The Brave 39th

Plaque remembering the 39th Infantry Battalion “Raised at Darley Camp October 1941“, which is mounted on a large rock in Darley Park. Courtesy of the Bacchus Marsh and District Historical Society Inc. Collection.

Over the past few months we have learnt how the community dramatically changed when the soldiers came to the district, but what about the soldiers. This week learn about the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion that trained at the Darley Military Camp.

39th Australian Infantry Battalion
EventKokoda Trail Campaign
Battle HonoursAmboga River
Eora Creek-Templeton’s Crossing I
Kokoda Trail
Sanananda Road
Campaign HonourSouth-West Pacific 1942-43
Commanding OfficersConran, Hugh Marcell
Honner, Ralph Hyacinth (Jump)
Owen, William Taylor
Decorations1 DSO; 2 MBE; 7 MC; 4 DCM; 10 MM; 11 MID; 1 DSC
ConflictSecond World War, 1939-1945
ReferencesAWM52/8/3/78: 39 Battalion war diary
– Austin, Victor, To Kokoda and beyond : the story of the 39th Battalion, 1941-1943(Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press, 1988)
– Brune, Peter, A bastard of a place : the Australians in Papua : Kokoda, Milne Bay, Gona, Buna, Sanananda(Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2004)
– Brune, Peter, We band of brothers : a biography of Ralph Honner, soldier and statesman(St Leonards, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, 2000)
ConflictSecond World War, 1939-1945
Unit hierarchyAustralian Army
39th Australian Infantry Battalion
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

The 39th Infantry Battalion was raised in Melbourne in 1921 and was often referred to as the “Hawthorn-Kew Regiment”. Formed during the Great Depression, when little money was spent on national defence, the battalion initially had few volunteers.

In 1937 it merged with the 37th Infantry Battalion, forming the 37/39th Infantry Battalion. A few years later it merged with the 24th Infantry Battalion, forming the 24/39th Infantry Battalion. Between October to November 1941 the 39th was raised as a single unit, comprised mostly of young men of 18 or 19 years called up for national service.

Off to War

They were trained at Darley Military Camp, which they left by train on 26 December 1941 to embark on HM Troopship Acquitania in Sydney Harbour, where a convoy was assembled. The convoy arrived in Port Moresby Harbour on 3rd January 1942 and the battalion occupied a camp site at the Seven Mile Aerodrome. Their role was to defend the aerodrome from attack by the enemy. More time was spent as wharf labourers and digging defensive positions.

“B” Company became the first white troops to cross the Kokoda Track to provide a garrison on the aerodrome at Kokoda on 7 July 1942. On 21 July 1942 Japanese troops landed at Buna and Gona, with the intention of crossing the Owen Stanley Ranges to capture Port Moresby, which they would use as a base to attack Australia.

On 22 July 12 1942 a Platoon of “B” Company became the first unit to face the Imperial Japanese Army in Papua. The 39th Australian Infantry Battalion is the only unit to have Kokoda listed as one of their Battle Honours.

The 39th Remembered

On 3 July 1943 the 39th Battalion, after numerous battles, was removed from the order of battle and ceased to exist as a military unit. At the time little recognition was given for the major role it played in saving Australia from a Japanese invasion in 1942.

August 1942 – Wounded members of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion making their way back along a jungle trail to the base hospital. They are all suffering from gunshot wounds sustained in the fighting against the Japs in the Kokoda area. To reach the hospital area they had to walk for nearly six days through thick jungle. Identified is VX137545 Raymond Cecil Burmeister, third from right, wearing glasses.
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial Collection.

Learn more about the brave 39th Infantry Battalion via the 39th Association website and our Facebook page now.