‘Forty questions about The Digger of Kokoda’, Honest History, 8 August 2022 updated
Update 1 September 2022: Peter Stanley on Pearls and Irritations website.
Update 15 August 2022: Nicholas Stuart in the Canberra Times (paywall); see also articles by Rhiannon Down in The Australian (paywall).
In June 2022, in time for the 80th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign, Pan Macmillan published Daniel Lane’s book The Digger of Kokoda: The Official Biography of Reg Chard.
The Digger of Kokoda purports to be a memoir, written by Daniel Lane but as if told by Reg Chard, a 98-year-old veteran of the Second World War. The book tells the story of Reg’s life before he enlisted as an 18-year-old Militiaman (enduring the trials of the great depression and a father traumatized by his own Great War ordeal) and of his service in Papua in 1942-43. The core of the book deals with the experience of Chard and five of his comrades, claiming to have been collared by General Arthur ‘Tubby’ Allen in October and sent across the Kokoda Track/Trail, being present at the re-occupation of Kokoda in November. Near Kokoda, possibly early in November – the book is vague on dates, places and names – he claims to have witnessed the scene of a massacre of 25 European women (one previously unknown) and to have killed the forty Japanese officers responsible for it. Re-united with his battalion, he takes part in the fight for Sanananda before being evacuated with scrub typhus in January 1943. Eventually demobilized, he marries his sweetheart, Betty, and makes a life, though forever clouded by the trauma of remembering what he endured in Papua.
It needs to be acknowledged at the outset that his war service deeply scarred Reg Chard, damaging him physically and psychologically. It also needs to be acknowledged, however, that while the substance of Reg Chard’s story is true (that is, he did have a hard upbringing, did serve as a Militiaman in Papua and was traumatized by the experience and memory of war) significant parts of the story that Daniel Lane has told arouse serious questions, to the point where many aspects of it cannot simply be accepted as having happened.
1. What sort of basic errors does the book make? The Digger of Kokoda contains numerous factual errors which suggest that Daniel Lane made no attempt to check his manuscript. These errors raise many questions, including:
Why would Reg Chard or Daniel Lane refer to a ‘Home Guard’? On p. 63, Daniel Lane describes Australia as having in 1940 ‘three branches of the army’, referring to ‘a national Home Guard which I joined when I turned 17’. There was no ‘Home Guard’ in Australia. The RSL formed a Volunteer Defence Corps in mid-1940, but it comprised only Great War veterans until May 1941, when it was opened to male civilians, but by then Reg Chard had enlisted. He did not serve in the ‘Home Guard’. (Daniel Lane was right to state that the Australian army had three branches, but the one he omitted was its small Permanent body.)
Why would Daniel Lane – or, indeed, Reg Chard, refer to Chard’s unit as the ‘2/55th Australian Infantry Battalion’? (p. 89) There has never been a ‘2/55th’ – but there was a 55th. This may be a mistake Reg made which Daniel Lane did not check. He clearly does not know just how much he does not know.
Why did Daniel Lane not check even basic facts such as ‘almost 20,000 ANZAC troops [sic] had been taken prisoner in Greece and Crete’? (p. 66) In fact, the total was 9,210; less than half of that figure, figures exactly compiled by name and readily available in seconds on the internet.
Why did Daniel Lane not check even basic facts such as ‘the Director General of Manpower, John Dedman …’? (p. 75) In fact, Wallace Wurth was the first Director-General of Manpower, appointed in 1942. Dedman was the Minister for War Organisation of Industry in the Curtin government, from October 1941.
Did pioneer battalions ‘come under the umbrella’ of engineers? (p. 85) No: pioneer battalions were infantry.
Why would a returned soldier call the Repatriation Department ‘the Department of Veteran Affairs’ [sic]? (p. 300) It was known as ‘the Repat’ from the end of the Great War to the 1970s – but presumably Daniel Lane either did not know that or thought that a modern readers would be confused, and so mangled the name of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Did Australia lose ‘almost 50,000 men’ in the Second World War? (p. 304) No: a quick check on Google would disclose that there are 40,000 names on Australia’s Roll of Honour. There is no need to exaggerate Australia’s losses in war but every need to ensure that a popular book is accurate. This is the kind of sloppiness (on Daniel Lane’s part – but did the book’s editor also not check this kind of basic fact?) which arouses suspicion that it is not to be trusted.
