The Ramblings of a Wandering Radar Man
This narrative continues on from the end of Chap.10 of my book "GOLDEN 306"(ISBN 0-646-41099-7) Chapter 10 describes my return to Port Moresby, in October 1943, after spending eight months at Bulolo, which is in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
41 WING, PORT. MORESBY
When we left Port Moresby, bound for Bulolo, in late February 1943, the beginnings of what was to become 41 Radar Wing were just starting to appear. It consisted of a small prefabricated building, approximately 4 metres by 3 metres, which had been erected at Konedobu, near the waterfront of Port Moresby harbour. At that time, the Wing was known as 41 RDF Wing, but this was subsequently changed to 41 Radar Wing. RDF stood for Radio Direction Finding, which had little to do with radar, but which was chosen for secrecy reasons. Alan Benson, a radar mechanic who was well known to me, was in charge of the hut. Three Wings had been formed at this time to service the needs of the large number of radar stations which had, by this time, been set up all around the Australian coastline and also in the South East Pacific Area.
By November 1943, 41 Wing had become a completely established complex at Johns Gully Road, Razorback, which is about 18 km from the town centre. In the present day Moresby, the Razorback area would probably be part of the suburb known as Morata.
The day after arriving at Wing, I was called into the office of the Radar Officer, Flying Officer Moss, who told me that I was to be engaged in maintenance and installation duties. In fact, I was to immediately collect several items of test equipment and to be ready to move out early next morning.
It must have been about this time that I was issued with a Priority Travel Pass. I think it was called a Triple "A" Priority. It really worked. The only time that it didn't work for me was on the occasions when there just wasn't any transport. At that time, every person travelling around New Guinea had to have an authority to travel but most people, most officers included, did not have any sort of priority. You just took your place in a queue. However, apparently radar was considered to be extremely important and anything to do with the maintenance of radar stations warranted a high priority. I remember an occasion when I arrived at the Transport Office at Buna, just as a transport plane was preparing to leave for Port Moresby. The plane was already fully loaded with cargo and a few people. The Transport Officer stopped the plane, removed an Australian officer who had the rank of Captain, to make room for me. The unfortunate Captain was furious and tried to pull rank. However the Transport Officer showed him my Priority Pass, which had been signed by a high ranking American officer and suggested that the captain should complain to that gentleman. I hope that the poor Captain didn't have to wait too many days for the next available transport.
RS 315 CAPE WARD HUNT
My first assignment was to be to RS 315 which had been installed at Cape Ward Hunt, on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea on 12 April 1943. Cape Ward Hunt was said to be a prime radar site, although, at the time, it was known that there were thousands of Japanese troops not far away. The actual site of the radar was on top of the headland of the cape, probably about 75 metres above sea level. The camp was located at the base of the cliff, separated from the sea by a long narrow swamp. One of the first jobs to be done by the guards was the cutting and reinforcing of over 300 steps up the side of the cliff. This was necessary to enable all the technical equipment to be carried up to the top of the headland. Soon after becoming operational, 315 began to suffer technical problems that were said to be caused by condensation, brought on by the very high humidity conditions. Pilot Officer Les Bell, who had become a legend in the radar scene, was sent to help. The station records show that he was followed by a very well respected mechanic, Sergeant John Fraser, who spent a total of three months at 315.
I commenced my journey to Cape Ward Hunt on 4-11-43. The first leg was a flight over the Owen Stanley Range, following the general direction of the Kokoda Trail below, to Buna. After a short trip by truck, I arrived at the Marine Section in good time to get loaded onto the supply boat which was waiting to start the supply run to 315. Of course, I had been told nothing about any of the start-up problems that had been experienced. However, I found that the station was operating reasonably well. Nevertheless, I performed the normal tuning-up procedures, without achieving any significant improvement in performance. Hence I have to say that I have no understanding of why I had been sent. Probably my visit was just to ensure that the men of 315 knew that they had not been forgotten.
It should be explained that my job of maintenance was never straight forward. An operational radar station was never allowed to be off the air for more than the rostered 5 or 10 minutes a day, for routine maintenance. On those occasions when some sort of activity was taking place, it could well be that even this small amount of time might not be allowed by the Controller at the Fighter Sector. Consequently, it was necessary to plan ahead to ensure that maximum advantage was taken of those few brief minutes, to be certain that the station could resume watching at the appointed time. Usually my work could not be done, even with planning, in less than a week.
Although I had previously trained with one of the station radar mechanics, I soon became aware of the leper treatment which seems to have been meted out to all visiting maintenance technicians on arrival at an established station. Consequently it was quite a lonely existence. However, I remember one night at 315 when I was sitting in the mess, on my own, listening to the radio. The ABC radio station was broadcasting a request program for the troops. It so happened that the request for that night had come from Ted Hammond who, they said, was on an RAAF station up in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. This of course was 306 at Bulolo. Whilst I was at 306 some months before, I remembered Ted saying that he was writing in to the ABC to request a program. Ted asked me if I had a request, so I nominated "Golden Wedding" played by (I think) Woodey Herman, which was a very popular recording at the time. I will always remember the boost it gave me, at a time when I was feeling so low, to hear that recording played especially for me.
Eventually the supply boat returned and by about 25-11-43, I was on my way back to Buna. I had a delay of several hours, so I took the opportunity to hitch-hike the short distance to Cape Endaiadere, the place where my cousin Bernie Giblin had been killed in December 1942. The site of the battle had been a small coconut plantation, adjacent to the beach. However, most of the trees had been cut down by gun fire. There were about fifty temporary graves nearby and I had no difficulty finding my cousin. At that time I still had my small vest pocket folding camera with which I took a photo for his parents.
THE GREEN BOXES.
Just before leaving 41 Wing, I had been given seven large wooden boxes to carry around with me on my maintenance jobs. They had been painted bright emerald green. Each box contained a piece of radar test equipment, such as a so-called Radar Test Set, a Signal Generator, an Oscilloscope and other sundry devices. I would estimate from memory the total weight of those seven boxes would have to be around the 100 kgs. Experience had shown that, whilst each station had been issued with its own test equipment, often it was found that, perhaps through neglect or through rough handling during transport, none could be relied on for accuracy. Those boxes became the bane of my life. The weight of each box was such that I could carry just one, maybe two, at a time. Consequently, when I arrived at a destination, it was necessary to shuttle boxes to and fro, trying to keep an eye on two heaps of boxes at the same time. There was another problem with those damn boxes. Remembering the Triple "A" Priority Pass with which I had been issued, it had now become necessary to find, not one but two places on any aircraft that was going to where I wanted to go.
In addition to those boxes, I also had to carry my own personal equipment. This consisted of my Thompson automatic sub machine gun which was always in my possession, carried slung over my shoulder, my hammock, a change of clothing and a few personal items.
The idea of carrying around a hammock sounds like an unnecessary luxury and is in need of an explanation. When any member of the defence forces was travelling around with appropriate authority, he could expect to get a place to sleep and a meal, at any of the many Transit Camps. These camps, which were run by the Australian Army, were usually set up near major airstrips or near marine units. Invariably the facilities and food were very basic but adequate. However, frequently I found that the most essential item, the mosquito net, was often non-existent, or at the best badly dilapidated and hence useless. In addition, the nature of my travelling was such that on occasions I had no alternative but to overnight as best I could.
I had noticed that many American servicemen, when travelling, had what was called a jungle hammock which appeared to me to be just what I needed. It consisted of a basic hammock which had attached a waterproof tent-like cover, the sides being enclosed by very fine netting which could be unzipped to enable easy access. It even came with its own repair kit; but best of all, it rolled up into a very small, lightweight bundle.
