2/1ST BATTALION AT EORA CREEK – THE MANUSU BROTHERS
Lose just one man from that little country town in a time of war; and we all agree that is a pretty steep price to pay. But take two men away forever.......from the same family......and that ‘little country town' will never be the same again. And for a grieving mother - that is simply too much pain to bear! Is it an act of mercy that this woman should pass away before a third son is also lost?
There is an age old question; "What cost is the price for freedom?" When that cost is written into the ledger?, How much should each country pay? How much should each State pay? And how much should each little country town be made to pay?
The old "timber town" of Bowraville, in New South Wales is a small country town now.....and yet it was even smaller (from a community point of view) back in the days when Australia was recovering from a Great Depression and the clouds of war were looming for a second time. Just inland from Nambucca Heads on the Mid North Coast of NSW, Bowraville was home for Francis (Frank) MANUSU and his wife Betsy. Frank had taken up service with the New South Wales Constabulary at Belligen in October, 1901 and there he met his bride to be. They married in 1911, settled at Valla - and Frank later retired to Bowraville where he and Betsy began their family.
Their eldest son, Homer Angus MANUSU was born in 1911 - and his sister Betsy Dylis in the following year of 1912. Frank was now a farmer, but the call to arms was not foreign to this family. He had served in South Africa during the second Anglo-Boer War, prior to joining the Police Force. With Europe on the brink war, their third child, Alfred Pericles (known as Perry) was born on the 25th of January, 1914.
Just eight months later - their world became engulfed in the firestorm of a global conflict. Percy Baldwin MANUSU, the fourth child (and third son) was born in September of 1915. By this time, the great August offensive at Gallipoli had failed to achieve it's goals and the fighting on the European front was a stalemate of trench warfare. Cyril Alex MANUSU entered the world in 1917 and the sixth child of the family, Guy Ericwas born on the 29th of April, 1919.
The Great War had been over now for five months, but undoubtedly Bowraville and the surrounding district was beginning to bear witness to the cost of the conflict. Men of the First AIF had been repatriated home, or were in the process of returning. No doubt, the MANUSU boys witnessed at least some of the legacies of war as they grew up. A limbless man here. A blind man there. Or the sick man down the street who never seemed to stop coughing; a victim of gassing.
There may have been the occasional story of the ‘feats' performed by our Anzacs. Perhaps even tales spoken of the men of the 1st Battalion, AIF. Stories that were glossed over or certain realities omitted to protect young ears. But sometimes the questions of little boys may have met with a deafening silence, when directed at man that has witnessed the horrors of war. Be that as it may, young Guy may have seemed the last in that family of six children. However in 1930, a seventh and final addition to the MANUSU family was produced in the form of a little girl - Frances Hermoine MANUSU. Like her older sister and brother Perry (Alfred), she too would be known by her middle name.
The Depression years were no doubt tough for any family, let alone a country family with seven children. Throughout the 1930's, Australia struggled in what was considered a very slow recovery. The Manusu boys, living in very basic conditions - worked six and a half days per week on "patches" of bananas and other seasonal vegetables. Their only entertainment was the Saturday night dance which meant a walk of some distance to the Valla Hall.
So by 1939, when a World War was declared for a second time - the reasons for "joining up" not only included a desire to protect the ‘Mother Country' as many felt in the First War. It is a fact that some men enlisted as the pay was fair - and regular - and there were little prospects of civil employment in the country. Whatever his reason for joining up, Percy (the third born son) was the first MANUSU to enlist into the 2nd AIF on the 03rd of September, 1940. Exactly 12 months to the day, that Britain and France had declared war on Germany in 1939.
In 1914, the Australian Government formed an AIF (Australian Imperial Force) to travel across the globe to fight "the Hun" during the First World War. For the Second World War - a ‘Second AIF' was formed to fight the same enemy. Upon his enlistment into the army, Percy was posted to a unit that had formed a very proud history. The "Black over Green" colour patch, was that of the Second First Battalion, commonly written as the 2/1st Battalion AIF. A grey coloured border denoting the Second AIF, distinguished it from the colour patch of the First World War, which was currently being worn by Australia's "other" army, the 1st Militia Battalion.
