Part of chapter 1, and chapters 3, 4, 5, 11 are included here.
See chapter 1 for the meaning of Chocolate soldier
1 Basic Training
2 Gunshot Wound
4 Port Moresby
5 Kokoda Track
6 Air Action
8 Clearing Station
9 Operating Theatre
10 Revenge Raid
13 Kunai Grass
15 Home Leave
During my World War Two Army service of about four and a half years, over two of which were spent in New Guinea, too many things occurred to be included in this account. A lot of Army life can be very mundane - if you are not in an action area!
This is intended to give some idea of what Army life was like, without going into too much detail. Considering all the high points and the low ones - some of which are included in this narrative, God's guidance and intervention in many ways is very evident. This I am most grateful for, and certainly was at the time.
I had no camera during the war, so the photos seen herein are all ones taken by others in the Unit that had cameras, and were able to get films processed by friends in the R.A.A.F. Photographic Section. They kindly sold me copies of some of their shots, and these over-50-year-old prints I recently photographed on 35mm film, and had larger prints made of them. A man who joined our Unit in New Guinea in 1943, took the picture of the S.S. "Both" in the Brisbane River on his way to New Guinea and kindly gave me the negative from which the picture on the front cover (and inside) was made.
David Behrens and his unit were transferred late in 1944 to Brisbane and the tent lines set up in Salisbury, while the actual workshops were in Rocklea. He was promoted to A.I.F. Sergeant, and later, after being smashed up in a motor accident, was transferred to what was called the Metropolitan R.A.P. in a building in Ann Street, which cared for the needs of the many Service men and women who were in Brisbane at that time. David was honourably discharged from the army, not as a Chocolate Soldier, but as an A.I.F. Sergeant!
Many young Adventists took Saint John's Ambulance First Aid training courses for a number of years before World War 2 started, as political events in the world made it clear war was likely to come. This action was taken on the advice of our Church leaders, so our young men and women would have better grounds for asking for non combatant duties if they were called up for Service. My sister Rae, brother Frank, and I took those courses and received Certificates.
The second World War did start in September 1939. I was working in a lawnmower factory - Rexmow Lawnmowers - in Melbourne, but left that when it became impossible to get certain types of steel and roller bearings used in the mowers, as they were imported from England and Sweden, by sea. I got a job as a Fitter in what was an essential industry - Watson Victor - which made X-Ray equipment, and a big range of Medical and Surgical instruments and machines, also optical. I didn't expect to be called up for Army service as these were all very much needed items
Frank and Rae were exempt as they were helping our Mother run the poultry farm at Doncaster in Melbourne. Frank had no other trade training.
When Japan entered the war in 1941, the outlook for Australia suddenly became extremely serious. Many thousands of Australians were involved in the war in Europe and the Middle East - but many were needed right here in Australia to help stop the Japs as they began working their way towards our land.
Essential industries were asked by the Government to release any men they could - particularly tradesmen - to boost our sadly undermanned Army. I had been the last man put on at Watson Victor so was the first to be released.
The large numbers of men so "called up" became derisively known as Chocolate Soldiers or "Chockos" by many civilians and A.I.F. men. Their correct name was the Australian Military Force or A.M.F.
By law, these men could only be used for the defence of Australia in Australia, or its territories which at that time included Papua - but not the rest of New Guinea. In contrast, the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) were all volunteers, and could be sent anywhere in the world that the Government decided.
With the Japanese threat to Australia increasing from day to day, the value of New Guinea as a defense line also increased. The Australian Army had only a small force on the Port Moresby side of the Island - and there was a crying need for more and better equipped repair facilities, for their vehicles, guns, rifles, and instruments.
From the hundreds of men still undergoing training in the Military Arts, and evaluation as to their trade abilities, Colonel Hanby and his Officers picked men with the required experience in the many trades needed, and selected the Officers, N.C.O.s, and men who would be needed to operate a full Field Workshop.
