Ninety-six-year-old George Palmer’s face is forever linked with Kokoda. He was one of six soldiers whose image was captured by war photographer Damien Parer in a picture that would become one of the defining images of the Second World War campaign.
“This fellow was at the side of the track, and he called out to us, and he said, ‘Chaps, get plenty of mud around your boots.’ Well, that was obvious, it was there. So that wasn’t hard at all – we were knee deep in mud. And it was Damien Parer. I was just lucky,” Palmer said while visiting the Australian War Memorial.
“We’d been relieved and we were in single file, about 50 of us, because that’s all that was left of the battalion.
“I’m the second one … and the fellow with the felt hat, he was a First World War Gallipoli man. He put his age up to go there, and down to come with us, and he was a tremendous bloke. He was actually a father figure to us. He was a wonderful fellow, he really was.
“I had just had my 21st birthday in June… We never realised that photo would continue to capture the history of the Kokoda Track.”
Palmer has a framed copy of the photograph on his wall at home, a constant reminder of his time during the Second World War and the mates he served with at Kokoda.
For Palmer, who has returned to Kokoda four times since the end of the war, mateship meant everything. “The friendships that you made in the army were wonderful,” he said. “They were different to ordinary friendships because you relied on each other for everything. They were wonderful mates, really, really good.
“Once you got out of action it was all right. It was amazing how you felt when you were relieved, and the Japs were only 100 yards away, and you felt, ‘Gee whiz, you were safe out here.’ The things that go on when you are young, I suppose.”