NO 1 PRE-EMBARKATION DEPOT.
There is no doubt, that at the conclusion of my leave, I would have returned to No 1PD with mixed feelings. Obviously the short return to life as a civilian had its attractions. However, I had always enjoyed that part of my life in the Air Force. Of course there were episodes that could have been done without, but in each of these cases, I felt that I had been moulded into being a better man.
Almost immediately after reporting to the Orderly Room, I was informed that it was required of me that I attend a Court of Inquiry. The subject of the inquiry was to be the matter of the loss of an automatic weapon, one Thompson Automatic Sub-machine Gun, Number ????? (or whatever).
At the appointed time I presented myself and stood before three senior air force officers. After some preliminaries were completed, a report that I had written at 41 Radar Wing in February 1944 was read out. I was then asked if I had any knowledge of where that weapon might be. My reply was that, yes I did, it was in the sea off Long Island in Papua New Guinea, about 20 fathoms down. I received a reprimand for this reply and told not to be facetious as it was a very serious matter. The fact that I had almost lost my life in the same episode was of no consequence. However, the matter was finalised, Air Force protocol was satisfied and everyone was happy.
RS 16, GABO ISLAND.
With almost no delay, I was advised that my next posting was to be to Radar Station No 16, which is on Gabo Island. This posting was, for me, somewhat ironic. At that time, there was said to be a promise from the RAAF hierarchy, that after an airman had completed a tour of duty in New Guinea of at least 12 months, he could expect to get a posting in his home state, lasting at least 2 months. In my case, I had spent 18 months in New Guinea, so I was more than a little miffed to find myself posted to Gabo. Nevertheless, Gabo Island is in Victoria, just, being right on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. However, I felt that it was as desolate and deserted a spot as any to which I had been in Papua New Guinea. However, in recent years, when I have come to think about this, I have realised that there were few alternatives. Of the 4 radar stations which were in Victoria, only one would have been marginally better than Gabo. I arrived there in early August 1944 and left towards the end of September, almost exactly 2 months.
The first stage of the journey to Gabo was done by train to Bairnsdale, followed by a bus ride to Orbost. The remainder of the journey to Mallacoota, approximately 150 km was accomplished in what was called a service car. This was a privately owned vehicle that was used on demand. Almost exactly half way was an area known as Cann River, which consisted of nothing more than a rather substantial looking hotel, which was owned by the driver of the service car. Hence it is not surprising that no matter in which way you were heading, after only 75 km, you were obliged to spend the night there. This was never a worry to those airmen who were heading to Gabo, but it was an irritation to those who were going on leave.
I have no recollection of problems in the boat from Mallacoota to the island; my introduction to the infamous sand bar at the entrance to Mallacoota Inlet was yet to come.
At that time RS 16 was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Bill Fulton, a taciturn man who had arrived at Gabo only days before me. None of the members of the station were known to me, but during my stay there, a friendship was formed with two that was to endure for many years until eventually they both died.
As best as I can remember, the radar was an AW, that is, it had electronics similar to that of the LWAW, but could never be considered to be light weight. It was sited in about the middle of the island, on what is probably the highest point. The lighthouse is on the south-easternmost cliffs, some 200 metres above the sea, probably about 500metres from the radar. The radar camp was on the north-western shore overlooking a small bay. There was a very short jetty, with a crane with which the supply boat delivered stores etc. This bay was well protected from weather from any direction.
The supply boat, one of the local fishing craft, came from Mallacoota, about 10 km away. Mallacoota is a very small seaside fishing town. It is just inside the entrance to Mallacoota Inlet which is protected from the ocean by a very shallow sand-bar. It was not possible to cross this sand-bar whenever even a slight south-easterly was blowing, as there would be almost no water above the bar in the troughs between the waves. I remember an occasion when the boat had not been able to come for some weeks, because of the weather. Mail was dropped from an Avro Anson which I remember, was fitted with the most ungainly Yagi antenna for the onboard radar. There was a story, apocryphal perhaps, of the time when a delivery of fresh meat was being made by an aircraft. One of the men had been injured when he had tried to catch a leg of beef.
I can't recall much of recreation facilities. I think there would have been the usual Rec. Room, with table for table tennis. There was a fishing net which was used occasionally whenever fish were noticed in our small bay. The net was towed out behind a very small dinghy and then pulled up onto the beach. The size of the catch was never huge but whatever was always acceptable.
Radar activity was not exciting, as it had been in New Guinea. There were always ships going past and sometimes an aircraft, perhaps from the training school at Sale. A natural phenomenon provided a diversion. September is the time for the beginning of the return of the mutton-bird, properly called the Short-tailed Shearwater, after their annual migratory flight to the Bering Sea. The radar screen was rendered almost useless with the echoes from the never-ending stream of these birds which flew past Gabo. This situation continued for some weeks.
Another bird which was not appreciated was the penguin. These creatures almost covered the island at night. The din from their calls was oppressive but perhaps eventually one became used to it.
Communication to the mainland was via a submarine cable. The cable was pressurised by a small cylinder of compressed gas, dry air I would imagine, to prevent the ingress of sea water. It was one of the jobs of the duty mechanic to log the reading of the pressure in the cable, at frequent intervals.
Reporting of radar plots was made over a direct telephone line to a Fighter Sector which was located in the Town Hall at Preston, a suburb of Melbourne. I suspect that that telephone line was most busy during the small hours of the night when radar activity was least. Several romances blossomed as radar operators chatted with the girls who were on duty at the telephone exchange at Orbost.
There was an event which I will never forget. We had received an invitation from the Mayor at Eden to come as his guests to the Mayoral Ball. Eden is another fishing town, about 50 km up the coast. After reorganising radar duty rosters, about twelve of us were able to accept. However, even in those days, as now, nothing was easy. On the morning of the day on which we were to leave the strong south-easterly that was blowing made it impossible for the supply boat to come over for us. Nevertheless, the good people at Eden must have been determined to have us with them, because they arranged to have one of their local fishing boats come down for us. The skipper of the boat was one of those unforgettable old sea salts with an unforgettable name, Eden Cole. However, on the way down, Eden sent us a message, saying that the weather was such that he felt that he could not get us back to Eden. He suggested, as an alternative, that he could get across the Mallacoota sandbar if he surfed his boat across on top of the right wave. I can confess now that at the time, I was more than a little apprehensive of such a manoeuvre, but, at age 23, how could I chicken out?
Eventually we arrived outside the sandbar and Eden circled around, waiting for the "right wave". Apparently that wave wasn't going to arrive, so after a while, he said that he would try something else. He knew of a tiny little opening amongst the rocks, at the foot of the cliffs, just around from the entrance. He was not exaggerating when he said that it was a small opening. It was an operation that I am sure no other skipper would have tried, but Eden had nerves of steel and the wonder is that he succeeded. As it was necessary to keep the boat away from the rocks, we were obliged to strip off, with our clothes in our waterproof bags, before jumping in and swimming the few metres to where we could clamber up the rocks. It was not until we had put our clothes back on that we became aware that there was a number of locals who were on top of the nearby cliffs and had come around to see the fun.
I don't remember any detail of the night at the Ball, other than that it was an enjoyable evening. However, next morning we had another problem - how to get back onto Gabo Island? Of course, with twelve people away, the station was operating in a situation which could not be allowed to continue for more than two or three days .The south-easterly was still blowing, so it would be impossible for a boat to get out over the Mallacoota bar. Luckily, the Navy, which had also been represented at the Ball, came to the rescue. They offered to take us down in their Fairmile submarine chaser and deliver us on to the jetty in our well protected bay.
Of course, some of the boys were still suffering from the previous evening - not a good way to start a journey in a Fairmile, which was a craft designed for speed and not for comfort. Inevitably, most of us quickly became seasick, much to the delight of our good Navy friends. I was one of the few airmen who had not at that stage contemplated the genii in the bottom of a bucket. This must have been a challenge to the sailors because I was asked if I would like to have a look at their Asdic gear. Stupidly, I said I would love to do so. On the way down to the bottom of the boat, I was taken past the kitchen where the cook was making fish soup. Even now I can remember the fish heads doing slow somersaults in the big cooking pot. Soon after, when I stood in front of the Asdic equipment, I really saw nothing and had to quickly go up top to join my mates with their buckets.
Fortunately, the 50 km journey took very little time in the Fairmile and we airmen were all very relieved to find ourselves in the shelter of our bay at Gabo. Yes, the bay was well sheltered from the ocean waves but there was an enormous swell running. The result of this was that as the ship slowly approached the jetty, the jetty appeared to be rising and sinking by as much as two metres above and then below the deck of the Fairmile. It was quite a job to get twelve sick men and their baggage onto the jetty without accident.
It would have been soon after this episode that I was posted once more, on my way back up north again.
RS 17, BURREWARRA POINT.
Burrewarra Point is a geographic feature which you will not find on most atlases of New South Wales .It is near a little town known as Mogo, which most atlases do show, but one wonders why. It is on the Princes Highway, about 240 km north of the border between Victoria and New South Wales. In 1944 and probably for quite a number of years after, Mogo consisted of a single building which doubled as a post office/store.
On arrival at Mogo, on 28/10/1944, I was advised by the storekeeper that I would have to wait whilst a truck came out from the radar station which was about 10 km away. The station had been put into operation in April 1943, using English equipment known as Chain Overseas Low Flying (COL). This equipment was much more powerful than the LW/AW system on which I had had almost all my experience. There was also an ASV Beacon which could be used by aircraft for navigational purposes. At the time of my arrival, the station was virtually in mothballs, operating for only a few hours a day, or on request.
