Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 19:28:59 GMT 12
Here's a special series written exclusively for the Press by a Kiwi soldier in the Pacific. I will post the series here, it's gold!
A TROOPSHIP VOYAGE
(Specially Written for "The Press.”) [By BRUCE STRONACH.]
"Stone the crows!” said the soldier, “only two feeds a day.”
The ship had been docked in Wellington for months with her bows blown off—a United States Navy transport. Each week we inspected her as the leave train came in from Trentham, to see how near she was to being seaworthy. My job was to be the Ship's Adjutant. There were about 30 officers to select from, and as everyone tried to dodge the job my selection was a direct reflection on my intelligence.
Down at Army H.Q., with the O.C. troops and the Messing Officer, we toiled on ship’s standing orders—pages of them. We selected cabins for officers and n.c.o.’s and allotted berths to the men. We arranged officers to be in charge of compartments, anti-aircraft crews, mess fatigues, cleaning fatigues, and all the small but necessary details for carrying on the life of the ship.
One compartment consisted entirely of men who had missed the earlier sailings—A.W.L. The rest were a mixed bag; some -from each unit in the Division—the rearguard. We got a bit fed up with standing orders and finally left most of them to a typist at Army H.Q. She did a great job, for which I took full credit.
Even Wellington began to look like a good sort of a place as the day drew near. Our equipment went aboard slowly, and then the troops arrived. The C.O. and I watched the embarkation officers checking people aboard and settling them by their bunks. The holds were pretty crowded, as they are on most troopships, and any clear space was soon full of rifles and packs.
One officer took the C.O.’s eye. “Who is the officer in suede shoes?’” “That’s Captain So-and-So, sir, a gunner.” “Well, see he gets plenty of work. I don’t like suede shoes.” I was pleased. Not that I cared whether suede shoes were worn or not: but it seemed we might have fun on the trip.
As the troops came aboard, sentries were posted at each gangway with orders to let no one off without permission, from the C.O. or adjutant. Men kept coming along and saying, “Sir, may I go off for a moment. My wife is over at the fence.” We let a lot go. Thank goodness they all came back.
Late in the afternoon we were all aboard and the officers handed me copies of the rolls and wandered off. The gangway was shipped and people were allowed on the wharf. One chap jumped overboard and tried to swim ashore, but a boat brought him back. Everyone laughed. The ship sailed.
My opposite numbers were the ship’s quartermaster and the executive officer. We got acquainted drily, as the American Navy carries no liquor. On the door of my cabin, which I shared with our messing officer and two others, was a notice: “At 1730 hrs. the master-at-arms will inspect the ports in all cabins to ensure that all black-out regulations are being carried out. Do not shoot this man, as he is only doing his duty,” We didn’t.
The ship lost no time in getting the troops used to boat drill and the alarm signals. My place for these was up on the bridge with the C.O. and a couple of runners. It was all right up there in the open. All the other troops were down below, and at night, shut down there with only the battle lamps showing a red glow, it was unpleasant. The holds are full of men and terribly hot. No smoking is allowed below at any time, and the lot of a private soldier on a troopship is not generally a happy one. Boat drill, action stations, mess fatigues, deck fatigues, aircraft spotters, etc., two meals a day, crowded bathrooms, terrific heat at night, no lights, salt water for washing. Life seems to be one long queue.
The big event of the day was the inspection of the ship. The O.C. troops, the Adjutant, the Ship’s Q.M., plus the Executive Officer and his gang of willing helpers, make up the party. At each troop compartment stands the officer in charge to receive them and hear their comments. One needs a serious face, a note book and a sense of humour.
On our first inspection, as we passed through a troop compartment, we heard a clucking noise from underneath a bunk. The Executive Officer stopped. - “What’s that noise, Lootenant?” I said, "Sounds like a hen to me, sir.” It was. A small brown bantam strolling about the hold and clucking critically every now and then. It had a most satisfied and important look, and I couldn’t help wondering if any of us looked like that hen. Its life was spared, and a few days later I saw it go off the ship in a little box with air holes and all conveniences. It is now back in New Zealand enjoying the benefits of rehabilitation—perhaps.
The weather was good and the ship sailed into greater warmth. The crew turned on entertainment in the way of gunnery practice, and those guys sure could shoot. Sometimes they let go a balloon and plastered it with their 20mm. A.A. guns.
The sailors were untidy, but quick and efficient. Each had his name written across the back of his shirt or the seat of his pants. Instead of asking his name, all one had to do was say “About turn!” and there it was. They were very good to us and took an interest in the crown and anchor boards until they woke up.
The troops had just got in their first growls about the tucker and not wanting to shave and so on, when New Caledonia appeared. We reached Noumea early one morning, but we were not allowed to land, and sat in the harbour all day.
Next morning we transferred to a Liberty ship for the next part of our voyage. We had to be on board before 5.30 a.m. as the ship was to sail then, and we got the last man on at 5.25 a.m. Then we dashed off at six knots. Our messing officer had made a miscalculation in the rations and we had very little to eat. By this time he was on his way back to New Zealand, but our thoughts were with him.
Towards evening we reached our destination. A small wharf, and a red clay road running up from the water. Hills covered with niouli trees and niouli trees covered with red dust. Necal looked something like Fiji—very depressing. It turned out to be a little worse.
On the wharf stood a number of senior officers waiting to welcome the rearguard. The A.W.L.’s got busy giving them the raspberry, shouting and laughing. About 50 yards away, on top of a bank of red clay, stood a lone soldier. There was a lull in the wisecracking, and he took advantage of it. With a wealth of feeling in them, his words came clearly to us. “You’ll be sorry!” The A.W.L.’s piped down and the troops began to file off. We were there. And later on, we WERE sorry.
(To be continued.)
PRESS, 27 JANUARY 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 19:38:34 GMT 12
MANOEUVRES AND HORSE RACES
(Specially Written for "The Press.”) [By BRUCE STRONACH.]
"These horse races—just another racket,” said the soldier. ‘‘l bet the heads make a plaster.”
New Zealand troops had been in Necal for some time when we arrived. They had made camps in some terrible places, and the camp to which I went was one of the worst. It had been made in dense scrub, which had once been burnt, and was similar to that depressing dead manuka which one sees in parts of New Zealand. Everything was muddy and the one redeeming feature was a small river close handy.
I reported to B.H.Q. There had been a small issue of spirits and beer, so I hit the Adjutant up at once for a bottle. He gave me two, of terrible Australian whisky, and said, “You can drink it or use it in your lamp, whichever you please.” I didn’t have a lamp.
Next day the battalion was having battle practice and the C.O. said that as I had just arrived, I could be a spectator. So early in the morning we set about it. I just wandered about behind the show and saw all the fun. There were targets for rifles and L.M.C. and mortars and the companies moved forward, firing at the appropriate times. To liven the proceedings up a bit, some engineers had gelignite, which they threw behind unsuspecting officers to see the reaction. It was all very funny until one blew up the C.O. Then it was funnier still. He jumped so high that the A.A. people refrained with difficulty from shooting him down. But bits of gravel had wounded him quite painfully and his legs were covered with blood, so he had reason to jump. It was all quite exciting, with bullets whizzing about, and people throwing grenades; and it was good training for all.
