John completes trek but is still on the charity trail

John Hughes
John Hughes

WHILE many of us were bemoaning yet another miserable Bank Holiday weekend and a less than scorching summer, Duns man John Hughes had to contend with the heat and humidity of the mountains of Papua New Guinea as he made his way along the famous Kakoda Trail.

John was talked into embarking on the 90km trek by his cousin Paul McCallum, who has been living Down Under for many years after moving there from his home in Consett, Co.Durham.

Having visited Paul in his new surroundings of Perth on a number of occasions, John was touched by the story of the troops who battled bravely against the enemy to defend their territory during the Second World War.

In 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army set out with the intention of invading Australia by securing a beachhead in Papua New Guinea.

At the time, the majority of Australia’s troops were fighting in Europe and North America, so the government enlisted an army of 17 and 18 year old boys to tackle the Japanese forces on the Kokoda Trail.

And they certainly did their country proud, resisting invasion and holding up the Japanese advance until their comrades arrived home.

The trail where the soldiers bravely stood their ground has become legendary and many charity trekkers have walked the same route as the troops, the latest being John, Paul and a band of enthusiastic Aussies.

The trek began on August 23 from Owen’s Corner, Central Province, 31 miles east of Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moreseby, and from there John and his fellow walkers had a further 60 miles ahead of them.

But John said his substantial training in the cooler climes of the Borders had definitely stood him in good stead for the eight day mission.

“I knew I’d never be able to fully prepare for the heat and humidity of the atmosphere up there but before I went I must have been up and down the Eildon Hills about 10 times and that was great training for me.

“I knew the conditions would be challenging and that’s without taking into account the fact that we were each carrying 17 kilos on our backs.

“We ended up hiring porters to help share the load. They cost around £550 and they were worth every penny; plus it helped us to put money back into the local economy.

“These guys were the grandchildren of the men who fought so bravely during the Second World War and although they were small they were as tough as they come and had a great sense of humour.”

John was happy to report that neither he or any of his fellow walkers sustained any injuries on the trail and said that in a group of walkers of all shapes and sizes, age really wasn’t a factor.

“I was one of the oldest on the trek and there were two younger lads who must have been about 30 who joined us at the 11th hour. They were strong, fit lads and they started off without the help of any porters and carried all the weight themselves but eventually like the rest of us they relied on them to help them out.

“To make sure we all had plenty of energy for the duration of the trek we had to keep eating. We had a supply of dried army rations with us at all times and we supplemented those with fruit and vegetables we got from some of the small villages we passed through on our way. Thankfully we had some local currency with us!”

Before he got on a plane for the long flight Down Under, John predicted he’d be mightily impressed with the scenery he encountered on the Kakoda Trail and now back at home in Duns, he said he wasn’t disappointed.

He continued: “The views were absolutely spectacular; I went a long way for them but they were definitely worth it.

“Completing the Kakoda Trail was an amazing experience; I know a lot of young people from the Borders go to Australia on gap years and I’d urge them to have a go at the trek if they can fit it in- it really is that good.”

“It was also a very poignant experience, particularly for the Aussies in our group.

“What the soldiers did back in 1942 shaped their country’s history for ever.”

John walked the trail to raise money for Help for Heroes and set himself a fundraising target of £2000 which he is well on the way to achieving.

But his exploits don’t look like ending there, successfully conquering the Kakoda Trail has given him the trekking bug.

He added: “I’m thinking of doing a similar walk in Spain in a few years time- I’ll give myself a bit of a break first!”

If you want to help John reach his fundraising goal you can donate via www.justgiving.com/John-Hughes60