The 2/27th Battalion Headquarters Company salutes as it passes Brisbane Town Hall on parade through the city on August 8, 1944. Pictured front, from left, Lieut W.A. Warbuton (SX8029); Lieut J.E. Korf (NX37346); Lieut H.A. McGuire (NX69270); Sgt G. Eddy (SX9986); Sgt F. Ellard (SX10692); SGT J.W. Rothe (SX3610); Lieut F.A. Norman (SX12111); Sgt D.C. Wallace (SX10045) and Sgt R.N. Underwood (SX4262).
Road to the Holy Land
Based at Woodside in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills, the 2/27th Battalion AIF was formed on May 7, 1940.
Following training, the battalion was transported by train from Woodside to Melbourne on October 19, from where it sailed by troop ship to berth in India en route to Egypt, where it disembarked on November 24 to be forwarded to Palestine for desert training with the 21st Brigade.
The 21st Brigade was part of the Australian 7th Division, later known as “The Silent Seventh” due to its semi-covert involvement in the invasion of Syria and Lebanon.
The 2/27th Battalion’s first battle role was to help protect the Egypt-Libya frontier from an expected German attack, based at Maaten Bagush and then Mersa Matruh before returning to Palestine to prepare for the invasion of Syria and Lebanon, which began on June 8.
As the 7th Division struck north along the Lebanon coast, the 2/27th Battalion ghosted the long columns of troop trucks, artillery units, tanks and equipment. It patrolled the hills along the edge of the coastal plain to prevent a surprise attack from Vichy French colonial forces which had fallen under German control following the Nazi occupation of Paris.
The battalion saw major action against French and French Foreign Legion forces at Adloun on June 11, Miyeoumiye on June 13 and 14 and at El Boum from July 6 to 9 as part of the battle of Damour.
An armistice was signed on July 12, but the battalion stayed in Lebanon as part of the Allied Garrison until January 11, 1942, then sailed from Egypt on January 30, arriving back in Adelaide on March 24.
Following leave, the battalion was sent to Northern Queensland for jungle warfare training before being shipped to New Guinea, arriving in Port Moresby on August 14.
The training ill prepared them for the forbidding density of the jungle in which they would fight.
It was a long way from the successful campaigns of the Middle East. The troops landed in Port Moresby with their full desert kit, sandy, tan-coloured uniforms which made them prime targets against the backdrop of the green jungle.
The powers that be came up with a solution, turning their uniforms green, boiling them in 44-gallon drums of green dye which washed out in the first tropical downpour.
It made them a grey/green colour, better suited to the field conditions under which they would fight.
By September 6, sore and tired after a forced march in heavy kit which sometimes became a clawing, precipitous scramble up the muddy Kokoda Track, the battalion was dug in on Mission Ridge in slit trenches overlooking Efogi, preparing to meet the relentless advance of an as-yet unbeaten and unseen enemy.
The 2/27th Battalion held off the advance for two days, but was outflanked and encircled, cut off from headquarters when Japanese troops beat a path through the jungle along the lower ridge under constant fire and a rain of grenades, to climb back up to the track and attack headquarters, which had been established in the rear on Brigade Hill.
The order was given for the Australians to pull back.
Carrying some of their wounded on stretchers, the main force of 300-odd men made a grim, two-week trek through the jungle to re-join the Australian forces, arriving sick, starving and exhausted at Jawarere rubber plantation, 40km east of Port Moresby, on September 21.
They were issued with new uniforms and their tattered old ones were burnt.
The battalion was sent back into action at Gona on November 28 but rushed and poorly planned attacks on the heavily fortified Japanese beachhead resulted in heavy casualties. As the death and wounded tolls mounted, increasing numbers of soldiers succumbed to tropical disease.
With only 70 men left standing, the 2/27th Battalion was relieved of duty on January 6, 1943.
The remnants of the battalion returned to Australia in mid-January on leave and recuperation and its numbers were bolstered by soldiers transferred from other Australian battalions.
The 2/27th Battalion was sent back to Papua in August, spent a month training near Port Moresby and was then flown to Kaipit in New Guinea for the Australian advance along the Ramu Valley.
The 21st Brigade reached Dumpu on October 4 and began pushing the Japanese back in the Finisterre Range, with the 2/27th Battalion bearing the brunt of a major counterattack on October 12.
After that, the battalion was mainly involved in patrols, finally being reassembled for disembarkation in Port Moresby in January,1944, arriving back in Australia on
The battalion’s last action for World War II was on July 1 in the landing at Balikpapan in Borneo, where it sustained light casualties.
From then on, the 2/27th Battalion was relegated to patrolling until the end of the war on August 15.
From mid-October to late January, 1946 the battalion was part of the garrison force occupying the Celebes.
The 2/27th Battalion sailed for home on February 4, arriving in Brisbane on February 14 to be greeted by waving crowds.
It was disbanded on March 18, 1946.
Sources: AWM, 2/27BRSA