2. What is the significance of these errors? Surely, they are trivial in the light of the profound experience which Daniel Lane describes? These points are indeed seemingly pedantic set against the book’s depiction of traumatic combat and revelations of shocking massacre. But they establish from the outset that Daniel Lane not only did not check the veracity or accuracy of various facts; he did not know what he did not know and had no capacity to determine historical accuracy in re-telling Mr Chard’s story.
3. What is the significance of the famous individuals who appear in Mr Chard’s story? Although he was an 18-19-year-old Militia private, Reg Chard managed over his 233 days in Papua to meet no fewer than seven undeniably famous individuals: Generals Douglas MacArthur, Thomas Blamey, Arthur ‘Tubby’ Allen and George Vasey, the cinematographer Damien Parer (twice), Albert Moore the famous Salvo, and RAAF fighter ace Keith Truscott. Questions need to be asked about how this galaxy of celebrity figures turn up in Reg Chard’s story.
4. Did he meet Damien Parer (Australia’s most celebrated war cinematographer) aboard ship on the way to Papua New Guinea? (p. 158) Reg travelled to Port Moresby aboard the SS Taroona between 26 and 29 May 1942. Parer went to New Guinea by air: they could not have met on the ship.
5. Did Reg Chard hear the celebrated Salvation Army padre Albert Moore preach a sermon in Port Moresby on 25 June 1942? (p. 173) He could not have: Moore only arrived in Port Moresby on 12 August 1942 (with 2/14th Battalion, as its history, The Second Fourteenth Battalion, confirms).
6. Did he meet Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott at Milne Bay? (p. 188) Truscott was one of the RAAF’s leading fighter pilots, its second-highest scoring ace. His unit, 76 Squadron (though not ‘76th Squadron’, another of Daniel Lane’s basic errors) did fly from Milne Bay. It arrived there on 31 July but Squadron Leader Peter Turnbull (whom Reg Chard claims to have ‘found burnt to death in the cockpit of his aircraft’) died on 27 August. Chard must have been back in Port Moresby by then because his record has him attached to 14th Infantry Brigade on 28 August.
7. Did Reg Chard see his mate ‘Punchy’ McDonald ask MacArthur for a light? (pp. 203-04) One of the most dramatic episodes in the book describes how MacArthur, General sir Thomas Blamey and a party of senior officers travelled to Owers’ Corner (to watch an AIF brigade go forward.) Clearly Daniel Lane has heightened the drama of this episode, but did it happen at all as he portrays it? Is it likely that MacArthur – the Supreme Commander in the theatre – could have been accosted by a bellicose Australian militiaman, or that his escort (or any of the legion of Australian officers in attendance) would have allowed it?
8. Did Reg Chard meet General Arthur ‘Tubby’ Allen, and would Allen have been seen ‘dressed in Bombay bloomers … without any socks, a ragged shirt unbuttoned to reveal his bulging belly, and a battered slouch hat’? (pp. 204-05) On the same day as ‘Punchy’ fronted MacArthur at Owers’ Corner (which had to be on 3 October), Daniel Lane has Allen informally draft Reg and several of his mates from the ‘2/55th’ to the 2/33rd Battalion. Photographs of Allen taken in the same week show him dressed very differently, and correctly. (3 October was the only occasion that MacArthur, Blamey, Army Minister Frank Forde and General Allen went to Owers’ Corner together, though the photographs also call into question Lane’s description – no American MPs drove the jeeps, for instance.) Daniel Lane rightly makes a great deal of the need to respect those who served in the Second World war, but his respect does not extend to the general responsible for the defence of Papua – how is that doing justice to Arthur Allen?