At the first opportunity, I, looking every bit like an Australian RAAF airman, fronted up to a US Army stores depot, flashed my Triple "A" Pass and requested an American Army Jungle Hammock. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this was no trouble until I was asked, to which unit the cost should be charged. I didn't like my chances if it was to be charged to "Forty-one Radar Wing" which didn't sound very American. So I cheekily replied "Forty First Radar" which was accepted without further ado. On reflection, and considering the almost universal generosity of the Americans towards Australians, I have little doubt that I would have been given the article regardless of how I had replied.
RS 337, KIRIWINA
It was generally understood that when a man had been away for more than a week, the first day after his return was considered to be a day off duty. This was to enable him to catch up with his personal chores such as clothes washing, etc. However, I was told that I was urgently required to go to Kiriwina, which is in the Trobriand Islands group, roughly north of Milne Bay. I was to join up with an installation party, lead by Flying Officer Keith Bishop, which had the task of installing Radar Station No 337. Keith Bishop and the crew of 337 had departed some days earlier
(27 November 43) and I had to catch up with them. I arrived at Kiriwina with very good timing, just after all the hard work had been done in getting all the equipment to the northern end of the island. Strangely, the site chosen was a tiny little outcrop of coral, perhaps 50 metres in diameter, separated from the main island by about 10 metres of water. Its name was also small, Sia Island. At the time, it did not occur to me to question the decision to put the radar on this tiny bit of coral - which was just as well. Years later, I learnt that the decision was made by none other than Squadron Leader Bert Israel, then the commanding officer of 41 Wing. S/L Israel had had enormous experience in radar and he would have to be considered to be one of the pioneers of radar in Australia.
Apart from Bill Hutchison, who was the senior mechanic with 337, I didn't know any of the other men. I had heard of Keith Bishop, who had an enviable reputation as an installer of radar stations. During the few days I spent with him on that job, I came to see that the reputation was well deserved. He was an extremely good man at his job. In recent years, I have had a perplexing discussion with my long time friend, Norm Smith. We have each claimed to have been a member of the installation party at Sia Island and have each claimed that the other was not present. Recently we came to realise that at that time, we could not have known each other. This could well explain the dilemma, so we have agreed to accept this explanation.
Sia Island being no more than a small outcrop of coral, Keith Bishop decided that the coral would not be sufficiently strong to support the weight of the radar on its four mounting legs. Hence we had to first put down a wooden base, cut from coconut palms, on which to assemble the equipment. We also had to cut two more coconut trees, which were used to form a small bridge spanning the water across to the island. Everything went very well, the radar got good results, so after about four days, I left to return to Port Moresby. Norm Smith told me recently that after only a month of operation, the radar was threatened during a storm, by large waves, which swept across the tiny island and threatened to destroy the equipment. The decision was made to move the radar to safer ground on the main island, which probably is where it should have been put in the first place. The station personnel made this move.
Back at 41 Wing, I had my first opportunity to spend a few days without having to be always on the move. I have some vivid memories of those few days. The most prominent recollection concerned the early mornings, just before dawn, when the bombers were leaving Jackson airstrip. Johns Gully Road, where 41 Wing was located, was on a high hill that was almost in a direct line with the Jackson airstrip some 2 km distant. Consequently, the bombers, having just taken off with a full load of bombs, were struggling, with full throttle, to clear the hill on which we were camped. They always did manage to do so, but not without some very worrying moments from all those on the ground. Perhaps it was not only due to the power of their engines - some allowance should be made for the power of the prayers of the several hundred airmen in their beds below.
One night, around 1 or 2 am, someone shouting out "FIRE, FIRE", awakened us. There was great confusion as men in various states of undress rushed around trying to find the fire. Eventually, it was discovered that the warning was coming from a fellow who appeared to be sound asleep, still in his bed. This sort of thing happened occasionally as someone cracked up under the strain of the type of life that we had to live. It was commonly called "Going Troppo". It must be said that we were mostly quite philosophical about this sort of thing and were not without some sympathy for the man concerned. Of course, there were the shrewdies who put on an act in the hope of being able to fool the medical officers and so get a posting back home. These fellows were never thought of with any sympathy.
The RAAF always knew how to keep its men busy. Hence, whilst waiting for my next assignment, I was detailed to work in the maintenance department where there was always something to be repaired or altered. An old friend, Warrant Officer Vin Tolsen, was in charge. Vin gave me a small domestic type radio to repair. This proved to be not difficult and when it was finished, Vin suggested that I return it to its owner, Squadron Leader Israel. As commanding officer, Bert Israel had his own quarters, a small self-contained house which was situated just up from the parade ground. Mr. Israel was delighted to get his radio back and rewarded me with a little snow apple. I must confess that I was very pleased with the gift, even though it was a little wrinkled on the skin. I hadn't seen any sort of an apple for well over 12 months. I took it back to the workshop where it was shared four ways amongst equally appreciative mates.
It must have been about this time that I began to think about the value of education. Perhaps it had begun even earlier, because at Bulolo I had enrolled in a correspondence course to study refrigeration. I suspect that I had chosen this subject purely for interest because, before joining the RAAF, I had completed more than 90% of an apprenticeship as a printing machinist, so there was little value in studying another trade.
However, I was starting to get a sense of worth, an increased level of self-esteem. I was beginning to realise that I was a very good radar mechanic and more importantly, that I loved that sort of work. The thought of having to go back to printing after the war was filling me with trepidation. Enquiries to the air force education department produced the disappointing information that my level of education was far too low for me to be able to enter into any course of engineering after the war. My younger sister and I were children of a widowed mother. We had grown up in Melbourne during the worst years of what was called the Great Depression of the nineteen thirties. Education, beyond the basics, was not a consideration in my mother's thinking, when compared with the necessity for providing a roof over our heads and something to eat. In those days, the only help that a widow could expect from the government was to have her children removed from her care, made wards of the State and to be put into an orphanage. This was an option that my mother would never consider. Rather, she chose to work long hours at one of the large Melbourne hospitals. I can clearly remember her leaving home before daylight to go to work, leaving us alone, a 10 and a 9 year old, to get ourselves ready to go to school. Hence, when I turned fourteen years of age and could legally be sent out to work, it was necessary for me to get a job and to help support the family. At this time, I had reached what would today be called "Year 9" and had obtained the Merit Certificate and the Junior Technical Certificate. This was the limit of my education, when, aged fourteen, I started my first job that was to lead to the apprenticeship in printing.
With the realisation that my education was woefully inadequate to give me any hope of being able to start a future course in engineering, I made the decision to reorganise my correspondence studies. Of course, study by correspondence requires a dependence on the post. This was usually a problem because my permanent address was at 41 Wing, where I spent so little of my time. Frequently my mail would be waiting for me at Wing for long periods of time whilst I was wandering around the distant radar stations. This frequently held up my studies. However, my life in those days was very conducive to study, because life on a remote radar station had none of the distractions that were so common on the big stations such as 41 Wing. Study was my main occupation in the evenings, particularly when I had finished the work that I had been sent to do and was waiting for the supply boat to arrive to take me on to the next job. The overall result was that later when the war was over, I was able to qualify for entry into a four year Fellowship Diploma Course in Communication Engineering, at what is now called RMIT University. Incidentally, this was the same institution, which, having been taken over by the RAAF at the beginning of the war was where I had done my initial training as a Radio Mechanic.
