Kokoda Day

The 8th of August is commemorated by many Australians in recognition of Kokoda Day, a special day chosen by the veterans who were there, to honour the men who fought and died during the Kokoda campaign.

The 8th of August was chosen by the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion Association to commemorate the Kokoda campaign because “It was 8th August 1942 that the Japanese suffered their first reverse at Kokoda – a truly momentous moment in our history which deserves to be properly marked”.[1]

It was on this day in 1942 that the men of the 39th Battalion stopped the Japanese advance along the Kokoda Track. This was quite an achievement, considering that the militia unit (not regular army) consisted largely of 18 and 19 year olds who lacked combat experience and had little training, and who were considerably outnumbered by veteran units of the Japanese military. The Battalion attacked the Japanese at Kokoda, capturing the town and holding it against enemy counter-attacks for three day; finally, the Australian troops were forced to withdraw when their stock of ammunition became low.[2]

The fighting on the Track was so ferocious that the 39th Battalion was decimated; when the unit finally returned to Port Moresby, it was only able to muster 32 men – although some were later able to rejoin it upon their discharge from hospital (when it was formed in October 1941, the Battalion had a strength of 1500). In July 1943 the 39th was disbanded by the Army high command and its men were distributed amongst other units. Even though it was on active service for only two years, the Battalion was awarded 12 battle honours (including Kokoda). The men of the 39th were given further recognition by the Army when the 39th was returned to the Army Order of Battle as the 39th Personnel Support Battalion, formed on the 8th of August 2006.[3]

Kokoda Day is commemorated on the 8th of August by veterans across Australia; although the RSL in NSW made the decision to commemorate the day on the 3rd of November (the day the Australian flag was raised at Kokoda after its capture). Commemorations for Kokoda Day are held each year on the Sunday closest to the 8th of August at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, and memorial services have also been held elsewhere in Australia.[4]

Australians can commemorate both the 8th of August and the 3rd of November if they wish. The 39th Australian Infantry Battalion Association’s newsletter, in an article on the 3rd of November 2009 ceremony at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway, said: “Of course, 39th Bn members observe 8 August as Kokoda Day, this being the anniversary of the date on which we re-occupied Kokoda following its initial capture by the Japanese forces. Both dates are of significance and should be remembered.”[5]

Senator Julian McGauran once rightly said: “The reason 8 August was chosen for the ceremony at the shrine was because that is the date on which A Company of the 39th recaptured Kokoda in 1942. It has since become known as Kokoda Day, and although that is not official in our national calendar I believe it ought to be.”[6]

The Kokoda campaign was of vital importance to Australia and was different in many respects to the other major engagements our military has fought in. Simon Crean MP was correct when he stated: “The Kokoda Track symbolises the battle for Australia in World War II. …Nineteen forty-two was our finest hour: Australians stopped the Japanese advance at Milne Bay and Imita Ridge and pushed them back along the Kokoda Track. Here Australians fought and died for the first time not as allies in defence of another nation but for us, for Australia. It was the Australians who inflicted the first defeat on land of the previously invincible Japanese army.”[7]

Whilst much of the focus of Kokoda Day centres on the men of the 39th Battalion, it is also an opportunity to remember all those men from other units that fought in that theatre of war. Kokoda Day is emblematic of the Australians who fought on the Kokoda Track, as well as elsewhere in Papua New Guinea and in the nearby islands.

The Australian people owe so much to the men and women who served to protect our nation – without whom, our country would have been wide open for invasion. On this day, we should remember them all.

