Battalion 2/22nd Infantry Battalion and the 39th Infantry Battalion
Place of Birth Nagambie 27 May 1905
Next of Kin Daisy Owen, his wife. He was the son of William and Ida Owen of Nagambie.
Date and place of enlistment
8 July 1940 at Caulfield
Location on enlistment
Moonie Ponds formerly Leongatha
Occupation Bank Officer with the State Savings Bank of Victoria
Date and place of death 29 July 1942 aged 37 at Kokoda Papua New Guinea
Location of grave or memorial
He is buried at Port Moresby Bomana War Cemetery Papua New Guinea. His name is on the Leongatha Memorial, his photograph is on display at the Leongatha RSL and he has a street named in his honour in Leongatha.
Relationship to Woorayl Shire
Bill Owen lived and worked in Leongatha for many years before WW11. He was an officer in the local militia and very well respected in the area.
Bill Owen was a bank officer at the State Savings Bank living in Leongatha when he became a member of the local 22nd Militia Battalion in the 1930s rising to the rank of captain. After war was declared he enlisted at Caulfield on 8 July 1940, his location was given as Moonie Ponds. He had recently moved there from Leongatha.
Bill was placed in the new 2/22nd Battalion and made commanding officer of A Company. Many local Leongatha men were also placed in A Company.
Following his escape from Rabaul Bill returned to Victoria to recuperate after months surviving in the jungle. He was promoted to Lt Colonel and transferred to the 39th Battalion. In June 1942, after the 39th Battalion had arrived in New Guinea, the battalion was strengthened with the addition 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 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 arrived at Kokoda on 15 July. 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.
Sadly, Bill Owen was killed on 29 July 1942 on the Kokoda Track, aged 37 years. He was taking part in close fighting with the Japanese in a forward position and was struck while throwing grenades.
On 23 November 1944 Lt Col Owen was posthumously awarded an American Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for gallant and distinguished service in the South West Pacific area. He was the first Australian to receive this award.
The following report was published in The Argus on 3 June 1943.
1942, the late Lt-Col W. T. Owen, a Victorian member of the AIF, was awarded the American Distinguished Service Cross—the first Australian to receive this award.
The DSC was also awarded to the late Lieutenant Ian Walker, another Victorian,
for extraordinary heroism in action near Buna, on December 5, 1942.
At 4th GHQ this afternoon Col Frank L. Burns, US commanding officer in this base area, will present the medals to Mrs. Owen, wife of the late Lt-Col Owen, and to Mrs. Walker, mother of the late Lieutenant Walker. The citation accompanying Lt-Col Owen’s award states that while commanding an infantry battalion which was opposing the enemy advance, and although facing far superior numbers of enemy troops, he directed his men so effectively that the enemy suffered heavy losses, and their advance was considerably delayed. His courageous and inspiring personal example was in great measure responsible for this vigorous opposition to the enemy attack. Lt-Col Owen was seriously wounded in this action and later died of wounds. His action saved guns and ammunition during an attack on strongly held enemy positions in which a Bren gun-carrier section was put out of action Lieut Walker went forward under heavy enemy fire to the disabled carriers, located about halfway between the enemy and our lines, to remove guns and ammunition from them. After removing the guns and ammunition from the first 3 carriers he ordered nearby gunners to keep up their fire, and told the enlisted man who had accompanied him to return to our lines. Then, armed with a sub-machinegun, he went forward under heavy enemy fire in an attempt to save the guns and ammunition from a fourth carrier, but was mortally wounded. He died shortly after returning to our lines.