9. Did Allen draft a section (6 men?) of the 55th Battalion to the 2/33rd? (p. 205) Mr Chard’s service file makes no reference to him being transferred to a different battalion. The Australian army was one of the most heavily documented forces in existence. The individual documentation has been digitized. It does not confirm Daniel Lane’s account. Armies do not work as either Chard recalls or Lane writes. Divisional generals did not stand beside the track shanghaiing passing platoons. Modern armies (like the Australian army) are orderly, even bureaucratic, and such informal methods were simply not used. But surely men were transferred informally all the time? Actually, they were not: that happens on TV and in war comics, but not in fact. But there was a war on! Surely no one bothered to fill in the paperwork at a time of crisis? Individual service files are extraordinarily detailed and transferring a man (and still more an entire platoon) from one battalion to another would not have occurred. Sadly, Lt Bill Ryan’s AIF file has not been digitized, so it can’t be used to check whether at least the platoon commander’s file documented his detachment not just to another brigade, but to another force (i.e., Militia to AIF).
10. Were the orders General Allen supposedly gave Lieutenant Bill Ryan likely? (p. 206) Allen supposedly (and vaguely) ordered Ryan and his men (his platoon?) to ‘take the boys along the Goldie River Valley and towards the east coast … to make sure the Japanese weren’t using that as an avenue to get behind the Australians’. There are a few problems with this claim. The Goldie River Valley can be reached about 10 km north-west of Owers’ Corner, but it runs more-or-less east-west across the Kokoda Track/Trail. If they could not find the enemy (Lane claims) Ryan and his men were to ‘find their way to the frontline’ [sic]. This order is so vague as to be meaningless and is far beyond the capability of a group of what appears to be half-a-dozen men who apparently did not even have a sergeant or corporal in charge of them. It is a nonsense. (And although Lane/Chard has the orders being given to Ryan on p. 206, it appears (on p. 249) that Ryan did not accompany the group (a section? Under whose command?) (The reference to the ‘east coast’ is also a nonsense: Papua has a north and a south coast, but no ‘east coast’.)
11. Would Reg Chard have spoken to Allen without calling him ‘sir’? (p. 207) Lane has Chard reveal that he never addressed any officer as ‘sir’ until he met George Vasey (see below). Is this likely? It stretches credulity.
12. Is Reg Chard’s recollection of this visit accurate? (pp. 200-06) It would seem that Reg Chard conflated two visits to Owers’ Corner – one by MacArthur and Blamey on 3 October, and another on 8 or possibly 12 October. Lane – not having checked – describes them as if they were the same event.
13. Was Reg Chard on the Kokoda Track/Trail? (pp. 208-10) Although the Kokoda Track/Trail is central to the book, Chard/Lane’s account devotes very little space to the description of the trek across the Owen Stanley Range, and it is curiously vague; lacking detail. Could Reg Chard have suppressed an undoubtedly unpleasant memory? Of course – but he recalled many other unpleasant memories, in detail. His account merely ends ‘Finally, we … reached the 33rd’. In the light of the vivid detail in the first half of the chapter (describing how Allen supposedly drafted Ryan’s platoon) this at least raises the question: did Reg Chard serve on the Kokoda Track/Trail? There were ‘Diggers of Kokoda’, but whether Reg Chard was among them remains at best unproven.
14. Did Reg Chard ‘end up in hospital with malaria’ after returning from Milne Bay? (p. 194) His service record makes no mention of it; but it does suggest that he was in hospital with dysentery in the infectious diseases hospital [in Port Moresby] between 9 and 18 August. This could be the ‘Lux Lane’ he mentions – but if so, it means that his time in Milne Bay was too short to allow hm to witness Turnbull’s death.
15. Did anyone say (in orders) ‘don’t let the bastards get past you because we have no-one left to fight in Australia’? (pp. 202-03) It is a common error to suppose that the AIF was overseas so there was ‘no-one left to fight’, but two AIF divisions were en route to Papua, plus two American divisions, with thirty Militia brigades available in Australia. The book perpetuates the falsehood that in 1942 Australia was ‘defenceless’ (and, in passing, the publisher’s blurb perpetuates the discredited notion that Kokoda was ‘the battle that saved Australia’.) In fact, by the time Reg Chard reached Papua the Japanese high command had decided not to invade Australia. The Japanese needed to be fought and defeated, but not because Allied defeat in Papua necessarily entailed a Japanese invasion of Australia.