The Nioull Tree
My platoon was in good shape. I knew that, because they were growling pretty solidly. But they had reason, because they were a Bren carrier platoon without carriers and so a fair target for the 2.l.C’s fatigues. These were mainly building mess huts or gravelling the roads about the camp.
I had better describe the Niouli tree, because we made everything out of it. This tree is some relation to the eucalyptus. The leaves are almost the same. The trunk is seldom clean and straight and has layers of thin bark, something like the konini. The layers become inches thick and are cut off in strips and used for roofing. Sometimes the bark catches fire—spontaneous combustion —and so there are burnt trees everywhere, although the burning does not kill them. The Niouli branches are used for all purposes, and we made huts and tables add seats and all our gear from them.
After we had been in the camp for a week we got orders to shift about 60 miles south. The site for the new camp was much better and there were a good few acres of clear ground. So we packed up quite cheerfully and went away in a long convoy. The road was bad and the dust was terrific, and we arrived at the valley all hot and bothered.
Each company had its area allotted, and so had each platoon. The afternoon was spent arguing the point and putting up tents. Then we dug latrines. As each hole is dug, either it fills with water at once, or rock is struck. In the case of water, the diggers go elsewhere. In the case of rock everyone stands about saying, “What we want is a bit of jelly. Where are the Ginger-beers?” But somehow these things get done.
A good camp takes a lot of making. Cookhouses need ovens, methods of getting rid of refuse and dirty water. Tents need trenches round them. Q.M stores must be waterproof. Workshops are necessary for vehicles. There must be drains, showers—anyhow, we built them. The weather was hot and the mosquitoes were very tough. So were the fatigues.
All the time was training. Jungle warfare, route marches, weapons, lectures. We were glad when the carriers arrived and gave the platoon a chance to be on its own. I had a sure shield from fatigues. The company commander would say. “I want 20 men from you to-morrow for unloading a ship.” “Well, sir, I car supply them, but at the expense of my carriers. They arrived in a bad state, and we are just in me middle of our work on them." “O.K. I’ll get someone else."
Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. I used that one a lot. But the carriers were in perfect order, and the platoon was fairly happy.
We met few of the local people, and those we did wanted cigarettes for nothing, or to sell us oranges at a greater price than they were in New Zealand. The weeks passed, and my crowd got a job guarding an aerodrome, while the infantry went for an 80-mile route march. The aircraft had to be guarded day and night, and it was a break for us to do it. Although forbidden, most of the men had a flight in a B-25.
The Americans had a rifle range, and we spent a lot of time there with revolvers and tommy guns and carbines. The place was a foot deep in empty cartridge cases.
My first flight was in a B-25. As soon as we took off, one of the, men crawled up to the nose, where I crouched fearfully, and offered me a cigarette; but I didn’t feel like one.
Our next excitement was some useful manoeuvres which mainly consisted in some river crossings in small canvas, boats. The notable things about this were the wandering about in the pitch dark and the rum issue next day, which caused a little trouble. Always someone gets too much rum, which causes anger among those who get too little.
One carrier ran off the pontoon bridge into 10 feet of water. The driver handed out a Bren gun, called out, “All hands abandon ship,’’ and dived over the side.
So the days passed on Necal, with training, football, and a little cricket. The big thing was the race meeting. We had two, and the troops got a lot of fun out of them, although protesting all the time that it was a “racket.” We had a good course, a proper totalisator, stands, judge’s box, etc.—all the trimmings. The horses belonged to an Englishman, owner of a big ranch, and some were good nags. I was on the committee, and if there was a racket I saw nothing of it.
Sometimes we got good lager beer from New Zealand. Sometimes we got other stuff that was almost undrinkable. It came from the North Island and evidently did not travel well. That is the charitable explanation. The ration worked out at about eight or 10 bottles a month. The old slogan, "There is no bad beer,” was confounded.
(To be continued.)
PRESS, 3 FEBRUARY 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 20:08:56 GMT 12
[By BRUCE STRONACH.]
When you hang your hat on a tree and talk to it," said the soldier. "you're going cranky. When the hat answers back—you're gone!"
Seven or eight months in a place like Necal is plenty. The monotony and mosquitoes, after a while, are quite likely to make a good soldier into a bad one. Fortunately, we were not there long enough for that, and the troops were pleased but sceptical when rumour said we were going north.
Practice in climbing up and down nets, and amphibious manoeuvres in an American ship helped to convince them. And when we packed up and took little else but guns and food, leaving all our luxuries, things really began to get interesting.
I was given a brigade carrier platoon, which meant men and carriers from each battalion in our brigade. The rest of my own crowd went as infantry and didn't like it a bit. Neither did I, but there is lot much choice for platoon commanders.. I couldn't visualise carriers slashing through the jungle, and if they did I would rather have had a ringside seat. However, it didn't mater, because we never used them in actual fighting.
After a long, dirty night ride to Noumea we went aboard our ship. My platoon was attached to a combat team for the voyage only, and we were as welcome as a bull in a china shop, and only half as happy. However, we did the fatigues, took our atabrin, and watched more amphibious manoeuvres with interest. The carriers were aboard, and as far as I could see, were full of grapefruit juice and primus stoves. I left Necal with no regrets and we all looked forward to seeing something at last.
At the New Hebrides
At the New Hebrides we had more manoeuvres and took all our stores and equipment ashore. We used the carriers for transport on the beach and they went very well, The only excitement came when a landing barge dropped its ramp at full speed and dived straight down to the bottom. No one was drowned, so it was a joke.
The ships were good, and although thoroughly blacked out there were pictures every night, and iced coca-cola to drink. We were all mixed up with American officers, which was a good thing: and one began to talk the language. which is quite difficult to learn. I had a great friend in Caledonia, who came from the southern states, and he was quite unintelligible when talking at speed. We used to say, "Please talk English—we never took languages at school." When he protested that his English was good, our retort was, "That talk of your's is much like English as your rations are like food."
Guadalcanal was not much to look at as we approached. All the North Island wits began slinging off and saying "Good lord—Stewart Island." But didn't have much time for talking, trouble from the air was possible, and the ships wanted to get away, and the men worked like horses. Early in the afternoon the beach was heaped with equipment and stores, and long before night the unloading was done. We got what we could of our gear and after digging or locating some foxholes, we tied down for the night. About 22.00 hours— 10 p.m. to you— the first aeroplane arrived. We saw him against the moon, flying very high, and dropped a few bombs and departed. A few more came but nothing serious happened, except that we didn’t much sleep.