The Commanding Officer was Pilot Officer Lionel Esmore, I think newly commissioned and in his first command, since his arrival 9/10/1944. He would have been about 30 years of age. He was very affable and showed a lot of interest in what I had been doing during my term in PNG.
After I had been at RS17 about a week, he told me that we had to make some alterations to the radar equipment. Thinking that this would be due to an official instruction, I asked for the Modification Authority, which would have detailed the procedures to be followed. I was more than a little shocked when he informed me that there was no official instruction, rather they were changes which he thought would be beneficial. Remembering the notices which were sent out regularly from Headquarters, warning against unauthorised modifications, I told Lionel that what he was proposing was not in accordance with Air Force Law and hence we should not do it. When he insisted, I requested that he give me his instructions in writing. He refused to do this and added that he was giving me an order. I knew only too well the consequences of not obeying an order, but must confess that I did not have the faintest idea of where I stood if I refused to obey an order which was unlawful. I believed that I was in a very difficult situation. There the matter rested for a short time, whilst I and no doubt he, wondered just what should now be done. I suspect that both of us were showing our inexperience in such matters. Within hours, Lionel called me into his office. I was filled with trepidation as I still did not know how I should react to the problem. He surprised me by telling me that he had just received a message from his home, advising him that his wife was seriously ill. His senior officer in Sydney had told him that Compassionate Leave would be granted, but only if he could arrange for someone, such as me, to take over control of the station during his absence. Initially, I was very annoyed with him - as much as a sergeant is allowed to be - for putting me in such a difficult position. However, his distress was so obvious, that when he asked me to help him, I didn't hesitate to agree.
We filled out an abbreviated form of "Hand Over Take Over" as was required by air force protocol and within the hour, he was gone. I did not meet up with Lionel again, until some years after the end of the War, by which time our little problem was of no consequence. In fact, in later years, we became very good friends, until he died a few years ago. About a week after Lionel's departure, another officer (name not remembered) arrived, to assume command.
Burrewarra Point, being on the south coast of New South Wales, is in the area which was and still is the home of the famous Sydney Rock Oyster. In 1944, wartime priorities had almost destroyed the oyster market. However, the unworked oyster beds were still to be found in almost every estuary or bay along the coast. The oysters were grown on small rocks which had been placed on racks that had been erected in a manner which ensured that the rocks, whilst they were covered by seawater at high tide, would be above water at low tide. Eventually, I was asked to join an expedition which was going out to collect oysters. I was assured that it was quite legal; although I had my doubts because we were to leave just before dark. Nevertheless, the temptation of fresh oysters soon assuaged any remaining feelings of guilt.
Our destination was a small bay not far from our camp and within a short time we had our small boat alongside one of the many beds. Using a screwdriver and a hammer, it was very easy to prise the shells away from the rocks, so that within a short time, we had quite a quantity of oysters in the bottom of the boat. Perhaps I was influenced by the old adage about distant fields being greener, when I spotted a beautiful oyster on the opposite side of the bed from where we were. I was unable to reach it from where I was in the boat, so I put my right foot on the rocks in the middle of the bed. The inevitable had to happen - the rock moved and my leg slipped down between the shell covered rocks. The lesson learnt is that the human skin is no match for the sharp edges of oyster shells. Perhaps it was just retribution for the nefarious activity in which I was a partner.
Ocean rock fishing was another popular pastime, although it looked to be extremely dangerous. This was especially so when one was searching the rocks for the particular type of seaweed from which a very effective bait could be extracted. Is it any wonder that RS 17 had a reputation as being an excellent "Rest and Recreation" resort for those stressed out men who worked in the radar offices in Sydney? It undoubtedly did me a lot of good, although I had not had the luxury of a job in Sydney. By this time, I had regained the 10 kg which I had lost whilst in PNG.
Christmas 1944 came and went but I must confess that I have no recollection of it. Of course, in such an outpost, it is unlikely that there would have been such a celebration that would have made any significant impression on anyone's memory.
On 5th January 1945 came the inevitable posting, back to 1PD, ie the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
NO 1 PRE-EMBARKATION DEPOT.
After 6 days pre-embarkation leave, I reported to 1PD on 14-1-45. Within a few days I was grabbed and informed that I was to be Guard Sergeant, starting that evening at midnight. The Guard Sergeant had the task of changing the guard every 4 hours over a period of 24 hours. Hence, it was a very tiring day. In recent years I have realised that although I had held the rank of sergeant in the RAAF for almost 2 years, there were only two occasions on which I had to do special duties. On the other hand, there were very few opportunities for me to enjoy the so-called "luxuries" of the Sergeants' Mess.
Eventually, I was notified that I was to be posted up north again, although there was no indication as to which zone it would be. In addition, I was told that it had now become Air Force policy that every man who was going into a war zone, had to first undergo a course of training in Jungle Warfare, of, I think, about 3 weeks duration. Without any delay, I found myself on the way to the training camp, which is in an area known as Wonga Park, about 30 km east of Melbourne. This camp, known today as Clifford Park, is still in operation, as an activity centre for Scouts Australia, although the scouts use it in a much more peaceful manner to that in which it started. At the outset, I must say that the time spent at Wonga Park was very enjoyable. I appreciated the exercise and the physical challenges with which we were confronted each day. However, it was a strange experience for two reasons. Firstly, I was the only one in the squad to which I was allocated who had had service in a war zone. All my mates were young fellows who were going north for the first time. Even the instructors had not seen active service. Secondly, rank counted for nothing, as our squad commander was a corporal and hence was junior to me. However, all these instructors were well versed in what they were teaching and I soon realized that I was being given the opportunity to learn so much. This was particularly appreciated when I remembered how vulnerable we had been at Bulolo, when it had been clearly demonstrated that we radar men would have been unable to defend ourselves in the event of an enemy attack.
There were the usual activities, rifle and machine gun shooting, grenade throwing and of course, the inevitable obstacle course run, which were all good fun. In addition, there was what I thought was the most useful skill, unarmed combat. This covered a wide range of manoeuvres, both aggressive and defensive, all of which made me feel much more confident in my ability to defend myself. We spent quite a lot of time practising these skills on each other, always with the understanding of the need for care, to ensure that no-one got hurt.
Unarmed combat was an activity to which I was able to relate. Having grown up in Collingwood, a particularly rough and tough area near Melbourne, I had seen in my early teens something of the art of push and shove. I should point out that I was never one who looked for trouble, being mostly of a peaceful nature, but there were times when it was not possible to avoid it. In any case, I was a better runner than a fighter, so I invariably chose to be somewhere else, if possible, whenever confronted by conflict.
There was a particularly nasty blow that was commonly talked about by the young Collingwood lads, although I doubt if it was ever used. It was known as the "Fitzroy Uppercut", Fitzroy being another tough suburb adjacent to Collingwood. This particular manoeuvre consisted of an upward swing of either knee, aimed at the nether regions of your opponent. It was guaranteed to be a winner. The Air Force version was exactly the same, but with a much more professional name, although we were taught the added refinement of how to protect yourself against it.
Whilst the days were full of action, there was not much to do in the evenings. Leave was out of the question, as, in those days, the area was serviced by a very small bus that could carry about ten people, the nearest railway station, Croydon, being 16 km away. Well, that was the reason that was given to us by the Warrant Officer who was in charge of the camp.
On the third or fourth night, I had a problem. There was some sort of a social activity - exactly what is not remembered - near home, to which I was very keen to go. The thought of a very boring night in camp, left me with no alternative. The decision was made to go absent without leave. The camp was not fenced, so there was no difficulty getting out. I waited until the bus had left, carrying those of our instructors who lived out. I then set off for the Croydon Railway Station, jogging and walking along the road. Fortunately, after a few kilometres, a vehicle stopped and offered me a ride to the railway station. In those wartime days, no one would drive past a man in uniform without stopping to offer a ride. Hence it was extremely easy for me to get home.
The next morning, very early, I set off on my bicycle to the Richmond railway station and got a train to Croydon. It is necessary to tell that when I was 16 years of age, I had started to race on bicycles. Joining the Air Force had interrupted - no terminated - a very promising career in bike racing. Hence the 16 km ride from Croydon to Wonga Park was not at all difficult. I had noticed a farm house about a few hundred metres from the camp and arranged to leave my bike there. It was so easy that I decided to go home each night.
Perhaps success brings carelessness, because there came the day when something went wrong, just what I can't remember. In any case, I was riding to Wonga Park much later than I should have been and was overtaken by the bus. There was still sufficient time for me to get on morning Parade, so it seemed that no harm had been done. However, late in the afternoon, the Warrant Officer sought me out and stated that he had seen me on my bike. He commented that he thought I had a very nice bike. We chatted about the bike and bike racing for a few minutes, whilst I, with a guilty conscience, was in a great state of apprehension. Eventually he said OK, but warned me not to be overtaken by the bus again.
In recent years, I have thought about that episode. Firstly, I have now realized that I got away with that escapade because, being a sergeant, I was a member of that exclusive boys' club, that of the "non coms"(NCO). Secondly, it is amazing as an 81 year old, to contemplate the extraordinary level of fitness that can be achieved by most 23 year olds, such as in being able to ride a bike 16 km in the early morning and again in the late afternoon, with a high level of physical exercise all through the day and then probably spend the evening at a local dance as well.
All too soon, the rather pleasant time at Wonga Park came to an end and with what I thought to be undue rapidity, found myself posted to North Western Area which operated out of Darwin. At that time, 1945, there was a rail link from Adelaide to Alice Springs and another from Darwin southward to Larrimah, with a roadway joining Alice Springs to Larrimah. Thirty years later, even that rather tenuous connection was further reduced when the Darwin to Larrimah link was abandoned.