16. ‘Eventually, after fourteen days in hospital I received Return to Unit orders’: did he? (p. 231) Reg Chard’s personnel file reveals no such spell in hospital and no such orders, presumably because he was never detached from his unit.
17. Why does the story the book tells differ so markedly from the record in Chard’s service file? Which account should we prefer – the contemporary official record or the personal memory recorded second-hand eighty years on? The file (and other historical sources) at least calls into question the story Daniel Lane tells, and often refutes it.
18. Was Reg Chard filmed by Damien Parer and does he appear in Damien Parer’s film Kokoda Front Line? (p. 235) No, he was not filmed by Damien Parer (because Parer filmed on the track from mid-August while the 55th Battalion was still in Port Moresby or Milne Bay, so he could not appear in the film. This is also an example of how Mr Chard has in old age absorbed memories and impressions and incorporated them into his own story, but also how Daniel Lane did not bother to check the dates of Parer’s filming and Chard’s service. By the time Reg Chard claimed to have been on the Track/Trail (in October) the film was already being shown, from 22 September.
19. Could Reg Chard have met Damien Parer on the Track/Trail in October, and would Parer have used the language Chard/Lane ascribe to him)? (p. 235) By this time, Damien Parer was back in Australia. His biographer confirms that after his return, in September, ‘Parer did not film ground fighting in New Guinea for nearly a year’ after (Neil McDonald, Kokoda Front Line, p. 244) (I also seriously doubt that the devout Parer would have said ‘why don’t you give the nice people back home a big fucking smile for fuck’s sake’, but as he couldn’t possibly have met Chard the point is irrelevant.)
20. Why does Reg Chard/Daniel Lane not mention the names of any officers besides Bill Ryan and several generals? It is curious for a military memoir not to mention any officers except his own platoon commander and the several generals he claimed to have seen. Every company had several officers – especially a company commander and a battalion commander – who ordinarily would become a presence in men’s lives and who are often found in men’s memoirs. It is strange that The Digger of Kokoda does not mention any more by name. Why?
Likewise, 21. Who decided to conceal Chard’s mates’ identities by using nicknames? Doing so makes it almost impossible to check individuals’ names, identities, experiences and fates. Who decided on this policy and why? Did Reg Chard not mention any officers’ names, or did Daniel Lane decide not to include them in what he saw as a ‘diggers’’ story?
22. Were 25 European women massacred by the Japanese in Papua in November 1942? (pp. 238-43) This is the most shocking revelation of the entire book. If it is true, this would have been the largest massacre of European women by the Japanese in the entire Pacific war (21 Australian nurses were killed at Banka Island in February 1942).
23. How could this massacre have remained unknown for so long? That is a most important question. It cannot be for want of investigation either at the time or later. From 1943 the Australian jurist Sir William Webb investigated war crimes committed in Papua New Guinea that Allied forces had uncovered. While most instances were discovered by advancing Allied troops, other instances were disclosed by Papuans and New Guineans. Neither of these means revealed the massacre that Reg Chard alleges occurred. There is now both a massive scholarly literature on war crimes in the Pacific war, and massive (and largely digitized) primary sources, none of which make any reference to any such massacre in the vicinity of Kokoda.
24. Who were these women? Chard/Lane is vague about their identities, ‘whether they were nuns or nurses’ (p. 243) even though Chard claims to know their identity – how he does not say. Given that most European women had been evacuated from Papua at the beginning of the war, and that they were extremely scarce in the Owen Stanley Ranges anyway, the number and identities of the victims of the massacre remain problematic. Chard says that he didn’t know whether they were ‘Australian, Dutch, American or German’, but there were not enough civilian nurses or missionaries in the whole of Papua New Guinea by late 1942 to make up this number, of any calling or nationality.
25. Why were these women not missed? You would expect that if 25 European women had gone missing or been captured by the Japanese on the Papuan coast (as two Anglican missionaries were, and were executed, at Gona in August) representations would be made to government, letters would be written to the newspapers, questions would be asked in Parliament. Surely ‘the Lost Women of Kokoda’ would have become a well-known wartime mystery. That it did not raises serious doubts about the story’s veracity.