The required power-tools and machines were obtained, and engine driven generating sets to supply them. Everything that was needed to make a big workshop fully self-sufficient in a war zone, was assembled at Cranbourne.
Then the whole lot - men, vehicles, machinery, and tools were loaded on flat-top rail cars, and into carriages and transported by rail to Sydney. I was chosen to be the R.A.P. attendant going with them to New Guinea.
The SS "Both" was a Dutch cattle transport ship, then being used as a troop carrier. Our Unit and about 1,000 other men -mainly R.A.A.F., crowded aboard her, with all our equipment and vehicles in her holds or on her decks. I was appointed to work in the ship's Sick Bay (or hospital) assisting the Doctor who was a Captain in the Army Medical Corp. We had some strange problems to deal with during the ensuing voyage. I learnt a lot.
We sailed out of Sydney Harbour one afternoon and joined up with a number of other ships in a small convoy, guarded by a couple of Destroyers and several Corvettes. Land-based planes visited us from time to time, and patrolled the sea ahead of us. This was only a short time after a Jap. submarine had shelled Newcastle and the midget submarines attacked Sydney Harbour.
Most of the convoy went no further than Townsville - and that was where most of the R.A.A.F. men went ashore from our ship. We had many interesting things happen either in our ship or in the sea around us, as the voyage continued on to Cairns. There most of the other troops apart from our Unit, were put ashore from the "Both", and something extremely interesting took place soon after the anchor was pulled up and the ship got under way - we realized we were on our own!
The other cargo ships and their escorting warships, were going to head back to Sydney together. Our ship was going to continue on alone through waters that the Jap submarines patrolled, all the way to Port Moresby.
The ship ran up inside the Great Barrier Reef for quite a distance, but had to anchor each night after hitting reefs a couple of times, due to all navigation lights being put out so as not to help the Japanese.
Some of the ship's outer plating was holed by the coral which let seawater into some of the freshwater tanks. That caused some problems.
Eventually the ship had to go out through the reef up near Cooktown, and head out across the open ocean towards Port Moresby Then God answered the prayers of many of us, who had been asking for protection through this most dangerous part of the voyage. The ship was hardly clear of the reefs when a howling gale got up.
Just how high the waves were I didn't know, but I was amazed how the force of the wind just chopped the tops off them and made horizontal waterfalls of them, flying across the monstrously deep troughs.
The "Both's" Captain had the ship heading almost straight into the waves which was necessary as if she had gone side on to them, she may have capsized. It was pointed out to us by one of the ship's Officers, that any submarine trying to torpedo the ship, would have their torpedoes' depth-settings knocked haywire by the constantly changing water pressure between the crests and the troughs of those huge waves.
The "Both" was only a small ship of about 1200 tons, and a torpedo would have to be set to run quite shallow to have any hope of hitting her. If a Jap submarine Captain decided to attack us with his deck guns, he would have had the gun-crews washed overboard.
That storm continued unabated night and day, until the high mountains inland from Port Moresby were showing above the bank of haze lying across the sea. Then the wind eased off and the waves began to diminish.
Our two pitifully inadequate anti-aircraft gun crews went on full alert with their twin .50 calibre machine guns loaded and cocked, as through that thick haze over the sea ahead, a large aeroplane could be seen heading straight towards us. I have never forgotten the sinking feeling I had as I thought what a big Jap bomber could do to our slow old ship, as that plane drew steadily nearer.
Then it turned slightly and a signal lamp flashed at us, from a cockpit side window, and I heard the clatter of our own lamp on the Bridge giving a reply. The plane was an American Flying Fortress long range bomber on anti-submarine patrol. What a mighty sigh of relief went up from our ship - and as far as I was concerned (and I don't think I was alone) a prayer of thanks to God.
We disembarked from the "Both" at Port Moresby, a full ten days after leaving Sydney. What a trip!
The Japs had already captured Rabaul on New Britain Island, and had landed small forces at Lae and Salamaua on the North Coast of New Guinea, quite a long way from the Capital, Port Moresby on the South side. They needed to have control of that Port before continuing their drive on Australia.