In mid February 1945, I found myself at Spencer Street Railway Station in Melbourne, boarding the overnight train to Adelaide. This train arrived in Adelaide about 9am. After a quick breakfast at the railway cafeteria and a brief clean up, there was about an hour to wait before boarding the train for the long journey of about 1500 km to Alice Springs.
At that time, I was more than a little ignorant of the history of this railway line, which became known as "The Ghan". When the line was initially laid, about 1890, it went only as far as Oodnadatta. It wasn't until 1929 that it reached Alice Springs. However mostly it followed the route that had been used for many years by the camel trains which were operated by a group of Afghan cameleers. The name "Ghan" was chosen for the train, as a tribute to those hardy men who had been replaced by the train.
One of the loved characteristics of the The Ghan was said to be its slowness. Fans claimed that when it was climbing a hill - and I doubt if there were any - you could get out, pick a few wild flowers and still be able to climb back onboard. It was also known for its unreliability. Apart from the occasional breakdown in the steam locomotive, it was also troubled by flooding which often washed away bridges.. Once the Ghan was delayed for 3 months due to wash-aways. On another occasion it was found a few kilometres south of Alice Springs, lying on its side, after sand movement undermined the rails. Obviously the route chosen by the old Afghan camel drivers was much more suited to camels than it was for trains.
Sadly this old relic of days gone by was closed down when in 1980 it was replaced by a more modern, much faster service constructed and owned by Central Australia Railway. This new line, which runs from Tarcoola to Alice Springs, is also known as "The Ghan".
When I travelled on the Ghan you would have to say that the train was considerably overloaded, as was the case with most troop trains. Whilst each of the perhaps six compartments held its limit of probably 8 men, the corridors were also packed with men and their baggage. When the boys were being loaded onto each carriage, there was usually a rush to get a seat in a compartment. However, those who had had previous experience held back and opted for the corridors. Those seats in the compartments were most uncomfortable and of course you were obliged to sit up all night. On the other hand, in the corridors you could spread out your baggage which became something to sleep upon, stretch out and enjoy a relatively comfortable night.
As can be imagined, the on board toilet facilities were hopelessly inadequate, hence it was necessary for stops to be made at regular intervals. The stops were usually arranged to coincide with those times when the old steam locomotive had to replenish its coal and water. Often we found that the Army had set up a semi-permanent kitchen for the provision of meals, with large communal toilets nearby. Perhaps one could say that the locomotive's requirements were very much similar to ours.
Often we stopped at a small country town opposite a pub, which suddenly became very popular. We had been told by the train OIC (Officer in Command) that there would be a warning signal from the loco just before we resumed the journey. Inevitably, there were those who ignored the signal in favour of that extra drink, perhaps reasoning that they would be able to catch the train before it was able to pick up speed. Most did but it was a great source of merriment when three men just couldn't quite make it. The train driver played with them for some minutes, adjusting the speed of the train, so that the last carriage was just out of their reach. After letting them run for about a kilometre, through hot desert scrub, by which time they were almost exhausted, the driver slowed down sufficiently to enable the three to scramble aboard. For those of us hanging out of windows, offering encouragement, it was a very enjoyable diversion. Nevertheless, it was a significant warning to all those who might have believed the story about picking wild flowers.
On arrival at what is very close to being the most central town in Australia, those of us who were Air Force were taken to an Air Force camp and given lunch and a place to sleep overnight. Fortunately, the road vehicles which were to take us on the next stage of our journey were not due to leave Alice until early next morning, hence we were given sufficient leave to enable us to spend a few hours in the town. However, as always, a few hours are never sufficient to see much of a town such as Alice Springs, where so much of Australia's early history took place.
Early next morning, we were introduced to the vehicles in which we would spend almost two days, on the next stage of our journey. These trucks were English made Bedford prime movers, each towing a semi-trailer, the whole being painted the usual Air Force dark grey. The trailers were of typical flat top construction, with metal roof and canvas covered sides. A continuous row of wooden seating was placed along each side. I had seen an identical arrangement on previous occasions when I had been transported in Air Force trucks. On these trips, of probably no more than half an hour's duration, the seats had proved to be quite adequate. It is an entirely different matter when the journey is as long as the one which we had before us!
The portion of Stuart Highway, which in those days connected Alice Springs to Larrimah, had for years been an unsealed dirt roadway. However, sealing with bitumen had commenced in early 1942; so that by 1945 it was a very good road on which to travel. Unfortunately, it was often covered with wind blown sand and sand drifts which had to be removed by machines. The result is that it was and still is a very unpleasant ride in an unsealed vehicle, such as the trailers in which we were travelling. At the end of the first day, we and all our baggage were covered in a layer of red dust. Hence, when we pulled into the transit camp, where we were to spend the night, the first thought was for a shower to remove the layers of dust. The communal showers were located on the other side of a large area of loose dark brown coloured sand. I recall walking back to my hut, refreshed and clean, wearing a towel around my waist and boots, a fashion which was universal in those days, around ablution areas. A sudden gust of wind blew up which raised a thick cloud of brown dust. Within seconds I was again coated in dust. Hence, all that my shower had achieved was to change from red to brown, the colour of the dust with which I was coated.
The next day was a comparatively short journey to Larrimah which was the railhead for the line from Darwin, some 450 km away.
Originally, the railway had terminated at Katherine but it was extended to Larrimah in 1930 when the meat works had started. Unfortunately the factory was not profitable and it lasted only about 6 years. However, the line continued to be used for passengers as a few carriages were available. The railway line was of a narrow gauge and the carriages were quite unstable. Hence the passenger train was given the sobriquet "Leaping Lena".
Late in the afternoon, about 300 hundred men stood in the rail yard waiting for our carriages to arrive. Nearby, on one of the four or five tracks that filled the yard, stood a motley row of cattle trucks, each of which looked to be very dilapidated and neglected.
Eventually a small old steam engine huffed and puffed its way into the yard and hooked up to the cattle trucks, providing a small amount of interest for some of us.
When the order came to climb aboard, there was more than a little confusion - what? - where? - as we looked around for the carriages which we were supposed to board. There was an element of disbelief as it became apparent that we were obliged to get into those wrecks of trucks.
The trucks had been built with a sheet metal roof, whilst the sides were clad with horizontal wooden planks up to about 1.3 metres above the floor. The space from the top plank to the roof was mostly uncovered, although on some trucks remnants of canvas covers were still visible. On a few trucks the covering consisted of a heavy wooden hatch, hinged along the top, each hatch being provided with a very basic prop, with which the hatch could be held partly open. Some trucks had nothing at all.
When an attempt was made to open the gate of the truck in which I had to travel, it almost fell off because one of the two hinges was broken and it was fastened in place with fencing wire. Inside, no seating was provided. You had to stand, sit on the floor or stretch out sideways on your baggage. All opted for the last option.
Fortunately, some attempt had been made to clean the floor, although there was ample evidence of the earlier usage in edges and corners.
Somewhere after leaving Adelaide, I had met up with Wesley Moon. Wes and I had done our preliminary radio training together in Melbourne, although I had not seen him for about 2 years. When we had sorted ourselves out in the cattle truck, Wes found himself at the front end of the truck, with me next to him, stretched sideways across the floor.
Once we started moving, just before dusk, it quickly became evident that we were in for a most unpleasant night. The steam locomotive was ejecting a stream of soot and cinders which descended on the trucks behind. With the lack of protection, we and everything else quickly became coated with soot. The cinders were even worse as eyes and throats became affected. It was a most miserable night.
The next morning, just before daybreak, we were jolted into some form of consciousness. One of the front trucks had become derailed as it passed over a set of points at a siding, causing all the following trucks to be derailed. The result was catastrophic. Fortunately, none of the trucks overturned.
When everything had come to rest, there was a general exodus by all the troops. When Wes Moon tried to sit up, he found that he was unable to do so because of the huge steel connector or buffer of the preceding carriage, which had come through the end of our vehicle, just inches above his body. Fortunately he was uninjured. Indeed, there were few injuries, considering the extent of the devastation which greeted our eyes. I have a recollection that the most serious damage was suffered by a fellow who had a window hatch fall down on his head as he looked out to see what had happened. In my case, I was alright except that I was almost unable to see because of the soot and cinders in my eyes. I had the most severe case of conjunctivitis that I have ever experienced.
In a remarkably short time someone somehow managed to set up a first aid centre to treat the surprisingly few casualties, before then proceeding to treat the large number of cases of conjunctivitis. We were still a long way from anywhere, but I have no recollection by what means we continued our journey or to where. I do recall that it took a few days before my eyes were back to normal.
No 58 OBU TRUSCOTT
I spent only a few days in Darwin before being told that I had been posted to Radar Station 317, which was on Sir Graham Moore Island. I could not find anybody who had any idea where this island might be, except that it was somewhere near Truscott, hence this was to be my next destination.
Truscott was the home of No 58 Operational Base Unit. Construction of the airstrip had commenced in February 1944, on the Anjou Peninsula which is approximately 500 km south west of Darwin, on the Kimberly coast. 58 OBU had first become operational in March 1943, when it had operated out of a small airstrip at Kalumburu which belonged to what was then called the Drysdale Mission, about 30 km from Anjou.
In 1943, the Kalumburu airstrip was in reality, a staging area for the Hudson bombers of the RAAF. The Hudsons, having departed from Darwin, were able to take a maximum bomb load to attack Japanese targets in Timor, in the knowledge that they could refuel at 58 OBU, before resuming their return to Darwin. This system worked well until Monday 27th September 1943, when Japanese aircraft retaliated and bombed the Mission, probably confusing the Mission for 58 OBU. The Mission suffered dreadful losses. The Superior, Father Thomas Gil and 5 aborigines, 4 of whom were children, were killed. Most of the Mission buildings were destroyed, including the church. It is likely that this catastrophe expedited the decision to relocate 58 OBU to Anjou Peninsula, construction of the new airstrip commencing 4 months later.