26. Surely the local people would have reported it? They did (according to Chard/Lane) – they told Chard’s platoon, who (without orders or even advising their 2/33rd Battalion hosts) went off to investigate the women’s fate. In which case: why did other locals not report the atrocity to other Australian units, or why in the succeeding decades has no one heard even rumours or whispers of such a terrible event? This massacre supposedly occurred in a place and among a culture where stories are principally transmitted orally, about an event – the war – which had a profound effect upon the people living along the Kokoda Track/Trail. Literally thousands of Australians have trekked through this country in recent decades, who avidly listen to stories told by guides, including Papua New Guineans: why would none of them return with a vague story of the largest atrocity to occur in Australian New Guinea? That it has never – in eight decades – been mentioned would strongly suggest that it did not occur.
27. Is it likely that an officer of the 2/33rd Battalion took ‘no interest in the fate of the women’? (p. 244) Other massacres were fully reported and investigated: why was this one (supposedly the largest) not reported? Even if the officer were not concerned at the fate of a large number of European women (incredibly – preserving European women from dishonour was a preoccupation in Australian-ruled New Guinea) surely the officer would have been interested to learn that Reg Chard and his mates had disposed of forty Japanese officers – that by itself must have accounted for a good proportion of the total number of Japanese officers facing the advancing Australians. Surely New Guinea Force’s intelligence officers would have wanted to have known about that achievement?
28. Where and when did this alleged massacre take place? Chard/Lane are vague about either its location or date, but by its placement in the book, we can infer that it occurred somewhat past Kokoda and between the re-occupation of Kokoda (2 November, p. 232) and the battle at Oivi-Gorari (4-10 November; pp. 248-49). If other readings of Reg Chard’s movements are accepted, the site must have been closer toward the coast and later in November – possibly at the end of November if he returned later that month. Why did Lane not attempt to investigate or corroborate the claim? (And you might also see just how uncertain Chard’s narrative becomes once it is subjected to investigation and criticism.)
29. Was Reg Chard at Kokoda on 2 November? (p. 246) This is crucial to the thrust of the book, which is, after all, called The Digger of Kokoda. Chard/Lane has him leaving Kokoda with the 2/33rd Battalion (in the opening pages of the chapter ‘The Massacre’) on 3 November 1942. This places Reg Chard at the symbolic point at which the Australian flag was hoisted again at Kokoda. During the ‘pomp and pageantry’ of the flag-rising, Chard and his six mates (he does not explain what happened to the rest) became part of the 2/33rd’s ‘defensive line’ beyond Kokoda. What one stray six-man group of Militiamen were doing among an AIF battalion is never explained (or indeed, referred to in the records of either the 55th or 2/33rd Battalions). This is a key question, because armies, being organised, hierarchical entities, do not cope with the unusual, and such an arrangement would be very unorthodox indeed.
30. Are Reg Chard’s movements in Papua possible? The timing of Reg Chard’s movements raises questions. He was supposedly evacuated from the front (at Eora Creek, it seems) – but that can’t be before 22 October, when Australian troops first reached it. It would take carriers a week to take him back to Owers Corner. He then claims to have spent just two weeks in the 2/9th Australian General Hospital, and then it has to take him another week to return to the front, walking back over the Track/Trail again, even though he would be convalescent from malaria. (But why would he return to the front line, when his own unit was just up the road in in Port Moresby?) That all means that he can’t have rejoined the 2/33rd until about the third week of November. (And what would the 2/33rd say to that? He wasn’t a member of that battalion.) There are many problems with this chronology and its implications. First, it meant that he would have missed the flag-raising in Kokoda, which he specifically mentions, and also missed the battle at Gorari (3-10 November), which he describes as having been involved in. Further, this puts his placement of the massacre site and its possible date into question. On top of this, all of these various possibilities conflict with his army file, which do not record him being in hospital at all until 19 December 1942.
