Enemy was 'sent packing'

Battle of Milne Bay veteran Len Acworth with a photo of himself and two brothers during the Second World War, (from left) his twin Ernie, younger brother Syd and Len.
Battle of Milne Bay veteran Len Acworth with a photo of himself and two brothers during the Second World War, (from left) his twin Ernie, younger brother Syd and Len. John Skinner

WARWICK'S Len Acworth was fishing in a small boat on the Brisbane River in 1945 when he heard the Second World War was over.

"I heard the boat sirens then Dad came down to the shore and yelled to me that the war was over," Len said.

"I upped anchor and went for me life. We had a good time that night."

Len was home from Bougainville, his first leave in two years.

He joined the militia in 1940 at Chermside and, after some time in 2nd Brigade HQ, was transferred to the 9th Battalion to go to Milne Bay on the far east coast of New Guinea.

Two other battalions went with the 9th - the 61st Cameron Highlanders and Darling Downs Regiment, 25th Battalion.

"I was on the first boat to arrive at Milne Bay, in May or June 1942, and Brigadier Fields was in charge of the 7th Brigade there," he said.

"It was a big harbour, almost as good as Sydney Harbour, but the Japanese wanted the airfields. I was a private rifleman and we set up defensive positions around the airfields. It was all sago swamps, very boggy, and we had to patrol through the worst of it.

"Some time later, other units arrived, including the 2/9th, 2/10th and 2/12th battalions.

"Then Major General Clowes arrived and took charge. He quickly sorted out the situation and, before we knew it, the Japs had landed."

Len's unit was held in reserve to protect the main airfield, Jackson Strip, and dug in on the south-east corner.

"We were expecting the Japs to come at us at anytime," he recalled.

"The artillery fire was bad but the fire from the Jap cruiser was worse. They were firing at the airstrip, trying to knock it out so the Kittyhawks couldn't fly but they didn't hit it. Instead their rounds were landing all around us.

"Earlier, they'd sent three Zeros over us and we only had Brens to shoot at them but we sent them running with a hot tail. They must have thought they already had Milne Bay because they came in slow and low enough for us to make a mess of them.

"The Japs landed three tanks but the swamps made sure they didn't get too far. It was almost impossible to transport anything by road.

"The Japs got close to the edge of the airstrip but didn't get to set a foot on it. Every time they tried, they paid a terrible price.

"Then, after more than a week, they retreated and were taken off in barges protected by the cruiser. Our boys had them right to the water's edge and the air force did a terrific job.

"You can't win a war without men on the ground but the air force softened them up a fair bit for our blokes.

"It was an amazing victory for Australia and they (Japanese) found out they were not invincible. It would have been a terrible shock for them."

Not long after the Battle of Milne Bay was fought and won, Len Acworth was returned to Australia with a terrible case of malaria. He recalled being treated with an experimental arsenic and iron mixture at Greenslopes hospital in Brisbane.

"It worked," he said.

"I had a real bad dose and it has only struck me once since then. After two or three months at home, I was sent back to my unit at Torokina, Bougainville.

"It was a pretty muddy place too. We patrolled the Numa Numa Trail and went right to the top and back almost to the bottom again with plenty of enemy and some pretty big battles.

"After two years of fighting, with the Japanese being beaten everywhere, they sent us home on leave and I took discharge not long after it was all over as a corporal."

Both before and after the war, Len was an accomplished middle distance runner, being Queensland Champion at one, three and five miles and runner-up for 10 miles. After he married Phyllis in 1946, they had Danny, Roslyn and Pam.

Len became a floor sander and tile layer who started his own business in Toowoomba before coming to Warwick where he eventually retired.



Len and three other Milne Bay veterans from Warwick and Allora will be special guests at a 70th anniversary remembrance service at the Warwick Cenotaph at 11am on Sunday, followed by a $15 subsidised lunch at the RSL Memorial Club from noon.

Book at the RSL club.

Topics:  second world war

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