I had been working out of Port Moresby about 2 months when I had heard via the grapevine that on 28th November, one of my mates at Bulolo, Bob Barling, had trodden on a grenade and had lost most of his right foot. This story is told in Chapter 11 of "GOLDEN 306". I also learnt that on 5th December, he had been sent to Port Moresby and admitted to the 2/9th Australian General Hospital, which was not far from 41 Wing. I was able to visit him on three occasions. Just before the last visit, my mother had sent me a telegram advising that my cousin, Bernie Giblin, of the 2/10th Battalion, AIF, had been killed in action in New Guinea on 21st December 1943. It was a surprise to find a number of Bernie's mates in the same ward with Bob. From them I learnt that Bernie had died in an action against the Japanese at Cape Endaiadere, which is near Buna, not far from Popendetta at the end of the Kokoda Trail. Poor Bernie had survived the fighting all along the Kokoda, only to be killed about 200 metres from the sea. Some months later, I was able to visit Cape Endaiadere and found the grave where he had been temporarily buried. I took a photo of the grave with my small vest pocket folding camera.
This last story about my cousin is one which I have told on many occasions, starting from not long after the war's end. I have never questioned its accuracy; after all, I have always felt that I remembered every detail very clearly.
However, when I started writing this sequel, it became necessary to put all my experiences into some sort of chronological order. It was only then that I started to realize that something was wrong. The first doubt came when I learnt that Bob Barling had been shipped out from Port Moresby, on the hospital ship "Manunda" on the 26th December 1943. How could it possibly be that if my cousin was killed on 21st December, I would know about it three days later? Also on 25th December, as will be related later, I was involved in a landing on Long Island during which I lost all my equipment, including my vest pocket folding camera. Yet, I did use that camera to take a photo of the gravesite at Cape Endaiadere. Obviously the photo must have been taken soon after my arrival back at 41 Wing in Port Moresby, in early November 1943 and prior to my departure for Long Island, say mid December 1943.
Bob's departure on 26th December and my arrival at Long Island on 25th December have been verified by official records. An approach to Army records produced the amazing information that the date of death of Private Bernard Giblin was 26th December 1942 not 1943.
This event raises several questions in my mind. Firstly, how did I know that my cousin had been killed and buried at Cape Endaiadere? I have always believed that the defence forces did not supply that sort of information to the relatives of casualties, so soon after the event. Even today on the database of The Australian War Memorial, the place of death is recorded as "New Guinea, Buna Area". Secondly, who were those Army men whom I believe that I met when visiting Bob at the Army hospital in Port Moresby? I have no answer to these questions. However, I believe that I have sorted out a more realistic time frame and that my visit to Cape Endaiarere actually occurred in late November 1943. This revised version is already described in the story of Cape Ward Hunt.
The realization that, for all these years, I have been so wrong about the detail of my cousin's death and remembering the probable confusion in my mind regarding the rescue of the American airman, as described in Chapter 8 of "Golden 306", has caused me to have a profound scepticism for the veracity of oral history. Of course, on a number of occasions, I have found that my old wartime mates have shown that their memories are often no better than mine.
My days of comparative ease at Wing never lasted more than 3 or 4 days. I was given orders to go to an American radar station where they were having trouble with an Australian radar set, the LW/AW Mark 2.
It is necessary to explain how it came about that an American radar station had radar equipment that was Australian designed and built. Most of the American equipment was classified as "mobile", that is, it was mounted on trucks or trailers. Hence it was not the sort of equipment that was readily transported into the jungle of New Guinea. On the other hand, men could very easily carry the Australian radar set into the most inaccessible locations that one could imagine - and some of our siting teams were not short on imagination!
It became American policy that each of their radar stations would be supplied with an Australian LW/AW (Light Weight /Air Warning), in addition to their usual goliaths. A problem quickly arose because none of the American technicians had been given training on the LW/AW. Hence the urgent request for the services of an "Aussie technician". The primary equipment in use at this station was an SCR270, an enormous unit mounted on 3 trucks. Weighing in at 84,000 pounds (38,000kg), it made the LW/AW, at 13,000 pounds (5,900kg), look insignificant.
I have not been able to remember exactly where that Yankee radar was. From Finschhafen airstrip, we travelled northward in a Jeep for about 30 km, over the most atrocious roads that one could imagine. Many heavily laden trucks were being pulled by tractors up a very steep and greasy hill. On the way north, we passed Scarlet Beach, near Sattelberg, where only a few months previously many Australian troops had died in a fierce battle with the Japanese.
The American camp was quite a surprise to me. It was nothing like the "bare essential" type of camp that I was used to on our radar stations. Certainly they slept in tents, but each tent was provided with a wooden floor and was surrounded with flywire netting. The mess area and kitchen was a lovely, well constructed building, probably far better than what we had back at Wing in Moresby. I have a recollection that I was impressed by the quality of the food or "chow" that was served. I cannot remember exactly what the food was but whatever, it was exceptionally good. Also I must say that every man went out of his way to be nice to me, remembering that, at that time, I was a mere corporal, whilst nearly all the Americans held the rank of sergeant or higher. However, regardless of the fine living and the friendliness of the Americans, there was something missing. I became aware of feeling very lonely. I suppose that I was missing my Aussie mates. So, in this time of melancholy, I was tempted to pick up a packet of cigarettes which was freely available to all as you lined up to get your chow in the mess. This was how it came about that I smoked my second (and last) cigarette. Fortunately it didn't help, so I didn't continue. My very first smoke had occurred twelve years earlier, when, as a ten year old, I had shared a puff with my ten year old mate on the banks of the Yarra River, behind the shed at the Collingwood municipal tip.
I was appalled at the condition in which I found the poor little LW/AW. No wonder it would not work. I believe that I saw indications that a number of people had had a go at it, each introducing his own modification for goodness knows what reason. However, I set to work and restored all the errors and modifications back to what they had originally been. I recollect that I had to correct about 30 variations from the original, any one of which would have prevented proper operation. This took me some weeks, as each fault had to be located, one by one, and then corrected. Eventually I got it "on the air" and almost immediately picked up an aircraft at a good range of about 150 miles. I rang the plot through to the operator on the SCR270, who, after checking it out on his screen, told me that I was wrong, because he could see nothing there. However, I had been working on LW/AW equipment for too long to make a mistake like that, so I plotted it in until the SCR270 picked it up at about 90 miles. Immediately the prestige of the LW/AW, in the eyes of the Americans, went from being a strange curiosity, to something, which had to be treated with a lot of respect. Without doubt, the Commanding Officer was impressed, because he reorganised the unit roster to have the LW/AW working concurrently with the SCR270.
This should not be seen as a criticism of the SCR270; each unit had its strengths and its weaknesses. A lot would depend on how the antenna was tuned, the height of the target aircraft and other such things. However, working together, the SCR270 and the LW/AW made a formidable pair. I am not sure that my success increased my popularity with the rank and file. Yes it did with some, but those fellows (perhaps I should call them "guys") who were rostered to work the LW/AW might have seen things differently.
RS 331, TAMI ISLAND
My next assignment was to 331 Radar Station, which was on Tami Island, about 20 km east of Finschhafen. They were having trouble with their BL4 Interrogator, a device that operated in tandem with the radar. Also, the ASV Beacon, which was located nearby, wasn't working correctly.
At that time, all Allied aircraft and ships, were fitted with a device called IFF - Identification Friend or Foe - which responded with a coded signal, when interrogated by the BL4. Thus a target could be identified as friend or foe.
The ASV Beacon was a device which operated in a manner that was similar to the IFF. It could be interrogated by airborne radar. Most of the larger Allied aircraft were fitted with their own radar, called ASV - Air to Surface Vessel - which was used to locate ships and other aircraft. The ASV could also interrogate any of the many ASV Beacons, which were set up at known locations. The beacon responded with a signal, which was coded to identify that particular beacon. Thus the navigator on the aircraft could get a bearing and distance to a known feature in the area in which his aircraft was flying.