Later we found out that the Japs had started their attack on Port Moresby with landings at Buna and Gona, on the opposite side of the island, the same day that our much needed worskhop unit, had landed at Moresby on the South side.
The Jap's decision to land at Buna and attack Moresby from the rear, was a bad one for them, but a good one for Australia. They thought the Port was heavily defended, when in fact they could have taken it very easily if they had come in from the sea. What their reconnaissance planes brought back photos of for months, as they flew at altitudes of 40,000 feet or more, away above the reach of our anti-aircraft guns - was not a big defending force camped near Moresby, but a huge hoax!
A big expanse of open kunai grass country had many tents scattered around and vehicle tracks running in all directions. Guns (made of wood and steel pipes), tanks (made of pieces of ply or wood, on trailers) cookhouses with smoke pouring from their chimneys. Dust rose from trucks or cars on the move around the camp - a real hive of troop activity.
In fact the only troops active, were the hand full that drove the trucks around, and kept the cookhouses fires smoking. We thank the Lord it worked, and helped the Japs make the wrong decision. For them!
One of the first job's given us when we had all been transported by truck from the Port to our camp area, and had a night's sleep on palliasses of straw that did not rock, was to dig slit trenches These were about two feet wide and four or five deep (depending on the energy of the digger), and no more than ten feet long. They were not dug in line with each other, but in zig-zag or erratic fashion.
This made it harder for a ground-strafeing plane to hit too many men at one run, also the blast and fragments from exploding bombs did less damage. One thing we soon learned, was to check our own particular "slittie" each day, and evict any snakes that may have fallen in. Big pythons could generally get themselves out, so it was mainly the smaller ones - which were more likely to be venemous - that stayed in.
For many months night air-raids were a real problem - apart from the daytime ones. There may have been only a few planes involved - sometimes only one - but they kept everyone for many miles around from getting much sleep. The big Kawanishi four engined flying boats were a real curse. They would come in early in the night and cruise around over the aerodromes between us and Moresby, dropping a few bombs here and there - or just flying around with the searchlight boys trying to get a light on them.
The anti-aircraft batteries had no artillery radar to guide them in those days, so had to wait for a visible target. When they had that - sometimes three or four searchlights would come on a plane - then they could start firing. I have never forgotten the sounds of the shells bursting high in the sky. It was a dull almost thudding sound - probably because there was nothing of any size up there to echo from. A shell bursting near or on the ground makes more of a cracking sound.
When the Jap flying-boat had got everyone on the ground well stirred up, we would often hear the uneven beat of its unsynchronised engines fading from our hearing, out towards the sea beyond Moresby. When there was a good "bomber's moon" coupled with a light wind, our rather primitive coast-defence radar would show the "blip" of the plane getting lower and lower until it merged with the sea. The Jap had landed on the water - but too far out for the coast-defence guns to hope to reach him.
There he and his crew might sit for several hours - no doubt enjoying some fish-cakes and hot tea. We in our thousands would still not have been given the "All Clear" siren blasts, so would (theoretically) be still in our "slitties" providing hot meals for the myriads of mosquitoes.
Then perhaps at 1 or 2 a.m. the radar would pick up a "blip" away out to sea, as the Kawanishi took off again and headed back towards the dromes. The field telephone in the camp office or orderly room as it was called, would ring and the guard on duty would be told by Moresby that another raid was imminent - "Air Raid Red" - and he would go and set the siren wailing its rising and falling notes again.
More of the night's rest ruined - more particularly for us in our Camp up the Laloki River Valley. Whatever kind of plane had been doing the raiding, when they were finished, they nearly always came almost over us, as they headed home towards Rabaul on New Britain.
We would then have good reason to keep our "tin-hats" on, as the old saying "Whatever goes up, must come down" is certainly very true when applied to anti-aircraft shells. They are designed to burst after a certain length of time, even if they haven't hit anything. Our gunners seemed to be very generous with their farewell gifts to the departing Jap planes, as they would fly over our camp.