SIR GRAHAM MOORE ISLAND
When I arrived at Truscott airfield, I was quickly transported the few kilometres to the marine unit at West Bay, where the supply barge was waiting to commence its regular run to Sir Graham Moore Island, 14 nautical miles to the north. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of that journey or of my arrival at 317 Radar Station.
Radar Station No 317 was formed at Mascot NSW on 1st March 1943, along with stations numbered 315 and 316. The first location for 317 was at Pago, adjacent to the site where the Drysdale Mission was first established in 1908. Several of the old mission buildings were used by 317. In April 1944, when the construction of the new Truscott airfield was already underway, 317 was moved to Sir Graham Moore Island. This was deemed to be a better site from which protection could be afforded to the new airstrip.
The Officer commanding No 317 RS was Flight Lieutenant John S. Weir, he having arrived to take command on 2/2/1945, just 3 weeks before I arrived. John, at 34 years of age, was much older than the rest of us. Hence we young fellows tended to see him as an old man, certainly as a father figure.
John had worked in the radio industry in Melbourne pre-war. When he joined the RAAF in July 1941, he came in as a "direct entry". This meant that his knowledge of radio theory was deemed to be such that he was able to go straight to No 1 Radio School which was located at Richmond Airbase, NSW. Here he would have been introduced to the mysteries of the extremely secret radar. Indeed, he was one of just six men who were part of the first radar course at Richmond.
He did not fit the usual image of an Air Force officer who is required to distance himself from "other ranks" as we were called. John, being a very gregarious person, craved company and spent much of his off duty time with his men. In recent years, I have come to realise that most of the men who served with him, claim him as a close friend, as indeed he was. On the other hand, when circumstances demanded, he could quickly become the strong commander. It is my opinion that he was the perfect type to be in command of a unit such as a radar station, where life was so difficult with the isolation, poor conditions and boredom.
One of my fondest memories of John concerns a flagpole. Having scrounged or made parts, I built a short wave radio and a real problem arose as to how to hang the antenna high enough above the ground when long poles of any type were just not available. The hut in which we sergeants lived was on the edge of what was called the parade ground, on the other side of which was the station flag pole, a lovely straight pole about 7 metres high, set in the ground. I had never seen a flag up there. In fact we did not have a flag. In any case, there was no way to get one hoisted, as the lanyard had disappeared. The more I looked at it, the more it became the perfect antenna mast. So I shinned up to the top and attached my aerial wire which then went over the parade ground to the corner of our hut.
The result was perfection; that is until about a week later when the CO happened to notice the wire. He told me to get it down as it was not "the done thing" to tie aerials to flag poles.
I said that I would be unable to climb the pole again, quoting loss of nerve etc, etc. John of course did not believe me and I had to try. After several unsuccessful attempts, I had to admit defeat.
He then said that he would get it down himself. So, to the cheers and applause of the onlookers, our gallant CO started climbing. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get past halfway. He was a little more than furious so he tried a different approach. He got our jeep and a long rope. A stone was tied to one end of the rope which he then threw over the antenna, both ends of the rope being then tied to the back of the Jeep in which he then drove off.
The result was inevitable. It had to be the wire or the pole. The pole broke about half way up to the peals of laughter from the camp. After a couple of days it was agreed that half a pole did not make a flag pole and also that we missed the radio. So without any fuss, the antenna was reinstalled, this time to the top of the remainder of the pole.
Everyone agreed that the whole episode had been a great diversion from our usual humdrum existence.
On another occasion, John decided that we needed a bit of straightening-up. We were told to prepare for a formal Parade for all off-duty hands. Most of the men were indignant because almost none of us had been on parade for years. It was just not done on radar stations. However, we all agreed to go along with the idea, if only to humour the "old man". It turned out to be an incredible shambles but the fun was enjoyed by all. Maybe the "old man" knew more than we gave him credit for because so many of his schemes did wonders for our morale.
It became almost mandatory, when using station telephones that you identified yourself as some well known world identity. One day when the phone at the beach-head rang in the CO's office, John heard, "It's Group Captain XXXX here. I have come to do an inspection. Please send a jeep down to bring me up to the camp."
John replied, "It's General Eisenhower here. I don't give a damn who you bloody well are. You bloody well get yourself back here the same bloody way you got yourself down there." It was all sorted out eventually and even the "Grouper" enjoyed the joke. Perhaps he had heard that there were some very strange people on radar stations.
Shifts were usually worked 4 hours on and 8 hours off and rotated every 7 days. A shift consisted of 2 radar operators, 1 mechanic, plus 1 guard and 1 wireless operator.
Radar plots were sent immediately to Fighter Sector using grid references whilst coded administrative signals were sent during the day
Food was usually canned and sufficient. The supply of fresh food, i.e., bread, meat, etc., was spasmodic, perhaps about once a fortnight and was always dependent on the weather. Available refrigerated space for fresh food was very limited, there being space to store perhaps about half of each delivery. Hence a large amount of fresh food had to be consumed as soon as possible. The quality of meals fluctuated wildly as a consequence. Fresh steak today could be followed by bully beef and dog biscuits tomorrow.
Potable water was carried over from Truscott in 44 gallon drums, which were very difficult to handle. Usually, the water was tainted with a faint taste of petrol. There was a well close to the beach on the northern shore of the island, about 1 km from the camp. This water was very hard and suitable only for washing. This was a daily chore for a team of 4 men to bring a full tank of water to the ablution area. Most of the huts and tents had some sort of improvised water catchment system but, of course, this only worked in the wet season.
Fish caught in the fish trap regularly supplemented fresh food. The trap was located in a channel formed between SGMI and a small island of the Geranium group, which was just below the camp. The channel is about 100 metres wide. The trap was made using steel mesh such as is used for airfield construction. It consisted of a box approximately 2 m square, by about 1.2 m high. It was located in the middle of the channel, in water which could vary in depth from, say, 1 m to probably 3 m, depending on the tide. There was a hole cut in the box, on the upstream side, about 300 mm square, through which the fish could enter. Wings were placed on each side of the box across to the mangroves, which grew abundantly on each side of the channel, to direct the fish to the opening. The mesh opening was about 50 mm square so that only large fish were trapped. The catch was mainly salmon and shark and occasionally a groper. All of this was a welcome addition to the diet but it was an unreliable supply.
Getting the catch out of the trap was often exciting. Firstly, there was the hopeful expectation of a good catch, heightened, no doubt, if food supplies were running low. The technique was to go out at low tide, armed with a spear made out of steel rod. Standing on top of the box, you had to kill the fish with the spear. This was usually easier said than done, especially with large sharks. Nevertheless, there was never a shortage of volunteers to go and empty the trap.
Mail was usually delivered with food supplies, but any person visiting or returning from Truscott was expected to not come empty handed. Occasionally we might get mail dropped from an aircraft.
Health was seldom a major worry, minor accidents and tropical ulcers on shins usually being the only problems. There was no sign of malaria.
Weather was very dependent on the time of year. The dry season ran from about April until the end of September, the remainder being the wet time of the year. During the dry, the days were absolutely glorious with temperatures in the low thirties. However it could be very cold at night. The wet season was another matter. Usually it rained torrentially every afternoon with very high humidity and fantastic thunderstorms. I always enjoyed the lightning displays, but it usually destroyed the protective devices on our telephone lines. Hence, this increased our daily workload.
The island had its own unique pests. There were some mosquitoes from which we were able to protect ourselves by following the usual procedures, but sand flies were a great problem. These tiny creatures can get through socks and the older type of mosquito nets. New arrivals at the station would have a dreadful time until they developed immunity. This could take up to a month. Initially, a single bite and mostly there would be many would cause severe local swelling and extreme itchiness which could last for up to a week. Very often the victim scratched the areas so vigorously whilst asleep as to break the skin, with the inevitable onset of a tropical ulcer.
There were numerous death adders and tiger snakes, but I never knew of anyone being bitten. I saw many of them sleeping in the sun on the pathway from the camp up to the radar unit, but they would always seek to escape if they could. We were issued with torches, which were to be used by those going on or off duty at night, to lessen the possibility of standing on a snake in the darkness. All of our tents were erected on sloping ground, which had been levelled up by stacking some of the numerous rocks, which were lying about. Over the top layer of rocks was placed a layer of smaller stones and then dirt. Finally the whole area of the tent was covered with bituminous paper, which formed the floor. Generally this was surprisingly effective but it also provided a home in amongst the rocks for the snakes. Naturally the blokes tended to discourage the snakes from this practice. I remember finding one sleeping in the sun in amongst the rocks, so I dropped a large rock onto its tail. The snake was not amused and repeatedly struck at its own tail. I have wondered since if it died of snakebite or rock poisoning.
I never saw a crocodile there but one had been shot before I arrived. There were four occasions when others reported them. Hence care was always exercised.
Sharks were numerous. It was almost impossible to go to the beach at any time and not see sharks. It was always essential to post armed lookouts whenever someone had to go into the water. Normally we did not go swimming for fun. However, if we were running short of food, we often went fishing with explosives, in water up to waist deep. The struggling, concussed fish were sure to attract sharks, so we had to be especially careful. Again, no one was ever bitten, although there were many stories of close encounters, no doubt enlarged a little.