When I arrived at 331, it didn't take long to realise what the problem was. Both the BL4 and the Beacon had been set to almost the same frequency; hence one was triggering the other continuously. Thus neither unit was able to perform its function correctly. It took little time to slightly alter the frequency of the Beacon, with the result that both were now working perfectly. It was with some satisfaction that I sent a signal to Wing, outlining just what I had done. However, I was more than a little disappointed when Wing signalled back, saying that what I had done was not permitted. I was ordered to restore the frequency of the Beacon to what it had been. I suppose that I might have been excused if I had had more than just a slight smirk on my face when I advised them that the Beacon frequency had now been reset and that both units were again unserviceable. After some delay, I was ordered to reset the Beacon to another frequency, quite different from that which I had arbitrarily chosen. At the time, I was somewhat cynical about the course of events. However, in recent years, I came to learn that Wing had acted correctly, because in an area where many beacons are operating, it is essential to choose frequencies that will ensure that the whole system will operate in harmony.
Having achieved a satisfactory conclusion to my assignment during the first day of my visit, I was now obliged to wait for the return of the boat on its fortnightly supply run. I can't recall what I did to pass the time. One had to be careful not to interfere in any way with the normal running of the station. Of course, I had absolute authority to do that for which I had been sent, but even this invariably raised some resentment from the resident mechanics, particularly if the head mechanic held higher rank than I did, at that time, a mere corporal. I suppose it reflected badly on them that they hadn't sorted out the problem themselves.
RS 338 LONG ISLAND
A few days before completing the Tami Island job, about 21st December, I had received a signal from Wing. I was told that I was urgently required to report to Flying Officer John Hubbard at Dreager Harbour, by 23/12/1943. Dreager Harbour is about 5km South of Finschhafen airstrip. I had no difficulty hitching a ride back to Finschhafen as there was still an enormous amount of traffic slithering around on that mud track.
During the 8 months that I had been at Bulolo, 41 Wing had adopted the policy of sending a specialist installation party with each new radar station, to ensure that the installation was carried out expeditiously and that the equipment was correctly tuned. I was to join such a group.
I had little difficulty finding John Hubbard at Dreager Harbour, because the small group of Australians was very conspicuous amongst the many Americans who were preparing for a landing at Cape Gloucester, which is on the western end of the island of New Britain. John informed me that we were to accompany Radar Station No 338 which had been given the task of providing radar coverage for that landing. Our destination was to be Long Island, about 100 nautical miles to the north. There were two other members in our team, Sgt. Eric Arndt and Sgt. Jack Barnet, both of whom were drill instructors and hence were well versed in handling groups of men. Their job was to co-ordinate the heavy carrying and lifting, which was required to get the radar equipment to its selected site. I, of course, was the radar specialist.
RS338, under the command of Pilot Officer Alan D. Lum, had been formed 3 months previously at Richmond NSW. It had the usual complement of men although most had not had any experience on a radar station. Of the five radar mechanics who had been allocated to the unit, only one, David Bloch, had had experience on a station down South and that amounted to only two months. Consequently, David held the position of Senior Mechanic. I am not sure if this is the correct spelling of David's surname. They all looked to be bright, keen young lads and indeed, not long afterwards, were to be obliged to prove their mettle.
Long Island is situated in the Vitiaz Strait, about 150 km (92 miles) west of Cape Gloucester, an ideal location for radar coverage of that part of New Britain. The island is a passive volcano, although it did erupt in 1948 and again in 1973. It is approximately circular, about 25 km in diameter. The highest point, Mt. Reamur in the north, rises to about 1200 metres above sea level, with Bunaga Cerisy Peak at 1110 metres in the south. The caldera or crater, between these two peaks, contains a large volume of water, which is known as Lake Wisdom. Most of the storm water run-off from the two mountains drains into the lake; hence the water level can rise quite rapidly after rainfall. The average water level is about 200 metres above sea level. Joe Lynam, who was in a small plane, when it flew down into the crater in 1944, reported that he was able to see some slight volcanic activity on the surface of the water.
Up to 1000 Japanese were thought to be on the island. It was known that until perhaps mid-December, they had been using a small bay on the eastern coast of Long Island as a base for their barges. It had also been used to moor sea planes.
On 24 December 1943, we loaded all our equipment into two landing barges and in the late afternoon, left Dreager Harbour for the short run north to a small harbour close to Finschhafen. Here we staged overnight at the headquarters of the 592th US Amphibian Engineers. At 1430 hours, on Christmas Day 1943, in company with 5 other landing barges containing 150 American Marines, we moved out of the harbour and headed north, to Long Island about 180 km away The Marines had the task of securing the island and then to provide protection for the radar.
Our journey through the night was relatively uneventful. The weather was fine, so that Jim Monaro, one of the mechanics and I were able to sleep on top of the tarpaulin which had been stretched across the barge to protect all our technical equipment. At 0400 hours, just before dawn, we arrived off the small village of Malala, on the eastern coast of Long Island. A short delay followed, probably whilst the Marines decided their first move. However, the skipper of the barge I was on, allowed his craft to drift towards the coral reef where a big surf was running. During the journey, I had been dozing. My first awareness of trouble occurred, when, after a big wave crashed over the barge, I found myself in the water. Whilst swimming has never been something that I am good at, I believe that it didn't matter much. Being on a coral reef, in big seas, you just had to go wherever the waves pushed you. Fortunately, after a short time, I found myself inside the reef, in relatively calm water, battered and bloody, but still very much alive.
It was then that I realized the predicament in which I was placed. There may well have been Japs in front of me and with the approaching dawn, the Marines would be coming in behind me. I remember crouching down in the shallow water wondering what the hell I should do. It should be remembered that I had no weapon. My Thompson sub-machine gun, with which I had been armed before leaving 41 Wing, was on the barge. In fact, it, along with all my personal equipment, had also been washed overboard, never to be seen again. In the dawn light, I was terrified to see somebody walking along the beach. As this person came nearer, I was able to recognise Jim Monaro. Jim was horrified when I asked him about the Japs. He said that he had seen me washed overboard in the second before he suffered the same fate. He said that he was looking for me and hadn't thought about Japs! In any case he had seen none. So we decided that we had better get up into the jungle above the beach and try to work out our plan for when the Marines landed. In any event the Marines did not come ashore at that place. Incidentally, Jim Monaro and I became very good friends. After the war, he resumed his studies in medicine at Sydney University and went on to become a well respected surgeon in London. Unfortunately, he died about 1990, just one month before I had planned to visit him.
With the onset of daylight, we could see our barge stranded on the reef, about 200 metres out, with the rest of the convoy well out to sea in safe water. Two native men from the nearby village approached us but did not come close. However they did not appear to be aggressive and eventually disappeared. Thinking that they might have gone to tell any Japs who may have been in the vicinity, we went down onto the beach and tried to attract attention, but without success. Eventually, at about 1000 hours (10 am), we saw a boat approach the barge. A man jumped into the water and swam to the barge, towing a long rope which was then attached to the barge. They were able to pull the barge off the reef into deeper water.
At this time we could see that the other boats were moving southward and coming ashore about 7 km away. It was not possible for us to walk along the shoreline, there being no beach, so we had a very difficult time pushing our way through very heavy undergrowth, arriving at the landing point by mid afternoon. Here we found that the chosen spot was centred on what appeared to be a wide sandy road which ran up into the centre of the island. Our first bit of good news for the day was that most of the heavy unloading had already been done, including all the equipment from the swamped barge. Indeed, all the steel framework of the radar, which would not have been affected by the salt water immersion, had been carried to the base of the cliff, below where the radar was to be sited. However, the electronic equipment was a sorry sight. It was estimated that it had all been immersed in salt water for about six hours, during the time that the barge had been swamped.