The Japanese Army's attack from Buna and Gona up over the Owen Stanley Ranges was initially very successful, as the Australian forces opposing them were few in numbers and not very well equipped, and were a long way from their supplies. The Papuan natives were a great help as carriers - and as carers - as they brought food and ammunition along the Kokoda Track to our troops, and carried out many a soldier wounded too badly to walk.
Eventually the Japanese troops in considerable strength, got within 40 miles of Port Moresby before they were stopped - not only by our soldiers, but also by their own filthy sanitary practices. Dysentery and other fly-borne diseases took their toll, and also malaria. However, many small patrols got past our defending troops up in the Owen Stanleys, and carried out minor raids quite close to our camp area. In fact, I saw their cooking fires on the kunai grass slopes of Hombrom Bluff a number of times, across the Laloki River from my R.A.P. tents, set on the river bank.
They had the unpleasant habit of sneaking around R.A.P.s and field Hospitals in lightly defended areas, and knifing any sick men they could reach. I sometimes had sick men in the living half of my RAP which consisted of two 12 x 14 foot Army tents pitched end to end. One was my dispensary and treatment room, and the other my own quarters.
I was accepted as a Non-combatant, and certainly would never have gone looking for a fight. However our C.O. ordered that I be issued with a .303 service rifle, so I could hopefully protect any patient in my care if the need arose. This was quite a possibility, as my RAP was on the top of the river bank, just beside the only easy fording place for quite some distance along the Laloki.
A service rifle is too long a weapon to be used easily in confined spaces, so I asked the Officer in charge of the rifle repair shop, if I could have a 12 guage shotgun they had there, that had been run over by a truck, and had a bad "detour" about halfway along the barrel. He gave it to me, along with some boxes of BB shot cartridges that had come from a store in Moresby. I hacksawed the damaged part of the barrel off, and had a very handy "riot gun", which I hung on hooks on the side of my bunk, under my mosquito net.
In fact, the only thing I used it on, was a pesky goannai There was only one road from Moresby to get troops and supplies up into the Owen Stanleys. It ran through our scattered camp and workshop area, about 20 miles from the Port. Our camp incidentally, was in an area known as Watkins Acre, where the Sapphire Creek runs into the Laloki River. The roads were unsealed except around Moresby and some of the dromes. There was a speed limit for all vehicles, of 20mph, and signs were put up in various conspicuous places which read "Save the truck, save the road, save yourself". I had a cynical laugh about this, as it showed pretty clearly where the Army's priorities lay!
Actually those priorities were absolutely right, as for many months, that road up past Rouna Falls and into the mountains, and the vehicles that used it, were the life-line on which our fighting troops up in the jungle, were absolutely dependant. Later, as the Japs were pushed back and America brought more aircraft and crews into the Moresby base, air drops of all kinds of supplies were made in quite amazing ways and most difficult places. These reduced the load on the road and on the human carriers.
The various workshop buildings, generating plants, and tents were laid out in a scattered and erratic manner in the kunai grass and among the scattered trees. This reduced the amount of damage a machine-gunning fighter plane might do - or a stick of bombs dropped in a line, as they had to be, from a fast flying bomber.
The beliefs I had accepted as a child - having been born into an Adventist family - suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me, as it was impressed on me very forcefully at times, just how short my life might be! Having a trust in God and a clear knowledge of what happens after death gave me a peace of mind that it soon became evident many of my mates did not have.
Over the months and years, I had many serious talks with men who could not accept calmly, the possibility of sudden death when a raid was on. Then there were others who were not so worried about death, but were very fearful of being badly disfigured or crippled. I was not too happy about that possibility myself - but just had to rely on my belief in God, and trust Him to allow what He thought best for me.
Our Unit became named The New Guinea Line of Communication Workshop, and the way it was run was quite different to that of an Infantry or other fighting Company, because we expected to be in that one position for many months. It was run more like a repair business back home, working from Monday morning to Saturday afternoon, giving the troops about a day and a half off each week, except when there were special urgent needs. Guards were on duty all the time.
