Lance Corporal Sanopa, a member of the Royal Papuan Constabulary (RPC), had detailed knowledge of the Kokoda Track. Following the Japanese invasion of Papua, he was made a scout with the 39th Infantry Battalion, the first Australian unit to oppose Japanese forces in Papua.
Sanopa would prove his courage and resourcefulness time and again during the Kokoda campaign and he fought at Kokoda, Deniki and Isurava. His best known exploit however occurred on the night of 25 - 26 July 1942.
B Company, 39 Infantry Battalion and a handful of Papuan Infantry Battalion were fighting a spirited holding action at Oivi. The men had successfully repelled repeated frontal and flank attacks from the Japanese. B Company commander, Captain Sam Templeton, had requested reinforcements and was disappointed when only half a platoon arrived, little more than 15 men. Templeton set off down the track to gather additional men and lead them to Oivi. When he was out of sight a single gunshot rang out. He was never seen again.
Sergeant Leslie Martorana set out with Sanopa and two other soldiers to find Templeton. As they approached the spot where the shot had originated Sanopa stopped the party: ‘I can smell them’ he said. Sanopa had saved their live. Moments later they heard Japanese moving towards them.
The men ran back to Oivi. It was now clear that the Japanese had surrounded Oivi and B Company was in dire peril. Sanopa knew an unguarded track however and led B Company to Deniki and safety. It is almost certain that Sanopa’s actions saved 75 lives that night. He survived the war and was awarded the Loyal Service Medal.
Text by Neil Sharkey, Shrine of Remembrance