Of course, the first priority was to get tents up before darkness came on. This was a fortunate move because during the night, heavy rain started to fall. Soon a strange noise began to make itself heard, gradually increasing in loudness to a roaring sound. When dawn came, it was found that the noise was coming from a raging torrent which was pouring down what we had thought was a lovely sandy road. Later investigation revealed that as the water level in Lake Wisdom rose, it overflowed down a cataract and then along the "road", into the sea.
This phenomenon presented us with a number of problems. The two sergeants, Eric and Jack, had chosen to erect their tent in what might be called the delta of the river. During the night, their tent had been swept away by the torrent. They had sought refuge in the branches of a very small tree, indeed the only one on the delta. The spectacle at daylight was of these two big men, up this small tree with their kitbags tied to a lower branch, the whole being completely surrounded by a raging torrent. The situation was exacerbated by the presence of a large tree trunk, long since washed from its original position upstream, which was slowly being moved along by the torrent and threatening to bulldoze the frail support of the two men. There was nothing that we could do to help them, except to hurriedly get one of the boats to stand off the delta to pick them up, in the event that they were to be dislodged. However, before anything untoward happened, the torrent abated to a trickle and disappeared.
Another problem to arise concerned the equipment which had been stacked neatly on the "roadway" the night before. Most of it was washed away, some of the heavier crates of radar equipment being found on the beach. One of the two kerosene powered refrigerators had been washed out to sea and was never recovered.
Of more immediate concern was the fact that, for some unknown reason, the Marines had chosen to set up their camp on the north side of the river and the radar camp was on the other - and they had all the food. This was an ongoing problem. I recall occasions when we could not get over to get a meal, or, having eaten, we would be unable to get back. It was unpredictable because it was influenced by rainfall any where on the island. If rain was to fall, say on Mount Reamur, 20 km away, then, within a very short time the torrent would be running.
Fortuitously, there was an advantage in this, of which we were not slow to make use. Our electronic gear was washed in this ready supply of fresh water. The subsequent need for drying out was quite a problem. However, every means was put to use. This even included the cook's camp oven, although since this oven was wood fired, the necessary dry wood was hard to find. It is interesting to note, that in the quest for wood, someone found some stones that looked like shiny black coal. Indeed, it burnt very well but as it did so, the stones shattered into numerous pieces, with loud explosions. It was deemed to be too dangerous to the cook's nerves, not to mention his oven, so its use was discontinued. The experts were of the opinion that we had found a source of very high quality anthracite.
Whilst all this work was being done on the electronic racks, Eric and Jack, under the supervision of John Hubbard, had got the tower erected on the cliff top. Eric Arndt was an ideal man for this job. He had a lovely manner of jollying men along to produce that extra bit of effort when the going was difficult. I am sure that he never asked men to do something that he wouldn't or couldn't do himself. This is not to say that Jack Barnet didn't work just as hard, perhaps he just didn't have that happy knack with men.
The fitter, whose name I cannot remember, had also been working on the alternator sets. He had had to strip down the Ford 10 engines and the alternators for cleaning. After reassembly, they appeared to operate satisfactorily.
On 28 December 1943, everything apparently was ready to go, so the decision was made to switch on. When power was first applied, everything seemed to fail. Initially it was not necessary to diagnose the source of a trouble. All that had to be done was to find the component that was smoking and replace it. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that our spare components had also been immersed in saltwater and hence were no better than those in use. Hence it became a matter of improvising. For example, power transformers which were encased in a steel container to give protection against tropical humidity were showing internal short circuits to the steel case. Our only option was to cut open the steel case to get at the wiring in the hope that we could remove the fault.
This was an extremely tiring and time consuming job, so eventually we decided to leave the short there. Now, instead of screwing the case to the metal frame, as is normally done, we insulated the case from the earthed frame by mounting the transformer on match boxes. It looked dreadful and was quite dangerous but mostly it worked.
On New Years Day 1944, after almost continuous work and very little sleep for 3 days, one of our two alternators failed. This was a serious matter because we would not be able to run one unit continuously. We needed to stop a unit if only to refuel. Investigation showed that one of the 16 (I think) coils in the stator of the alternator had corroded leading to the failure. With no possibility of a proper repair, I decided to rip out the faulty coil and see if we could manage on 15 coils. It sounds alarming and is not to be recommended, but that power unit ran in that condition for 2 months and got us out of a serious problem. However, we were still not "On the Air".
Of course, the lack of sleep was beginning to have an effect on all the mechanics. I have vivid memories of one night when I just had to get some sleep. I was so tired that I just collapsed on to my bed, using my folded up blanket as a pillow. After a short time, I became aware of a peculiar smell and a strange sliminess against my face. However, being so tired, I slept on until daylight when I was able to see that my blanket had been fly-blown during the previous day, by the innumerable blowflies. The sleep situation became worse when Dave Bloch became sick. The American medical officer, who also had a number of his own men with similar symptoms, was unable to diagnose the illness. The situation became desperate when one of the Americans died. Poor Dave also died later, on 23 January, after being evacuated to Finschhafen. By this time, four more Americans had died from what was now known to be scrub typhus, an infection which is caused by a small mite that inhabits the jungle undergrowth.
After 3 more days of almost continuous work, on 4 Jan 1944, we managed to stay "on air" for 10 minutes. Although we had missed our assignment which was to provide radar cover for the landing on Cape Gloucester, this small and very short lived success was most encouraging. It was apparent that our little LW/AW radar set, battered, bruised and pickled though it was, was almost over most of its problems. After another night of endless work, our efforts were rewarded by 2 hours of operation, before the next inevitable breakdown. This was quickly repaired and at 2000 hours, on 5 Jan 1944, we became operational for a period that was to last until 12 January, i.e., 7 days. During this time, we were picking up aircraft at ranges of 90 to 115 miles.
The station Operations Record shows that on 12 Jan 1944, we suffered "complete breakdown" of the radar equipment! This comment has prompted me, in recent times, to wonder just what we had suffered prior to the 12th. Nevertheless, we were operating again the next day and continued to get good results until we had to close down on 25 January. Ironically, the cause of the shutdown was not a failure of the radar equipment but simply that we had run out of petrol. However our American friends came to the rescue with a 44 gallon drum of Japanese aviation gasoline that they had found somewhere. This fuel had a much higher octane rating than that which was normally used in our power units and resulted in burnt out exhaust valves in both sets, after only about 24 hours running.
Fortunately, this was enough time to carry us over, because FO John Hubbard, who had returned to 41 Wing on 4 January, arrived back at Long Island on 27 January. He brought with him 2 new power units, a transmitter, a receiver and a complete set of spare parts, not forgetting a supply of low octane fuel.
The new alternator sets had arrived in the nick of time and were quickly manhandled into position, where they were started up and put into commission. The next day, 1st February 1944, the new transmitter and receiver were installed, although the original equipment, looking sad and very sorry, was operating perfectly and getting many long distance targets.
No one would dispute that this was effectively the end of the debacle at Long Island. The two sergeants, Eric Arndt and Jack Barnett, had already returned to 41 Wing. John Hubbard, after a bout of malaria, left on 10th Feb. I was left to prepare the damaged equipment for transport and on 22nd Feb., escorted it back to Moresby.
A compliment must be paid to all those young men, mere boys, averaging perhaps 21 years of age, who faced an almost impossible task, in the face of danger and death and yet succeeded in their task. It is necessary to especially mention the fitter, name unknown and the five radar mechanics, David Blok, A.J.Boden, F.J. Laurie, Brian Kohler and James W. Monaro who had to cope with the bulk of the work. Their dedication was inspiring. Sadly, Dave Bloch paid the ultimate price. A study in recent years (2002) of the Monthly Record Book of RS338, which would have been compiled by the CO, Flying Officer Lum, shows no record of the evacuation of Dave Bloch, nor of his death soon after in Finschhafen. However, it does record that on 23 April 1944, the Commanding Officer left for dental treatment and returned three days later.
