William OwenDOB:  27 May 1905
Place of birth:  Nagambie, Victoria

Bill Owen worked as a bank officer, married and served as a Militia officer prior to the War. Enlisting in the AIF at Caufield, Victoria on 8 July 1940 he was posted to the 2/22 Infantry Battalion (Bn) which was sent to Rabaul early 1941. He was placed in command of A Company with the rank of Major. A Company was deployed along the harbour shoreline north of Vulcan and took the brunt of the initial Japanese assault. NGVR was incorporated into A Company on the extreme left. A Company withdrew when it was out flanked by the Japanese. The defence was overrun and after the order “every man for himself ” was received, Lark Force escaped from Rabaul. Major Owen withdrew along the eastern side of the Gazelle Peninsula and arrived at Kalai Mission, about 10 km west of Tol Plantation on Wide Bay, with a large number of troops.

Colonel J Scanlan, the Commander of Lark Force, arrived at Kalai Plantation and returned to Rabaul 10 February to surrender. Major Owen was then the senior officer on the south coast of New Britain. His group reached Jacquinot Bay on 23 February. In the first week of April, Owen was able to muster over 150 men to be rescued. The photograph (left) shows Major Bill Owen with Father Ted Harris at the Palmalmal Plantation wharf just before the departure of MV Laurabada on 9 April. Father Harris chose to stay and was executed by the Japanese. The Laurabada arrived in Port Moresby 12 April 1942.

After recuperating in Australia, Owen was promoted to Lt Col and assumed command of the 39 Bn on 7 July 1942, as the Bn was preparing to deploy to Kokoda. This was the first step of a plan to occupy the north coast of Papua. The PIB of about 300 men was already in the area. 39 Bn and Papua Infantry Battalion (PIB) was “Maroubra Force”. B Company departed for

Kokoda on 8 July. After the Japanese landed at Buna 21 July 1942, Owen flew to Kokoda. The first clash, which included the PIB, was at Awala Plantation, east of the Kumusi River 23 July.

This day is now known as PNG’s Remembrance Day. Maroubra Force withdrew towards Kokoda and Captain Sam Templeton was killed 25 July near Oivi attempting to contact Headquarters. The Japanese attacked Kokoda in force on the evening of 28 July. B Company comprised only 80 men with small arms and LMGs. Owen was mortally wounded at 0300 hours 29 July and was left in Kokoda when the defending force was compelled to withdraw. Major William Watson, CO PIB, assumed temporary command. Owen is believed to have died in captivity shortly afterwards. When Kokoda was retaken briefly between 8 and 10 August, Owen’s body was found and buried.

His body was later re-interred in Bomana War Cemetery. He posthumously received the US Distinguished Service Cross and was Mentioned in Dispatches.