NX47689 Sergeant Percy MANUSU - note the 2/1st Battalion colour patch
The 2/1st Battalion had been raised on the 16th of October, 1939 as part of the 6th Australian Division. With her sister battalions (the 2/2nd and the 2/3rd Battalions) the 2/1st formed part of the 16th Brigade. It had gone off to fight the Italians in Eastern Libya; it garrisoned Tobruk and was thrown into the ill-fated campaigns of Greece and Crete. Many of it's men became prisoners of war, however the Battalion was reconstructed in Palestine and went off to man defences in northern Syria.
NX69109 Private Guy MANUSU - 2/1st Battalion AIF
NX69110 Private Alfred "Perry" MANUSU - 2/1st Battalion AIF
Whilst the 2/1st Battalion was fighting in the Middle East; two more of the Manusu boys - Perry (the second born son) and Guy (the fifth born son) had enlisted into the AIF. Joining up together on the same day (the 06th of March, 1941) the brothers were allocated consecutive service numbers - Guy with NX69109 and Perry NX69110. One can only imagine the banter. The boys ran into another man from Bowraville by the name of Joe MITCHELL and joked - that they had just signed their death warrants. It is highly likely that Percy "claimed" his two brothers as was often done at this time. The two new enlistees headed off to the Middle East to join their brother, but as fate would have it, they arrived too late for the bitter Greek campaign. Instead, they found themselves as "tourists" in places which they had never heard of before; such as Neuisarat, Khassa, Sausage Wood and Bey Jirja and Guy faithfully kept a diary to record their travels.
When Japan entered the war, the 16th Brigade was sent back to Australia, embarking from Egypt aboard the "Orontes". But circumstances made the convoy divert to Ceylon where they temporarily held post there for about 3 months. At this time, their fellow Australians were fighting for their lives on the Kokoda Track. When the battalion finally reached home shores, there was barely time to take on re-enforcements and reorganise, as preparations were made to head north and help stem the advancing Japanese.
One can only imagine the anguish of their poor mother Betsy; as she prepared to farewell her three sons off, to face a seemingly unstoppable foe. To add to her fears, her fourth son Homer (her first born) had enlisted into the Militia on the 01st of October, 1941. He would remain in the CMF (Citizens Military Forces) for nearly twelve months.
But it was not only Betsy who would fret for her digger serving abroad. Guy had left behind his girlfriend, Tib DOWNS and one can only guess that she loved him so much - that she would wait for his safe return.
On the 21st of September, 1942 - the 16th Brigade (2/1st, 2/2nd & 2/3rd Battalions) began to arrive in Port Moresby. The battered remnants of the battalions that had fought at Isurava and Brigade Hill were holding out at Imita Ridge with the 25th Brigade and 3rd Militia Battalion. They were ordered to retreat no further and this was to be their ‘last stand'. The Japanese had dug in on Ioribaiwa Ridge on the other side of the valley. One more concerted thrust and Port Moresby would be in their grasp.
The 21st Brigade and Militia units before them had been issued with khaki clothing and equipment; the kind suitable for desert warfare - but useless in the dark green of the jungle. This would not be the case for the 16th Brigade. Some men of the 2/1st were issued with the new jungle green clothing. Others did as the 25th Brigade had done - and dyed their clothing and painted their equipment a ‘jungle green' colour so as to blend in with the foliage. They were also issued with shovels, torches, folding saws and similar items, luxuries to an infantryman that had been deprived from the previous units on the track.
For the next 10 days, they were to remain at Port Moresby on local defence tasks as it was still perceived that the Japanese may break through the Australian lines or outflank the defences on Imita Ridge.
The 2/1st Battalion began their advance across the Kokoda Track on the 5th of October, 1942. (By this time, the Japanese were on the retreat - having been ordered by Tokyo to withdraw to the beach heads of Buna, Gona and Sanananda) Letters that the boys wrote home, indicate that both Guy and Perry were serving in ‘C' Company and Percy was detailed to serve with ‘A' Company. The lead elements of the 16th Brigade began arriving at Templeton's Crossing (No. 2) on the 19th of October and they advanced north. By the time the Brigade had all been brought forward, they numbered in the vicinity of 1800 troops. Skirmishing as they moved forward, it took them 3 days to reach the Eora Creek Village (it takes a modern day trekker between 2 and 4 hours to travel the same distance - depending on fitness). The 2/1st Battalion with the three MANUSU brothers was on the left side of the advance - whilst the 2/2nd Battalion was on the right. The battalions swung well wide of the forward Japanese positions in an attempt to attack the Japanese to their flanks and their rear positions.
