The Kokoda Campaign - the 3rd Battalion

contributed by Michael Hall, March 2014

Men of the 3rd Battalion on parade in front of a building in Bathurst in October 1941. Image courtesy of Gavin Young. 

The 3rd Battalion was a militia unit based in south eastern New South Wales in the late 1930s and part of the Citizens Military Force (CMF). It became known as the Werriwa Regiment, after the Aboriginal name for Lake George, and maintained depots in major centres such as Goulburn as well as the purpose built Drill Hall in Acton.  By 1941 many members of the 3rd Battalion had enlisted in the AIF or the RAAF. However, the men that remained in the militia were called up for full time duty in October 1941 and were welcomed to camp in Bathurst by two inches of snow. They spent most of the next six months on guard duty and training in the Hunter district near Newcastle before setting sail on 17 May 1942 for Port Moresby in Papua.

Most of the militiamen travelled on a Dutch rust-bucket transport, the SS Van Heutz, sleeping in hammocks in a foul-smelling hold and suffering bouts of diarrhoea from poor quality food and water. Conditions were so bad that during the journey three men contracted cerebro meningitis and two of them died. When the battalion arrived in Port Moresby on 27 May they were marched to a camp site near Bootless Inlet to the east of the town where there were few facilities. Within weeks the men of the battalion were suffering from an outbreak of measles and mumps, causing a third of them to be quarantined.

In a way this was lucky. On 22 June the 3rd Battalion was put on notice that two companies would be sent to Kokoda as part of what was designated as Maroubra Force, but Brigade headquarters rescinded the order the following day after realising that so many men were sick. Instead a company from another militia battalion, the 39th Battalion, was ordered to prepare for the trek. It would be the 39th Battalion that would be the first Australian unit to face the Japanese in the Kokoda campaign.

Meanwhile two junior officers from the 3rd Battalion, Ted Young and Alex Palmer, had been sent on a reconnaissance mission to Kokoda, in doing so becoming the first Australian officers to walk the track over the Owen Stanley Range. They reported their findings to New Guinea Force Headquarters in Port Moresby in early July, a few weeks before the Japanese landed at Gona on the north coast of Papua on 21 July. By then the 39th Battalion had reached Kokoda and two days later  they clashed with the Japanese at Awala, a village between Kokoda and the coast.  It was the beginning of eight weeks of a fighting withdrawal by Australian troops along the Kokoda Track.

During all this time the Australian militia units, including the 3rd Battalion, were primarily employed as labourers, working on the wharves at Port Moresby unloading stores and supplies but also guarding airstrips and building defensive measures around the town. There was some training, but the open country around Port Moresby provided little preparation for fighting the Japanese in the jungle of the Owen Stanley Range.  As the Japanese advanced along the Kokoda Track, more Australian troops were sent to meet the threat as part of Maroubra Force. On 5 September 1942 the 3rd Battalion entered the track at Owers Corner, the beginning of three months of continuous fighting by the battalion.

More than fifty men on the ACT Memorial from the 3rd Battalion fought along the Kokoda Track in battles at Ioribaiwa, Imita, Templetons Crossing, Oivi and finally at Gona on the north coast of Papua. It was not just the fighting that took its toll on the men but also the constant patrolling through the jungle against an unseen enemy.  The 3rd Battalion was finally rested and flown back to Port Moresby in early December only after Gona was captured.

By then the battalion had lost seven men killed in action. Bill Dullard was killed while on patrol at Ioribaiwa on 24 September, Norman Lloyd during a patrol between Kagi and Templetons Crossing on 11 October, Bill Barnes on 17 October at Templetons Crossing, Don McEwan on 8 November at Oivi and Alex Mundy (on 25 November), Bill Worthy (on 26 November) and Bob Taylor (on 29 November) all died at Gona. About two-thirds of the men would suffer from malaria, dysentery or dengue fever and one, Bill Jones died from scrub typhus. Only one in five men from the battalion would escape illness during the campaign but five men were wounded seriously enough to require evacuation by the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’.

In early January 1943 the battalion returned to Australia and went into camp on the Atherton Tableland in northern Queensland. There the unit underwent further training but the Commander in Chief of the Australian forces, Sir Thomas Blamey, demanded during a visit to the camp that the militiamen enlist in the AIF or be drafted to other CMF units. Loyalty to the 3rd Battalion created resentment amongst the men and many refused to enlist in the AIF. They were transferred to other militia battalions, mostly to the 36th Battalion. Those that did join the AIF were allocated to a merged unit, the 3/22nd Battalion but shortly afterwards that unit was absorbed into the 2/3rd Battalion.

The 3rd Battalion enjoyed a close association with Canberra over many years. While other men on the ACT Memorial also served in the Kokoda campaign (perhaps as many as fifty fought in other units), the largest contingent came from the 3rd Battalion.

Men of the 3rd Battalion who fought in the Kokoda campaign 1942

Atkinson, William John Stanley

Axelby, Keith Albert

Axelby, William Stephen

Barnes, William Stephen (died in the Kokoda campaign)

Boag, Thomas Charles

Bray, William Harry

Bourke, Henry Stuart 

Brayshaw, Clifton Charles

Britten, Lawrence Thomas

Brown, William Kevin

Caulfield, Richard Arthur

Clark, William Kenlock

Dullard, Edward Augustus (died in the Kokoda campaign)                       

Edwards, Arthur Francis

Flint, Barrington Earl

French, Colin Campbell

Gallagher, Vincent Cuthbert

Gladwin, Norman Keith

Gregory, Martin Hugh

Harry, Ralph Lindsay                      

Haydon, Charles Harry Meurisse

Helson, Arnold Ross

Johnstone, Allan Ernest Cilento

Jones, William Edward (died in the Kokoda campaign)

Kennedy, Colin

Kermode, Colin Benjamin

Lanham, Frederick John

Laycock, Kenneth George

Lloyd, Norman Edward (died in the Kokoda campaign)

Lowes, Aubrey

Marchant, Douglas

McCrackan, John Albert

McEwan, Donald Gordon (died in the Kokoda campaign)

McKinnon, Colin John

Moon, Allen Thomas

Mundy, Alexandria James (died in the Kokoda campaign)

Murray, Donald Stewart

Nordsvan, Miles Sedgwick

Paul, Albert Thomas

Richards, Donald John

Richardson, Colin Horbury

Rodda, Albert John

Ryan, Allan

Sharp, Robert George

Smith, Ivan Henry

Somerville, John

Stuart, Keith Douglas

Sullivan, Allan John

Taylor, Robert (died in the Kokoda campaign)

Temby, Leonard                                              

Thompson, Colin Vincent

Tongs, Bede George Donald

Trevillian, Trevor Glen

Wallace, Bernard

Worthy, William John (died in the Kokoda campaign)

Young, William Edward

Sources

Colin Kennedy, ‘Port Moresby to Gona Beach. 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion 1942’, 1992

Ken Laycock, 'Memories of a Militiaman', 1995 (unpublished typescript in the ACT Heritage Library)

Bede Tongs, ‘3rd Battalion AMF 1942 - A diary record from 17 May to 4 December 1942’, http://3rdbattalion1942.com/ (viewed 18/02/2014)

3 Battalion War Diary - September 1942 to April 1943 (AWM Item Number 8/3/39)

Image

The 3rd Battalion in Bathurst, October 1941 (courtesy of Gavin Young).