I was on call 24 hours a day at the R.A.P., but it was arranged that if someone was hurt or ill during my time off - midday Saturday to Sunday evening - and I had left camp, a truck would take them to the 5th C.C.S. (Casualty Clearing Station), some 5 miles back along the road towards Moresby.
My work as R.A.P. (Regimental Aid Post) Orderly consisted of a lot more than attending to injuries. The heat and humidity caused many different kinds of skin rashes, and fungus infections Simple cuts and abrasions, if not properly treated until they healed, were likely to turn into Tropical Ulcers that would eat away the flesh very deeply. They smelt quite foully - because the flesh was really rotting away.
Various fevers caused trouble, malaria and dengue being the most prevalent. Scrub-typhus was the most feared, because of its terrible effects on the minds and bodies of its victims.
Part of my work was to make sure there were supplies of whatever kind of anti-malarial tablets were available, given to the three Messes in the camp. The Officer's, Sergeant's, and the Other Ranks (or men's).
Dysentery was an ever-present threat, calling for the constant chlorination of the water supplied to the camp, which was pumped from the Laloki river.
The opposite condition to dysentery - constipation - was a very real problem for many months after our arrival in New Guinea, due to the badly out-of-balance diet forced upon us by the shortage of good food. I had a number of cathartic medicines or pills of varying strengths, to give a man according to the needs of his bowels. When all of these failed to get results, I had one last weapon in the R.A.P. armoury to call on. It was an innocent looking brown pill, shown on my medicine list simply as Army Tablet No. 9. Innocent it may have looked, but it was a weapon to use with carel The boys called it a "Depth-charge" as they reckoned it could blow a submarine out of the water. It certainly could shift obstructions!
On my days off I sometimes went bush alone, or with a mate. Other times I would hitch a ride down to the area around 9 Mile (as it was called) where Ward's and Jackson's big bomber dromes were, or to the much smaller fighter dromes scattered about along the coastal strip. This way I found out more about what was going on, than if I just stayed in camp.
The needs of the sick and wounded from the Moresby area, and the fighting going on up in the Owen Stanleys, were met by a big tent hospital complex, set up just off the Rouna Road at about 15 miles from the Port. There was the 5th C.C.S., the 9th A.G.H. (Australian General Hospital) and later on when the American Army and Air Forces became much more numerous, an American Field Hospital.
The plan was that the Australian casualties would be taken first to the C.C.S., and if not hospitalized there, sent on to the A.G.H., which had many more wards (tents) than the C.C.S. The American casualties were taken care of by their Field Hospital, quite independently from the Australians.
The numbers of American ground troops and Air Force personnel were increased quite rapidly, and their bombing and fighting planes - along with the much smaller numbers of R.A.A.F. machines - started attacking the Jap positions on the North side of New Guinea, and Rabaul and other bases on New Britain Island.
While I was still working at the 5th C.C.S. - on the 7th September 1943 to be exact - a shocking thing happened. Early that morning as many Orderlies as could be spared from the wards were called to Reception. Light trucks and ambulances began coming in from the 9 mile area where the big dromes were, carrying shockingly burnt and otherwise injured men.
For hours we worked at identifying the men and making their Record-cards up as they came in. Some of the Doctors made a quick evaluation of each man in the ambulance or truck and decided whether he should be taken into some of our wards, or sent on up the hill to the bigger 9th A.G.H.
The smell of roasted human flesh was something I have never forgotten. The air in the ambulances reeked of it, just as it had of decaying flesh when the wounded had been coming in from Poppendetta, only a few weeks previously. Both of these odours seemed to attract the flies equally strongly, and they were a constant source of annoyance to patients and medical staff alike.
We were told later, that before daylight that morning at Jackson's Strip, hundreds of soldiers were either in trucks, or on foot, beside the runway waiting to get aboard a number of Dakota transport planes parked further along, to be airlifted across the Island to a landing strip there that the Infantry had cleared the Japs from. These airlifted Infantry would take part in a further push to oust the Japs from New Guinea.
