Many Australian soldiers found themselves trapped behind enemy lines following the Battle of Isurava (26 – 29 August 1942). Corporal John Arthur Metson, shot through the ankle and unable to walk, was one. Metson was fortunate to be found by Captain Sydney Buckler who was leading a party of Australian soldiers through the jungle to safety.
Buckler arranged a stretcher party of eight to carry Metson out but Metson knew the difficulties that lay ahead and insisted on crawling, to spare his comrades the burden of carrying him. He asked only for his hands and knees be bandaged for protection.
The Japanese held the main track at Alola and Buckler’s party was forced to turn off the track. They wandered through the jungle for three weeks, searching for an alternative route. Metson spent this entire period crawling in agony. His cheerful fortitude, however, profoundly inspired the other men in the party.
Eventually, Captain Buckler decided that the seriously wounded cases would have to be left in the care of the villagers of Sangai, so the able-bodied could carry on unimpeded and more quickly find help. A stretcher-bearer, Corporal Tom Fletcher, volunteered to stay at Sangai to care for Metson and the other wounded.
It was six weeks before a party of Australians could reach Sangai. When they arrived they found the bodies of John Metson, Tom Fletcher and the other sick and wounded. They had been discovered by the Japanese and executed.
Captain Buckler never forgot Metson’s ‘courage, tenacity and unselfishness’ and saw to it that he awarded a posthumous British Empire Medal.