Kokoda Diggers

Corporal Charlie McCallum

Corporal Charlie McCallum


The battle of Isurava took place during August 1942.


The first of the Australian defenders standing in the way of the highly skilled Japanese war machine at Isurava was the 39th and 53rd Battalions. The Japanese Army landed on the Northern beaches and packed marched directly to the Isurava battlefront. They wore the untrained Australian defenders down to breaking point infiltrating the 39th positions on many occasions.


The Afternoon of the 26 August 1942 the forward elements of the 2/14th battalion arrived to at first what was to relieve the 39th battalion. However, the 39th battalion stood by their Australian comrades to try and stop the relentless Japanese advance.


Additional reinforcements arrived for both sides, and the ascendency of battle ebbed and flowed. Slowly but surely, the Japanese gained enough advantage and infiltration of the Australian positions.


A number of Australian soldier’s courageous actions occurred during the battle non more famous than that of Private Bruce Steel Kingsbury of 2/14 Battalion, for his actions at Isurava on 29 August Kingsbury was awarded the Victorian Cross (VC). However, Kingsbury was not the only Australian to be recommended for VC action. At least four VC recommendations were made; however, these recommendations were rejected, and lesser gallantry awards provided.


The gallantry Corporal Charlie McCallum of 2/14th Battalion at Isurava in August is one of the standout actions of the Kokoda campaign.


McCallum was wounded three times during the Isurava encounter; he pinned the enemy down with a Bren gun in his right hand and a Thompson sub-machine gun in his left. McCallum while reloading the Bren gun one-handed would bring his Tommy gun into action simultaneously. McCallum kept up this extraordinary juggling of weapons until all the mates in his platoon had escaped the Japanese. The attacking Japanese had, in fact, come so close to McCallum that his utility pouch was torn from his belt as he evaded the Japanese grip.


McCallum’s action sounding more like Rambo than Anzac was recommended for a Victorian Cross. The top brass decided it was not considered appropriate and McCallum was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, only to be killed in action a week later in the Brigade Hill battle. McCallum died when trying to oust the Japanese who had infiltrated the Australian defences.

Corporal Charlie McCallum-Shrine of Remembrance picture

Pte Bruce Kingsbury

Pte Bruce Kingsbury-Shrine of remembrance picture

Born in Armadale in Melbourne, Bruce Steel Kingsbury was aged 24 at the time of the Isurava Battle.

Bruce was a real-estate working at his fathers firm in Northcote Melbourne prior to the war.

Bruce enlisted in the AIF and was a part of the 2/14th Battalion 9 platoon.

On the 29th of August during the Battle of Isurava, Battalion headquarters were facing imminent danger and capture after a breach of their defenses by enemy troops. In response to this situation a counter-attack was ordered by a Colonel Key.

Although not being required to go, as Bruce was of another platoon Pte. Kingsbury was remembered to have quickly volunteered. Running down the hill towards advancing enemy troops. Kingsbury had apparently seen one of his friends desperately trying to protect the headquarters, despite suffering from fatigue from being in constant contact with the Japanese from the 27th of August. Kingsbury grabbed hold of a Bren gun and had charged towards the oncoming attack.

Recounts note how Kingsbury took down many of the enemy soldiers in his charge towards them, firing accurate shots inflicting huge amounts of damage.

Giving time and motivation to his comrades who had been watching the event unfold before them. Thanks to Kingsbury’s actions they were re-energised, able to fight back and regained a safe position around headquarters.

Sadly, as the Australian troops advanced forward to join Kingsbury he was fatally hit in the chest by a Japanese sniper as he was reloading his gun.

Although Kingsbury was in his final moments, he was not alone. His best mate, Alan Avery, who was apparently with him the entire time, released an unknown number of bullets before going to Kingsbury and cradling him in his arms.

By this time the fierce Japanese opposition had begun their retreat which allowed Avery an opportunity to place Kingsbury onto his back and carry him up the hill to the headquarters.

Initially buried at Kokoda, Bruce’s body was relocated to Bomana war cemetery.

All of our Escape Trekking Adventures will stand in the location of these actions when on our Kokoda track tours.

Stan & Harold Bisset Brothers

The story of two brothers who grew up together, played rugby together, enlisted together and fought side by side together.