Next morning there was no rest and the transport was busy. Guadalcanal was terribly shot about. All the trees were simply riddled with bullets and the ground was pitted with foxholes, shell-holes, and graves. Everywhere we dug, we dug we dug up Japs, and hastily dug them again. It was terribly hot, and my platoon was allotted a place in the open—a place in the sun. I got permission to move, and found a place right on the beach under some coconut palms. Brigade H.Q. was in a mahogany grove. These trees are very brittle and put the wind up a bit because the big branches kept crashing down during the night.
ln a week’s time we were settled down and had time to look about and listen to the new season’s rumours. Nexr stop New Zealand found favour; but I couldn’t see the sense of coming this far just to go back again.
Animal life in the islands—l write as I saw—is meagre. Bug life is great. Flocks of white cockatoos flew squawking among the trees and big vulture affairs, brown with white necks, flew about in lonely fashion. Centipedes, snakes, and spiders were there, and plenty of land crabs. They not good company in a foxhole.
We saw all we could. We saw the grave of Tojo’s son—l felt doubtful about that one. We saw scores of Jap barges and several transports shot to bits and burnt out on the beaches, I wasn’t doubtful about those, because there they were. We saw the airfields, and the dump of all kinds of gear, and up in the hills we found the wreck of a Zero.
Across the Scalar Channel was Tulagi; and a little further in plain view, was Savo Island near which the Americans cleaned up a portion of the Jap navy.
The souvenir hunters were busy with old rusty weapons and other relics and all of us were busy getting use to real American rations. We did not have the dehydrated stuff in quantity but we had saurkraut, chili-con-carn and white beans and black ones - enamelled beans we called them. The fruit and grapefruit juice were life savers, and so were the cigarettes.
We did our training in the morning and had a siesta and recreation in the afternoon. The carriers romped about over the hills and we fancied that we impressed the Americans a little. So our life went on for a week or two: and we got used to it.
Every night the aeroplanes came, but mainly about Henderson field. When the siren went, we could put out the lights and sit in our tents talking, within jumping distance of a trench. The Japs could easily be distinguished by their de-synchronised motors, and all I saw at Guadalcanal flew very high. We built a “black-out tent,” and didn't have to put the lights out. But it was pretty hot inside.
Rumour grew about a move to the north, and soon was too strong to be laughed off. The “Next Stop N.Z.'' people were silenced at last by official information that we were going to Vella Lavella, and pretty quick too. So again we packed up all our gear. We knew it would be an unopposed landing. so everything was to go. I think everyone was pleased. What with Fiji and Caledonia, and all the coconut bomber stuff, we were fed up with the quiet life.
(To be Continued.)
PRESS, 10 FEBRUARY 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 20:25:46 GMT 12
EARLY DAYS ON VELLA
(Specially Written for "The Press By BRUCE STRONACH)
“These island maidens,” said the soldier, “they sore do camouflage themselves away.”
For most of us the trip to Vella was our first voyage on an LST. They looked fine, lined up along the beach with their mouths open, and we waited in the hot sun to embark, wondering what was going to happen to us. My crowd were sitting on some ration boxes when an American captain came along. He asked me to move the men “because those boxes are fruit, and we have lost a lot, lately,” He could not have put it in worse fashion, and we were glad of some fruit when we landed at Vella.
The carriers ran in to the ship and on to the lift, which took them up two at a time to the upper deck. The artillery were busy up there putting Bofors guns in position, and we had brushes with them as we manoeuvred carriers between their guns. Then came trucks and jeeps, which spent a lot of time backing and filling into position. Down below trucks, were running into the ship and loading ammunition and rations into the lower deck. The ships take a tremendous tonnage and unload easily.
We sailed that afternoon, and next day we voted in the General Election. There were only two officers on our ship, and we divided the troops into two lots and became returning officers. We made a very clever joke, saying. “Some day perhaps we will really be returning officers.”
The sea was, dead calm and the heat was terrific. As we gave instructions, turned down corners of papers, stuck things together, and looked up the rolls, the sweat simply poured off us, and we could get no shade. It was a funny day to choose for the election.
Soon after the voting was done, we had the captain’s table covered with papers, and we were headachy with heat and figures. We counted the liquor votes and they were entirely satisfactory. The rest we bundled up, wrote “Secret” across them, and threw them in the corner of the cabin. Then we divided up the pencils and sealing wax as reward for our labours. The captain gave us a tin of cold beer each and we drank, murmuring “Here’s to the election in New Zealand.” The game’s that fair,
The monkey don’t care
Who wins or who loses.
That night as we passed Munda, there were big doings. The Japs were busy bombing and the sky was full of tracers. Fortunately we were not seen and I slept all through the entertainment. An LST is a good ship to travel on. There were bunks for about 160 men on this one, but everyone slept on the steel deck. There were no fatigues. No one swept the deck, and everyone threw butts about with reckless abandon. In the morning Vella was in sight. There was not a bare patch to be seen, and we ran well up on to a little sandy beach. The doors swung open, the ramp came down, and off went the bulldozer. There were Americans there to meet us, and soon unloading was in full swing.
The morning was punctuated by the screams of the air raid warning, but although the Japs got over, they did no damage. They ran into some New Zealand fighter planes over our heads and I believe seven were shot down, I saw three Japs hit the water, well out to sea a pleasant sight!
The carrier platoon was self-supporting and we took our carriers, laden with tents, guns, food, and kitbags, about five miles up a track to our bivvy area. Then we dug foxholes in the coral, which is tough going. Then some primus stove tea, C” rations, washed down with fruit juice, and we were ready for sleep.
In the Jungle
Sentries looked hard for Japs that night and the jungle gave forth the queerest noises. The mosquitoes were bad and it was raining. However, that didn't matter, because, as soon as darkness fell the Japs came. They kept us awake. Not that they did much, but the drone of motors overhead and the occasional bomb do not encourage rest.
I had no foxhole, being too busy to dig one, or too tired, and when I heard a bomb whistle, I ran round and round a huge tree, trying to be on the safe side. And when the first bomb hit about 400 yards away I felt that I had run about two miles.
Every night after this the Japs came. They could not see us in the jungle, but they tried hard. We took turns as duty officer, our job being to sit by the siren and give the alarm when we got it from the radar people. It was eerie in the dark, with all the queer noises, and the occasional rifle shot as some aspiring sentry shot at a Jap or a dog or a shadow. But there was little shooting, and our troops were never “trigger happy,” which was, a good thing.
Vella Lavella is not very big. It is about 25 miles by 10, and, as far as I know, there was not a clearing on it. Some coconut plantations, and that is all. Ten miles away—a few hundred yards it seemed across the clear sea—was Kolombangara. There were about 10,000 Japs there, and we were so sorry for them, because always it was raining there! Near, also, was Gizo, with a few hundred Japs. Choiseul we could see and there were some there, too. But they didn’t worry us, because there were seven or eight hundred on Vella itself, about 12 miles north of us. The Americans had landed a month before; penetrated some miles, and then stopped. We were to finish.
