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MHSA Victoria Branch Media Release 14 August 2009

Veteran re-united with captured Japanese flag

WWII and 39th (militia) Battalion veteran Ken Phelan VX117704 has been re-united with a captured Japanese flag signed by him and 23 mates in New Guinea in 1945. 

Kokoda Historical founder and trek master David Howell bought the flag on ebay just minutes after speaking to Mr Phelan on the phone, only to realise that Mr Phelan's name was on the flag. 

Mr Howell said "I couldn't believe the coincidence - I went from talking with Ken on the phone to the computer, saw the flag and then saw his name on it. It's a small world indeed."

Mr Howell had been put in touch with Mr Phelan to help with Mr Howell's forthcoming presentation 'Kokoda - Then and Now' at the Military Historical Society of Australia's August meeting.

In an emotional moment, Mr Howell reunited Mr Phelan with the flag last Thursday after 64 years. 

The original owner of the flag was fellow 39th-er Mr Ken Brown VX115999, who survived the war but passed away some years ago.  The flag was offered for sale by his daughter who wished the flag to go to a good home.

The original 39th Battalion was disbanded in late 1943; quite a few of the men then joined the 2/2nd (AIF) Battalion. The 2/2nd returned to Australia and trained on the Atherton Tablelands until returning to operations in New Guinea's Aitape-Wewak area where this flag is believed to of been captured.  Mr Phelan verified his signature on the flag but cannot place the exact circumstances of where the flag was taken from.

The 27 August MHSA meeting is to be held at 8 pm at the Oakleigh-Carnegie RSL at Oakleigh.  It will feature Mr Howell's presentation and flag and will be attended by Mr Phelan.  The free presentation, open to the public, will also be attended by Carl Johnson, who compiled the book Mud over Blood, stories from the 39th Battalion.

For interviews, Mr. David Howell can be contacted at 0405007700 or e-mail

The MHSA Victoria Branch contact is Mr. Robbie Dalton at 9801 7170 or email

David Howell (L) and Ken Phelan (R) with the Japanese flag