Stan and Butch Bisset where two highly popular and respected soldiers of the 2/14 Battalion.
Stan was the Battalion intelligence officer and Butch a lieutenant of a platoon.
Stan had a premonition visualizing his brother’s death while singing around a campfire with his brother while crossing the Owen Stanley Range to defend Australia at the Isurava Battle.
The day that Butch was mortally wounded, Stan was on his way up to see Butch (B company holding the crucial high ground) when a wounded comrade called out for Stan’s help. Stan assisted the wounded youth back to RAP (Regimental Aid Post) and saw the young soldier was taken care of.
Stan turned and he proceeded to check on his brother when word came through that Butch had been hit and was in bad shape.
Butch had been checking on the others in his platoon and distributing ammunition to the adjacent foxholes when a burst of machine gun fire hit him in his stomach.
Under heavy fire from the Japanese Butch gave out stern orders for his men to leave him be as he was done for, lying there in agony waiting to die.
His men would not here of it and under covering fire extricated him to the RAP with Butch yelling orders to put me down and save your selves.
Near by Surgeons Rock is the site of the location where (80m on the southern side of the rock) Stan Bisset held his brother, Butch, in his arms as he died from the wound to the stomach.
For six hours Stan and Butch, the best of friends, sat just off the Kokoda track as the battle continued around them, laughing, crying and remembering the good times of their childhood, the trouble they got up to as kids and the days of playing rugby together.
They talked about mum and dad, Butch faded in and out of consciences with his fluttering eye lids slowly closing like a vice was clamping them together squeezing the life out of Butches soul.
Stan shared one last song with his brother as the last breaths slowly ebbed from Butch’s fragile body.
This tale and many more are shared on our Kokoda trail tours making a remarkable experience.

Stan & Harold Bisset Brothers

Corporal John Metson

Corporal John Metson AWM p09353.002

Corporal John Metson

Australian’s soldiers are well known to courage and brave from the many tails of hardship and sacrifice during the Great War at Gallipoli and the Western Front. One does not have to scratch at the surface too hard during the second deployment of AIF troops to the Second World War to find more tails of Diggers hardships.

Kokoda is well renowned in the circles of Australian society for soldiers enduring extreme hardship, displaying remarkable endurance and self-sacrifice for their mates. Many stories spring to mind; however, this inspiring story stands out.

Corporal John Metson had his ankle smashed into pieces by a Japanese bullet during the Isurava battle. He was one of many troops cut off from their Battalion behind Japanese lines as the Australian’s withdrew to Alola and subsequently further back to Eora Creek. The troops were forced into the jungle during their hasty retreat barely able to break contact with their Japanese enemy.

The result of the speedy Japanese advance caused the Australians to carry their wounded troops with them while withdrawing. The wounded were carried in the jungle made stretchers constructed from trees and vines. The carrying of one wounded man required eight men, four to carry and the four to rest while on a continuous rotation amongst themselves. These men were already loaded with their own equipment and weapons.

Corporal John Metson decided to spare his mates the burden of carrying him, choosing to crawl. Metson lacking the ability to walk with his injuries wrapped bandages around his knees and hands, making the arduous task of crawling slightly more bearable.

The party was led by Captain Ben Buckler who’s men were unable to withdraw fast enough to re-join their Battalion at Alola. Buckler’s party with Metson trailing behind crawled the steep slopes to Eora Creek, making the problematic crossing in the raging water. The party’s attempt attempts to re-join the Battalion at either Eora Creek village or Templeton’s Crossing failed.

A further period of two weeks they continued on making their way through the heavy jungle to find the Japanese advance was well in front of them. They had little food, foraging in the jungle for what they could.

Then Buckler’s party decided to head east of the Kokoda Track, where at the beginning of the Isurava battle the allies held the land and had a small military camp there. Metson endured much pain but never let this slow his progress. All men in the party were growing weaker each day before finally reaching an abandoned village, Sangai. The village offered the men shelter and a small village garden with a little food.

The stretcher cases, including Metson, were left at Sangai. The fitter men went ahead to reach an allied camp a few days away and would send back help. After reaching an allied camp, a RAAF plane eventually located Sangai village. A small amount of food and medical supplies were dropped by the aircraft in the hope the men would capture the supplies.

