The S.S. Henry Dearborn, another Liberty boat, was to be our ship for the journey around the southern coast of Papua and into the northern straits. We boarded her and set sail at approximately 8-00a.m. The voyage was started uneventfully, and it would need to be too, considering the crowd we had on board. Another hell ship journey it turned out to be. We were billeted with A. I. F. who was coming with us to be part of the personnel at Goodenough. Sleeping in the most comfortable position we could find, the men spread themselves about the decks with waterproofs and blankets at night and awnings by day to keep off the burning sun.
Our escort was a small corvette manned by an all-Australian crew. The sea was very calm all the way down the coast and our eyes were watchful for stray enemy subs that might take a liking to our ship.
Entering the straits I was amazed at the beauty of the Islands that studded the sea. The ship sailed peacefully through the emerald water close into the shores of these palm fringed tropical islands. Native villages occupied narrow strips of white shining sands and canoes and L????? Floated by our ship. At last, at about 4-30 in the afternoon of Friday 26th, we sailed into the glorious harbour of Milne Bay. Here lay the grim realities of war. These are the shores where our heroic boys pushed the Japs back into the sea. A large ship is sunk just of the beach and everywhere is reminders of the terrific battles that were fought here.
Coconut palms grow thickly along the foreshore. Giant mountains line the bay and their summits are continuously covered in clouds. Banana plantations can be seen from the sea and my first impressions of the place were one of beauty and peacefulness. It was into this place that we disembarked supposedly at about 6-30p.m. But in was nearer 8-00p.m. before we got onto land once again.
We were herded into A.I.F. trucks and off to the transit camp where we were to stay until smaller boats could be obtained to take us to Goodenough. The sea is shallow around the coast here and our 10,000-ton Liberty ship would be too large.
We were given tents with eight of us in each. No beds and plenty of mud. We slept on our ground sheets with one blanket around us and mosquito nets draped around us in the mud.
Then came the hard and wearisome task of unloading the boat and putting most of our equipment on to smaller vessels. We worked thirteen and fourteen hours without a break and very little to eat. An occasional break when we went for a swim. There is no water laid on here like there was at Moresby. The only way to wash is to walk down to one of the numerous streams and have a swim. The water is delightfully warm and I spend a great deal of my time swimming.
Bamboo plants grow abundantly here forty and fifty feet lengths with sticks five inches in diameter. Many birds inhabit the place. Parrots with beautiful markings are numerous. Oxen, cows, and horses roam about also. There are many pests too. Snakes leeches, scorpions, and centipedes are very prevalent.
Two days after we arrive here another advance party of half our unit left here to go to the end of the job. I was rather disappointed at being left out of it as my cobber went with them. But we who are left here have only a few days to wait before we'll be back on their trail. It is the first time since we joined up that Reg and I have been split up but it won't be much more than a week I hope.
There are three aerodromes at Milne Bay and two of them are in continued operation. The raids haven't been heavy since we arrived here. Our own planes have seen to that. The two types of planes that are used down here are Australian Kitty hawks and Beaufort bombers. Also, No. six squadron has a few Lockheed Hudson here but in a recent big raid of twenty-seven bombers they lost all but three kites.
We have picked up a lot of new equipment lately so our time at Goodenough Island could be shortened considerably.
On Sunday 28th March news reached us that Squadron Leader, Keith "Bluey" Truscott was reported killed. This was a great loss to the Australian public as this ace had done much in the saving of Australia. It was a kind of knock to us boys of No.5 MWS too. He was the first pilot to land a plane on Wards at Moresby. He landed a P40 (Kittyhawk) when in command of 76-fighter squadron. So passes a heroic man and sportsman.
While still sojourning at Milne Bay I had the opportunity to visit a picture show and saw a graphic film on the attack of the great Bismarck Sea battle I mentioned earlier. It was very interesting as a lot of the photography was of familiar sights to me.
After a few more days of toil, mud and rain our turn to embark once again for our final destination Goodenough Island. With much effort we finally were loaded onto the "Mulcai", a small craft of about 1100 tons. An American gunboat was to be our escort, and at the breaking of Saturday morning, about 1 a.m. on the 3rd of April, we left the renowned Milne Bay behind.
Our journey around through the Islands was very beautiful, but I won't go into detail about them. The three main ones are Normanby, Ferguson, and then Goodenough. Goodenough is the smallest of them, but it is very pretty even from the sea as we sailed in on the Sunday night. High mountains covered in clouds and mist reared their heads 8,000 feet above us.
