During the October 1942 the 21st Brigade where relieved by the 25th Brigade on the Kokoda Trail battle front. On the 9th of November Blamey visited the remnants of Maroubra Force (the 21st Brigade) at Koitaki camp, near Port Moresby. This was in 1942 known as the Koitaki cricket ground.
While General Rowell and General Arthur “Tubby” Allen had allowed Potts to return to his brigade, Blamey did not allow this to happen and sacked Potts and returning him to Australia to train militia battalions. Potts was replaced by Brigadier Ivan Dougherty, an officer he knew from when Blamey commanded the Northern Territory Force. Blamey cited Potts’ failure to hold back the Japanese, despite commanding “superior forces” and, despite explicit orders to the contrary, Potts’ failure to launch an offensive to re-take Kokoda. Blamey explained that Prime Minister John Curtin had told him to say that failures like Kokoda would not be tolerated.
While Potts had defied orders and went backwards instead of advancing, his position once reaching Isurava did not allow for strong offensive action as his Brigade only managed to plug the gaps in their defences at Isurava. Once he was forced to withdraw from Isurava he and his force was not able to break contact with the Japanese long enough to regroup and launch offensive action. It was the speed of the Japanese solider in the jungle that kept the momentum of the battles in their favour.
Shortly after relieving Potts, Blamey addressed the men of the 21st Brigade on a parade ground at the Koitaki cricket pitch Known as the Koitaki Incident. The men of the Maroubra Force expected congratulations for their efforts in holding back the Japanese. However, instead of praising them, Blamey told the brigade that they had been “beaten” by inferior forces, and that “no soldier should be afraid to die”. “Remember,” Blamey was reported as saying, “it’s the rabbit who runs who gets shot, not the man holding the gun.” There was a wave of murmurs and restlessness among the soldiers. Officers and senior NCOs managed to quiet the soldiers and many later said that Blamey was lucky to escape with his life.
Later on that day, the brigade was ordered to carry out a march-past parade, many of the diggers disobeyed the “eyes right” order as an act of insult towards Blamey for his speech.
Potts in a letter to his wife, an enraged Brigadier Potts swore to “fry his [Blamey’s] soul in the afterlife” over this incident.
According to witnesses, when Blamey subsequently visited Australian wounded in the camp hospital, inmates nibbled lettuce, while wrinkling their noses and whispering “run, rabbit, run” (the chorus of a popular song during the war). Dougherty commanded the 21st Brigade until the end of the war, while Potts went to command the 23rd Brigade.
Source Bill James Field Guide to the Kokoda Track, Paul Ham Kokoda, Dudley McCarthy’s South West Pacific Kokoda to Wau and The warrior of Kokoda Brigadier Arnold Pott’s biography by Bill Edgar