A lot of interest was taken in a prisoner brought in. He was small and yellow and dressed in rags, and took no notice of us as we looked him over. We gave him a cigarette and some chocolate, and a new uniform, and sent him off to the P.O.W. enclosure at the beach. A corporal from my platoon took him down with an escort, and on his return I said: "How did the. Yanks receive him?” , “Pretty well,” said the corporal. “They said to me; ‘What have you been doing to him? Why, the -—— is better dressed than we are!"
(To be Continued.)
PRESS, 17 FEBRUARY 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 20:48:52 GMT 12
THE ELUSIVE FOE
(Specially Written For ‘The Press.") [By BRUCE STRONACH.]
"What a climate!” said the soldier. “I could have sworn I heard milking machines!”
Having a small but independent command has its compensations. I attended all the brigadier’s conferences with his battalion commanders and other unit commanders. To be sure, I was not in the front row, and sat very quiet, but I got all the "good oil", and knew as well as most people what was cooking. So I had a fair idea how we were going to sort up the Japs in Vella. To be brief, troops were to be sent up each side of the island, and when they met at the north end, the Japs would be between the two forces. We would then squeeze the enemy until he (1) died; or (2) squealed for mercy; or (3) cleared out. Of course, all sorts of naval precautions were taken to see that he could NOT clear out.
For the operation we were decked out in American uniforms. They are green-gray in colour, and made of light material. The headgear was a cap of the same stuff, and all we needed were a few arrows scattered here and there to look really good.
We travelled light—pup tents had not been issued. Most of us carried half a towel, a piece of soap, spoon, mug, waterproof cape, spare socks, tobacco, and matches. In addition, of course were our weapons, ammo., and rations for a few days. I forgot to mention the useful American small shovel and pick.
Thus equipped, we set out one morning in a small barge for our journey up the coast. We were the leading barge in a convoy of about 12. The sun was hot and the sea was calm, and we enjoyed our four-hour trip. About half way two Jap dive-bombers flew near us on their way back north, probably to Shortland Island. They had been annoying LSTs at Vella and evidently had no ammunition left. We would have welcomed them, as we had 10 Bren guns and two Brownings on our barge and felt that we could at least have put up a show. However, they flew just out of range and left us alone. Later we heard that one LST had been hit and the casualties among our Bofors gunners had been heavy.
Late in the afternoon we arrived at our destination. Here all were busy and we wandered to Battalion H.Q. to find out where and what. There were two platoons of us—the Brigade Carrier Platoon—on foot—and the Brigade Defence Platoon—each under separate management and keen to assist in every way. We were attached to a battalion and attended a conference all plastered up with maps and compasses and notebooks. Then we collected a few more grenades and settled down for the night, knowing that in the morning we had to advance about 1000 yards through the jungle to a point from which we could contact the Japs.
That night was quiet. A Jap float plane flew over us and dropped a few aimless bombs. The rain came down in torrents. I have omitted to mention the rain, because it was always with us. So unless I say it wasn’t raining, it was! To cope with it one sits in the foxhole using the waterproof cape as a sort of tent. We used feet for squashing crabs and hands for feeding, keeping our weapons usable, and lighting cigarettes—not at night, though!
If on the outer edge, of the perimeter, we just watched and listened. We often used foxholes dug in the shape of a cross with a man in each arm of it, feet together. They could then kick each other awake without getting out of the hole. The next night was the same, after our 1000 yard march. We were all completely sure of what we had to do the next day, and settled down fairly happily.
In the jungle, 10 yards is as good as 100 anywhere else. One mile from the- enemy—well, you might as well be back in Caledonia. And, about half a mile from us was a small Jap camp in the head of Timbala Bay. Just across the bay was a small island about 150 yards by 50 yards, called Umomo Island. On this was a Jap wireless station. As the troops advanced to capture the village next morning, the artillery were going to plaster the island and destroy the radio.
We marched out and took up our positions in the morning. The jungle was thick. We were silent and followed a compass bearing until we calculated we were in position about 400 yards from the camp. We were to move forward at 0600 hours, and the guns were to speak at 0700 hours, what time we would be inculcating the principles of western civilisation into the Japs, per bayonet.
The zero hour was too dark, so we did not start until 0615, having means of making this known to all. When we started, conditions were bad. Keeping contact was difficult and the mud and rain and terrible thickness of the bush made things worse. As we neared the camp, “expecting hell to break loose every moment,” as all good authors say, the guns began to work and the shells screamed over our heads to the island 200 yards away. The gunners didn’t drop any short that day.
Victory Without Bloodshed
Well, the Japs had gone. Just gone. The rice was warm, and small braziers still glowing. The camp was in an awfully muddy and smelly mangrove and the air was rotten with the smell of rotten food, rotten coconuts, and rotten Japs. We picked up some oval tins of herring and tomato sauce, and it was very good. Someone gave me a Jap water bottle, which I wore proudly throughout the operation, before deciding that our own were the best.
So the first battle was over without bloodshed. The heads began to arrive after a bit to inspect the stricken field. We all had a feed and felt better. That was the last hot drink we had for nearly three weeks, except for an odd one from our primus-carrying padre, and the last time we took our boots or clothes off. At the end, the Japs had nothing on us for smell.
I got orders to go off-with a native guide to a place inland where some tracks junctioned and to sit astride the track and be objectionable to any Japs using it. We set off, with our dusky guide in front. After about 200 yards we were bathed in sweat and just about done for. The guide halted suddenly and hissed at me: “Nip! Me smell ’um.” We all got down quick and he ran about like a dog with his nose to the ground. Soon he came back smiling, “Nip gone!” and off we went. Our destination was a place called Etupeka. We got there and took over from an infantry company. There was no water. Only rain. We filled our water bottles, holding them under the drips from our hats. No fires. War was hell.
(To be continued)
PRESS, 24 FEBRUARY 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 21:30:42 GMT 12
(Specially Written for ‘The Press.”) [By BRUCE STRONACH] VI.
"It’s an ill wind.” said the soldier. “I bet they, are having a dinkum bash on our rum issue down at Base.”
Etupeka was no good. We just stared at the track and waited at night for our booby traps to go off. The Japs didn’t come that way. Some of our chaps were fired on while carrying rations, but not hit. After two days we were recalled to Battalion H.Q., just north of Timbala Bay, where we arrived late in the afternoon. We were on the water’s edge and in the sand was good digging. Supplies were plentiful, all but the rum issue. Machine-gun fire could be heard up in the jungle.
We got a job. “You will storm Umomo Island, etc., etc.’’ Umomo had been shelled thoroughly three days before. It was logical to suppose the Japs had gone. This logic sounds good if someone else is doing the job. I was a bit doubtful, but glad of the job all the same. So dawn of next day found us peering through the mangroves at the island, which lay across a 50-yard channel. Our transport was a large canoe, which would take about 20 men, and it was late. I signalled the adjutant: “Where’s your bally navy?” But as I did so, the canoe appeared. We piled in, shot across, piled out again, and got under cover in quick time. Then we started.
