The three-year-long New Guinea campaign was one of the most arduous of World War II, with Allied and Japanese forces sustaining tens of thousands of casualties as they struggled for control of the world’s second-largest island.
Deadlier than enemy fire, though, was the environment itself — far more Japanese died of starvation and disease than in combat. Numerous operations were hampered by the difficulties of maintaining supply lines through miles of thick jungle, steep slopes and swift rivers.
Allied casualties would have been much higher were it not for the work of the island’s native inhabitants, thousands of whom served as stretcher bearers and supply carriers, transporting men and materiel over long distances through seemingly impassable terrain, sometimes under fire.
Wounded and ill Australian soldiers on the Kokoda Track came to call the stretcher bearers “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels,” for their frizzy hair and the life-saving care and compassion they provided.
The “Angels” inspired deep admiration in the men they saved, with some even writing poems home about their strength and gentleness.
Faole Bokoi, the last known member of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, died in 2016.