The main body of A Company had by now withdrawn but, for an unexplained reason, the order did not reach the defenders in the rubber who had borne the brunt of the attacks, and who were virtually isolated during daylight. With his section in the rubber, ‘J.D.’ McKay remembers the final onslaught:
Just on dusk there was a nice little shower of rain and the first assault wave came in and we stopped ‘em. My Bren gun group, Bill Drummond and Bill Spriggs, were firing and I can see the gun firing now – no kidding, you could see the bullets going up the barrel and it ran red-hot. Vern Scattergood had a Bren too and he was firing wildly. We stopped ‘em again. Then there was a bit of a pause before the next wave came in and overran us. So we said: ‘We’d better get out because they’ve gone past us.’ Well old Scattergood (or should I say young Scattergood? – he was younger than me) he got excited. He was standing up firing the Bren from the hip and that was the last I saw of young Scattergood. He must have been hit. We couldn’t find him in the dark and we moved back.
After we came out of the rubber we found Johnnie Stormont in the Company Headquarters dugout. We tried to put a shell dressing on him but the wound was too big and he was dying. We had to leave him. We only moved a few more yards and we were challenged! It was old Jim Cowey, the coolest, bravest man I have ever known. There he was, in the kneeling position, with his rifle pointing at us. Jim’s motto was if you were a ‘digger’ he had to get you out. The rest of the company had gone, but he’d stayed to get us out because he knew we’d been left behind.
Alex Lochhead, another of the last defenders to withdraw, continues:
When I got back to the clearing Jim Cowey was waiting there. He grabbed me and said: ‘Wait with me and we’ll pick a few more as they come out’. The main attack had died down, but there was still some small-arms fire and grenade explosions on the right flank.
McKay takes up the narrative again:
Old Jim had picked up about three or four of us by now and he said: ‘Just stay quietly’, and he dispersed us a bit. And then he got Roy Neal and Larry Downes, and I think that was about all of us. You know most were dead then. There were no wounded in our group. Then Jim said: ‘Good! We’ll walk out!’. I was all for running out but there were Japs everywhere. They were throwing grenades into weapon-pits, they were searching under the huts, and Jim said: ‘We’ll walk out. They don’t know who we are.’ And, if you don’t mind, casually got up, put us in single file and walked us out over the bloody bridge! We walked across the airstrip into the dense scrub and then Jim said: ‘Good! We’ll rest here till daylight’. So he puts us down and then ‘clunk’, being a youth and mentally and physically exhausted, I fell straight asleep. But I suppose old Jim Cowey, being the amazing soldier that he was, stayed awake all night.
The Japanese had not covered the western side of the plateau in their final onslaught; if they had A Company would never have escaped from Kokoda.