Machine-gun bullets spattered the tops of the coconut trees. A man behind me said “You’re under fire, Joe.” “Yes," said Joe, “40 feet under it!” We passed the Jap wireless shacks and worked on through the bush. There were two Intelligence chaps with us, and they stopped by the shacks. I had a brain wave and sent a sergeant back with instructions that no one was to touch anything lying about. Surely the platoon was entitled to a few souvenirs. The Japs had gone. We came to the head of the island. The machine-gun kept on, but he was not firing at us; just chattering.
After posting sentries, we went back to rat the radio shacks. There were cigarettes. postcards, clothing, money—presents for all, and plenty of rice and tinned fish and dried fruit in casks. Firing was going on about 100 yards from us. I saw a barge approach the shore and the bullets splashing round it. Someone swam out, with bullets hitting all about him. He reached the barge O.K. and it came round towards our Battalion H.Q. He had brought news of a missing platoon.
Island Night’s Entertainment
We settled down to dig fox holes and to have our evening meal. We were by this time on “K” ration. This has a small tin of meat, some biscuits, soluble coffee, sugar, cigarettes, and chewing gum, all done up in waterproof cardboard. The coffee can be made with cold water. There is also a bar of chocolate or a bar of pressed fruit, and it is a healthy but not an appetising ration. Eat this, swallow an Atabrine tablet, rub on some mosquito repellent, go without a smoke, and sit in the rain all night, listening to the old float-planes looking for somewhere to drop their bombs, and things seem pretty rosy.
Having made Umomo red on the map once more, we rejoined the battalion. They had had quite a few casualties, and seeing them carried out sort of brings things home to one. The wounded had some terrible trips through the muddy jungle tracks, and the stretcher bearers had to wade out to the barges with them.
The evening we returned, we were put in the front of the perimeter. There was a Jap up a tree there, just before dusk firing over our heads, but he was too high. We could not find him at all and in the darkness he slipped away.
In some ways the Jap had the advantage of us. He just hid in prepared positions in the jungle and allowed us to come up to him. His first shot was always a sitter. The tragic thing was that the men who were shot never saw the Jap that shot them. It was impossible to mark the direction from which the shots came and the visibility was nil. The patrolling was tough. Here it was that the platoon commander, the n.c.o., and the man with the rifle came into his own. There were no ringside seats for them. So the troops got along.
The artillery did grand work for us, and as we moved forward we began to come across plenty of Jap dead. They were a good sight, and were fine, big, well-fed men; or had been.
Every night at 20 minutes past seven the Jap float plane arrived. He would cruise slowly up and down the coast with his lights on, looking for us, and finally drop his bombs where he thought we were. Fortunately, we weren’t. He also dropped rations to his troops. These were mostly compressed barley cakes and were dropped by parachute, big red-and-white beach umbrella affairs. It was maddening to watch the plane helplessly, and we used to pray for a night fighter; but we were too far from an Allied air strip.
When we got within a mile of the head of Maquana Bay, the platoon was ordered to make “a cautious but determined patrol to the head of Maquana Bay.” The country about the shore, had opened out a little and we were to go 500 yards in the morning and 800 yards in the afternoon—if possible. The morning we started Japs could be seen on the opposite shore of the Bay. Water was short, and our artillery opened up with a mis-cue, and blew our one waterhole to blazes and frightened seven bells out of us.
Our Battalion C.O. was very active on the telephone, and soon stopped it. We all thought it very funny afterwards, but 25-pdr. shells bursting close are not nice. No one minded much, because the gunners were doing a great job. A little bit of action soon rubs out any small jealousies between the different arms of the service. Two days’ rations we took, plenty of ammo., and cigarettes. Unavoidably, the platoon had to dump their souvenirs; they would not come back to that area, and they could not carry anything. They did it hard, leaving their precious and hard won Jap rifles, parachutes, etc., for the A.S.C. to pick up. We got out of the perimeter and halted before we reached the forward listening post. There we talked over our job, had a last smoke, and hit the trail.
(To be continued)
PRESS, 3 MARCH 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 21:54:42 GMT 12
VELLA BECAME DULL
(Specially Written For "The Press.’’) (By BRUCE STRONACH]
"We're safe," said the soldier. "We don’t know what we’re doing, so how could the Japs know. ”
Water was fairly scarce on Vella, and we had been instructed to lookout for springs and suitable barge landing places. The going was far better than we had ever struck before, and we made good progress. We had, gone about 600 yards, when, as it was nearing noon, we came within sight of a small peninsula. I resolved to call that good enough for the first portion of our patrol. There was deepish water not far out and a spring bubbled out of the rocks by the shore. We went a little further to occupy a commanding piece of ground.
Coming round the side of a big rock we nearly fell over a Jap, sitting on a log with his back turned to us. He turned, saw a rifle pointing at him, and started to pray hard. It did not take us long to grab him and whisk him behind the rock for examination. He was wounded in the chest, apparently by a mortar bomb. We gave him a cigarette and a biscuit, and after a bit he calmed down from his fright and I held a long conversation in Japanese with him.
I said; “Where are the Nips?
He just grunted.
I tried again; "Where are the Japanese?"
He understood that and grinned widely. "Ah! Japan!” Then he swept his arm all round as if to indicate the Japs were everywhere. Then he offered me his cap very politely but it was pretty greasy—a marine’s cap. A search revealed few souvenirs. We put a guard over him and sent a message back to Bn. H.Q.
While we waited for the troop, some of the chaps amused themselves with the prisoner. He wrote his name down in Japanese and English characters. It was Nakumara so we christened him Macnamara. The battalion arrived and took him off our hands. He could hardly walk and the last I saw of him he was all camouflaged away by a ring of steel.
Enemy on the Air
The next part of our patrol, through mangrove swamp, was smelly and dull. We arrived at the head of the bay before dark; in time to have a look at the bridge the Japs had across the river. It was Just a fallen tree with sticks poking out of the mud for handrails. Sign—or spoor—of the Japs was thick, and we withdrew about 100 yards from the bridge to dig in. We could see it, because of a bend in the coast line, and it was covered by an L.M.G.
That night the guns were going strong and we got little rest. I was upset by seeing a lizard, nearly four feet long, with a gleam in his eye and a “K” ration biscuit in his mouth. The land crabs were busy and there were crocodiles or big fish in the bay. The air fairly stank of Japs but none bothered us.
At daylight we dashed across the bridge, but found nothing. Then a strong patrol went back to contact the Battalion. About, midday a full company arrived and took over the outer perimeter and we all went to sleep. Our two forces were in communication, and the Japs who were not dead had cleared out the night before. The operation was over, so I took off my boots and looked at a reproachful pair of feet that I had not seen for weeks. We lit fires and heated up our corned beef hash and made gallons of tea. The Q.M went mad and sent up boots and socks and cigarettes and sweets. We wrote letters and our Padre collected them and got them away. We left Maguana Bay for Maravarl—our headquarters on Vella-on th3 13th of the month.
