Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Battle of Milne Bay
In the middle of the night, 75 years ago, members of the 25th Infantry Battalion were awoken from their bunks at the Cabarlah Barracks just north of Toowoomba, called and marched down through the thick scrub and steep slopes of the Toowoomba Range to Spring Bluff Railway Station. They had no idea where they were going. They boarded a train to Brisbane and travelled to New Guinea where they would go on to win one of the most significant battles of World War II—the Battle of Milne Bay.
Until recently, Bertie Miles of Toowoomba was one of the last men left from that 1,000-strong battalion. Bertie was just 23 and in the mortar platoon, which is credited with destroying the Japanese forces during one of the major conflicts on a cleared area known as 'No. 3 Strip'. The Battle of Milne Bay was the first time in the war that Japanese ground forces were defeated. In Bertie's words:
We didn't win the war in the battle of Milne Bay, but we stopped the Japanese.
In torrential rain, Private Miles trudged backwards and forwards through deep mud to keep the mortars supplied with ammunition. On each trip he carried 19 kilograms of shells. Later, the battalion moved on to Port Moresby but, in a five-day pass at the beginning of 1944, Private Miles raced home to Toowoomba to marry his sweetheart, Avon. Nine months later, his war was over. He had been called home to manage a family property west of Toowoomba. Later, after the war, he trained as a plumber and worked for the railways for most of his career, during which time he and Avon raised their daughters, Susanne and June.
Just nine days ago, on Monday, 30 January 2017, Bertie's family and friends, clergy, Defence Force representatives, veterans, community leaders and many of us from the Toowoomba community farewelled Bertie at a solemn funeral service at St James Anglican Church, Toowoomba. He was 97 years old. In 2014, Bertie was quoted as saying, 'I'll never lose sight of the battlefields,' and never should we. Lest we forget. Vale, Bertie Miles.