Although Kokoda stands as an eternal symbol of the courage and tenacity of Australian soldiers in war, the men of the 2/33rd faced no greater test of their steely resolve and strength of character in the face of disaster than after the Liberator crash. All of the survivors were still in shock when they were ordered into battle two days after the crash, but not a single man asked to be stood down or excused. All realised they had a vital job to do in the carefully planned and co-ordinated attack on Lae.

A company had been be airlifted to Nadzab 90 minutes after the crash. Most of C Company and the remainder of those fit for battle were flown out later that day and the next. On September 9, two days after the crash, the survivors knelt in prayer at memorial services for those who died, then went straight into action, advancing down the Markham River Valley towards Lae.

To reach Lae, the 7th Division battalions, including the 2/33rd, had to overcome fierce resistance in and around six pre-war coffee plantations swarming with a fanatical enemy, all ready to die rather than surrender.

There were immediate casualties. Among the first were Ray Gibson and his close mate, Peter Kelly, both shot by the same sniper’s bullet. It mortally wounded Kelly in the stomach then ricocheted off Gibson’s Bren Gun into his arm, penetrating the bone. He recalled. “ Peter was calling out: ‘Let me up and bayonet the so and so’s’.” He then died. Gibson pulled the bullet out of his arm but the wound prevented him from supporting his heavy Bren Gun.

He was ordered back to Port Moresby for hospital treatment, rejoining the battalion for the Ramu Valley campaign a few weeks later.

The training, resolve and courage of C Company was put to the test on the second afternoon when ambushed along a jungle track near Lane’s Bridge on the Lae Road. A withering blast of small arms and machine gun fire from jungle across a small clearing sent the men diving for cover behind the nearest trees, logs or culverts. Private Don McKinnon of 15 Platoon was mortally wounded. Private H. R. Silverton was wounded. After carefully studying the situation for half an hour, Tom Cotton decided the Japanese could be cleaned out with a brisk frontal attack, meaning a bayonet charge and gunfire. Minutes later the O.C. of C Company, Captain Doug Cullen, flanked by 14 Platoon on one side, 13 Platoon on the other and 15 Platoon at the rear, gave the order with a rousing shout: “Fix bayonets. Let’s get at it.”

Some of the battalion advancing towards the Japanese on the road to Lae.

Fearlessly led by Cullen, and with bullets spraying all around them, the men ran towards the enemy position some 150 metres away, firing their rifles and Bren guns from the hip. Some were wounded, but kept going.

The Footsoldiers records: “Within five minutes they were on the lower slopes below the Japanese. The sound of small arms fire around the hills was tremendous. The ground was vibrating with sound.” In the face of such an onslaught, the surviving Japanese bolted into the jungle, yelling and screaming, leaving behind 12 of their dead. Cullen’s actions in that charge counted towards him being awarded the Military Cross for repeated gallantry during the first three days of the Lae campaign.

His most extraordinary bravery was on the third day when a Japanese machine gun post again sent C Company to ground, holding up their advance.

Not wanting to lose men in an attack Cullen risked his own life by taking out the post with a Bren Gun.To do so it had to be fired on a downward trajectory from at least five feet above the ground, otherwise the bullets would fly harmlessly over the Japanese.

To achieve such accuracy Cullen called for a volunteer to use his shoulder to keep the Bren Gun steady. Both had to stand in the sight of the enemy. With bullets flying all around them Cullen emptied three magazines into the machine gun nest, killing the Japanese. He kept firing despite being seriously wounded in the shoulder.

It was yet another example of ordinary men doing extraordinary things in war. The severe wound ended Cullen’s frontline war. He was ruled medically unfit for further combat duties.

Lae fell on September 16 to a pincer movement by 7th and 9th division troops, the 7th attacking from the south and the 9th from the north after a beach landing. Soldiers of the 2/33rd were among the first to enter Lae. Their first, and worst, experience was the putrid smell of rotting rice left by the Japanese.

Some of 11 Platoon on the road to Lae: Norm Mailey, Doug Corner, Milo Le Frenz, “J.P.” McLaughlin, Frank Lonnie, Jim Sinclair, Ted Sykes, Bobby Cooper, E.G. “Kanga” McLaughlin. This section led a night assault on a Japanese position just a few hours after the photograph was taken.

Former Australian Test cricketer, VX61446 Private Ernest Bromley, was one of a number of well- known men to serve in the battalion. Bromley was the first Western Australian to play Test cricket for Australia, playing in two Tests in 1933 and 1934. A former Premier of NSW, NX93958 Robin Askin, also served with the battalion.

Above: Machine guns and light machine guns played a vital role for both sides in the war. Keeping up the supply of ammunition was a tough task and needed strong men like NX27879 Private James Jack to carry the heavy amunition belts. The Japanese machine guns came to be known as “Woodpeckers” because of the distinctive noise they made when fired.

Having a smoko while on “clearing the scrub” fatigue at Nadzab after Lae, September,1943: Brian McGrath, Harry Bonham, Sergeant Jack Rossiter, Peter Beveridge, Harry Penn, Bob Crockett, “Speed” Eklund and Curly Mitchell. When not in action or training the troops spent a total of more than 16 weeks during the war on manual work including scrub clearing, building trenches and road making, all vital duties in being prepared in defence or attack for whatever was needed to defeat the enemy.

While advancing on Lae this group stopped for a brief snack beside a jungle stream (left to right) NX 144159 John Sherry of Mullumbimby, NSW, VX 69955 Lewis Ford of Brighton, Victoria, NX78680 Stan Hartman, Crows Nest, NSW, partly obscured and NX82254 Leslie Rodwell of Cessnock, NSW.

At Nadzab after the return from Lae, September, 1943, Peter Beveridge, George Lee and Les “Lizard” Snelling. Later killed at Balikpapan leading an attack on a Japanese position, Snelling was one of the battalion’s most outstanding soldiers. He was recommended for a Military Medal but instead was twice mentioned in Despatches. Some believed his repeated bravery merited a Victoria Cross.

This group was carrying a badly wounded mate along a muddy riverbank during the Lae campaign. The soldier with his arm in a sling was VX68745 Ian Clutterbuck.

“Brother” Aub Hall (Salvation Army) dispersing a “brew” on the return march to Nadzab. Hall was highly popular with the troops. He was so enthusiastic in his duties he once got into trouble with the C.O. for setting up his stand between the Japanese and the advancing Australians.

A captured horse and dray making life easier for some of the battalion catering staff on the return march to Nadzab, September 1943. Jim Prowse the W.O. caterer is at the rear left with no headgear.