Walking and exploring were popular forms of recreation, but the small size of the island was a limiting factor. Oyster eating on the rocks, armed with a screwdriver and hammer, was a good way to spend an hour or two. Reef exploring at low tide was always fascinating but there were dangers here also. The reef is extensive so that you could easily find yourself so far out that it was necessary to run to get back to shore before the tide. Stonefish and stingrays were also a hazard. John Weir was stabbed in the foot by a stingray, through his sandshoes. He had to be carried back to the beach and then taken by boat to Truscott where he spent 10 days in hospital.
There were several short wave radio programs, which were popular with the troops. We had one radio in the mess, so this was a busy spot at night. Card games, such as poker and five hundred, also had their enthusiasts. On one side of our so-called "parade ground" was erected a projection screen, but I never saw a film shown there. Once Doug Elliot, well known in Melbourne radio, pre-war, as "Uncle Doug" visited us. He came, carrying a battered portable record player and a few discs of classical music. He gave a very entertaining talk, "An Introduction to Classical Music". Considering the environment and the youthfulness of the audience, it is surprising how well it was received. Even to this day, whenever I hear Ferdi Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite", I have fond memories of Uncle Doug Elliot.
There was an occasion, when, filled with goodwill towards our American neighbors at the LORAN station we challenged them to a game of baseball to celebrate Fourth of July 1945. Most of the Aussies had no idea how to play the game, except that it was something like cricket. When the score got to 40 to nil, it was decided to stop and reorganize the teams, i.e., 50% Aussie and 50% Yank in each team. This produced a much better result. A great day was rounded off by a few beers, for which we had saved our ration, followed by a grand dinner (by SGMI standards).
Recently, Gordon Ellis reminded me of the concert which was staged in March 1945. Whilst this was certainly during the time that I was on Graham Moore, I do not have any recollection of it. Perhaps I was rostered on duty. There were six members in the cast, Peter O'Mahoney, Spence Verrall, Ben Gamack, Jim Scott, Gordon Drysdale and Bob Taylor. Kevin Harrington who was the youngest and hence the slimmest, was chosen as the "leading lady" much to his embarrassment. Many people have told me what a wonderful show it was.
One of the real characters of the station was Joe, the mess man. He was a rough, tough diamond. Most mornings we were woken about 7 am by the sound of Joe's raucous voice as he let go with a stream of profanity and insults which, roughly translated and cleaned up, informed us that, as breakfast was now ready, would the young gentlemen please come and enjoy, otherwise he would have to throw out the bloody lot.
SGMI is not far from where the boat which belonged to the Kalumburu Mission was moored, about 25 nautical miles. There were several occasions whilst I was at the island, on which either Father Cubero or Father Serapham Sanz came over to visit in the mission lugger. These visits seemed to coincide with those times when their supplies were overdue. I always felt that the conditions at the Mission had thus become difficult and that they were in fact asking for help. We were not able to help from our normal supplies, which were rationed out by the Army. However, John Weir, being the kindly man that he was, always found a way to help. We had emergency rations stored in a locked box, out in the bush. There was enough to last about a week. An inspection would always reveal that some of the cans showed signs of rust. Hence you could not be sure that the contents would be useable in an emergency. Therefore the whole lot had to be condemned and replaced with a fresh supply. Father Cubero then kindly removed the unwanted goods for us. He always came with three or four bags of peanuts, freshly dug. They were neither roasted nor salted, but were still most welcome. Peanuts in exchange for bully beef and dog biscuits seemed like a good trade to me. Mass was then said for those of us who where Catholic, although I noticed a number of men present whom I knew to be not Catholic. However, in times of stress and loneliness, we are all in need of a little spiritual uplifting.
On 15/8/1945 Japan surrendered. I remember listening on the radio to the celebrations which were taking place in Melbourne. I have a vivid recollection that as I listened, I was overwhelmed by a momentary sense of unreasonable rage and anger. Here were all these people celebrating whilst I, who had endured four and a half years of service, had to sit on my own on a rotten little island and listen to them having fun. Of course we had our own little celebration, but it isn't easy to get excited when all you have to party with is bully beef and dog biscuits.
At the western end of Sir Graham Moore Island, about 20 km from the radar station, was located the American LORAN Chain. This system is a very accurate navigational aid. The Americans set up the station in Feb. 1944. In early August 1945, when it was obvious that the end of the war was imminent, the Americans expressed their intention to shut down and be off back to the US of A. However, the Australian Government insisted that the Loran had to continue to operate to ensure the safety of the large number of aircraft and ships, which would be involved in bringing home released prisoners of war and sick or wounded servicemen. The decision finally taken was that the RAAF would take over.
In a simplified description of operation, the master pairs with each of the slaves in turn, so that each of the transmitters in a pair radiates a short repetitive pulse of radio power simultaneously. The master then paired with the other slave in a similar fashion, producing synchronous pulses, but using a different repetition rate. This was an entirely passive operation; at no time ever could you know if anybody was using the signals. All that had to be done was keep on transmitting, ensuring that each slave maintained exact synchronism with the master to within, I think it was, one micro-second.
In use, the navigator on a ship or aircraft, up to, say 2000 miles away, tuned into the chain, selecting any one of the two pairs. He could then easily measure the difference in time, or delay, if any, between the arrival times of the two pulses from that pair. He then repeated the process, using the other pair.
Every user was issued with an Admiralty chart of the area, which had superimposed on it two sets of lines, one set for each Loran pair. Each line in a set indicated on the chart, the line of positions at which a navigator could expect to get a certain delay. When the navigator found the two lines appropriate to the two delay times that he had measured, his position was indicated by the point at which the two lines crossed.
The reliability of the system could be gauged by the number of letters, which the Americans had received from captains of various craft, thanking them for their help, which had apparently got the craft out of an awkward situation.
On 19th August 1945, I was transferred from 317RS to the Loran. I was instructed to learn the operation and maintenance of the equipment before the Americans moved out. When I arrived, I learnt that two RAAF officers and two sergeants had already arrived. However, the two officers did not stay for long and had already left to take up their commands, one for Champagny Island whilst the other went to Bathurst Island. It had been decided that I was to remain in charge at the master station whilst the other two sergeants, when instruction was complete, were to go to the slave stations. Soon after, RAAF radar operators and general station staff began arriving at all three stations. By this time, all but four Americans had already departed, and even these left in late November.
An unfortunate incident occurred during the time that the two other sergeants were on SGMI. One of them informed me that he was going to charge two men with insubordination.
He had ordered them to paint the antenna mast. This was a steel structure, about 110 feet high, mounted on a huge porcelain insulator at the base and supported by steel guy ropes at two levels. The men had refused to do it. Naturally, this was a matter of some concern to me, because he had taken this action without any reference to me, who, at that time, was nominally in charge. Also, remembering the great need to provide maximum support to all those aircraft that were engaged in bringing home released POWs, it would have been ludicrous to request from a higher authority, permission to shut down the system, just to paint the antenna. He suggested that it might be possible to work on the mast whilst it was transmitting, if one could get onto the base of the mast without getting burnt by the radio power. We thought that this could be done by jumping from a temporary platform, onto the mast, whilst carrying an open pot of paint and a brush. I suggested to my fellow NCO that this was a procedure that needed to be demonstrated to the men concerned. If he would do the demonstration of jumping and then start painting at the top, he would have my support if there was any further trouble from the men. At this point the matter was dropped.
Flt./Lt. John Kelly arrived 20th October 1945 to assume command, but left for demobilization on the 5th December. F/O. Griffiths arrived 26th November to take over from John Kelly. By this time, staffing was identical with that usually existing on a radar station.
Names remembered as at 26th November. The names of those who went to slave stations are not included.
Flt/Lt John Kelly, Radar Officer
F/O. Griffiths, Radar Officer
Sgt. Len Ralph, Radar Mechanic
LAC. Alex Culvenor, Radar Mechanic
LAC. George "Shorty" Hemus, Radar Mechanic
LAC. John McConnell, Radar Mechanic
LAC. Jack Love, Radar Operator
LAC. Pat Carroll, Radar Op
LAC Peter Rolle, Radar Op
LAC. Max Counsell, Radar Op
LAC. John "Snow" Whitfield, Radar Op
LAC, Ken George, Radar Op
LAC. Owen Jones, Radar Op
Lac. Kevin Caldwell, Radar Op
LAC. Peter Kermode, Radar Op
LAC. Maurice Carter, Radar Op
LAC. Bill Langford, Radar Op
LAC. Jack Bragg, ?
Life quickly became similar to that on a radar station, except that we luxuriated in such things as American tents, which had wooden floors and were completely insect proof, water coolers in the mess, electric washing machines, ample refrigeration and, wonder of wonders, a large supply of American food in the pantry. Another luxury was air conditioning in the operations hut. This cooling was not working when we arrived but proved to be most effective after a few repairs were made. Distilled water was also a pleasure, but the distillation plant was close to being worn out so we had to work at that to keep it producing. I think it was Maurice Carter who reminded me that on one occasion we kept it going by replacing a worn out electric motor with one which we cannibalised from one of the many refrigeration units which the Americans had left.
Not all the legacies from the Yanks were a blessing. During their stay at SGMI, all the garbage and refuse from the kitchen had been dumped in heaps on the ground, about 100 yards from the camp. One of our first jobs was to collect all this material and bury it. Another problem was their camp mascot, "Lucille", which was an enormous sow, the biggest I had ever seen. They were planning to leave her behind but I insisted that it was their problem and not mine. Either they take her with them or send her to pigs" heaven. Finally they chose the second option and portions of Lucille actually appeared on the menu in the mess.
