Battlefield Remnants - 3" Mortar Charge
Being an avid amateur historian, I relish the occasional "find" of artefacts and relics that manage to come to light, along the Kokoda Track. As no doubt, any trekker who has walked the Kokoda Track can relate - you spend the vast majority of your actual "walking time" merely looking at the ground (or inevitably, the heels of the trekker in front of you).
To stray one's eyes or have a momentary lapse of concentration, could send you tumbling over an innocuous looking tree root or sliding down some muddy slope. Not a very good look, or confidence inspiring act, for a Tour Guide to do in front of his trekkers. In fact, what I have found, is that I must make a conscious effort to ‘look up' every now and again at the world around me so as to appreciate the natural beauty of the virgin jungle that engulfs the track.
So apart from looking down at my next footstep, to save my own "dignity", an added advantage is that I often come across some little artefact that was either ‘dropped' or discarded over 60 years ago. More often than not, it is the spent cartridge of one type of weapon or another. A quick check of the primer at the base of the round; indicates whether the bullet was actually "fired" during action or whether the round was accidentally lost by some exhausted soldier and the projectile merely broken off and separated because 1000 trekkers have put their foot on top of it over the years. A quick check of the "rim" and the neck size can then confirm to the trained eye - whether it is a Japanese 6.5 Arisaka round, a 7.7 or an Australian .303 round.
Every now and again, something comes along a bit out of the ordinary, that raises my excitement level. One such item was this ‘priming charge' for an Australian 3 Inch Mortar. This item was found at Eora Creek and placed on the "Japanese side" if you take it from the point of view of the Australian Advance in October, 1942. And for this piece of ordinance to be where it was, it has obviously been carried and placed there by a "local" or some trekker. This fact is clear, as any item belonging to a 3" mortar should clearly have been located on the Australian side (eastern) of the creek.....that is, unless the cordite charge was recovered from a "dud" round??? Food for thought.
As you can see from the information provided on one end of the charge, the item itself comprises of "86 grains of Cordite" and was manufactured in the month of September, 1941. It is constructed of a soft and flexible ‘plastic' type material and is essentially a cylindrical piece, approximately the same length as a matchbox.
It's delicate nature is such that I am surprised that it has managed to survive this long, in such a harsh environment without being destroyed. I have no doubt at all that if one were to break it open and put a flame to it, that the cordite inside is still capable of burning (in fact in 2002 I tried this with a complete .303 round - just on the other side of Eora Creek and the cordite from inside, burned quite merrily).
It is very well documented, the trouble that Australian Mortar Crews were having with rounds that had been "air dropped" at Myola. A tragic example of this occurred on the 18th of October at Templeton's Crossing (referred to as Templeton's 2) where a crew from the 2/33rd set up a mortar to retaliate against the persistent Japanese mortars that had steadily been inflicting casualties amongst the ranks of the 25th and the 16th Brigades. The mortar position was made on the bank of the Eora Crossing and a 2/2nd Battalion mortar was also emplaced in the vicinity.
A new crew who had been trained as "under studies" by the 2/33rd mortar team had asked for permission to fire the mortar on this occasion. This permission was granted and they went about firing at the Japanese positions. Unfortunately, the fourth round that was discharged actually exploded in the barrel and all three men of the mortar team were killed.
About one hour later, the mortar belonging to the 2/2nd battalion was destroyed in much the same way. It was unknown at this time why this problem was occurring. However, two days later, Brigadier Lloyd informed Major General Allen that fuses delivered by airdrop were faulty and should be examined by a specialist.
Another example occurred at Eora on the 28th of October, 1942 with an Australian 2 Inch Mortar. Lieutenant Lance Hollingworth (NX54732) of the 2/1st Battalion decided to deploy his mortar, but the first round - exploded in the barrel - killing or wounding all of the platoon H.Q. With the rest of the company gone, Hollingworth (who would later be awarded the Military Cross) had to get his platoon down a very steep slope and this came under the notice of Japanese on the heights.
During my tours, I like to make reference to the words, which adorn the Australian Memorial at Isurava. These epitomise the character of our diggers during the campaign and are more than just mere words. When you think of the terms "courage, mateship, endurance and sacrifice" - many stories spring to mind. But one which I like to mention to my trekkers - is that of Private Jack PORTER. He was part of Hollingworth's wounded party; having suffered a "split"thigh bone. Once he was evacuated from the front, he had to endure at least nine months in plaster before the bone was healed. He had managed to walk down the steep incline with this terrible injury- but what is more amazing than that - is the fact that he actually "assisted" the other wounded whom he considered to be more ‘worse off' than he.
Something to consider - the next time that your hiking boots cause you to have a blistered heel !!!!
Scanned photograph of a 3 Inch Mortar from an Army Training Manual