That was the day that air trouble was feared because, rumour had it, Tojo’s son was killed on Guadalcanal on that date. However, nothing troubled us and we got back safely to a first-class feed and wash. I had been as healthy as a trout all the time, but as soon as we got back I got dysentery and felt sleepy. I was crook for three days and the platoon had a good rest.
Our carriers rested in a coconut grove, simply bashed to pieces. The engineers had used them for roadmaking. I shrieked something about maintenance, and collapsed, a broken man. The men cursed and swore and went to work, but the carriers were never the same again. But we got them going and reasonably usable.
A week later we started jungle training once more and found it pretty dull for a start. The old planes came over at night and kept us awake, but on the other hand we got an issue of grog, which also kept us awake for a night. But Vella became dull. Not enough to do. And when people have not enough to do they find something. So some dashed about - enforcing malarial regulations. Some were very busy with the traffic. Some lay back and let the world go by.
The air strip neared completion, and as it did, so the raids at night lessened. Canteens made their appearance, full of candy and cigars. In the evening there were pictures, and our New Zealand theatre seated some thousands. It was in a natural bowl, and the seats were coconut logs. Some of the pictures were good, but some were unbelievably bad —far worse than the worst we see in New Zealand; and that is saying something.
The carrier platoon got a job. It was guarding a P.T. boat base some 12 miles up the coast. The defence platoon got one too, near ours. So the defence platoon commander and I set out one day to make a reconnaissance and see what was to be done. We did 12 miles by an awful road and then two miles in a borrowed canoe; We went too far and landed in the encampment of an American parachute battalion. They were very nice to us, but reckoned there were still Japs about and they were shooting at night. But they couldn’t produce a corpse, so we left, and soon found our radar outfit.
The officer was a big, red-headed Texan. He said: “I’m sure you boys would like a snort of gin,” Then he showed us his camp and his still, which produced alcoholic varnish. Then he gave us another snort and we left. The canoe went awfully fast on the way back.
When we came to my command, we found a deep narrow inlet, with P.T. boats chugging about and lots of people camped in a very muddy coconut plantation. They were good to us also, and we were pleased to find they had a high opinion of New Zealand troops, as their boats were concerned in the Treasury operations. So we went home, with our plans made for the trip up and our camp. We were both pleased, because to be on your own with none to say. “yea” or “nay,” ' is preferable to being at H.Q., no matter how luxurious the life. And the next two months were the best I had in the Army.
(To be continued)
PRESS, 10 MARCH 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 22:17:00 GMT 12
(Specially Written for “The Press.”) [By BRUCE STRONACH.) VIII
“Try this jungle juice,” said the soldier. “It’s a good brew. Apricots, sugar, alcohol, and mosquito repellent.”
Motor Patrol Torpedo Boats—P.T. boats hereafter—are splendid little craft and a good command for a man to have. They are nearly 80 feet long and powered with three Packard engines. They have torpedo tubes, plenty of .5 calibre Browning machine-guns in twin mountings, and generally 20mm. or 40mm. guns scattered about the deck. Some also have an odd Lewis gun. Something over 40 knots is no trouble to them, and that is moving. There are other strange and modern devices on them, which I may not mention.
Our job was to guard the base and boats from attack by sea and land. We had sentry posts all round the camp and kept pickets on the job 24 hours a day. Each man did four hours on and eight hours off. and we soon settled down to the simple, life again. The boats generally went out at dusk and returned at dawn. Choiseul was always in view and the idea was to prevent barge traffic northwards from there. The Americans correctly called it "Shwar-sell," but we pronounced it as spelt, and let it go at that.
Bougainville Strait was another hunting ground, but the crews complained bitterly of monotony. One of the men was a Chinese named Wing. He was wandering disconsolately about the camp when we arrived, and we found that he was “on report.” He was in bad for shooting Japs in the water. The Squadron Commander wanted prisoners, and while the rest of the crew were breaking their necks trying to get one, Wing was seated in the bow with a rifle making sure they didn’t.
The men settled down fairly happily at the base. In their off-duty hours they were always busy. One section concentrated on brewing. They got a lot of coconuts, punched a hole in them, put in some sugar, and plugged the nut up. After being kept for three weeks the brew was tried and found to be quite hopeless. They then turned their attention to "raisin-jack.” which was better. Other brews, made from fruit, were fairly successful, none first class.
Another crowd, became curio-makers, and were selling aluminium rings, filed out of aeroplane parts “guaranteed off a Zero" for 10 dollars a time. The remaining section became fishermen, and heavy on grenades.
There were canoes about, and the greatest pastime was fish watching. The water outside the reef was about 40 feet deep and absolutely clear. The coral was all colours and shapes, and there was a garden under the sea. Among the coral flowers the fish were always busy on their scaly errands, and their colours were amazing. The most numerous were small fish about two inches long and light blue in colour. Some wore Rugby jerseys with horizontal stripes, and others Soccer jerseys with vertical ones. There were dusky purple fish with bright green heads; and golden fish; with a phosphorescent bubble moving inside them. We watched them for hours; and these fish had the distinction of being the only thing that came true of all the glamorous coral island stories.
One night I went up to Bougainville Strait. Just as we left our harbour one of the crew walked overboard, but was picked up by the next boat. For hours we travelled, the ship's bow right out of the water and the stern well dug in. It was pitch dark, and although we could not see the other boats, we knew they were keeping station. After some hours we slowed down, and then idled along silently. The officer said; “This is Bougainville Strait. Can you see the shore? Sometimes we shoot up these guys here.”
I said: “Are you shooting them up to-night?” "No," he said. “No orders to-night." So we loafed about for some time. It is more exciting at night round Victoria Lake and I was glad when we hit the trail for home.
Among the Islets
A daylight sweep was better, and this time we started off early in the morning. We shot off down to Kolombangara, across to Isabel, and then off to the southern end of Choiseul, where we expected to find something to do. The officers were very busy with their binoculars as we threaded in and out among the islets, but we could see no signs of Japs or barges.
As we neared a promising-looking bay everyone got very ready. The torpedo-man checked all his torpedoes and the gunners manned all the guns. The crew all fingered their .45’s. and I took my hands out of my pockets. We came round a small point, and lying on the white sand was a crocodile. The captain gave permission to shoot, as our patrol was nearly over, but before rifles could be brought to bear, someone let fly with a .45, The bullet struck about a foot from the croc, and he was in the water like a flash. He was estimated to be anything from 20 to 40 feet long, so he must have been at least 15.
Most of the small coral islands have caves in the low cliffs. Some of these caves have a vent by the roof, and the waves rush up and spurt out the vent in a column of spray. Pinapel was the best example of this, and we all thought it was shells bursting at first. The small islands south of Choiseul had these caves, too.