Incidentally, some 45 years later when I was at Kalumburu, waiting to return to the island, I met Rod Thomas who was working for the West Australian Government Department of Agriculture. This department was spending an enormous amount of money in a program to eradicate feral pigs from SGMI. No, they were not descendants of Lucille. Apparently the missioners had released a small colony many years before the War, in the hope that they would breed and become a readily available food supply. Years later, they had been unable to find any trace of them and assumed that they had all died. Indeed, during the time that we were on the island, we were completely unaware of their existence.
I was told by Rod that the Department became aware that Indonesian fishermen were landing on the island to hunt the pigs. It was feared that this might be the means by which swine fever and other such animal diseases might eventually find a way into Australia. Hence the pigs had to go, regardless of the cost. Rod told me that their team of about ten men, with helicopter, had to visit the island on four occasions, each of about seven days duration. The final tally was twenty pigs.
All the vehicles were in a poor state of repair. A big truck, which was the main workhorse, had no brakes and the steering arm was held in place with fencing wire. In addition, the gear box was a problem as it would not stay in gear. It was understood that whoever sat next to the driver, was obliged to firmly hold the gear lever to ensure that it remained in gear. I had an embarrassing experience with this truck on one occasion. Just as I was about to make a turn to come up alongside the mess, the wire come off the steering arm and the front of the truck ended up in the pantry. Tins containing lovely American food were scattered all around the floor. This was an episode that took a lot of living down.
Not everything was in a poor state of repair. Electric power, which was necessary to run the LORAN and the numerous camp facilities, was generated by two large diesel sets. I am not sure but I would guess that they were each of about 25 KVA capacity. These units had been operating for about 18 months and as far as I am aware, had not given any trouble during this time.
On 23rd December, I received the news for which I had been waiting. I was posted home for discharge. However, a gale was blowing and it was impossible for the supply boat to venture out. Indeed, I was unable to leave the island until 6th January 1946. This same storm prevented the delivery of the special supplies that we had been promised for Christmas dinner. Things began to look very bad. With no sign of the weather improving, on Christmas morning we decided to form several hunting groups, some to go fishing (with gelignite of course )and others to see if they could shoot a bush turkey or some such. The net result for all our efforts was one shark and an unfortunate old black cockatoo.
However, at about 11am we received a signal from 58 OBU at Truscott, to the effect that they were going to try an airdrop of suitable supplies. A plane arrived soon afterwards and completed a successful drop. Christmas dinner was enjoyed by all even though it was delayed until the late afternoon. Obviously it was a strictly teetotal meal because bottled goodies would not have survived the drop. I cannot remember what we received but we were all appreciative of the efforts of our friends at Truscott.
There were occasions when we wondered who was Sir Graham Moore. It was not until 1994 that I was able to try looking it up on the Internet. Eventually I learnt that Sir Graham Moore had had a distinguished career in the British Navy as a captain, commanding various ships of the line, in battles against the Spanish and French fleets. Eventually he was promoted to the rank of Admiral and was made a Lord of the Admiralty. Morrie Fenton was able to ascertain that the island was named in 1819 by Captain Phillip Parker King, son of the Governor of New South Wales. King had explored much of the northern coastline of Australia.
I also learnt that Sir Thomas Laurence had painted Sir Graham's portrait in 1792 and that the painting was hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London. In 1995 I visited the Gallery but unfortunately, the painting had been taken down for restoration work. Nevertheless, I was able to purchase for a few pounds, a very nice digital colour print of the painting.
So, was it an honour to have this scruffy little uninhabited island named after you? Having spent some six months or so towards the end of the war on Sir Graham Moore Island, I feel that it was fortunate that his Lordship never got to make the trip out to inspect his island!
A few days after Christmas, the weather started to improve, so that by 6th January the supply boat was able to come over. By this time, there was a group of five or six who had been posted home. One of this group was a young fellow named Pat Carroll. Pat had been in a Catholic seminary, studying for the priesthood. He had been given permission, in August 1942, to defer his studies so that he could join the RAAF. He arrived at Sir Graham Moore Island in September as a 21 year old radar operator.
He was a very lightly built person but whatever he lacked in weight, he made up for in heart. Nothing was too difficult for him. There was an occasion when I was supervising the unloading from the barge of 44 gallon drums of fuel. These are extremely heavy and required two men to roll each one up the beach, into the truck and there, to tip it up on end. It was very hard work. Nevertheless, there was Pat trying to handle one on his own. I had to stop him for fear that he would harm himself.
Within a day or so, Pat and I found ourselves in Darwin. We were in a staging camp with several hundred other fellows who were all waiting for transport back home. The camp was about 8 km out from the town of Darwin.
Before leaving Sir Graham Moore Island, I had received a letter from Bill Brown. Bill was one of the Americans at the LORAN, with whom I had become friendly, whilst I was still at RS 317. In his letter, he told me that he was still in Darwin and would be for some weeks. He suggested that I should visit him if I happened to be passing through. I was able to ring him and arranged to visit him the next evening.
Pat and I had no trouble hitch-hiking into Darwin as there was a large amount of road traffic.
Bill was a very tall well-built man, about the same age as me. He had a delightful personality and I believed that he would be a good friend. We had a very enjoyable night in his company. About 10 o'clock he produced a bottle of whisky and invited us to have a drink with him. Pat was a teetotaller and I had never drunk whisky, but realising that we probably would never get to be in Bill's company again, we decided to have a drink with him. By the time that we had had a second glass, I was starting to feel quite strange and decided to not have any more. Pat was really enjoying himself and had a third. It then became obvious that Pat was becoming intoxicated so I decided that it was time for us to leave. In any case, by this time it was after midnight, we had a fair way to go to get back to our camp and we both had to be on morning parade at 8 am. We said our final farewells to Bill and walked out to the road, expecting a vehicle to come along within a few minutes. However, we walked and we walked. There was not a thing on the road at that time of night.
By the time that we had walked to our camp, we were both feeling not very well. I suppose that it was just retribution for our wickedness. The next morning, Pat was quite ill. We decided that it would have been quite unwise for him to go on sick parade. The air force doctor would easily have recognised a hang-over. The only alternative, to go on parade, was not much more attractive as all "other ranks" at the conclusion of the parade, would be drafted into squads to fill in slit trenches and other such fascinating jobs.
I can only guess how Pat got through that parade. However, at the end I quickly marched over to where he was standing and pointing at him, yelled at him in my most imperious manner, "You, that man, follow me." We then marched off, out into the bush until we found some suitable scrub where we could hide. We slept until mid afternoon, by which time we were both feeling much better.
Pat left next day, heading towards Brisbane. I never saw him again. However, I did learn that he had returned to the seminary and on the completion of his studies, was ordained into the priesthood. He spent the rest of his life working in parishes in the Townsville area. He died about 1990.
My air force records show that I arrived back in Melbourne for demobilisation on 20th January 1946, which was 14 days after leaving Sir Graham Moore Island. Apart from the episode just related, I have no recollection of that period of my life. I cannot recall how I travelled or where I stopped on the journey south. Probably, two or three days of that period can be accounted for by some unofficial leave. After all, the war was over and I had not been home for ten months.
During the war, the Americans had established a very large camp in the parkland known as Royal Park, which is less than three km from the centre of Melbourne. It was known as Camp Pell. It was literally a small town, consisting of hundreds of prefabricated buildings, all laid out in a very symmetrical pattern, with named streets and all the amenities that could be expected. Even the nearby Royal Melbourne Hospital had been taken over. The Melbourne Zoo was also adjacent, which often prompted the unkind suggestion that that was quite appropriate.
There was not a Yank to be seen by the time that I arrived in January 1946. They had long since departed for home. Camp Pell had been taken over by the Australian Armed Forces as a centre from which to process the demobilisation of many thousands of young Australian men and women.
The discharge process appeared to be designed as a test of endurance, perhaps to see if one was fit enough to return to the rough and tumble of civilian life. Every step of the process required that you stand in queues making almost no progress to whatever had to be done at the head of the queue. There were queues for everything, x-rays, medical examination, dental, optical, destruction by fire of your identity card, another where you had to remove all RAAF insignia from your uniform, although, I think this was where you received a voucher to pay for a very basic suit of civilian clothing. Finally, you queued up to receive your last pay, plus pay in lieu of any accrued leave.
It is likely that there would have been few if any, who would have gone through these last few procedures, without a sense of sadness. I found the experience to be quite emotional and perhaps, even a little frightening. I was about to leave an organisation which had looked after me, had provided my every need (well mostly). I had friends who respected me and I had little doubt that they would have laid down their lives for me, had the need been there.
I had left the civilian world at a time when I was still a teenager which was before I had had a chance to learn anything at all about life. Then, at age 24 years, I was about to be thrust out into the cruel tough world. Today, as a mature, experienced old man, I am able to admit that, at that time, I was more than a little apprehensive of what life might have in store for me. It was not to be long before I had an example of just how tough some people can be.
As has been written in Part 1 of this Sequel, I had been studying by correspondence to raise my level of education to that which was required to enable me to apply for entry into a course of engineering.
I had applied for a four year course in Communication Engineering at what was then called Melbourne Technical College. This establishment is now known as RMIT University. I spent two days doing a number of examinations to ensure that I was a suitable candidate to start such a course. Eventually I was told that they would accept me, but not until I had possession of an interim Certificate of Service and Discharge. When the process of demobilisation was complete on 30th January 1946, I was given my interim certificate. Without delay, I presented myself again at the Melbourne Technical College. I was now given the disappointing news that all places for the 1946 intake had been filled. Consequently
I would have to wait until 1947.
When it became obvious that there was nothing that I could say that would change this situation, I had no alternative but to go to my pre-war employer to be reinstated in my old job for 12 months. At that time, an employer was legally bound to re-employ any employees who had enlisted in the armed services.
