over Kokoda Village and is now in the Kienzle family collection.

Information from Justin Taylan of “Pacific Wrecks” indicates that the pilot of this aircraft was 2nd Lt. Nelson E. BROWNELL of the 49th Fighter Group.  As indicated, an official report makes claim that the aircraft suffered an engine failure and attempted to make a landing.  Despite these discrepancies, there is no need to debate over such details.  What matters is that an American airman died in the service of his country and a poppy will be laid for this man on Anzac Day 2010 by Soc Kienzle of Komplete Kokoda and a team from Kokoda Historical.  Please click on this link to visit the Pacific Wrecks website.  http://pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/p-40/41-25178.html

IMAGE LEFT:  Photo of the original flag being raised over Kokoda Village.  It has been reported that the man who actually raised the flag was a soldier of the 3rd Infantry Battalion, AMF by the name of Merv SHEA from Yass.

It is a good thing that Soc’s father, Bert had the presence of mind to “souvenier” this historical flag – that was raised over Kokoda Village.  Without a doubt, in terms of historical signficance –  it ranks in importance with the Australian flag that flew from the flagpole at the Darwin Administrator’s office on the 19th of February, 1942.  This particular flag bears the scars of shrapnel and ‘strafing’ from the attacking Japanese aircraft; and it is currently on display in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.   Apart from the Kokoda flag,  Bert Kienzle left a treasure trove of military artefacts in a safe – which Soc states was ‘out of bounds’ to him as a young boy.

I cannot finish this narrative without mentioning a story related to me by Soc.  It concerns the barrel of the Model 41 Mountain Gun which now lays in front of the Japanese Memorial on Kokoda plateau.  This barrel is thought to be that of Lieutenant Takaki YOSHIJO of the 41st Infantry Corps who was a canon commander.  Takaki was a 24 year old artilleryman in 1942 and had taken part in the Japanese withdrawal to the Oivi-Gorari area.  On the 9th of November, General HORII had called a general retreat to the Kumusi River.  The young artillery officer had been ordered to bury his gun before escorting the wounded of the Nankai Shitai H.Q. across the river.  Having graduated from an elite Military College, Takaki could not stand the humiliation of burying his artillery piece.  Having been refused by his commanding officer to save the gun, he buried the weapon and led the wounded to the rear.  He then returned to the gun position, sat on the mound of soil and then shot himself in the head with his service pistol.  A colleague wrote in his diary, “The news of First Lieutenant Takaki’s final gesture did much to lift the flagging morale of the troops”. 

IMAGE RIGHT:  The Japanese Memorial at Kokoda plateau where the barrel of a Model 41 Mountain Gun is located.  This relic is believed to be from the gun of Lieutenant Takaki YOSHIJO from the 41st Infantry Corps.   It is a little known fact that there were two different types of ‘mountain gun’ used by the Japanese on the Kokoda Track.  This particular gun is not to be confused with the smaller Model 92 Mountain Gun (howitzer).

Sometime around 1966 – armed with instructions from his father Bert on the general area where the gun was buried ; Soc Kienzle went out with a tractor, a trailer and some Papuan workers.  The barrel was located and returned to Kokoda.  Soc informed me that as a young lad, he would drop 2″ mortar rounds down the barrel, but had no idea where these rounds landed.  What made it even more dangerous was the fact that the mortar rounds were very loose in the barrel.  (A 2″ mortar round – approx 50mm when fed into a 75mm barrel would make for a sloppy fit !)  By his own admission, Soc states “How I did not kill myself as a young fella, I don’t know”.

What Soc does not know about the actual Kokoda Track is simply not worth knowing.  However he is not the type of man to keep things to himself regarding the history.  Rather he admits that he will not be around forever – and grows tired of the inaccuracies that are being preached by some Kokoda Companies in a bid to make a dollar out of the Kokoda Track.    Soc Kienzle will be conducting in “in depth” trek along the track in May of 2012 and still has vacancies for this trip.  His tour departs Australia on the 5th of May, 2011 (if wishing to visit the beach heads of Buna, Gona & Sanananda) or the 8th May (non beach head tour) and returns to Australia on the 20th of May.

Please contact Soc (KOMPLETE KOKODA) http://kompletekokoda.com.au/  or David (KOKODA HISTORICAL)  http://www.kokodahistorical.com.au/  for further details of this tour – which promises to be one of the most informative treks ever conducted along the Kokoda Trail.

In conclusion, I would like to use one other quote from Clarence Budington Kelland concerning a man’s recollection of his father.  It could easily sum up the way that Soc relates to the memory of the man named Herbert Thomson KIENZLE.  Kelland wrote:-     “He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it”.

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About gary

Gary Traynor is 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 which may have been awarded or issued to their ancestors. What Gary refers to as their "lost heritage". He has been actively involved in the preservation of Militaria and the researching of Military History for well over 29 years. During his travels, he has conducted numerous study trips 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 was also priveleged to have served as a Volunteer Guide at the Australian War Memorial for a number of years. Gary now conducts tours of the Gallipoli Battlefields and the Kokoda Track in New Guinea. He leads the field in his knowledge of the beach head battlefields encompassing Buna, Gona & Sanananda. 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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