University of Aberdeen archaeologist assists in recovery of WW2 casualties in Papua New Guinea

26 July 2023
A University of Aberdeen archaeologist has been part of a team of specialists involved in the recovery of World War Two casualties from the Owen Stanley Mountain Range, Papua New Guinea.

Dr Rebecca Crozier, senior lecturer in archaeology and director of the MSc osteoarchaeology programme, spent June and July working to recover soldiers buried at a temporary cemetery at Templeton’s Crossing on the Kokoda Track, where Australian and Japanese forces were involved in a series of engagements in 1942.

The team was led by Professor Marc Oxenham, who has appointments with both the Australian National University and the University of Aberdeen.

Co-ordinated by the Unrecovered War Casualties-Army (UWC-A) unit through the Australian Defence Force, the operations involved collaboration with other Services, agencies and stakeholders, including specialists from the Australian National University, Queensland University of Technology, James Cook University (Townsville), the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and had the approval of Papua New Guinea authorities. All relevant permissions were sought through PNG national, local and landowner authorities.

Recovery plans

The recovery was planned in response to reports of human remains, uncovered at a former field cemetery site at Templeton's Crossing, on the Kokoda Trail. The cemetery was previously believed cleared and disestablished at the conclusion of the Second World War.

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Records indicate up to 65 Australian soldiers were buried at Templeton’s Crossing during fighting on the Kokoda Trail. These Australian servicemen were subsequently interred at Bomana War Cemetery and are commemorated with individual headstones. The human remains recently recovered by specialists working with the UWC-A unit between June and July 2023, representing 15 soldiers, will now undergo forensic examination and identification processes, before being respectfully laid to rest at Bomana War Cemetery. There are close to 25,000 Australian soldiers with no known grave from the wars of the 20th century.

Finding and contacting the relatives of soldiers believed to have been buried at Templeton's Crossing has not been possible in advance of the activity. Family members of soldiers who died on the Kokoda track, particularly those who fell close to Templeton's Crossing, are welcome to contact the UWC unit by email for further details.

Dr Crozier said: “I feel so honoured to work with such an amazing team of specialists and contribute to the recovery of these soldiers who had laid in a remoter part of the jungle for over 80 years.”

Report and images courtesy University of Aberdeen