31. Did Reg Chard cross the Owen Stanley Range on foot? The Digger of Kokoda would lead the reader to think so. My view, for what it is worth, is that Reg Chard did not cross the Kokoda Track/Trail, but, with the rest of his unit (from 27 October the 55/53rd Battalion), flew in to Popondetta or Dobodura on 5 December. He then took part in a battle on a track – but on the Sanananda Track, as detailed in both Frank Budden’s 1973 55/53rd Battalion’s unit history, That Mob, in Dudley McCarthy’s 1959 official history, South-West Pacific Area – First Year and numerous later books on the Papuan campaign.
32. What happened at Gona: why does the book deal with it so cursorily? ‘After serving in the Gona area’ (p. 249) Lane writes, ‘I met up with Lieutenant Ryan’. This could not have been before 5 December. What happened between the end of the fight at Gorari and Chard’s group’s reunion with their battalion is vague – he could have been returning from hospital, but the file does not support that possibility. No one would expect a memoir to be a day-by-day account, but a missing three weeks, especially at such a critical time in the campaign, seems at least curious. This raises the question of voice in the construction of such a memoir.
33. Whose voice is the book in? Although the book is called an ‘official’ biography (and we might ask ‘what makes it official?’) Lane’s biographical note describes The Digger of Kokoda as ‘his first military memoir’ – implying a first-hand account. But the book is couched as if it were written, or perhaps spoken by Reg Chard. This introduces an ambiguity into it from the beginning. I suspect that while Lane recorded Chard’s stories he also shaped them, trying to iron out inconsistencies, ambiguities and gaps but also – reprehensibly – not describing or reflecting upon the process. In implying (by choosing to use Reg Chard’s voice) that the words are all Chard’s, Daniel Lane is concealing how he is the one shaping the narrative and concealing (imperfectly) the problems it raises.
34. Did Reg Chard meet General George Vasey? (pp. 264-66) Another of Reg Chard’s supposed celebrity encounters is that near Sanananda he is hailed by an officer who turns out to be Major-General George Vasey. (Vasey supposedly greets him with ‘Hey, soldier’ – an American expression now popularized by US TV and films: Vasey surely would have addressed Reg as ‘Private’ – a sign of the way memories are inevitably changed by later impressions.) In contrast to the supposedly scruffy Tubby Allen, Vasey was apparently immaculately turned out. Chard/Land notes how he ‘unthinkingly called him ‘Sir’ – ‘the first and only time I addressed anyone by that title during my time in Papua New Guinea’. That passing reference must ring false to anyone who has either served as a soldier or been around soldiers. Addressing officers as ‘sir’ is expected, automatic and unavoidable, and to refuse to do so must have landed a man in trouble. How Reg got away with it for so long defies comprehension. Vasey supposedly sought Chard’s opinion about how operations were going, and Chard supposedly told him that his own officers ‘were all dead’ – a claim that is demonstrably false by reference to the 55/53rd Battalion’s war diary.
35. Was Reg Chard evacuated from Sanananda on 21 January 1943? (p. 281) Lane has him evacuated with ‘scrub typhus’ on 21 January 1943. His personnel file, however, lists him as sick with malaria on 19 December (to 2/9th Australian General Hospital) and then on 5 January 1943 evacuated by the SS Katoomba. Contrary to the story told in the book, he was only in the 2/9th AGH once (on p. 281 he recognises Sister Ruth Campbell from a supposed previous stay). On p. 281 he claims to have been suffering from scrub typhus, but his file records his illness as malaria: ‘scrub typhus’ is not mentioned in his file. Do we trust the army’s official records? Why did Daniel Lane not grapple with this conundrum?
36. Did an ex-PoW nurse confide to Reg Chard that she had been sexually assaulted by a Japanese officer? (pp. 298-99) I do not doubt that Japanese soldiers attempted to assault captured nurses (it has long been known that nurses repelled their advances) and did commit rapes in Hong Kong and elsewhere. I am questioning that an older nurse would confide in Chard who at 23 years old [actually he was 21 or 22 – he’d been born in 1923] and not a former prisoner would seem to be an unlikely confidant – Chard himself hints that ‘I was too young to articulate my feelings properly’. I note that it took about 75 years for rumours of rape at the Banka Island massacre to surface, after being whispered between ex-servicewomen for decades. I cannot see a nurse who had been subjected to this abuse admitting it to a very young man such as Reg Chard.
