JAMES WILLIAM BUCKLEY
2/3rd Independent Company
15th December 1980
On 22 October 1939 James William Buckley Serial Number QX 1084 enlisted in the 6th Division, 2nd AIF. After initial training Jim embarked with part of the 6th Division on 4 May 1940 on board the Queen Mary (designated HMTX1 in the convoy). This second convoy from Australia travelled to Great Britain, disembarking at Gourock, Renfrewshire, Scotland on the 17 June 1940.
Jim served in the 2nd /3rd Field Regiment where they took possession of the 25 pounder howitzers in England and continued their training at Tidworth, Hampshire, Southern England.
The 2nd /3rd Field Regiment fought in North Africa, including the capture of Tobruk. They embarked for service in Greece on 31 March 1941, and were the first Australian unit to engage with the German Army in Greece.
Jim ended up fighting in five rear guard actions in Greece and then was sent to Crete, disembarking on the 19 May 1941 assigned to the township of Rethymnon (Retimo). The family history is that Jim wasn’t keen on being captured and led twelve other men out of the town and they managed to get on a boat and made it back to Egypt.
Jim said he had been offered a non-commissioned rank to become part of a training team in NSW for new recruits on the 25 pounder guns. He decided against the role and on 17th July 1942 he marched into Independent (Commando) Company. On the 21st September 1942 Jim was posted to 8 Independent Company and marched out to Qld L of C area. On the 27th September 1942 he was transferred to 2nd /3rd Australian Independent Company arriving on the 28th September 1942.
On 19 January 1943 the company embarked in Townsville on the ‘Taroona’ an Australian ship that had been used for supplying ports in Tasmania. The company arrived at Port Moresby on the 21st January 1943. In “Nothing is Forever” Colonel. Ron Garland recounts that they were greeted at the port as though they were “Chocolate Soldiers”. They smiled, sworn to secrecy as to their unit, role and capabilities.
Originally to be placed with an American Army unit, orders changed when the Japanese made a move to capture Wau to take the runway and then to be able to direct aircraft against Port Moresby. The Japanese Army had advanced along the Black Cat Mine trail from the coast at Sala Maua.
There were several aircraft taking the company into Wau. Jim recalled leaving the plane and proceeding directly to the airport perimeter to start fighting. After holding off the Japanese causing them to retreat the Company was ordered to pursue them back along the trail.
These days Trekking companies rate the trail’s difficulty as 8/10, compared to the Kokoda Trail as 6/10. The Company played a significant role in New Guinea. In the Official Histories, Gavin Long said that due to the way they operated the Japanese always thought they were facing superior numbers and as a result sent larger forces to match them. Long also made mention that orders sent from Australia presumed that the company was at their full fighting strength. However, losses for killed, wounded and illness meant that the company was never at a number close to their original strength.
In Jim’s own words in a letter sent to the Brisbane Telegraph for a series – “I was there”, he recalled the following:
I haven't a good memory for times or dates, but in checking back on old records I find these events which I describe below occurred at the end of April and early May in 1943.
In Mid-April a section of the 2/3 Independent Coy of which I was a member ambushed an escort of a supply line at 9 o’clock at night killing 20 Jap marines and in all 35 enemy were left dead on the track in the Sala Maua area.
This was one of the preliminaries to an eventual attack on Bobdubi Ridge at the end of April by another section of the 2/3 Ind Coy. It was a surprise attack made with no loss of life to the Company but killing considerable number of Japanese both on Bobdubi Ridge and along the main track. The company then used the base for “12 glorious days of fun”.
With our small hard-hitting patrols striking regularly along a front of 15,000 yds the 2/3 kept the Jap in constant state of alarm. It was found in Japanese Intelligence reports later that they estimated that they were being attacked at Brigade strength and he reinforced his own patrols accordingly. Not only that but his native carriers “went bush” causing him to use his front line troops as carriers to supply ammunition and stores to his Mubo garrison which was being hard pressed by the 17th Brigade 2/5, 2/6 and 2/7 Battalions of the Sixth Division.
We held the Bobdubi Ridge for a fortnight in May until the Japs in desperation attacked us, about 50 or 60 troops, which was the effective strength of our Company at the time. The attack was made by 600 Jap troops under a Major General who was killed in the attack. After vicious all day battle we withdrew to Mission Village which was one of our forward bases after burying our dead of which there were four to the Japs seventy.
The Jap was obviously reluctant to pursue the company but next morning sent over a force of 40 or 50 dive bombers to bomb what he suspected was our hide-out. He repeated this again in the afternoon with the same negative results and thus ended this part of the programme.
AWM https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U56148 records state: The 2/3rd received high praises for its part in the Wau-Sala Maua campaign, but it cost them heavily. Credited with having killed 969 Japanese, the 2/3rd suffered 65 battle fatalities and 119 wounded. Another 226 men were also evacuated for medical reasons. Only the meagre flow of reinforcements allowed the unit to continue. Indeed, by the time campaign was over, there were only 34 men were left from the original group that had landed in Wau.
Jim was one of those 34. After Sala Maua the Company boarded the S. Hall Young an American Liberty Ship on the 4th October 1943 at Milne Bay to disembark at Cairns on 7th October 1943. From Cairns on the 8th October 1943 entrained for Atherton and arrived at the camp site at Wongabel, south of Atherton [Proud to be Third pg 12]. After receiving re-issue of clothing and equipment the unit departed for 24 days leave. [Proud to be Third pg 12].
During this leave period Jim was diagnosed with Malaria BT. He was in hospital and convalescence homes recovering from the illness.
On 22 August 1944 Jim was transferred to a new unit 3 A.A.O.D. Australian Advanced Ordnance Depot – Wallangarra – transferring goods from trains on the NSW gauge to trains on the Qld gauge at the border between the states.
AWM, Official Histories, Australia in the War 1939 – 1945 Series 1 - Army
Nothing is Forever, Colonel Ron Garland MC and Bar
Proud To Be Third, Darren Robins
15th December 1980