Subsequent to writing almost all of Part 1 of this sequel, I was finally successful in being able to access David's entry on the website at The Australian War Memorial's Honour Roll. This Honour Roll pays tribute to all those Australian servicemen who died whilst on active service. My initial difficulty was caused because I did not know the correct spelling of his family name. Many spelling variations of the name "BLOCK" were tried. Eventually, in despair, I tried "BLOK" and was immediately rewarded with success. Hence, I now know that his correct name is David Isaac Blok. He was 19 years of age when he died on 23rd January 1944, in the 54th United States Evacuation Hospital at Finschhafen.
Armed with this knowledge, I then started ringing all the people named Blok in the Sydney area. It was most satisfying when I finally spoke to David's brother Lyle. The Blok family had heard nothing about the last weeks of David's life on Long Island. Lyle is is the only member of that family still remaining.
I was pleased to be able to send to Lyle a copy of this manuscript, and to be able to refer him to other records of the Long Island calamity. He in turn, emailed a copy of a letter that his parents had received from the Chaplain at the hospital, written before David died. He also sent me a copy of the telegram and of the letter that they received from the Department of Air, referring to David's death.
I have never before been privileged to be able to read such tragic documents. I must confess to being overwhelmed, to some degree, by the sense of grief that must have been experienced by David's parents. I am most appreciative of being allowed to share, after all these years, in the family's sad loss.
Eventually, the RAAF recognised the magnitude of the drama at Long Island, by granting 3 Honour Awards:
Flying Officer John Rickett Hubbard, officer commanding the installation group, was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) Medal. The Citation for this award, dated 28/10/44, simply states,
"Meritorious service & devotion in Northern Command."
Sergeant Eric George Arndt was awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal). In this case, the Citation, dated 29/3/44, states,
"Efficient work in dangerous situations in S.W.P.Area."
Flying Officer Allan Douglas Lum, officer commanding No 338 Radar Station, was Mentioned in Despatches (MID).
Flight Lieutenant G.J.Morrow, who had by then taken over command of RS338, recorded in the Station Operations Record Book, dated 28 March 1945, the Award of MID to
Flying Officer Lum
I was very pleased when I heard about the award to John Hubbard. His performance was incredible. He seemed to be always there for everyone, encouraging and guiding. He seemed to have an ability which is not common amongst commanders, that is to know when to command and support, and when to keep out of the way. He was a great help to me during those difficult times.
Eric Arndt was equally deserving of his award. Big man that he was, he was literally a tower of strength. In recent years I have learnt that his performance at Long Island was a repeat of similar earlier efforts at other locations around the South West Pacific area.
Soon after, 1st April 1944, I was informed that I had been promoted to the rank of sergeant. Of course, this news was received with some satisfaction. Amongst other things, it put me in a more authoritative position when I arrived at a radar station where it was necessary for me to not only improve the performance of the radar equipment, but as sometimes was necessary, ginger up the performance of the radar mechanics as well.
However, it also put me on the roster at 41 Wing for inclusion in the regular duty of what was called Orderly Sergeant. There was a similar roster for Orderly Officer. These two men who had been rostered on for this duty, had the responsibility of attending to the day to day running of the Wing. These duties consisted of firstly running the morning Parade of all personnel, the raising of the RAAF flag, inspection of showers and latrines for cleanliness, inspection of kitchens and messes and perhaps most importantly, at the midday meal, calling for any complaints about the food or cooking. I can only recall one occasion during my air force career when anyone had a complaint. After all, when the call was made the complainant had to stand up, in full view of the cooking staff and publically say what he had to say. The Orderly Sergeant also had the responsibility of ensuring that the sun never set whilst the flag was still flying at the masthead, an important Air Force tradition.
I found the prospect rather daunting, never having been involved in the running of the morning parade of a large unit such as 41 Radar Wing. After all, I had spent the last twelve months on little radar stations where such things as parades hardly ever took place.
The orderly rosters were organised by the Wing Adjutant, who wasted no time in advising me that I was now on that roster. However, my radar duties took priority; hence on the first and then the second occasion when my name came up for Orderly Sergeant duty, I was hundreds of miles away on some remote little radar station. I suppose that the unfortunate Adjutant was quite annoyed when his lovely roster was put out of order by my non-appearance on Parade.
However, the day came, when having arrived back from wherever, he grabbed me and rather indignantly informed me that I was to be on duty next morning. I don't have any clear recollection of how I got through that day, so everything must have gone smoothly; that is until about 9 o'clock in the evening when I was taking what I thought was a well-deserved rest, the horrible realisation hit me that I had forgotten to lower the flag, not to mention the breaking of a long-standing Air Force tradition. The flagpole was located adjacent to the parade ground, actually in the small garden which fronted Squadron Leader Bert Israel's tiny house. Without saying a word to anyone, I hurried up there and surveyed the scene. There was the flag at masthead, in the dark, hanging forlornly in the still and very quiet air. All that I had to do was to sneak in there, quietly lower the flag and be off. Except for the dog which I knew that Bert Israel had. I had encountered that yappy little terrier some few months previously, on the occasion when I had returned Bert's radio in a story that is already recounted. On that occasion, the little hound had barked at me, furiously and aggressively as I stood outside Bert's door, but then, after I had entered to deposit the radio on the table, had tried to lick me to death. Fortunately, the dog must have been in a deep sleep, because I was able to get the flag down without the dog or anyone else ever finding out.
In recent years, I have wondered if that dog could possibly have been one of the litter of six puppies which was produced by the dog that was brought back to 41 wing by "Butch" Oliver. This occurred when Radar Station 306 left Bulolo to return to Port Moresby, in a story that is told in "GOLDEN 306" pages 84-85.
RS 336, TUFI.
After a few days, I was again called into the office of the Radar Officer. I was not looking forward to another assignment, because, I suppose, at that time, I had not recovered physically from the very trying time at Long Island. I certainly wasn't sick, just very low on energy. Also, as I explained to him, those green boxes were an ongoing drag.
He gave me a very sympathetic hearing. However, he said that he had no other option and it was necessary that I go, the destination being Radar Station No 336 at Tufi. There was a problem there - not remembered - which I was to go and fix. As a concession, he offered to send with me an additional man, a so called "general hand" to help with the boxes. I have a vague recollection that his name was Colin. Colin had arrived in PNG a few weeks previously, a nineteen year old who was very keen to travel. Hence, he was delighted to come with me.
Within a few days, Colin and I were on our way to Milne Bay. I was pleasantly surprised at how much easier it was with Colin to help with those seven green boxes. However, the boat which was to carry us to Tufi had been delayed, so we had to wait a day or two at Milne Bay. Rather than stay in the Army Transit Camp, I chose to seek hospitality at RS 37. This turned out to be not a good decision.
Radar Station 37 had been installed in early July 1942. Being such an early unit, before the development of the lightweight LW/AW equipment, they had been supplied with the very heavy English CHL (Chain Home Lowflying). Whilst I had studied this type of equipment at Radar School, I had had no experience with it, so I thought it was wise to keep out of the way. Colin was not so fortunate. He was quickly put on to some sort of a job to keep him occupied.
Eventually I was called into the office of the Commanding Officer, Flight Lieutenant Glassop, to be advised that the boat was now ready to leave and that I should get myself down to the wharf. He also told me that Colin would not be going with me. When I protested, I was told in no uncertain terms that the problems at 37 were greater than mine and that I should make the best of it. So once more I found myself carrying those damned green boxes.
