Name Leslie Gordon Ryan Rank: Private
Battalion A.C.M.F. 39th Infantry Battalion
Place of Birth. Leongatha 6 July 1922
Next of Kin Gordon Joseph Ryan, his father. His mother was Cecilia Genevieve Ryan
Date and place of enlistment
23 September 1941 at Carlton
Location on enlistment Carlton
Date and place of death
26 December 1942, aged 20, at Kokoda Papua New Guinea
Location of grave or memorial
He is buried in the Port Moresby Bomana Cemetery Papua New Guinea and is on the memorial in Leongatha
Relationship to Woorayl Shire
He grew up in Leongatha
The 39th Battalion left for New Guinea from Sydney on 27 December 1941 and travelled on The Aquitania to Port Moresby. After arriving in January they were garrison troops protecting an airfield near Port Moresby as well as preparing defenses and unloading stores. Later, in June 1942, after it had arrived in New Guinea, the battalion’s strength was bolstered with the transfer of 16 officers from the 2nd AIF, including a new commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Owen. When Bill Owen went to New Guinea in July, he had hardly recovered from his ordeal with the 2/22nd Battalion following the fall of Rabaul
In June 1942, as the military situation in New Guinea deteriorated further, the battalion received orders to move up to the Kokoda Track in order to block any potential move south by the Japanese. This force composing of 39th Battalion and the Papuan Infantry Battalion were sent to Kokoda, arriving there on 15 July. The Japanese landed at Gona only a week later, and they quickly began to move inland towards Kokoda. The first contact occurred on 23 July. Fighting continued with the Japanese pushing on and the Australians preventing them. On the evening of 29 July, the Japanese attacked the main position at Kokoda. The 80 men from ‘B’ Company left at that time only had small arms and a few light machine guns, they were no match for the assaulting Japanese. Casualties on both sides were high as the Australians resorted to hand-to-hand combat, and the battalion’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel William Owen, was killed while organising the withdrawal. The survivors had to retreat back along the track. The force regrouped and by 14 August they managed to halt the Japanese advance. By September the exhausted men of the 39th were withdrawn and eventually returned to Port Moresby. Later the 39th Battalion moved to Gona. Here they suffered heavy casualties, but the fighting continued and after capturing the Gona Mission, the battalion moved to the Sanananda Track. It was during this campaign that Les Ryan lost his life.
The story of Bill Owen is also on this website.