The first battle with the Japanese near Kokoda occurred at Awala on 23 July 1942. A small force from the Papuan Infantry Battalion, under the command of Major William Watson, (AIF) made with the Japanese. After being forced back, Major Watson's force withdrew across the Kumusi River, destroying the bridge it crossed.

 B Company of the 39th Battalion was in the locality of Kokoda and Gorari, at the time of the initial battle. Captain Sam Templeton, received news that the Japanese had landed and sent a platoon to reinforce Watson and they began engaging the Japanese from across the river. Whilst in battle, hundreds of Japanese crossed the river under warfare of mortar and machine gun fire. The PIB and 39th Battalion had no choice but to withdraw.

They fell back only a few miles to an area where Captain Templeton was situated, he was commanding a force of some sixty men from 11 and 12 Platoons from B Company in addition to soldiers from the PIB.

 Templeton had set up an ambush with two Lewis guns, various small arms and grenades as his only protection. High command hoped this force would stop or slow the advancing force of about 500 strong Japanese. The ambush was quite successful in slowing the Japanese however, the Australians were once again forced to withdrawal to the village of Deniki.

Captain Templeton was lost during this battle, declared missing presumed killed by Japanese forces in the vicinity of the village of Oivi. It was later known that he was captured tortured and killed. Captain Templeton’s whereabouts and actual fate are still unknown.