At Eora Creek; the three MANUSU boys were about to find themselves embroiled in the largest battle on the Owen Stanley section of the track during the Australian advance. Each Japanese foxhole was defended strongly and the fighting was going to take place at close quarters; usually requiring an Australian soldier to crawl close enough - so as to lob a hand grenade into the pit. This type of warfare was extremely grim with much hand to hand combat and the Australians were to pay dearly in blood for each metre of ground gained.
On the morning of the 22nd of October, 1942 the lead elements of the 2/3rd Battalion entered Eora Creek Village. They were raked by Japanese machine guns and mortars from a high position on the opposite side of the creek. (It is almost certain that this Japanese position is the same one now - which is visited by trekkers on the "Isurava" side of the creek.) When the 2/3rd was engaged by the Japanese, the 2/1st (with the three MANUSU boys) and the 2/2nd were held back on the ridge behind Eora Creek Village. The Japanese spotters had pin pointed their location and began to hit them with mountain gun and mortar fire. Brigade Commander, Brigadier LLOYD could see no option but to try a frontal attack on the Japanese positions. The problem was the Australians would have to cross two bridges before they could reach the Japanese side. The decision was not met with enthusiasm by his Company Commanders, who thought that it lacked ‘imagination' and would lead to unnecessary casualties. This decision would prove disastrous to the MANUSU family.
View of the 1942 Eora Creek Village site as seen from the Japanese Mountain Gun position on the western side of Eora Creek. The current Eora Creek campsite is in the same general locality and it was on this spot that the lead elements of the 2/3rd Battalion were fired upon - when first sighted by the Japanese on the 22nd of October. In 2002 - this area was heavily overgrown with foliage. An inspection amongst the undergrowth revealed a large amount of broken glass and medicine bottles - the refuse of a wartime camp. The below photo shows a Japanese tunnel which is still evident at the Mountain Gun position. It shows just how well established the Japanese fortifications were in 1942.
Australian Army Officer Thomas Golby inspects a Japanese tunnel at Eora Creek in July, 2008
The attack was to go in on the night of the 22nd October so that the Australian troops could be on the Japanese side by the morning of the 23rd. Some men of the 2/1st began to cross under the cover of darkness on a bitter night with a cold wind blowing. Around 2.30am, a pale moon filtered through the clouds and illuminated the troops attempting to cross the bridges. The Japanese opened up on the Australians and it was not until around 4am that the moon went down, resuming the cover of darkness. Dawn found the Australians pinned down on the Japanese side of Eora Creek. The World War Two Nominal Roll lists Guy's date of death as occurring on the 23rd of October.
A story was later related by NX47065 Darcy McPHILLIPS to Joe PHILLIPS in New Guinea. He stated that Guy was killed by a grenade that was reportedly thrown at Darcy, but it struck a vine and bounced towards Guy's position. Based on this, it is logical to conclude that Guy was involved in this advance. As the bulk of the 2/1st and 2/2nd Battalions were still in a position of cover on the ridge behind Eora Creek Village (well out of hand grenade range) and weight is given to the story of Darcy McPHILLIPS, then it is clear that Guy was killed in a forward position. Sadly, Darcy McPHILLIPS was killed in action near war's end; on the 17th July 1945 at Wewak. One can only imagine the grief felt by his brothers Perry and Percy who were also involved in this action. Twenty four other men of the 2/1st Battalion were lost on this day and so their unit was paying dearly. For the entire day of the 23rd of October, the rest of Guy's Battalion lay pinned down by Japanese fire.
The following day (24th October) the 2/1st Battalion men on the Japanese side of Eora Creek were still pinned down and the remainder of the two Battalions sent out patrols to the left and right of the known Japanese positions, in a bid to outflank them. This situation of probing patrols continued on the 25th and 26th October and the Japanese began to feel the pressure. However on the 27th of October; the sixth day of the battle for Eora Creek - a further tragedy struck the MANUSU family.