The currents in the narrow waterways are treacherous, and our boat had to proceed cautiously. On one occasion cross currents and ripples could be seen in a narrow strait ahead. The officer, at the wheel spoke to the Squadron Commander, who was with us; “O.K. to go ahead, sir?” The Commander was a very fine officer—taciturn, slow-moving, and quietly spoken. He had a brilliant record, and I hope is still going strong. He just said: “You got the same information I got!” And we went ahead. Lambu Lambu hove in sight about 9 p.m. and we passed the other boats going out. It was necessary to use a light for a few moments as we moored, as these wooden boats are easily stove in. One had been cut completely in half by a Jap destroyer some time before. But they have a lot of fun and the captain of a P.T. boat, has a hard dangerous, and exciting life.
(To Be Continued)
PRESS, 17 MARCH 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 22:32:38 GMT 12
CHRISTMAS, WITH FIREWORKS
(Specially Written for "The Press.”) [By BRUCE STRONACH)
“Where can I get some red rig?” said the soldier. “The Yanks want to buy some Jap flags.”
The P.T. Base had a cinema. It catered for all hands. It showed at 4.30 in the afternoon for those patrolling (riding the boats, the Yanks called it) that night; at 6.30, for those who were not patrolling; at 7.30, for the N.Z. guard and anyone else; and at 8.30 a.m. next day for anyone who had missed. The tent was blacked out; and the show stopped and, let us out for air occasionally. The first film I saw was a captured Jap film of the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
The platoon and the Americans got along famously. Our cookhouse had visitors always, and as the P.T. boys were generous with their stores, and had plenty, we were only too pleased to feed them with our “strange” dishes. So there were visits between the messes, which were all to the good. I got to know a lot of the officers well, and we used to swop ideas at night and attempt humour at each other’s expense. When telling them anything about New Zealand I used to end up, “Of course you have bigger ones in the States.”
The natives used to visit us sometimes, and were very keen about medical treatment. They loved having injections and would roll up with a small scratch, wanting a bandage. Nearly all of them had Japanese rifles, and they must have had lots of ammunition, because our efforts at exchange for American weapons got a poor response. Their women were away back in the bush somewhere and we never saw them. Never did we see a beautiful maiden' standing on the silver sand, her arms outstretched toward the moon, the warm waters of the tropic sea rippling about her slender ankles. I’m sure I’d have noticed had there been any about.
After we had been at this place for some weeks, a disaster overtook us. The place blew up. Somehow a spark got among the high octane gas, and hundreds of drums blew sky-high. Torpedoes, depth charges, ammunition of all calibres made a tremendous noise and a tremendous sight. Some were killed, but none of ours. Some who couldn’t swim swam 50 yards across the inlet. We risked our lives in a brave and successful effort to save some beer which had been issued to us. One boat was burnt to the water’s edge and sank. Drums of burning petrol floated towards other boats and were sunk by machine-gun fire. It was a busy afternoon.
Two days later the Americans packed up and left. They gave us a generator and all the gear for lighting, a weapon carrier, which is a sort of large jeep, lots of tents, and all sorts of tools. They were generous. One, however, told our chaps that there were three bottles of whisky in the sunken P.T. boat. A salvage company was formed. Weird and wonderful diving suits were made from respirators and bits of pipe. and for days naked figures, covered with oil were to be seen diving for whisky. They never got it. We missed our American friends, but met them again further north.
Our job was gone. The mornings were filled in with a bit of a parade and salvage work. We became crocodile-conscious, and had a look out with an anti-tank rifle ready. There were quite a few about, but we never actually hit one.
Before the Americans left they made some of the chaps a present of four gallons of “torpedo-juice.” This was, I think, alcohol for use in torpedoes, but coloured like methylated spirits. Distilled, it yielded pure alcohol. Mixed with grapefruit juice, in proportion of 1 to 30, it made a drink for those who really wanted one. It had a depressing effect, but did no damage unless used in too strong a mixture. We had some on New Year’s Eve, but it didn't find much favour. This New Year’s Eve was not much chop. There we were on the edge of the mangrove swamp. Beside us were the ruins of the P.T. base—a mass of burnt timber and exploded shell cases. Some of the chaps were away having malaria, and the mosquitoes were there in force. In dull weather they gave us the works all day. The water was too warm and the coral cuts too painful to make swimming attractive, and was some kind of sea louse in the water that gave a painful nip. The mail was not coming well, and we were in a little world of our own, cut off from everyone.
We Wanted a Move
So when the rumours began to thicken, shortly after New Year, we lent a glad ear. During our stay at Vella the Treasury operations had been completed. Augusta Bay had been occupied, and there had been a short campaign on Choiseul. We were going to Nissan, but we didn’t know that. Nor did we care; what we wanted was a move, north or south.
Orders came quickly to move down the road and camp in a more accessible spot. We left our generator sitting and cleared out quick. The carriers still sat beneath the coconuts. We had been servicing them at intervals, and now we gave them a final check over put our spare gear in them. We never saw it or the carriers again.
It is impossible to convey to anyone not familiar with that sort of thing the terrific preparation required in an amphibious operation. I wish some people who are always talking of “Army muddles” could see one—an operation, I mean. Everyone has to work hard to get things ready, so for a fortnight before the day we were busy. We had to carry water with us, and water is heavy. But apart from water, food, arms, and ammunition, we had very little. We knew, some little time before the day, where we were going, and we had sand tables and maps and all possible information. Most of this was secured by a raid on Nissan made by one of our battalions. They found some Japs and had some casualties, but came back with all the dope. No water, they said, coconuts as big as footballs, toads that sing at night; 40 miles from Buka. So it was about the middle of February that we saw the convoy coming up. The balloons, moored to each LST, came over the horizon first. The sea seemed full of ships.
(To be continued.)
PRESS, 24 MARCH 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 22:54:02 GMT 12
THE NISSAN LANDING
(Specially Written for "The Press.”) [By BRUCE STRONACH]
“We can see New Ireland,” said the soldier. "Hope it doesn’t give as much trouble as Old Ireland.”
The beaches were full of troops waiting to embark. Each group had its little heap of gear, and each group knew which ship they were to sail in, what time they were to embark, exactly where they were going to land, and their job when landed. LSTs dwarfed the rest of the convoy. Their balloons, hauled fairly well down, gleamed in the sun. Out at sea were the assault personnel destroyers. Their troops went out to them by barge. With noses up on the beach, the landing craft infantry—LCls—took their troops on up a gangway each side.
The LSTs loaded and cleared out. They are pretty slow. Late in the afternoon the LCIs sailed, and much later the faster APDs. Next day we sat round the deck, watching the other ships, and interested in our escorting vessels. The voyage had one incident. A man on our LCI fell ill, very ill. We were just passing the Treasury Islands at the time, and it was decided to return him there by destroyer. These ships are big, and this one towered above us. The sea was calm and we came alongside. The sick man did not appear for some minutes, and the destroyer captain became annoyed, because no ship likes being stationary in dangerous waters. Someone threw over to the destroyer a thin cord. This sent the destroyer captain into an enjoyable frenzy. “What’s that goddam bit of string for?” he yelled. “How’d you like to be sent over on that?” He was considerably senior to our LCI captain, so there was no reply. The ships hummed and ha-ed and yawed and finally we just past the bloke over hand to hand.