This company, which shall remain nameless, had been formed in 1920 by a man whom I shall call John. The company had prospered and had become well respected in the printing industry. When John died, about 1930, the management of the company was taken over by his son, who was known to all as Young John. In 1940, Young John had agreed to take over my apprenticeship contract when my first employer had closed down his business. At the time when I had joined the air force, I still had 3 months of my apprenticeship to complete. Young John, in his mid fifties, was a likeable man who was well respected by all his employees. When I returned in early 1946, I found that Young John had retired due to illness, and his son, known as Younger John was now the manager. Younger John had been around before I had enlisted. He was about 2 or 3 years older than I was. He was a weak, insipid looking fellow who seemed to have an ability to antagonise the staff, although he never caused any trouble for me. He was a part-time officer in an army cadet training corps, before and during the war
It was Younger John to whom I was obliged to go to get back my job. Before I had had a chance to say much, he started with a sneering, insulting tirade against all returning ex-servicemen and me in particular. When I reminded him that he had a legal obligation to re-employ me, he promised me that if I returned, he would make it his business to make my life a hell.
I have never been an aggressive person but as a result of his insulting attitude, I was overwhelmed with fury. I stood up, took hold of his tie and was about to hit him. However, he cowered back in such abject terror that I was quite unable to do it. As I walked out of his office, he picked himself up from where he had fallen and threatened to charge me with assault. I reminded him that his treatment of an ex-serviceman, which would also come out in court, would not help the image of his company.
The drama just recounted had had an audience. The office in which it had taken place was built on a mezzanine floor and had glass-covered walls. It over-looked the machine room, so that the manager was able to observe all that was happening below. Of course, this facility also worked in the opposite direction. In addition, it was lunch-time and the machines were not running. The men were sitting nearby having their lunch break. They had seen and heard all that had occurred. Some expressed disappointment that I had not hit the fellow. Such was the opinion of Younger John.
No more was heard about the matter and of course I did not get my job back. Perhaps I was a little saddened for Old John and Young John, a few years later, when I heard that the company, headed by Younger John, had gone into liquidation.
This was my first experience of just how tough civilian life can be.
There was still the problem of the incomplete apprenticeship. I went to the Apprenticeship Commission to whom I explained my dilemma. The man to whom I spoke assured me that I did not have a problem. He explained that the outstanding 3 months would be waived and that I would receive my indentures within the week. Within a very short time I had a job with Lamson Paragon, a large printing company in Richmond. These people were very good to me and I enjoyed my stay with them. When the time came to leave in January 1947, to start my course, they left me in no doubt that I would always be welcome should I ever need another job.
Four years later, I completed that course in engineering, and became eligible for membership in the Institution of Radio Engineers Australia. I worked for a few years in the field of audio and then in radio engineering. Later, I was employed by the Department of Supply at the Government Ammunition Factory in Footscray, Victoria. Here I was engineer-in-charge of a department which designed and manufactured electronic equipment which was used in the production lines in that factory's production centres. Two years later, I was seconded for six months to the Department's Aircraft Factory at Fishermen's Bend to assist in the development of an instrument landing system for aviation. When that project was abandoned, I returned to the Ammunition Factory, where I was informed that management now proposed to transfer me into a production department. I had previously resisted two such proposals, as I considered that that sort of engineering had no appeal for me. Fortunately for me, at that time Dunlop Australia Limited were seeking an engineer to head up the development engineering group in their Research and Development Division. I held that position for the last 25 years of my professional life until I retired in 1983. During that time, I was granted Letters Patent for a number of inventions. A variation of one of those inventions, a means of joining plastic pipes, I sometimes see being used today, when new water supply mains are being installed. Another related to the encasing of large lead-acid traction batteries, such as are used to power electric locomotives in underground mine applications.
Considering the tragedy, suffering and devastation which are always a bi-product of war, who in their right mind could see good in war? Yet there are some circumstances in which one might be thankful for war. Surely a conflict which releases a people from the power of a tyrant or protects others from an aggressor does more good than bad.
In my own case, there is much for which I have to be thankful. Although I spent four and a half years in war service, some in a very dangerous zone, I suffered neither injuries nor health problems, not even malaria. Indeed, in some ways I am sure that I have been blessed by my service in the RAAF.
My pre-war educational background was far from inspiring. Apart from winning a scholarship in primary school, I had done little of which to be proud. Yet, during the time spent in Papua New Guinea, I began to surprise myself with just what I was able to achieve, with the resultant increase in self esteem. I also became aware of just how poorly educated I was. Even that realization was something for which I had to be grateful, because you cannot be more ignorant than when you do not know that you are ignorant. I can remember when I was a 15 year old, riding my bicycle past Melbourne University and wondering what went on within its walls. Little did I realise at that time that 15 years later, I would be doing post-graduate studies within those same walls. An even more important blessing was the fact that I was presented with the means of making a significant change to my educational status, through the Commonwealth Re-construction Training Scheme. This plan had been set up by the Commonwealth Government to offer educational opportunities to all suitable ex-service people. Many thousands of young men and women, on demobilisation, took advantage of this scheme. Undoubtedly, they all made a contribution to the prosperity of Australia during post-war years. Yes, some of us have much for which to be thankful. Speaking for myself, the war of 1939 to 1945 enabled me to lift myself up to a level to which I could never otherwise have aspired.
RETURN to SIR GRAHAM MOORE ISLAND
A short article, which appeared in the Australian Geographic Magazine (AG No18) in April 1990, had an unexpected result for me. The founder of the magazine, Dick Smith, had been flying over an island, which he thought to be Sir Graham Moore Island. He was surprised to see a large heap of rusty 44 gallon fuel drums stacked on what was otherwise a pristine beach. In his article about the drums, he asked if anyone could explain the mystery.
Everyone who had been on the LORAN station during the latter stages of the war certainly knew about the drums. It seems that some twenty of these people, including me, wrote to Dick to answer his question (AG No 21). Of course, the drums had contained fuel to power the LORAN and after use, had been left behind by the Americans, on their departure.
One of the magazine staff wrote to me for more detail and mentioned that Lindsay Peet, who had also responded, was planning to visit the island. Lindsay was an Air Force Historian, living in Perth. I wrote to Lindsay and arranged to join up with him at Kununurra, in the Kimberly. From there we were to fly with Alligator Airlines to Kalumburu, where there is a large aboriginal community. Fortunately, we were able to do a deal with the airline to take us on to SGMI before landing at Kalumburu.
The pilot was very generous with his time when we finally arrived over the island, circling over the areas which we wanted to see, for about an hour. For me, it was a very thrilling experience, being able to look down and see the ruins of the places where I had spent a goodly proportion of my youthful life almost fifty years before.
It was very difficult - perhaps impossible - to identify much of the ruins from the air, although they could be seen. In the intervening years, the island would have been ravaged by probably six bushfires. Firstly, we flew over the site of the radar station and camp, before flying westward to the other end of the island to where the Loran had been located. On the way we were easily able to see the stack of drums which I suppose was the cause of my good fortune. The location of the Loran was very easy to identify because the two very tall and substantial wooden masts, which had supported the communication antenna, were still standing. Alongside could clearly be seen the concrete floor of the building which had housed the Loran technical equipment. However, I was unable to see anything of the camp area from the air. It was not until I arrived back home and had my photos printed that there, clearly visible, could be easily seen the concrete floor of the mess hall and the sites of a number of the tents and other buildings. The remains of two corrugated iron water tanks, which had been mounted on a high wooden structure, could be seen where they had fallen down onto the ground.
On the way back to Kalumburu we detoured over Mary Island where the wheel tracks, plus the nosecone, of the "Shady Lady", an aircraft which had made an emergency landing in the mud flats fifty years ago, are still visible in the mud. (The story of "Shady Lady" is very well recorded in one of Lindsay's reports.) A short distance further on, the old wartime airstrip, Truscott, was below. This area, at that time, was leased by Santos Oil, as a base from which they serviced their oilrigs on Troughton Island, about 45km to the Northwest.
The Kalumburu Aboriginal Community consists of some hundred or so people who are controlled by an elected committee which, in 1990, had as chairman, Les French. Les is a big man, very much in control, who had organised the community into a very satisfactory system of self-governance. The community had also formed a company which contracted to the West Australian Government for the construction and maintenance of roads throughout the Kimberly area. Hence they were virtually self-supporting.
I met quite a number of the people. Apart from Les and his very attractive wife, there were two people who made a significant impression on me. First would have to be a lady known to all as Auntie Mary. This lady seemed to know all the history of the area and its people as far back as you can imagine and is quite happy to share her knowledge. I was told that quite a number of students, doing anthropological studies had come to visit her. There had been so many in fact, that at the time I was there, there was a proposal put to the University of WA that she be granted an Honorary Doctorate. The other was Basil, a delightful old rascal, who had a magnificent leonine head of grey hair, who loved to chat.
The mission was formed in 1906 by Father Torres, a member of the Spanish Benedictine Order which had a monastery located at New Norcia in Western Australia, about 60 km north of Perth. Initially, the Mission was set up at Pago, about 25 km from its present location where it was known as Drysdale River Mission, although the Drysdale River is a considerable distance from Pago. However, eventually the water supply proved to be unreliable and it became necessary to relocate. Kalumburu, on the King George River was chosen and in 1926 the move was made.
