PAUL 'PETER' WRIGHT

Peter Wright was working as an assistant dyer at Felt and Textiles of Australia before he was called up for the Citizen Military Force, or militia, in January 1942. Peter was posted to the 55th Infantry Battalion, but due to uniform shortages he was forced to spend the first three months training in the blue pinstripe suit he was wearing when he arrived at the camp!

Peter arrived at Port Moresby with the 55th in May 1942 and was sent to Milne Bay as part of the advance guard for the engineers building the new airstrips and base facilities at Gili Gili. Peter guarded the first airstrip to be constructed and participated in patrols of the area. He recalls that when enemy aircraft began bombing the new base, they often strafed the airstrip but the air raid warning system gave the troops and airmen enough notice to scramble into foxholes. In August 1942, shortly before the Japanese landing at Milne Bay , Peter was shipped back to Port Moresby and was sent to Owers Corner, at the start of the Kokoda Track, to help prevent the Japanese from reaching Port Moresby.

In November 1942, the 55th Battalion was amalgamated with 53rd Battalion, forming the 55/53rd Battalion. Early the following month, it was flown to Popondetta and took up positions on the Sanananda Track. Peter participated in reconnaissance and fighting patrols of the area. He also took part in the battalion's full-scale frontal attack on Japanese positions, in which about half of the troops from the 55/53rd and 49th Battalions were killed or wounded.

Peter was one of the many troops who contracted malaria in the battle area. He was evacuated to the 2/9th Australian General Hospital at Port Moresby and was sent back to Australia in early 1943. He returned to the 55/53rd Battalion when it was rebuilding but suffered further bouts of malaria during 1943. After rejoining his battalion again, he served in Queensland and, briefly, on Thursday Island in 1944. The battalion embarked for Bougainville late in 1944. Peter served in the Bougainville campaign on the Numa Numa Trail and the Soroken Peninsula. He was promoted to Lance-Corporal and, during fighting at Pearl Ridge, suffered slight shrapnel wounds but continued serving in Bougainville until the war's end.

In October 1945, Peter sailed to Rabaul, on the island of New Britain , and in early 1946 served briefly with the 31/51st Battalion on garrison duties before returning to Australia in May 1946. Upon his return, he was immediately discharged.

Before the war, Peter had begun a correspondence course in accountancy and was still interested in this but on discharge he was told that the only vacancies in courses run by the Repatriation Department were in the building trades. Peter completed a course in joinery and worked as a staircase-maker, working his way from apprentice to company director.

In November 1946, Peter married Joyce, the sister of one of his Army mates, and they had a son and a daughter. They now have three grandchildren. Peter is the president of the 55/53rd Battalion Association and the Probus Club. He also conducts tours and lectures on the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway in Concord , is an umpire and games organiser of lawn bowls, and volunteers his time to Meals on Wheels.

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Paul Wright