The Seabees had made a few miles of road by this time and we settled down to a bloodless victory.
Natives showed friendliness. They had been influenced by missionaries, and wore badges of good conduct. These badges were coloured hat bands, worn round a Salvation Army cap. A red band meant a head man, and green and yellow bands men of lesser authority. I gave a red-band a razor blade for a promise of water melons, but he took the blade and never came back.
They told us there were a lot of Japanese on the island somewhere. The women were not in evidence at all and it seems they don’t trust us far. It must be rather difficult for the poor ignorant savage to understand us. We shoot off our mouths about peace and goodwill at one time and shoot off our guns at everyone we can see another time.
Towards evening we received orders to go across the bay to Pokonian plantation. The island is shaped like a horseshoe and the lagoon is about six miles in diameter. So we set sail in an L.C.T.—landing craft tank—and arrived over there before dark. A march of some two miles brought us to our new headquarters, and we settled down in foxholes dug by our predecessors. A change for us.
It was that night that I spent some time trying to catch a mysterious bird, that hooted in my ear. Weeks later I found it was a small species of frog, shaped like a leaf and perfectly camouflaged. The Japanese arrived hopefully and dropped some bombs in the sea. But we were too tired to be worried by trifles.
(To be concluded)
PRESS, 31 MARCH 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 23:32:27 GMT 12
HOME WE CAME
(Specially Written for “The Press.”) [By BRUCE STRONACH.]
“Home she rolls,’’said the soldier. “Listen to them, cheering — I don't think!”
The Japanese, of whom there were supposed to be more than 100, were reported to be in the, vicinity of the mission. This was in the inner coast towards the southern part of the island. And the carrier platoon was attached to a battalion attacking from the western arm. We had a march of some eight miles to join our battalion, and the sweat simply poured off us as we walked along the jungle track.
At one halt we passed some 60 or 70 natives, among whom were some attractive girls, dressed, in skirts only. The troops took a fresh interest in life and the platoon humourist asked for 10 minutes’ leave.
The battalion was camped near the sea and I reported to the adjutant about 4 p.m. We were only half welcome, because they reckoned they could clean up any Japs without the help of any brigade people. But they gave us a job on their left flank, advancing along the shore to the mission. We were shown our position for that night, and I was very uneasy, because, as far as I could see from the map, the gunners were ranging on the very spot at which we bivvied.
This view was confirmed just before dusk, when shells began to arrive all about us.,. .Fortunately most landed in the water, but some did not and we beat a retreat inland and dug in for the night. Just before dark one of the sentries saw a Jap about 50 yards away, but we let him go rather than make a noise.
Next morning at dawn the whole show opened up. Some of the mortar bombs, fell just behind us, and the heavy rain caused the smoke to hang low. We advanced through choking vapours and through terrific obstacles. The jungle was choked with fallen trees and the swamp was difficult. But we went right through to the mission in good time, without seeing any Japs. So things fell pretty flat and the troops explored the buildings while the officers had a conference. Officers are always having conferences. The upshot was that all hands returned to the last night’s camp and had a good feed and went to sleep.
No Japs Here—
After short patrols next day, the island was declared clear of Japs, and we took things, easy. The platoon had a job finding a suitable place for Brigade Headquarters. About eleven o’clock next morning the platoon was resting under some mahogany trees, and some of the men decided to go for a swim. As the first man approached the beach he was surprised to see a, soldier aiming a rifle at him from behind a tree. He said, “Hold it ” But the other chap didn’t hold it. He was a Jap. But he missed with his two shots, the platoon formed up and proceeded to search. The search was successful—too successful, and in a few minutes two men were badly wounded and the rest in perimeter around about 60 Japs.
—Except Hostile Ones
The jungle was absolutely impenetrable at this place and we had no communications and no mortars. Some Vickers gunners were handy and we let them have a go, and then some tanks came along. They brought our wounded out, and as our strength was 16 at this time, we were glad to see them. After four hours some reinforcements arrived and it was not before time, as the platoon had been under fire, for that time, and if the Japs had thought of coming after us, we would have got only second prize. We withdrew then to let the mortars have a go, and to make a long story short they did a good job and an assault found 60 dead Japs. Two got away in a canoe, but were collected by a P.T. boat later on.
There was a little trouble about who was going to bury the Japs, those who had killed them arguing that to kill them was enough, and the rest saying, “You kill ’em—you bury ’em.” They were finally pushed over the cliff by a bulldozer. Our casualties were, not high; but there were several killed and that is high enough.
So that action finished the Japs on Nissan. Those, with a group on Sau Island and another on Sirot Island, were all that were there," although we kept catching odd-single ones for weeks afterwards.
Next day we started to make a camp. It was a good one, and in it, we lived for two and a half months. As soon as the airstrip was finished, the Jap air raids ceased and life became civilised. Our P.T. boat friends had moved up and we met them again. They had been on leave to New Zealand and found it good.
From our camp, Buka was clearly visible some mornings and other mornings there was no sign. Out of the sea we got quite a lot of fish, bonito chiefly, which are very good eating. Terrific thunder and lightning storms and very heavy rain were frequent, and we had one semi-hurricane. Trees snapped off all around us, and it was difficult to find a safe place.
We left Nissan months later with no regrets and set sail for New Zealand on a Liberty ship. She was very slow, but landed us in Caledonia again after a week at sea. The place was full of luxuries and everyone made a fuss of us for nearly half an hour. And after a spell in hospital with a few abscesses and rashes and a little malaria, home we came.
These short writings have described something of what happened to a small group of men. They have skipped all the gory and tragic side, of things. Security and regulations make them tough to write. This was the lighter side. That’s all.
PRESS, 7 APRIL 1945
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 16, 2021 23:34:20 GMT 12
I have to say I really enjoyed that read, he described things brilliantly, and did not leave out a lot of details that most in wartime would not have written. Plus there are some brilliantly funny moments too. So glad I discovered that series.
Post by davidd on Mar 17, 2021 12:17:47 GMT 12
Totally agree Dave H, he certainly has a great style, very understated, very light. So I also thoroughly enjoyed reading this series. Its just a pity these were not published much earlier, although the usual excessive conservatism of NZ censors is probably to blame for this. And in case any forum members do not know, ignore the publication dates of these articles (unless looking up the originals in "Papers' Past"), these episodes cover the period from about July 1943 to April 1944.
Post by Dave Homewood on Mar 17, 2021 12:22:40 GMT 12
I'm glad that you also enjoyed this series. He covers a lot in each short episode. And does it so well.
I wonder if their carriers and gear is still sitting next to the blown up PT boat camp where they had to leave them.