Captain Herbert Thomson “Bert” Kienzle was born in Fiji in 1905 of Samoan, English, German descent. In the First World War he and his family were all imprisoned in internment camps at Bourke and Molonglo because of their German names but in the Second World War, Bert would play a vital part in the success of the Kokoda Campaign.

In 1927, Bert had moved to Papua to work on rubber plantations and in 1941 when Pearl Harbour was bombed he was managing a gold mining operation and establishing his own rubber plantation in the Yodda Valley, near Kokoda. Bert was already fluent in Motu the lingua franca of Papua at the time and was well liked and respected by the local people so he was the obvious man to put in charge of the carrier and labour lines being assembled at Sogeri for preparations being made along the Kokoda trail.

Over the period of the ensuing battles, Bert earned accolades including “ The Architect of the Kokoda Trail” and “ The King of the Angels” and historians would say of him that without his presence the outcome of the whole operation may have been very different.

It was Bert who located and named the Myola Lakes whose use as a drop zone for supplies proved a logistical turning point in the Campaign. It was also Bert who named Templeton’s Crossing after Captain Sam Templeton whom he had led across the Trail in July, thus contributing to the immortalisation of Sam’s name.

Bert’s local knowledge and ability to communicate with the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels was put to constant use by his superiors in planning military and logistical strategies and it was he who helped reduce the number of desertions of Papuan carriers who trusted him above all others when he explained why they were needed in this war that was not of their making.

Bert and Doc Vernon had known each other before the war and supported each other throughout the Kokoda campaign. Together they made a commitment to be sure the Papuans were honoured after the war and although Doc died in 1946, Bert went ahead and arranged the construction of the Memorial at Kokoda which is the most recognised and symbolic of all the monuments on the plateau today.

Bert returned to Kokoda after the war and developed a magnificent rubber & cattle property which he called Mamba Estates. He was awarded both the MBE for his military service and the CBE for this civil service to Papua. Bert’s full & fascinating story can be found in his biography “The Architect of Kokoda” written by his daughter-in-law Robyn Kienzle.

Text courtesy of Robyn Kienzle.

Bert Kienzle