[1] “Editorial comment” [PDF], The Good Guts: Official Newsletter of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion (1941-43) Association Incorporated, April 2009 (no. 158), page 2
“Battalion Commemorates Kokoda Day And Honours Its Dead”, The Argus, 12 August 1946, page 20
“39th will remember Kokoda with lantana” The Argus, 9 August 1947, page 2 [“39th battalion… members of the battalion make their annual pilgrimage to commemorate Kokoda Day.”]
[“Plants from the old world and the new”], Advocate, 10 August 1948, page 5 [re. Kokoda commemoration 1948]
“A sprig of lantana for Kokoda Day”, The Argus, 3 August 1949, page 7
“Kokoda dead remembered”, The Argus, 8 August 1949, page 3
“New Guinea unpreparedness “a shame and a warning”” Burra Record (SA) 19 August 1952, page 6 [re. speech on Kokoda Day]
“Kokoda memory”, The Argus, 11 August 1952, page 6
“They remembered their mates”, The Argus, 10 August 1953, page 2 [“Members of the 39th Battalion, 2nd AIF, laid a wreath and individual emblems of lantana on the Rock of Remembrance in honor of comrades who died on Kokoda Day, 1942”]
“Kokoda Day pilgrimage”, The Argus, 26 July 1954, page 5 [“Ex-members of 39th Battalion (1941-1943) will hold a Kokoda Day pilgrimage to the Shrine of Remembrance on August 8”]
“Judge Warns On Reds”, The Mercury, 9 August 1954, page 1 [re. Kokoda Day, 8 August 1954]
[2] Lt. Col. David MacDougal. “The 39th Battalion – Kokoda Day – 8th August 2006” [PDF], The Good Guts: Official Newsletter of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion (1941-43) Association Incorporated, December 2007 (no. 145), pages 2-4
[3] “Some of the history of 39th Australian Infantry Battalion”, 39th Australian Infantry Battalion (1941-43) Association
39th Battalion (Hawthorn Kew Regiment)”, Australian War Memorial
Major Allan Croft. “Revival of the 39th”, Army: The Soldiers’ Newspaper, 27 July 2006 (Volume 11, No. 48)
[4] “Ceremonies Archive”, Shrine of Remembrance Melbourne [see section “39th Australian Infantry Battalion (1941/43) Association (Kokoda Day)”]
Casey Neill. “Campaign trail”, Mount Evelyn Mail (Star News Group), 16th November 2010 [re. the plan to upgrade the Upper Ferntree Gully memorial 1000 Steps in time for the 70th anniversary of Kokoda Day on 8 August 2012]
Matthew Killoran. “Coast vets gather for Kokoda Day”, Gold Coast Bulletin, 8 August 2010 [veterans and supporters attend the 68th anniversary Kokoda Memorial Service at the Kokoda Memorial Wall, Cascade Gardens, Queensland, on 8 August 2010]
Ros Bates. “Kokoda Day Commemoration Service 2010”, Ros Bates MP [Qld.], 8 August 2010 [Kokoda Day Commemoration Service 2010 conducted by the Surfers Paradise RSL Sub-Branch]
2009 Kokoda Day Commemorative Service Conducted by the Surfers Paradise RSL Sub-Branch On the occasion of the 67th Anniversary Of the Defence of Kokoda 8 – 10 August 1942 By 39th Australian Infantry Battalion”, Rotary Club of Parkwood [Qld.]
Lt. Col. Daryl Campbell. “Kokoda – a bastard of a place to fight a war”, Keith Jackson & Co: PNG Attitude, 29 August 2011 [Extracts from a speech by Lieutenant Colonel Daryl Campbell at the 8 August Kokoda Day Commemoration on the Gold Coast]
Wall Features on Kokoda Day”, Vietnam Veterans & Veterans Federation ACT Inc, 8 August 2008
[5] “Kokoda Day at KTMW” [PDF], The Good Guts: Official Newsletter of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion (1941-43) Association Incorporated, February 2010 (no. 163), page 19
[6] “Senate debates, Tuesday, 17 October 2006: Adjournment, 39th Battalion”, Open Australia
[7] “Private members’ business: Kokoda Track”, House Hansard, Parliament of Australia, 14 August 2006

Further reading:
[39th Battalion, history page], 39th Australian Infantry Battalion Association (1941-43)
39th Battalion (Australia)”, Wikipedia
Second World War Diaries – AWM52, Item 8/3/78: 39 Infantry Battalion” [39 Infantry Battalion unit diary], Australian War Memorial
Michael Davis. “Kokoda battalion leads march”, The Australian, 25 April 2008
Karl James. “The Kokoda “Track” or “Trail”?”, Australian War Memorial, 27 July 2009
Poppy de Souza. “Kokoda Front Line! 1942”, Australian Screen (National Film and Sound Archive)


  1. The Kokoda campaign and the battle of the Coral Sea have long been overshadowed by Gallipoli. Therefore it is only right and proper that those who fought and died at Kokoda, Milne Bay, Gona, Buna, Sanananda and the Battle of the Coral Sea should have their role highlighted within the Hall of the Australian Heroes.

  2. Important dates like this should be remembered and celebrated, but unfortunately in the days of the multicultural jungle our history is shunned. We need to keep alive the memories of the brave men and women who gave so much. Kokoda is a victory worth remembering.

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