Listen to What's Not Being Said


From "High Hopes", published by Lime Tree Books and available from Big W and all good bookstores, or order direct from

"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook."  William James (1842-1910)


Keith Norrish OAM ... hero of Brigade Hill

 Keith Norrish OAM

Keith Norrish OAM

We lost another remarkable Kokoda veteran yesterday when Keith Norrish OAM passed away in Perth aged 95.


Lt Keith Norrish, a Western Australian who served bravely with the renowned 2/16th Battalion, was wounded in the legendary attack at Brigade Hill.


He had previously fought with the 2/16th in the Middle East and was wounded fighting against the Vichy French in Syria. He recuperated in Australia before rejoining his unit for the Kokoda campaign.


At Brigade Hill, Keith was caught by a burst of Japanese machine-gun fire. He owed his life to a steel mirror his friend had given him shortly before the attack and to a wad of 17 letters he had received from his future wife Peg and his family that morning.


Keith stuffed the mirror and the wad of letters into his left breast pocket before the charge. When he ran into the machine gun burst, the mirror deflected four bullets down into his stomach muscles, another punctured his lung and damaged his pericardium and a six deflected into his bicep muscle.


That was the start of a remarkable six-day journey of survival as, after being patched up with field dressings, he was forced to walk back down the Track to safety, aided only by a young Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel.


Keith couldn’t lie down during the walk because his lungs were filling with fluid so he slept propped up against a tree or draped over a bush walking staff fashioned by his young Papuan ‘guardian angel’.


He eventually made it back to a Casualty Clearing Station where doctors operated and sent him on an arduous journey back to Australia.


Amazingly, Keith recuperated once again and transferred to the 2/22nd Battalion and saw further service in the Aitape-Wewak campaign in New Guinea.


Keith was Co-Patron of his beloved 2/16th Battalion and a revered figure in Perth at the Anzac Day march.


Lest We Forget.


The old veteran's tears fall freely.
He has come to farewell his old comrade, a man who saved his life more than 70 years ago in the jungles of Kokoda.
They are manly tears and Owen Baskett sheds them unashamedly as he raises his arm to salute the passing casket of his old commanding officer, Capt Bede Tongs.
In November 1942, Owen Baskett was a 21-year-old Digger serving in the 3rd Battalion's 10 Platoon. Bede Tongs was a 22-year-old sergeant who had just taken command after his platoon leader was struck down by a Japanese sniper at Templeton's Crossing.
"I've idolised Bede ever since," says Owen. "He took such care of his men and never asked them to do anything he wouldn't do himself.
"Bede never lost a forward scout. That's a remarkable achievement in a campaign where their life expectancy was measured in days, not weeks."
Bede Tongs was such an outstanding leader that he was later commissioned an officer in the field and was awarded a Military Medal for his bravery at Templeton's Crossing.
There, typically, he refused to put his men's lives at unnecessary risk. Instead, under heavy fire, he crawled up to a machine gun which was holding up his platoon's advance and silenced it with a hand grenade.
Bede led his men through the rest of the campaign with similar care and compassion until he was eventually medically evacuated suffering from malaria, scrub typhus and dengue fever.
Both men returned to civilian life, married, raised families, played prominent roles in their communities and led rich lives into their nineties. They kept in touch and recalled those perilous days over quiet beers. In 2012, 70 years after the battles, they returned to Kokoda together and farewelled their long-departed comrades.
Now Bede finally joins his mates and Owen bids him Godspeed with a soldier's farewell.