Congratulations to Tullarmarine war vet

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit war veteran Alexander Jenkins at his home in Tullamarine yesterday and present him with a certificate of congratulations for his achievements.

The sprightly 96-year-old had many interesting tales to tell about his life and his experiences of war. Mr Jenkins joined the army at 19 because a “couple of blokes stirred him up to get enlisted”.

“My family didn’t encourage me to join, even though we have a history of relatives serving in the army,” Mr Jenkins said.

Above: Maria Vamvakinou MP with Mr Alexander Jenkins.

“I’m glad veterans are being more recognised for their services," he said, adding, "I feel more important now than I did then."

Mr Jenkins joined the Royal Australian Air Force in May 1941 in Mt Gambier. He successfully completed his training and on 8 August 1942 joined the 30 Squadron, where he was deployed to Papua New Guinea and involved in the Battle of Milne Bay, and Kokoda and the Beachheads.

Mr Jenkins served in the Air Force until his discharge in May 1946. The Kokoda Track links Owers' Corner, some 40 kilometres north-east of Port Moresby with the village of Wairopi on the northern edge of the Owen Stanley ranges.

From Wairopi the Track runs to Awala where it becomes a network of paths passing through tropical lowlands to the coastal swamps and the settlements of Buna, Gana and Sanananda on Papua's north coast. The first encounter between Japanese and Australians took place on 23 July 1942 at Awala. From here the Australian Forces began a fighting withdrawal that ended on 17 September 1942 at lmita Ridge, some 50 kilometres from Port Moresby. By 2 November 1942 the Australians had retaken Kokoda. The last action fought along the Track took place between Oivi and Gorari and ended on 11 November 1942, after which the Australians reached Wairopi unopposed.

The fight to drive the Japanese from their beachhead strongholds at Buna, Gona and Sanananda is known collectively as the Beachhead Battles. Australian troops assaulted Gona in November 1942. It took more than two weeks of fighting to eliminate the Japanese garrison. At Buna, in December 1942 and January 1943, Australian and United States troops took two weeks to prevail over a strong network of defences.

The final beachhead battle was fought at Sanananda in January 1943. Again, Australian and United States troops faced a difficult task against a strongly held position, finally breaking Japanese resistance after 10 days fighting. More than 2800 Australians were killed, wounded or evacuated with illness during the beachhead battles.

On his return Mr Jenkins resumed his career in the printing industry and providing for his wife and two children. These days Alex enjoys spending his time meticulously putting things together (including puzzles), and relishing the sense of community at the Church of New England in Westmeadows.