1 July 1942

Lt-Col Ralph Honner, back in Perth after returning from the Middle East, receives orders to take command of 39th Bn on the Kokoda Track and immediately heads to Moresby. He had just 2 weeks leave home with his wife and two young kids after two years service in the Middle East.

He packs and rushes to his plane, starting a journey that will take him plane-hopping around the south and eastern coast of Australia – from Perth to Ceduna, to Parafield near Adelaide, to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville and then by Catalina to Moresby. 

Honner is regarded as one of Australia's finest tactical commanders, having proved himself during with the AIF in the Middle East, winning a Military Cross in Greece.

31 July 1942

While the young 39th Battalion Diggers consolidate at Deniki, back down the Track from Kokoda, Private ‘Spud’ Whelan receives his first Bren gun. It is still covered with packing grease.

His officer tells him to wipe off the grease and he’ll show him how to use it. “I didn’t know that in a few days time I would have to use it for real, but I fell in love with it and nursed it like a baby.”

30 July 1942

Major Watson of ANGAU takes temporary command of 39th Bn after its CO, Lt-Col Bill Owen, is mortally wounded at Kokoda and the heavily outnumbered Diggers take their wounded and withdraw under the cover of mist through the rubber trees behind Kokoda plateau and gather at Deniki.

60-year-old Doc Vernon, the 39th’s Medical Officer, tends to the dying Lt Col Owen before being one of the last to leave Kokoda.

Medic Jack Wilkinson: "... Light mist is our saving. Waited for Dr Vernon till he started up road but he turned back to some others who were at edge of rubber. Went on alone to rear-guard. Picked up several wounded on track and bandaged them. Reached Deniki after daylight very buggared."

29 July 1942

Japanese attack Kokoda around 2.30am in large numbers, charging up the slopes of the plateau from three sides.

Lt Col Bill Owen, is with his troops in the front line, firing down at the Japanese with his rifle when he is mortally wounded by a sniper.

Greatly outnumbered and now under mortar fire, the Australians withdraw through the rubber plantation behind the plateau back to Deniki.

28 July 1942

When Lt Co Bill Owen finds the Japanese have not reached Kokoda, he orders his men to re-occupy it, leaving a small rearguard group at Deniki.

Medic Jack Wilkinson noted in his diary at Kokoda: “We have 77 men all battle weary and suffering from exposure. Have had no sleep for three nights and feel rotten.” Lt Col Bill Owen sets his men in defensive positions around the Kokoda plateau.

27 July 1942

Young Diggers almost exhausted. Some falling asleep over their weapons.

Overwhelmed by superior enemy numbers they withdraw at night during heavy rain, led by remarkable Lance Corporal Sanopa, a Papuan policeman via back tracks to Deniki, south of Kokoda, where the main body of 39th regathered at a supply dump.

Lt Col Bill Owen ordered all stores at Kokoda to be burnt to stop them falling into enemy hands before falling back to Deniki.

Band Sgt Les Simmons described Sanopa: “Over 6 feet tall, he was an impressive figure in his black skirt-tunic edged with red braid, with his rifle swinging in one hand, a grenade in the other and, in his hair, the leaves he used for camouflage. He inspired our every confidence.”

26 July 1942

The Japanese surround Templeton’s Diggers at Oivi, forcing them into a tight perimeter of about 50 metres. Worried that his reinforcements may blunder into the position, Capt Sam Templeton moved back to warn them. His troops heard gunfire and he did not return. His body could not be found.

Yesterday Owen requested Moresby send him two companies by air (about 220 men). Only one platoon (about 30 men) arrives today. So ill-prepared were they that they unpacked their Bren machine guns from their transport boxes and cleaned the packing grease off them during the flight to Kokoda.

As soon as they land, they are met by CO Owen who sends them rushing off to Oivi to join Templeton’s B Company there.

Official history says: “About 5 o’clock Templeton went to examine the rear defences and to warn the second half of McLean’s platoon, under Morrison, whom he thought to be about to arrive. There was a burst of fire from the gloomy forest. Templeton did not return.”

25 July 1942

Sam Templeton’s Diggers now at Gorari, about 20km from Kokoda. Their CO Lt Col Bill Owen meets them there at 2am. Around noon the Diggers ambush the Japanese advance troops, killing 15 of them, before withdrawing to Oivi.

Owen signals to Moresby saying he needs more troops urgently by air to Kokoda otherwise there will be no defenders between him at Oivi and the rest of his battalion, now three days out of Owers' Corner and making their way up the Track.

24 July 1942

11 Platoon 39th Bn destroys the wire bridge over the Kumusi River at Wairopi and takes position west of the river, preparing to meet the advancing Japanese.

Capt Sam Templeton sends them a message: "Reported on radio broadcast that 1500-2000 Japs landed at Gona Mission Station. I think that is near to correct and in view of the numbers I recommend that your action be contact and rearguard only - no do-or-die stunts. Close back on Kokoda."

At 5pm 39th CO, Lt Col Bill Owen lands at Kokoda airstrip.

23 July 1942

First skirmish of the Kokoda campaign between Major Bill Watson’s tiny band of Papuan Infantry Battalion men and the first elements of Japanese invaders at Awala between the beachheads and Kokoda.

Heavily outnumbered, the young Diggers wisely withdraw back along the Track to regroup at Wairopi.