The Japanese had pulled their perimeter back a few hundred metres in an attempt to consolidate their forces and make a tighter defensive position. The majority of the Australian forces by this time were on the Japanese side of Eora Creek - but were disjointed and in isolated groups. The rain had been falling day and night since the 25th of October - causing the creek to flood and the torrent washed the two bridges away. It was on this day that another son was lost to Betsy MANUSU. Alfred - known to everybody as ‘Perry' was hit by machine gun fire in the groin. His mates could not get out to him for some time. Finally his comrades were able to bring him in, however Perry was suffering the effects of shock and massive blood loss. He subsequently died a slow and painful death from his injuries. His brother Percy; the first to enlist into the 2/1st Battalion and the last still fighting at Eora Creek - was now on his own.
Their eldest sister Dylis (as previously mentioned - born Betsy, but she was known by her middle name) was 8 months pregnant at the time of her brother's deaths. Normally she sported black coloured hair. Within two weeks of receiving the tragic news, the 'shock' had turned her hair 'silver'.
That two brothers should enlist together on the same day only later to die a few days apart and within a short distance from each other, is far too much pain for one family to endure. That a third brother should still be in harms way in the same battle only accentuates the pain. As one would expect the death of his two beloved brothers, Guy and Perry, affected Percy greatly. It was reported that he wanted revenge and this was recognised by his Battalion Commander. As a result - Percy was sent back to Australia and temporarily transferred to a non-combatant role with both the N.S.W and Queensland ‘Lines of Communication' units. It is highly likely that this temporary removal from the front line - saved his life. Family history suggests that Percy's father (Frank), wrote to the Commanding Officer of the 2/1st Battalion - and thanked the authorities for returning at least one son to him.
By the 29th of October, the majority of the Japanese had been killed. The only Japanese who survived the conflict were the one's who had fled. Lieutenant Bruce MacDOUGAL of the 2/3rd Battalion is quoted as saying:
"They dropped their weapons and stumbled through the thick bush down the slope, squealing like frightened animals.......
Before this Eora Creek fight, men had been saying that the Japanese wouldn't run. Eora Creek proved that he would."
Percy was destined to survive the war but he was not to endure these years, unscathed. Like many other diggers; during his service (which included the Aitape campaign in late 1944/early 1945) he contracted Typhus (Scrub Fever) & Malaria. One night - he was so ill that he was not expected to live through the night. He was laid out with the dead, but luckily was still alive the next morning.
And what was to become of the rest of the MANUSU family? The Second World War would take another life, before it was to draw to a close. But it was neither bullets nor bombs that dealt this cruel blow. The deaths of Guy and Perry greatly affected their mother, Betsy. Hermoine (Frances), the youngest of the seven children - said that her mother used to "disappear " on occasion. But Frances always knew where it was, that her mother would withdraw from the world. Betsy would pour out her anguish in the boy's room, with her head buried in their clothes, weeping. When she died in 1944 before the war's end, it was widely accepted by the local community that she had died of a broken heart.
NX137609 (formerly N160380) Private Homer Angus MANUSU of H.Q. 1 Australian Division
Homer (the eldest brother) who had enlisted into the Militia twelve months before the death of his two brothers - transferred to the Second AIF on the 26th of November, 1942. Comparing the date of his transfer to the dates of the Eora Creek tragedy; it may be interpreted that he shared Percy's need to avenge his brothers' deaths. However front line service was to elude Homer and his entire service was restricted to duty within Australia. But sadly - the end of the war in 1945 did not bring an end to the grief. As if fate had not punished this family enough; shortly after Homer was discharged from the army - he was killed in a motor vehicle accident. Whilst riding a bicycle to work, he was struck by the local milk truck which crushed his chest. His injuries were severe and he died about 2 days later in Hospital.
