Firing began from their mortars and was answered by our troops; it increased in intensity as the night advanced.

Geoffrey Hampden Vernon, Captain, Australian Army Medical Corps attached to the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit. Read more of his war diary.

Hardly rested from their previous battles, Lieutenant Colonel Owen led the combined Australian and Papuan force back to Kokoda at 10 am on 28 July 1942. They fell back to Kokoda along the steep and muddy jungle track. Their legs and backs were sore from constant climbing. Their bodies under strain from exposure to the rain.

It was a difficult task, but as Sergeant Victor Patrick Austin said, '[Owen] was a soldier who inspired confidence immediately.' They knew the Kokoda airfield was vital. It would allow them to receive reinforcements and supplies. So they marched on.

On top of the grassy plateau, Kokoda village overlooked the airfield. It was here that Owen divided the platoons to flank the Japanese approach on three sides. They waited all day in the hot sun, expecting reinforcements by air for their depleted force.

Communication between Kokoda and Port Moresby was difficult. While two US aircraft circled carrying the 49th Battalion from Port Moresby, they didn’t land because of obstacles on the landing strip.

Fending off mosquitoes and fatigue, the Australian and Papuan forces lay in wait. As night fell, the Japanese began to harass the troops and at about 2 am on 29 July, they launched their attack.

Confronted by machine gun and mortar fire, the platoons held them back with grenades. Owen was at the front of the defence, shooting and throwing grenades into the enemy line when he was hit by a bullet above his right eye.

The Battalion’s medical officer, Captain Geoffrey Vernon helped retrieve Owen from the battlefield to treat him. Vernon made him as comfortable as possible, but Owen passed away shortly after. Major William Watson of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) then ordered the withdrawal to Deniki.

By then a thick fog had descended on the plateau. It hid the withdrawal. Vernon was one of the last to leave the Kokoda Plateau as he stayed back to help the wounded.

Papua New Guinea
29 July 1942
Image caption
On the ridge between Ioribaiwa and Nauro, on the Kokoda Track stands the grave of two unknown soldiers, October 1942.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM026819. Photo by Thomas Fisher.

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The Kokoda Track Remembrance Trail

17 Steps