A month later, when the allies recaptured the area all of the men including Metson, were found murdered in their stretchers where they lay, too weak to fight.

Pte Bert Boase

Enlisted as Pte Bert Boase VX67866.


Bert Boase was born in Adelaide on 23rd July 1916. His father Richard was fighting with the Australian Army in Europe at the time, which possibly explains his mother naming him just “Bert” when all the other children had two fancy names.  Bert spent his youth in Adelaide and came with his family to Melbourne seeking work during the depression.


He worked with his father, uncles, cousins and two brothers as a bricklayer, a job he was proud of.   He married Elsie in January 1939 and their first child Noelle was born late that year.


On the 13/12/1941 Bert walked into Town hall Melbourne to enlist in the army. His reasons for enlisting where he saw the threat Japanese posed as they had only bombed Pearl Harbor on the 7th 6 days earlier and he wished to protect his darling wife Elsie Boase or it may just have been a good job with pay and 3 square meals a day.


Two days after enlistment Bert returned home on leave with out pay to see Elsie for what could have been his last time. Upon his return to the army Bert was transfer to the 6th Training Battalion. On ironically Australia day the 26th/01/1942 Bert went AWL for 24 hours and one would assume to return home to see Elsie and their daughter one more time. Bert heard about and witnessed troop movements that were happing at the time and he knew he might be posted to a venerable area at a minutes notice.


On the 16/03/1942 Bert was posted to the 39th Battalion and to his surprise embarked the SS Tarooma that very day. 10 days later Bert disembarked at Port Moresby not knowing that in a little over 4 months from now he would be facing the Japanese on the other side of the country on the now infamous Kokoda trail. Bert would have walked past this place where we now stand as the Australians mounted a fighting withdrawal in their attempts to halt or delay the Japanese thrust for Port Moresby.


Bert saw service with the 39th in the battle of Buna, Sanananda road and Gona, where the militia come to the relief of the AIF and broke the deadlock there with the capture of Gona.


Bert was 25 years old and brother Don 29 so they were considerably older than the majority of young lads with them. Both men were used to working long hard hours out in all weather. This was most likely to have helped them to withstand to some extent the terrible conditions they faced over the coming months. They also had the added comfort of serving together. This type of emotional support could never be underestimated. A strong family sense of humor would always have been a big part of their lives and no doubt contributed to their ability to survive appalling conditions to which they were confronted.


Again Bert ducked off for a quick break, he went AWL again on the 4/1/1944 and was fined 2 days pay for his time off.


Only a few months later in Wondecla (1 hour south of Cairns) 19/04/1944 Bert suffered an injury. The injury concerned him enough at the time to make a report on a disability form. The following is recorded in his own words.


“Happened to be near a game of football, the ball came near and I was mixed up in the play out of which I received the kick that caused my disability”.


He suffered a fractured coccyx, which is a fracture to the tailbone. Bert was on guard duty at the time and the report signals alarm bells that perhaps Bert was engaged in the game all along and had to make a bogus report to how he acquired the injury to avoid getting into strife.


Bert did not speak of the war, a few snippets now and then was all the family heard. One time when in Qld he saw the Lantana growing and out of the blue said how the soldiers picked it and put it in their hats as they marched.  He also commented one day that he had lost his good watch burying Japs at the beach on the coast possibly after Kokoda.

He spoke one day to his granddaughter about taking off his boot and sock and all the skin from his foot came with it. He said he just put the boot back and left it there.


He spoke highly of the Salvation Army and the comfort they provided under terrible conditions and always supported them.


Letters received by his wife were so heavily censored they were rendered meaningless. Telegrams which the family still has give a poignant and sad expression of longing and love

for the family. They were also essential to ask for money when on leave in Australia, e.g.” Money Here Thanks Dear You Are The Best Won’t Get Drunk No Hope Love … Bert”

The family have photos which he carried throughout the war, faded torn and water stained.


Bert served 708 days in Papua and was returned to Australia to serve as a guardsman attached to the 6 divisions in the 2/1st and 2/2nd Battalions seeing 662 days service in Australia.


Bert was discharged from the AIF on the 13 of December 1945 with a total of 1438 days of active service for his country but no disability claim.