37. What makes Daniel Lane competent to write this book? Daniel Lane has apparently approached the task of recording Reg Chard’s story as if it were simply a matter of transcription. In fact, it should have been treated as a work of archaeology, sifting later layers of emotion, imagination and even invention in the hope of finding the bedrock of experience. That hope is of course unachievable – but equally it is foolish and false to simply organise his memories into a series of chapters and to try to pass it off as an ‘official biography’.
38. Why would historians who know the Kokoda campaign have endorsed the book? It is perplexing that two authors who have written about Kokoda, Dr Karl James of the Australian War Memorial (author of Kokoda: Beyond the Legend, 2017) and Paul Ham (freelance writer and author of Kokoda, 2005) are among the swag of celebrities and sportspeople who have endorsed it. Why? Did they not ask the sorts of questions I have raised? Did they not pick the obvious errors (about, say, the ‘2/55th Battalion’ or the date of the showing of Kokoda Front Line)? Why would they praise a book which they must have known misrepresented respected commanders such as Tubby Allen?
39. Is Reg Chard lying? No. Reg Chard evidently believes that he is telling a truthful story. It cannot all be true, but he is not (I think) deliberately falsifying his account. What he has done is what many survivors of trauma do: they absorb others’ stories and incorporate them into their own memories, shaping a composite, shared narrative over many re-tellings. Reg Chard’s experience, once shared by thousands, is embodied now by a few dozen aged veterans. His memories are even more precious for their rarity, but also for the precarity of human memory. We know that the human mind turns memories into creative narratives, shaped by what people feel rather than just what they experienced. We know that they are changeable and changing, influenced by the impressions, knowledge and experiences that follow them. This phenomenon is well known (in Australian military history, demonstrated to have occurred among Gallipoli veterans through Alistair Thomson’s Anzac Memories (1994 and 2013). Daniel Lane, either ignorant of the complexity of this process or uncaring, has ignored the need for subtlety, complexity or care and has simply re-told the story as if it were all true.
40. What do I think of The Digger of Kokoda? To summarise:
Reg Chard’s life has been profoundly shaped by his experience of serving in Papua in 1942, and by the memories he has carried forever more. And that experience is still significant, not least because The Digger of Kokoda has aroused wide admiration, but by the nature and contents of Daniel Lane’s telling of the story it has also opened Reg Chard to questions and criticism.
I think that Reg Chard’s account of his life up to about October 1942, while inevitably distorted by the vagaries of memory, is substantially accurate. I also believe that his descriptions of the horror of the fighting around Sanananda in December 1942 is not just accurate but offers the key to the trauma he suffered for decades after. The period in between – between the time around 12 October when Allen supposedly drafted his section to go forward across the Track/Trail to Kokoda and the time he supposedly rejoined the 2/33rd Battalion at Popondetta – does not correspond with the historical record. That means that I dispute that the massacre of the 25 European women that Daniel Lane’s book recounts occurred.
That conclusion is very troubling, because it exposes Reg Chard to doubt, when he should be accorded every sympathy and respect, because in surviving the fighting at Sanananda he emerged with trauma literally enough to last a lifetime. It is significant that while he only refers to the men with whom he shared the journey over the Track/Trail and the supposed discovery of the massacre by nicknames (even ‘The Believer’, supposedly killed by a vengeful dying Japanese officer), he gives the names of two men of the 55th who did die there on 7 December (Bill Ryan and Norm Wolfson, whose details and stories are verified). That by itself is a sign that his account of Sanananda is substantially accurate. How he came to incorporate into his traumatic memories the episodes that form chapters 22-25 is beyond me to say, but I am confident that in comparing the available records and Daniel Lane’s account of Reg Chard’s experience, I do not think that it was entirely as this book portrays it.
If you have any further evidence to contribute to this discussion, please contact me.
Prof. Peter Stanley, FAHA
2 August 2022
*Peter Stanley is Research Professor, UNSW Canberra, and the author of more than 30 books on military and social history.
Fascinating investigative research there, Peter.