I cannot remember the name of the boat, which looked as though it had been travelling around PNG for many years. It was about 10 metres long. Towards the stern, it was fitted with a cubby in which the helmsman and perhaps one other person could stand and hope to get some small amount of shelter from the weather. Apart from that, there was no provision whatsoever for the comfort of the crew of two, even less for passengers. I was the only passenger.
We departed from Milne Bay in the early morning, rounded East Cape and set a course to the North-West. Fortunately the weather was perfect. Late in the afternoon, after travelling about 120 km, we pulled into a delightful little bay between Goodenough Island and Fergusson Island. We anchored quite close to a beautiful white beach which was edged with coconut palms; truly a very pleasant setting. Soon after, another Australian Army boat, with four men on board, came in and dropped anchor near us. When I asked our skipper about the plan for the evening meal, thinking no more than bully beef and dog biscuits and hopefully a cup of black tea, I was told that we should just wait. There was an element of mystery in this enigmatic reply.
Whilst there had been no sign of any person on the beach during the time that we had been waiting, about an hour before dusk, a man appeared, pushing a native canoe across the sand and into the water. He paddled over to us and in reasonable English, said that we were invited to come up to the Mission and have a meal with them. Obviously this was what we were waiting for. There followed a quick clean up, although I can't imagine just what you could do when you are living out of a kit bag on a scruffy little boat.
Unfortunately, after all these years, I am unable to remember much about that Mission or of its people. In the back of my mind is the vague recollection that the missioner and his beautiful wife were from Tonga, a group of islands some 3000 km away. However, I do remember most clearly the impression that they made on me. He was a fine looking man, very tall and dressed in a spotless white robe. The lady was even more impressive, clothed in a beautiful floral gown which I recall was mostly red in colour. Apparently they did not speak English, so we were only able to communicate through the man who had given us the invitation. Sadly this proved to be difficult. I would have enjoyed talking to those two lovely people. The indigenous people were also a surprise to me. They looked particularly healthy and each wore spotlessly white clothes. This was so different from all of the native people whom I had seen in recent months, who looked as though they had suffered during the Japanese occupation. I recall that I felt quite scungy, dressed as I was in drab, travel-stained Air Force issue khaki. One had to wonder how they had managed to survive, when the Japanese troops had swept through that area, not so many months before.
The table from which we were to eat was unbelievable, particularly when one remembers that only about an hour earlier I was anticipating bully beef and dog biscuits. The large table was laden with every sort of fruit that I could imagine and included many fruits that I had never seen before. I cannot recall that there were any meat dishes on offer. Nevertheless, for someone who had lived mostly on hard tack for the last two years, it was a veritable feast. During and after the meal, we were entertained by a group of young people who sang and danced what I imagined to be traditional items, which I enjoyed immensely.
However, eventually the crunch came when we were told that it was now our turn to entertain our hosts. There was a hurried discussion and the decision was made that we would sing "Bless Them All" a song from England that was very popular with the troops everywhere. I think that the popularity of the song was mainly due to the fact that you could easily change the first word of the title for another which was much less polite, the song then becoming a wicked expression of the opinion that most troops had for their corporals, sergeants and warrant officers. I was quite horrified when my six mates started to sing this version. I could not bring myself to sing those words in the company of such gentle people. Even though I was out-numbered six to one, I steadfastly sang the polite version, hoping all the time that our hosts really could not understand the words. In any case, it is a jolly, rollicking song and at its conclusion, our audience was generous with its applause. After a delightful evening, it was back to reality, sleeping on the rock hard deck of the boat for a few hours before waking up early next morning to resume our journey.
Tufi is on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, approximately 200 km North West from Milne Bay. It is in a part of the coastline which is quite unique in the eastern part of PNG, in that the coast is broken up by a number of fiords. Most of the fiords have almost vertical walls of rock, perhaps up to 50 metres or more high, with scarcely a place where even a bird could land. Each fiord continues inland for 3 or 4 km before eventually joining up with one of the many streams which cascade down the end of the Nelson Range.
RS 336 had been not long at Tufi, before I arrived, having been installed in late March 1944, in a locality known as Safod. It was not the first radar to operate in that area. On 3rd November 1942, RS 303 had been located at Forduma which is about 3km north of Safod. It had operated there for six months before being moved to Boirama Island on 14th May1943.
It was mid afternoon when we arrived at Tufi and pulled into one of the fiords, probably the only one where it is possible to land from a boat. Tucked into the side of the cliff was a small landing alongside an enclosure made out of airstrip surfacing mesh, with a narrow track leading further up into the fiord. Inside the enclosure was an army type telephone which the skipper used to announce our arrival. He was informed that, as the unit jeep was out of action, he should unload all the stores into the enclosure and not wait. When the commanding officer was told that I was there, with my boxes, his answer was that, as he had to roster any available men to carry essential stores, such as food, to the camp, he could offer no help. Hence I had to get to the camp as best as I was able. Perhaps I imagined it, but I felt that those Army fellows were more than a little pleased to tell me that to get to the camp, which was probably no more than about 400 metres away, on top of the cliff of the next fiord, involved a journey of 7 km or more. Obviously, I had to make a choice as to which of my seven boxes I really needed to carry, along with my own personal gear. As far as I can remember, I had not received a replacement for the Thompson sub-machine gun which had been lost at Long Island, which meant that my burden was a little less than it otherwise might have been.
Having chosen the box which contained the Radar Test Set, I set out on the uphill climb to the top end of the fiord, some 3 or 4km distant. On the way, I passed a group of white painted buildings, which obviously was a mission. However, there was no sign of anybody, so I continued on my way. Eventually the track veered to the right and I was now walking towards the sea. It was quite a pleasant sight when finally I could see the radar, which was sitting on the end of the headland, a few kilometres distant.
Being only recently installed the station members had not had time to make their life a little more comfortable. It was also surprising to see how little had been done to camouflage the various structures, such as the tents, not to mention the radar itself. It is hard to imagine just what they could have done because the headland was covered with no more than short grass with not a single tree in sight. In any case, by this time the war had left Papua New Guinea far behind and the function of RS 336 was now mostly to ensure that any Allied aircraft could be helped if they should become lost. Undoubtedly, camouflage was considered to be unnecessary.
In due time, the task for which I had been sent was completed, allowing for the difficulties which were imposed by the requirement of not having the radar out of action for more than 10 or 15 minutes each day. Whilst it is likely that the job could have been done in less than 2 hours without interruptions, very often it degenerated into a frantic rush to complete the work before the supply boat returned on its fortnightly schedule.
During all of this time the jeep remained out of action, hence it was an on-going chore for about 6 men to make the daily trip to the enclosure and carry back essential supplies. Obviously, if radar stations could be neglected when they were in the front line, as often happened, who would choose to look after them when they became a backwater?
Eventually, a signal was received, advising that the boat was on its way and I had to get my box and gear down to the landing. Of course I went down with the carriers, who being empty handed, helped me with my burden. When the boat arrived and unloading commenced, there was a shout of joy when the spare part for the jeep was found.
Thankfully, the boat did not return to Milne Bay but continued northward to Oro Bay which is about 30 km from Buna. We arrived just on dusk, so it was necessary for me to overnight at the Army's Marine Transit Camp. Next morning I was off to the airstrip at Buna and within a few hours, was back at 41 Radar Wing.
