Above: The 25th Brigade’s C.O. Brigadier Kenneth Eather, who ordered all troops to withdraw from Ioribaiwa and form a defensive line on Imita Ridge.
Major General Arthur “Tubby” Allen agreed, but reluctantly.

Left: Major General Allen, C.B., C.B.E.,P.S.O.,V.D. was a decorated veteran of World Wars I and II. He commanded allied forces in the Syria-Lebanon, Papua and New Guinea campaigns.

The decision by Brigadier Kenneth Ether to withdraw all troops from Ioribaiwa and form a defensive line on Imita Ridge, the last defensive position on the Kokoda Trail before Port Moresby, caught many frontline troops on Iriobaiwa by surprise.

They couldn’t understand why Eather was giving away ground already held. His commander, Major General Arthur “Tubby” Allen, was also sceptical. He finally agreed but warned the withdrawal had to stop at Imita Ridge, telling Eather: “You will die where you stand. Eather replied: “The only ones who will die Tubby will be the Jap.” The 2/33rd Battalion provided rearguard cover for the withdrawal. The battalion’s war diary records that during the withdrawal on September 15 C Company ambushed and killed 50 Japanese. After the war Japan and some historians denied it happened. Men who took part, including Ray Gibson, were adamant it did.

Just before the ambush, the C.O. Lieutenant Colonel Alf Buttrose, gave one of the most extraordinary orders of the campaign to the O.C. of D Company QX 6232 Captain Trevor Clowes. He was told to send four men towards the enemy to act as “live bait” in a bid to lure them into the killing ground of the ambush.

NX12554 Lieutenant Richard Cox of 18 Platoon D Coy was told to pick three men for what appeared to be a suicide mission. Cox selected three stout- hearted and trusted men to accompany him, Corporal Frank Smith, and Privates Jock Proudfoot and Billy Musgrave. Despite expecting to be shot at any moment they unhesitatingly advanced on what they thought was the enemy’s position.

They sensed being watched from the thick jungle, but marched back along the track when the Japanese made no move. It was another example of men placing unwavering trust in their comrades and following orders unfailingly, regardless of fear, self-preservation or the likelihood of wounding or death.

Eather’s decision to withdraw all troops to Imita Ridge proved to be a masterstroke. It came at a crucial moment for the Japanese. Although still outnumbering the Australians their supply line wasstretched and had become unsustainable.

This was due partly to the heavy loss of men through disease and the reluctance of their commander Major General Tomitaro Horii to commit more troops to Kokoda because of heavy losses on Guadalcanal.He ended the advance on Port Moresby and ordered a retreat back to Gona-Buna where the Japanese had landed in July, three months earlier.

The epic, heroic battles that followed on the Kokoda Trail stand proudly in Australian military history alongside those of Gallipoli and the Western Front in World War I.

For 98 days of relentless bitter fighting, with little rest and no support except infantry, the Australians drove the Japanese back to Gona-Buna: section- against-section,platoon-against-platoon, patrol-against-patrol, man-against-man until the enemy forces again had their backs to the sea at Gona-Buna where they had landed with the intention if taking Port Moresby.

The 2/33rd performed magnificently, but paid a heavy price. It started the Kokoda campaign with 625 men. By the time the battalion reached Gona, only eight officers and 128 other ranks were left. Most were so exhausted they could hardly stand, but were still fighting.

Forty-seven had been killed, 122 wounded and 267 evacuated with deadly diseases such as scrub typhus and malaria. Its four rifle companies had been reduced to two. No soldier who fought in the Owen Stanley campaign ever forgot it. The conditions were incredibly vile.

Apart from the endless mud and impenetrable jungle full of death traps, disease put more than 4,000 from all battalions out of action. Throughout the campaign the men were undernourished, continually wet and exhausted from the lack of sleep.

They also had to live with thick plagues of flies, the constant stench of death and seeing mates blown apart.

One senior officer who fought on both the Kokoda Trail and Gallipoli said the Owen Stanleys was infinitely more severe. William Crooks wrote in 1971: “Those who survived it are bonded together in a comradeship far stronger than ordinary soldiering could bring about.”

Mate looked after mate in and out of battle. Every man who fought on the Kokoda Trail or elsewhere showered endless praise on the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, the Papuan and New Guinea natives, who risked death daily by carrying in supplies and carrying out the wounded, saving many lives.

The other “angels” highly praised were Salvation Army officers always on hand to serve welcome hot cups of tea to weary soldiers. During the Lae campaign, one Salvo, “Brother” Aub Hall, got into trouble for over enthusiastically setting up his stand between the Japanese lines and the advancing Australians. When bombs started raining on Darwin, Australia braced itself for an invasion. Post-war Japan claimed it never intended invading
Australia, dismissing claims that the Kokoda battle saved Australia.

Veterans who fought there felt otherwise, especially those who found on prisoners money specially printed for the Japanese to spend in Australia.

Among the veterans is Reg Chard, formerly of the 55th and 53rd battalions and a modern- day volunteer at the Kokoda Memorial Walkway in Sydney.

Chard says: “Despite the Japanese saying they never intended invading Australia they may well have changed their minds on reaching Port Moresby and kept on coming,” Chard is in no doubt Kokoda saved Australia from invasion. Nor was the late “Digger” Dick Payten, O.A.M. former president of the 7th Division A.I.F. Association in any doubt.

The 2/33rd Battalion had every reason to look back with pride on its Kokoda achievements. Throughout October and November it fought and won significant victories at Myola Ridge, Templeton’s Crossing and Gorari, among other places.

Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels carrying a wounded soldier to safety. It sometimes took up to 10 days to get the men to proper medical help.