On arrival at Kalumburu, Lindsay and I had expected that within a few days Les French would take us over to SGMI in the community's large aluminium dinghy. The news that the dinghy's 60HP outboard engine had seized up was quite a disappointment. A replacement was expected within a week. An alternative boat was offered but I declined as I felt it was too small and its outboard motor did not look very reliable. After all, we were going well out to sea, to a very remote part of the Kimberly, with no means of calling for help if we should have any trouble. However the extra week turned out to be a bonus because we were able to meet so many more people.
We were staying at the Mission in some rooms, which were part of the camping ground. Usually Father Pat McAtamney, who at that time was in charge, invited us in for the evening meal. The evenings, spent in such jovial company, were always most pleasant. It was here that I learnt of the incredible contribution made by my old wartime friends, Fathers Cubero and Sanz, to the Allied war effort. Sadly none of their efforts had been recorded anywhere. It was probably under the influence of Father Pat's excellent home brewed beer that I promised to do something about providing a permanent and visible record.
Eventually the new outboard engine arrived and I paid close attention when it was fitted to the boat. After all, we could not afford any drama. Early the next morning, 21st June 1990, we launched the boat at Longini Landing and after a short test run, set off just as the sun was rising. There were four of us on board, Les, Jimmy, Lindsay and myself. It was a beautiful day but a strong prevailing wind was blowing from the East. We got good shelter from the wind-driven waves in Napier Broome Bay by keeping in close to the Eastern shore and headed North for West Governor Island, a bare, desolate outcrop of sand, which is East of SGMI. We were then left with a 9 km dash before the wind to our destination. However, Jimmy, ever the hunter, had spotted some turtle tracks in the sand on Governor. We came ashore and spent a fruitless two hours whilst Jimmy hunted for eggs.
I have to admit to a sense of excitement as we finally approached SGMI and it was a great thrill when I finally set foot back on the place where I had last been 45 years ago. I was moved to yell out some sort of friendly profanity to the spirits of all those mates with whom I had been, so long ago.
We came ashore almost under where the camp had been. This would have been in the channel where the fish-trap was located, but I could see no sign of it. Probably, being made of steel mesh, the steel had long since rusted away. The first ruins we found were of the hut in which I had lived, although I did not realize this at first. I was able to pinpoint the exact spot where I had slept. In the rubble I found the rusted metal hinge of a fold-up wooden bed such as we slept on. Believing that it could really have been mine, I had no feelings of guilt in stealing it. My hut was just over from the mess, so that was the next thing we found. Surprisingly, the cooks stove was still there and it would have been completely functional. Many other things are there, apparently unaffected by the years of storm, sun and fire - pots, the flour bins, even the half 44 gallon drum in which we washed our eating utensils. I was amused to find a bottle, which defiantly proclaimed "STILL THE PROPERTY OF THE DISTILLERS LIMITED". I looked to see if I could find any remains of the flagpole, which had featured in the amusing incident with our CO, John Weir, but sadly could find no sign of it.
We attempted to find our way up to the location of the radar. There was no sign of the track but we did find the telephone line, which connected the camp to the doover. We attempted to follow the cable but this proved to be too difficult, because of the scrub and we had to give it best.
Once again back in the boat, we had a comfortable run before the wind to the western end, the location of the Loran. On the way we stopped at the stack of drums and took some photos. As we approached the Loran site, the two radio masts served as a very useful beacon. These masts had survived because they were in reality very substantial power poles, probably about 400 mm in diameter. The single wire which had been strung between them, was the communication antenna Once ashore, the first ruin encountered, was, of all things, the old dunny. This was, of course, of American construction, being of a much more sophisticated design than those that we made. As it was made of concrete it had survived very well. I suppose I knew my way from there, so it was very easy to find the ruins of the Loran building. Nothing remains except the concrete floor. Adjacent to this building had been the 110 foot high steel transmitting mast, of which there is no sign. I spent some time looking for the concrete pedestal, which had supported the big insulator and the mast, but could find nothing. I did find one of the four anchor blocks to which the guy wires were fastened. Surprisingly, the copper ground mat is still there, buried just below the ground.
At this stage we got a nasty surprise. What from the air had seemed to be a rather smooth, level ground surface, in fact proved to be dried grass about 1.5m high with last years growth distributed horizontally on top. Thus, as you tried to walk through it, you could not get far before there was a large amount of grass wrapped around your shoulders and neck, and further progress was impossible. Hence there was no possibility of being able to get to the camp area. Also, time and energy were running out. Returning to the antenna site, we went across the short distance to the waters edge on the North shore and walked eastward to try for the distillation unit. On the way, we found the Geodetic Reference, which had been placed by the Australian Survey Corps on 20-2-1944. This reference was necessary to accurately locate the Loran chain, to ensure navigational accuracy. Unfortunately, we did not find the distillation unit, as we turned into the first small gully instead of the second.
It was now getting late and it was necessary to return to Les and the boat to ensure that we could get back to Kalumburu before dark. Les and Jimmy had caught a small turtle and were cooking it on the beach. Lindsay and I were invited to share the feast, which we enjoyed. I was reminded of the only other time when I have eaten turtle. It was back in 1945 at SGMI, when Father Cubero visited and his aboriginal boys had caught a turtle on the way over.
I was anxious to get started on the journey back to the Mission because it was getting late and the wind was still blowing strongly from the East. However, we had barely started when they spotted a large turtle and the chase was on. Jimmy stood on the bow of the boat with the harpoon whilst Les steered the boat in pursuit. After a couple of misses Les got so excited that he handed the tiller over to me so that he could go up front and take over the harpoon. This suited me because Les, in his excitement, had been showing little regard for all the reefs, which surrounded us. I must confess that it was most exciting although I had a lot of sympathy for the poor creatures. However, I was getting anxious as it was getting late. It was getting very crowded in the boat, with three large turtles. I was less than impressed when one of the turtles slipped into the bottom of the boat and jammed my foot. My only way of getting free was to slip my foot out of my shoe.
By this time, darkness was approaching, it was getting very cold and we were still at the western end of the island. It was a most miserable journey back in the dark, freezing cold and getting inundated every time the bows shipped a greenie with almost every wave. I will never know how Les was able to find his way in the dark, through the numerous islets and reefs, but I tried to assure myself that it was his country and he would surely know it like the back of his hand. Well, maybe he did, because we eventually got back to Longini and had only scraped a reef once near Carronade Island. Speaking for myself, I was so cold that I could hardly move. The final straw was when we got back to the utility and found that the keys had been locked inside. Les decided that the best move was to light a fire so as to warm us up a bit before he made an attempt to remove the rear window. We eventually got back to the Mission about 11pm, after what I can only describe as an incredible adventure, particularly for a seventy year old boy at heart.
The next morning an aircraft arrived unexpectedly. As there was little likelihood of another arrival for three or more days and being already about a week behind schedule, I decided to go with him even though he was going to Adelaide River and not Darwin. The flight was quite interesting as we flew mostly across the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and then landed at Daly River Aboriginal Community for about an hour. This area is very much cattle country. It is very interesting to see how some of these Communities have been able to make them selves self-sufficient.
On arrival in Adelaide River, at about 3PM, I was faced with a 113 km trip to get into Darwin. I decided to go into a pub, have a meal and a beer and ask around for a lift. It took no time before I was fixed up. The young refrigeration service man was delighted to take me, as he said, because he had never before seen a seventy-year-old backpacker wandering around the top end. There were more problems for me at the Darwin Airport. It was the beginning of school holidays and the end of the shrimp-fishing season. All aircraft were booked out for about a week. When I was offered a seat in first class, I did not hesitate.
Soon after arriving back home, I conferred with Joe Lynam, president of the Victorian RAAF Radar Association, and with members, about placing a bronze plaque at Kalumburu. Approval was given for the project and eventually the plaque was made and sent up to the Mission. Here it was mounted on a very large rock, which was set in the ground directly in line with the main entrance to the Mission. It is also adjacent to the chapel, which had been damaged in the bombing on Monday 27th September 1943.
The plaque records, inter alia,
They constructed by hand in 1940, the nearby airstrip which for some months was the only airfield from which allied bombers could attack those airfields being used by the Japanese for the bombing of Darwin and Broome.
In February 1942, they saved 120 people from the SS Koolama, bombed and sunk near Leseur Island.
They rescued the crews of six crashed allied aircraft and salvaged five of these aircraft.
The Mission was bombed on 27th September 1943. Six people were killed including the Superior, Fr. Thomas Gil, OSB. Considerable damage was done to nearby buildings.
They attended to the spiritual needs of men stationed at units near Truscott and also at the Radar Station and the LORAN Station, both of which were on Sir Graham Moore Island.
In fact, the Koolama was bombed and beached near Leseur Island where the 120 passengers were taken off. It then managed to get to Wyndham, where its cargo was unloaded. It sank, during an air-raid, at the Wyndham pier, where it became a shipping hazard. After an unsuccessful salvage operation, it was left to sink into the mud, where it remains to this day.
The unveiling and dedication ceremony was arranged for 27th June 1992. Father Seraphim Sanz, OAM, who, with Father Cubero, had been involved in all the wartime activities of the Mission, was invited to unveil the plaque. He had retired a few years previously and was living at the Benedictine Monastery at New Norcia in W.A. Father Anscar McPhee, an Australian born Benedictine, officiated. My wife, Mary came with me. It was a moving experience to once again meet Father Seraphim, whom I had last seen on SGMI, when we were both much younger. Sadly, Father Cubero had died in 1950.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
"KALUMBURU WAR DIARY", by Father Eugene Perez, OSB. ISBN 0 86445 013 3
"THE KOOLAMA INCIDENT", by Bill Loane. ISBN 0 646 08100 4
My thanks and appreciation are also due to Doug Brooke and to members of my family who provided considerable assistance with that wearisome task of editing.