As for Guy's girlfriend, Tib DOWNS, like Betsy MANUSU, a second heart was shattered that day in 1942 at Eora Creek. Did Tib carry in her mind's eye a memory of a smiling young man who would forever remain just 23 years old, marching off to war? Whilst time may lessen the pain a little, life must go on. So some time after Guys death; when Tib was to marry a man by the name of Arthur AMOS - she sought out Frank....Guy's father. The reason Tib asked Frank to walk her down the aisle. Frances has said that her Dad, Frank was "tickled pink" by this gesture. Though she now loved a new man, I dare say that a little corner of her heart was reserved for NX69109 Private Guy MANUSU, 2/1st Battalion AIF. Stolen from her by a cruel war.
Guy MANUSU and Tib DOWNS, prior to his embarkation
Cyril, the fifth born of the MANUSU children, did not serve in uniform during the Second World War. Born in 1917, he was rejected for Military Service based on medical grounds. With four brothers already in the army, I can only guess that this was a very bitter pill for Cyril to swallow. His daughter Pauline recalls that for as long as she can remember, her father would become very emotional when the topic of his brothers was brought up. In 2002 (the 60th Anniversary of the Battle For Eora Creek) Cyril and Hermoine (nee PAXTON) represented their family at the Bowraville RSL. Pauline had to sit next to her father in a bid to comfort him in his grief, as he wept openly. They were presented with a "Certificate Of Appreciation "for the MANUSU family, in recognition of the effort and sacrifice of the whole family in the defence of Australia, which was a small but touching gesture. Pauline is quoted as saying "I can't begin to imagine how he felt, being the only son at home consoling his mother after his brothers were killed". Unfortunately, Cyril passed away in 2005.
But Cyril has served his family very well indeed, perhaps in a way that he may never have given thought. With three brothers passed on, only Percy and himself remained. But Percy never married and subsequently he did not bear any children. The MANUSU family is blessed with many descendants from the girl's side of the family who will hold the memory of their uncles dearly. But Cyril left a fine legacy in carrying on the family name of MANUSU, which continues on today. And whilst ever the family name is carried on, then the sacrifice beside a raging torrent in the Owen Stanleys shall never be forgotten. And the names of two brothers on a granite war memorial, in a little country town - will ensure that Australia will never forget the debt owed by a grateful nation to the generations before, that answered the call.
In 2008, Cyril's grandson Tyler BELLAMY was one of eight people selected as part of the "Kokoda Youth Leadership Clubs Challenge" and paid the most fitting tribute that he could, by walking in his great-uncle's footsteps along the Kokoda Track.
Tyler Bellamy at Ower's Corner in 2008 as part of the Kokoda Youth Leadership Clubs Challenge and the first descendant of the MANUSU family to walk the track since 1942
Percy went on to work at Bowraville RSL and was awarded life membership, but sadly he passed away in 2003.
In 2008, at the time of writing this story - just one MANUSU child remains. At the age of 78, Hermoine is the sole matriarch. She too is blessed with children but it is saddening to think that any child should also have to bear so much pain. Between the ages of 11 and 15 - Frances lost her mother and three cherished siblings. Naturally their passing had a lifelong effect upon her. Throughout her life, her brothers have remained her "heroes" and she named a son in Perry's honour. Perry's passing at Eora Creek was reported to have been quite agonising and drawn out. When speaking of his death, she once made the comment that if any of her brothers had to die that way - she was glad that it was Perry, as he was always the "boss" and toughest. When she was to bear sons of her own, she would name one of them "Homer" and the other "Perry" in honour of their uncles.
1939-1945 Star, Pacific Star, 1939-1945 War Medal and the 1939-1945 Australian Service Medal.
Both Guy and Perry were posthumously awarded service medals of this type. Their descendants are desperately seeking knowledge as to the whereabouts of these war medals. If you have any knowledge of these medals or can assist in their return to the family please click here.
These brothers won no Victoria Crosses, nor are their deeds reflected by a "Mention in Dispatches". They received no awards other than the standard campaign medals that were handed out to countless other diggers at war's end. They were just your average boys from a small country town, like thousands of other men from countless other country towns and cities. But like Frances MANUSU, I too think that they are heroes just for doing "their bit" and their names should never be forgotten.
Eora Creek still flows and sometimes when the rain falls, it becomes a raging torrent. Even in peace time, it is the most dangerous part of the Kokoda Track. For us it is just one more river to cross. but in 1942 for Betsy MANUSU it was a River Of Tears.
Compiled by Gary Traynor
Frank MANUSU and his five boys