Digger fights for recognition

WWII veteran Phil Steel, part of the ‘Silent Seventh’ division that fought at Kokoda, is breaking the silence to campaign for recognition for his comrades’ service at Milne Bay and on the Kokoda Track.

Yesterday, on the 67th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in New Guinea, the Ballina digger spoke to Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin’s office to gather political reinforcements for his fight for a special service clasp.

The small commemorative clasps, which would attach to the 1939 to 1945 service ribbon, would be in recognition of the efforts of diggers who fought at Milne Bay and on the Kokoda track – the turning point of the war in the South-West Pacific.

Mr Steel, a Staff Sergeant who served as an engineer for the 2/55th Light Aid Detachment, said Ms Saffin’s office was ‘very enthusiastic’ about getting behind the cause. “They will be taking it up with government from there,” he said.

Mr Steel said the push for recognition was long overdue. “We were known as the ‘Silent Seventh’ because we never complained. We just followed orders while the other division got the accolades,” he said.

Mr Steel said Seventh Division veterans, now in their 80s and 90s, had campaigned since the 1980s for the clasps. The men wanted to see the introduction of the clasps during their lifetimes.

As well as being responsible for a major turning point in the war, the men who fought at Kokoda embodied a spirit that should be commemorated, he said.

The outnumbered Australian troops destroyed the myth of the Japanese as an unbeatable jungle fighting machine and gave hope to their frightened nation.



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