DOUGLAS MCCLEAN

Douglas McClean was born in July 1915 one of 4 children and grew up in the Belgrave area of the Dandenong ranges east of Melbourne. As a young lad in the 1930's he joined the 6th Battalion which was the local militia unit as he said he could see war was looming and wanted to do something about it.

When war was declared in September 1939 his unit was in camp in Mt Martha on full time training and while there he was selected to be an officer. One night as a young lieutenant he was checking on the sentries when he heard someone say "Halt or I will - BANG - fire" and the bullet whistled over his shoulder!

During this time prior to Japan entering the war he had tried numerous times unsuccessfully to enlist in the AIF but there was a policy in place that decreed that militia would not be released for duty overseas.

Then in October 1941 a new militia unit, the 39th Battalion, was being formed for overseas duties and he, along with many other young men, jumped at the chance to join it. After training together as a unit at Darley they left Australia and arrived in Port Moresby on 1st January 1942. There they were to spend the next several months mostly unloading ships and digging ditches - anything but actually train properly in the terrain that they would soon be called upon to fight in.

By July 1942 the Japanese were getting ready to land their troops on the north coast of PNG for an overland attempt at capturing Port Moresby. B Company 39th Battalion was already in the area having been dispatched by local command to secure the Kokoda area and its airfield. Then on the 21st of that month the Japanese landed troops at Gona and B Company was soon in action. It soon became clear that they would need reinforcements but the best that New Guinea Force HQ could do was to send by C47 aircraft one half of 16 platoon (15 men) of which Doug was in command soon to be followed by the second half of his platoon in another plane load.

At least Doug was lucky that he and his men didn't have to walk over the Kokoda Track and arrived relatively fresh! They were sent immediately by their commanding officer Lt. Col. Owen to a village called Oivi where B Company had regrouped. During that engagement the Australians were almost surrounded and so in attempt to relieve pressure from the enemy Doug and one of his troops Charlie Pyke took some hand grenades and attacked the enemy and created a diversion.

This allowed the Australian troops to withdraw to Deniki via a little known route that Sanopa one of the attached police boys found. It was for this action that Doug was awarded the Military Cross and Charlie the Military Medal - both gallantry awards being the first in the South Pacific area as well as being on Australian territory.

For the next 5 weeks until the 39th Battalion was relieved finally by the 2/27 Battalion Doug fought at Deniki and Isurava. He was detailed to help defend the Deniki supply base during the time of the first battle of Kokoda during which Lt. Col Owen was killed. After about 8 weeks spent back in Port Moresby recuperating and re-building the 39th Battalion with new recruits the unit was called upon again to fight in December 1942, this time to help drive the Japanese from one of their original landing areas on the Northern beaches around Gona.

At one stage Doug led 17 Platoon in a two platoon direct attack on Gona village itself which resulted in many unnecessary casualties, such were the faulty tactics insisted upon by higher authority who demanded a quick victory over the Japanese. Gona was finally captured a few days later and the 39th Bn then moved onto Huggins roadblock near Sanananda before finally moving out of battle and back to Port Moresby.

The horrendous casualties were so high after the preceding weeks that only 5 officers and 27 OR's were able to march back to the aerodrome at Dobodura (or Popondetta). Doug was one of those 5 officers. It was amazing to think that at 6 feet 4 inches he was never seriously wounded in all the actions he took part in, as he once said "I was one of the biggest targets in PNG!" but of course like everyone else he suffered recurring bouts of malaria and dysentery.

The 39th Battalion moved back to Australia for some much needed rest and recuperation after being away overseas for more than 12 months. Then in July of 1943 the 39th Bn ceased to exist as a unit and all its members were allocated to other units. Doug marched into the 1st. Australian Parachute Battalion and was soon made the second in command of that unit. Much training was undertaken over the next 2 years but the Paras were never used operationally.

After the war Doug left the Army and moved back into his trade of Furrier that he had commenced before the war. He eventually opened a fur shop in Thornbury in Melbourne's northern suburbs and continued with it until the mid 1980's until he retired.

In 2000 he was part of the group of veterans that travelled back to PNG to help survey the site of the battle of Isurava. For him this trip was cathartic in that he was able to lay to rest some demons that had been troubling him for many years especially after the visit to Bomana War cemetery when he was able to visit lost mates.

Doug died on 15 August 2011. Doug's thoughts on his troops under his command were that they were magnificent and deserved all the recognition that they now get. He used to say "I saw flesh and blood strained beyond the limits, yet somehow the spirit of the Australians carried on".

Written by Bruce McClean, nephew of Doug McClean.

Doug McClean