Phillip Island & District Historical Society

World War 2 veterans of Phillip Island - Corporal Les Findlay - essay about his service

Last updated on 02-Sep-20





Attacks on Australia during WW2. Les was in Darwin (top centre)  during many of the 60 + air attacks there.  Australian War Memoral



Areas of the New Guinea campaign in which Les Findlay saw action, 1943-1945

Les Findlay served In Darwin from July 1941 until 25th January, 1943. There he was infected by the common tropical viruses, malaria and dengue fever. Disease took a big toll on both sides in the New Guinea campaign to follow. 


Darwin was bombed over 60 times between the first two major aerial bombardments on February 19 until November, 1943. Darwin was unprepared for the first attack, although 2,000 civilians had already evacuated, and a build of troops and materials had already been occurring. Approximately two to three hundred people were killed, eleven ships in the harbour were damaged or sunk, buildings and airport were destroyed and planes lost. Les never forgot the awful experience of that day. 


He then served in the New Guinea campaign from January 1944 to January 1945. 

Rabaul, in the Australian Mandated Territory of New Guinea, fell to the Japanese 23rd January, 1942. By summer 1943 Japan had over 100,000 troops stationed in New Guinea, the aim being to cut off supplies to Australia. After a brutal war of attrition and manoeuvring, the Allies finally took back New Guinea at the end of March, 1944.


Damion Fenton of the Australian War Memorial described conditions during the war in New Guinea as:

Quote: “The New Guinea environment inflicted great physical hardship upon the soldiers of both sides. Everything used by the soldiers had to be shipped in from offshore at great risk and expense. Getting those supplies from the ports to the fighting troops was even more difficult. The harsh terrain, tropical diseases and fragile supply lines made New Guinea one of the most difficult places to fight in the world.” Unquote


Les Findlay and the rest of the 2/14th supported the 5th Division's advance to clear the Huon Peninsula of remaining Japanese troops after earlier successful tough offensives by other Australians. The 2/14 provided necessary artillery support for the infantry and training. The guns of the regiment were located between Madang and Alexishafen. 


Les then served in New Britain, an island of mountains, flats, rivers and active volcanoes located 60 miles east of the main island, from January until December, 1945. 


There the 2/14 was attached to the 5th Division and patrolled extensively in the area between Open and Wide Bays as the only field regiment supporting the 5th,,engaged in a series of limited offensive against the Japanese. They were also heavily engaged in fighting around Waitavalo in March, 1945. 


After the Japanese surrendered on September 2, the 2/14 joined the 11th Division to form a garrisoning force at Rabual. They remained there until the end of 1945. 


During the war in New Guinea, up to one quarter of the local people died in some parts as a result of starvation, injuries or murder. Of the 2,500 Papuans and New Guineans to serve in the Pacific Island Regiment, 65 were killed, 16 were missing, and 75 died of other causes.


Of the tens of thousands of Australian forces who served in New Guinea, approximately 7,500 are known to have died during the war there. 2,000 remain unaccounted for. 


Japan committed 350,000 of its best troops to New Guinea, but lost 220,100; many from starvation as Allied forces outmanoeuvred and trapped them, blocking off their supplies. 


Les survived active service in some of the most difficult theatres in World War Two. He later married Hazel and lived at Newhaven. He became a well-known professional fisherman in Western Port.


Les on  his boat at Rhyll, Phillip Island, holding a mesh net, and with some of the day's catch, circa 1980.                           Photo: John Jansson


A brief video interview with Les Findlay (done in 1995 by the society with an Australian Government "Australia Remembers" grant), is included in a forthcoming documentary being developed by the society with a grant from the Victorian Government to commemorate the end of WW2 and the contribution of Phillip Islanders. We wish to thank the  the Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia for their information and images for this essay and the documentary.