41 RADAR WING, PORT MORESBY
On arrival at Wing, my first task was to return my boxes to the store in the Maintenance Section. Shortly after this was completed, I received a message to report to the Radar Officer. My first reaction was one of anger - after all, I hadn't even had time to relax for a moment and now they wanted to send me out again. Fortunately common sense prevailed and I remembered that anger is an emotion which the lower ranks are not permitted to have. Nevertheless, I was not very enthusiastic at the prospect of going out again.
I was completely taken by surprise, when the Radar Officer virtually welcomed me back to 41 Wing and then apologised for what had happened at Milne Bay. I can't recall ever hearing of an officer apologising to a sergeant. He added that he was in the process of arranging for another radar mechanic to join the mobile maintenance team, which could well result in longer breaks between jobs. This is indeed what happened; in fact I was never asked to go out again, but spent a very pleasant time working in the Maintenance Workshop.
Eventually, in early June 1944, I was given the good news that I had been posted south and it was just a matter of waiting until transport home could be arranged for me.
On 8th June, after spending exactly eighteen months in Papua New Guinea on Active Service, I departed from Port Moresby. My transport was a Martin Mariner flying boat, a huge aircraft for those times and particularly so when compared to the Catalina flying boats, which were quite numerous in the RAAF. This Mariner was fitted out as a cargo carrier, although it was provided with the so called "Numbbum" seats. These fold-up seats were fitted along both sides of the aircraft and were common on all transport planes. Being made of aluminium, it was impossible to warm them up, hence the rather appropriate name. Toilet facilities were minimal.
A surprisingly large number of men with their kitbags, was assembled, probably 70 or 80. We had to wait our turn to be ferried out to the Mariner, which was anchored out in Port Moresby Bay, a short distance from the shore. On arrival at the aircraft, each man was assigned a place, the unlucky ones each getting one of the Numbbums. I found myself on the lower deck, right up in the bow, amongst various pipes and sundry pumps and things. The bow was covered with a Perspex canopy, so it was possible to observe what was happening outside. Really, it was quite comfortable, as we were able to spread out our bags on which to recline. In any case, who would complain when he was homeward bound?
About mid afternoon, the engines were started and we were off. Strangely, the last thing that I saw on Port Moresby Bay was the wreck of the SS Macdhui, which had been the first thing to catch my eye when I had arrived 18 months previously. The Macdhui had been bombed on 17th and 18th June 1942, before sinking with some loss of life.
After flying for about 3 or 4 hours, the Mariner landed at Bowen, where we were to overnight. I am sure that the plane could have continued for much longer. However, the passengers, with no access to toilets and no provision for food, could not have lasted much longer. It was a grand feeling to be back in Australia again, even though I was still a long way from home.
After a good night's sleep and breakfast, we were on our way again. However, the water in Edgecombe Bay was almost glassy and our aircraft was unable to takeoff in the still water. After several unsuccessful attempts, one of the RAAF crash boats was called in to help. The procedure employed was to have the crash boat create a wave in the path of the flying boat as it was making its take off run. Those of us who were in the bow were able to see all this activity. I was more than a little apprehensive at the sight of the crash boat coming at speed on what seemed to be a collision course. Obviously, the boat people were well experienced in this technique, as we were airborne on the second try.
Sydney was our next destination, a journey of about 5 hours. Our Mariner landed at Rose Bay about 1 PM. After lunch at a nearby Air Force unit, Leave Passes and Travel Vouchers were issued to those who needed them. Within a short time, I found myself at Sydney's Central Railway Station, fronting up to the clerk in the Railway Transport Office. I was given the disappointing news that the express train to Melbourne for that night, was already booked out, as it was for the next 2 or 3 nights. During the last few months of my time in Port Moresby, in anticipation of coming home, I had been buying up cartons of American cigarettes for my mother and stepfather. I had about six cartons in my bag. I took one out and placing it on the desk, asked the fellow if he would mind checking his records again, in the hope that there might be a cancellation or whatever. After pretending to look through his records - or so I thought - he replied that, yes there was, but I would have to be content with sitting on the floor in the corridor of one of the carriages. This was no problem for me, who had spent the last 10 months travelling around New Guinea, in every imaginable form of transport. Sitting on the floor of the Melbourne Express was almost luxurious. A few days later, at my home, my mother was horrified to discover that all the cigarettes were mouldy, no doubt due to the humidity in New Guinea. Whilst I was sorry for my mum, I got some sense of satisfaction, imagining the reaction of that travel clerk, when he discovered the mould in the carton that he had cheated out of me.
The Leave Pass was generous, in that I did not have to report to No 1 Personnel Depot (No 1PD) until the day after my arrival in Melbourne. This meant that I was able to spend the first night in my home with my mother, sister and stepfather.
NO. 1 PD, MELBOURNE.
No 1 Personnel Depot was in fact the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which had been taken over by the RAAF, to be used as a centre through which passed those airmen going to or returning from, northern war zones. In those days, the arena was almost completely surrounded by grand stands which had been pressed into service as sleeping quarters. Of course, some modification had been necessary. All the seating had been removed to make room for beds. In addition, the front of each stand was filled in with a temporary walling to keep out the Melbourne weather, which was a very good idea. Fortunately, at that time I was not obliged to sleep there.
After some hours of standing in queues, I was informed that I was entitled to 45 days of leave. I was also able to draw out some pay, the first that I had needed in 18 months.
Before I left No 1 PD to start my leave, I had a very pleasant surprise. Walking towards me was a young man whom I recognised as Bob Barling. This was the fellow who on 28 November 1943, that is, less than 6 months previously, had suffered the loss of his right foot at Bulolo. (See GOLDEN 306, Page 74) My first reaction was one of disbelief - that I had to be wrong. For a moment I was completely confused. However, he explained that he had recently been fitted with an artificial leg and had just completed a rehabilitation course in learning how to walk with it.
It would be hard to imagine that a young man, having spent many months in Papua New Guinea, would approach his first leave with trepidation - yet undoubtedly, this was the situation. All of PNG was classified as a malaria zone; hence it was mandatory that anyone working in such an area had to take one Atabrine tablet each day. Atabrine would not stop you from getting malaria, which is contracted from the bite of an infected anopheles mosquito. It merely held the effects of malaria in abeyance. In most cases, whilst you were taking your tablet each day, you would not get sick. Of course, eventually, when the supply of Atabrine ceased, as it did when you came home, you could expect to become extremely ill with malarial fever, within 2 or 3 weeks. Amongst my friends, there is not one of whom I know, who did not suffer this fate. Hence, it was a worrying time. I suppose in my case, I have stopped worrying many years ago, but I never ever did get malaria.
Strangely, there is not much about that leave that I can remember, but there was one problem that remains quite clearly in my mind. On 3 or 4 occasions, I was confronted by young women who claimed that I had walked past them without any sort of recognition to which they felt that they were entitled. They obviously knew me but I had not the faintest idea who they were. Eventually I realised that in the 3 years that I had been away in the Air Force, these girls had developed from being children to become attractive young women, so how could I know them? Could there be a worse predicament to confront a 22 year old male?
It is amusing to reflect, that at that time, the girl whom I was to marry 5 years later, was a 14 year old school girl, who was completely unknown to me.
This completes PART 1 of the Sequel to "GOLDEN 306"
PART 2 will continue with my activities in the RAAF within the mainland of Australia.
Some, but not all, of the stories written in Part 1 and also in Part 2 have already appeared in other publications. Whilst these stories were written by this author, permission for this material to be used in this Sequel has been obtained from the editors of these publications.
Thanks are extended to:
Ed Simmonds and Norm Smith, "RADAR YARNS", ISBN 0 646 03827 3
Ed Simmonds, "MORE RADAR YARNS", ISBN 0 646 11358 5
M.E. Fenton, "317 RADAR and LORAN", ISBN 0 9585243 2 7