The strip was in use by bombers taking off along it, to make raids on Rabaul or some other target. The Dakotas had to wait till this activity was finished before they too would roar along the strip and take off with their human cargo.
One of the big 4 engined bombers - a Liberator I was told -loaded to the limit with bombs and petrol had gathered speed almost to the take off point and was level with the lines of men waiting beside the strip, when one of its tyres burst -probably punctured by an uncollected Japanese bomb splinter. It veered off the runway and ploughed into and over the waiting men before crashing to a stop and bursting into flames as its ruptured petrol tanks sprayed their contents over the men on the ground. Some of its bombs exploded, as did hand grenades the soldiers were carrying, when the fire heated them enough.
Later I found out that over 70 were killed, and over 90 injured - many of them with terrible burns. The public was told nothing about this tragedy at the time - which was a good thing. It was bad enough for those at home knowing their relatives or friends were in action, and likely to be killed or wounded by the enemy. But to know that such a terrible toll of death and suffering had been caused by their friends would have been truly awful.
contents over the men on the ground. Some of its bombs exploded, as did hand grenades the soldiers were carrying, when the fire heated them enough.
Later I found out that over 70 were killed, and over 90 injured - many of them with terrible burns. The public was told nothing about this tragedy at the time - which was a good thing. It was bad enough for those at home knowing their relatives or friends were in action, and likely to be killed or wounded by the enemy. But to know that such a terrible toll of death and suffering had been caused by their friends would have been truly awful
Only this year 1996, a partial account of the disaster was published in the Sunday Mail, and gave the name of one of the survivors - Captain Doug. Cullen V.C. - and I was able to track him down here in Brisbane. Over the phone I told him I was one of those who tended the injured at the C.C.S. He was very interested and we had a get-together at his home one evening, and he told me the following facts.
How he survived was chance, fate, miracle - whatever. His men were, in the trucks waiting to go aboard the transport planes well back down the waiting line. There was some hitch in proceedings up front, so he got out of the truck, leaving the driver sitting in the cab, and walked forward to see what was wrong - just as that bomber did its take-off run. When it crashed, he was far enough away to be unharmed. Had he stayed in the cab of his truck, he would have been killed.
He raced back to the scene of carnage that was getting worse minute by minute. His truck cab had been virtually sliced open by one of the bomber's propellers which had broken free of its engine, and flown through the air still spinning, and minced his driver. Had the Captain been in his usual seat, he too would have been wiped out.
After I returned to the Workshops at the finish of my spell at the C.C.S., I was promoted straight to Corporal (with 2 stripes) without having to start on the lowest step of the ladder -that of Lance Corporal (1 stripe).
About this time there was a need for a big Workshop facility on the other side of New Guinea, since most of the fighting was being done in that area. The talk was that our unit might be shifted over there. But there was one big problem - it would be outside Papua, and therefore "Chockos" could not legally be sent there.
Our workshop teams with their various trade skills, had grown into a happily integrated mixture of A.I.F. men and "Chockos" who were doing a pretty good job. It would have been ruinous to the whole group's efficiency if they had been split up. Most of us "Chockos" wanted to stay with our mates as a tried and tested Unit. We were running the same risks, eating the same food, and getting the same sicknesses and pay as the A.I.F. men anyway!
The C.O. - Colonel Ryan - put the suggestion to the whole outfit on Parade one day, that all those who wished to, could go through a health check at the C.C.S., and if passed, could
be transferred over to the A.I.F. and still stay with the Unit. I was told during the ensuing discussions that I would still be classed A.A.M.C. (Australian Army Medical Corp.) attached
to the Workshop's R.A.P. as I had been since my spell at the C.C.S.
Most of the "Chockos" in the Unit - including me - eventually made the transfer over. My Regimental Number, which had been V275186 now became VX142421.
As it turned out, the Workshop shift was never made.
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