We sailed through the narrow strait between Ferguson and Goodenough and pulled into the shore just on dusk. There is no jetty to land us from and we were taken into the shore by an air force launch. Often times have I seen Commandos landing on foreign shores but never did I dream that one day I would go over the side of a barge, fully clothed into four feet of water.
In the silence of night we drifted into shore, forty of us in a barge towed by a small rowing boat. We were silent men, tired and sorry for ourselves. Heavy packs weighed us down and rifles were held high to keep them dry. The grating of the barge on the bottom was the signal for us to jump overboard. It was cold and very wet as one may imagine, and we were wet to the thighs. Reaching the shore we hurried up a track onto the swampy undergrowth. A truck from the rest of the boys was there to meet us and we were thankful to fall into it and travel the five miles inland to our future camp.
After a hasty meal I ran into Reg once more and he had been good enough to save me a bed in his tent. When I say bed I mean a place to put my groundsheet. It was great to meet up with him again and better still to be sharing his quarters.
Our first few days were busy ones believe me. Getting our happy home settled down was strenuous work. Beds had to be made and a table and cupboards. All this had to occur while we were supposed to be working. What with digging post holes for our workshops and trenches for ourselves we lost a lot of perspiration. It was my particular luck to fall for the installing of the camp water pump. A diesel engine and the pump had to be lowered down a sixty-foot cliff. From ledge to ledge we toiled, pulling and pushing the heavy units inch by inch along narrow planks. How glad I was to see them eventually sitting in their beds of concrete.
The scenery of this island is very impressive. Tall mountains rise from a narrow belt of flat grassy country up to 8000 feet. They were continually covered in cloud and only at certain times of the day can you see their peaks. These giant mountains are covered in dense jungle. An occasional grassy patch can be seen high up in the clouds, but mostly there are trees and creepers.
Several fast flowing streams race down the mountains. They are beautiful in extremes to the streams of Milne Bay. Cascades of delightfully clear water flow over great boulders and stones. Small waterfalls flow into deep pools where the bottom can be seen as clear as crystal. In one of these pools we cool off every day and the water is cool and wonderful to swim in. Our special pool is about eight feet deep and wholly and solely rock. The water is beautiful drinking water too, as sweet as the berries in May.
The natives daily amaze us. They are more intelligent than the Moresby native, but they have seen very few white people until we arrived. They more or less think our big machinery are strange animals and run in all directions from tractors etc. They even gave me a good berth when I passed them with a wheelbarrow. The children are great little chaps. "Tabita" they call us. "You my friend" "Japanese" they go on, "no good". They will do anything for a cigarette. Any amount of washing you like to give them they'll do remarkably well for one cigarette. Some of the expressions on the Picaninnies faces as they puff at the fags are amazing to watch. All the natives are very obliging and when they pass you of a morning or evening you are greeted with a "Goodey Tabita".
Our mess, and most of the buildings about the camp are made by native labour from grass and palm leaves.
The aerodrome has been started and the emergency strip is just on completed. There are very few of us on the island and the sight of a Drome to the Japs might be a good reason for an invasion. A.I.F. have twenty-five pounders in various places and they are needed too. Japanese prisoners are brought in nearly every day. Eight were captured in one day just up the coast a few miles. Around the strip, the Army boys ran their Bren gun carriers into the eight foot high grass driving other Japs out of their hiding places. A lot of Japs have been killed. Not much quarter is shown to them. They are very cunning.
As the days pass the place becomes more or less the monotonous place Moresby was. A lone picture show provided us with a happy break one night but that was just on a month ago. Other comforts are a lot scarcer than they used to be too, mail only coming in about once a fortnight. A Gypsy Moth or Dragon Rapide usually flies over from Milne Bay but nine times out of ten they have sightseers instead of mail.
Our workshops are situated at the foot of the mountains and are much more extensive than the previous one. Also more noticeable for enemy bombers too, I should imagine. Every evening after a day's work we make for our favourite place - the swimming pool.
The only bit of a scare from Tojo we've had since arriving was a batch of forty odd planes flying overhead on their way back from Milne Bay. We thought we were for it; they’re being practically no aerial defence whatsoever here yet. Our ack-ack opened up but was of little avail there being only four guns on the island, two 3.7" and a couple of "Bofors". But the planes just ignored us and flew straight back to Rabaul or wherever they came from.
Every day sees some new arrivals, even if it’s only a single officer over on business. A section of Yanks have turned up to build wharves and unload ships. It won't be long before the place is overrun with them, I suppose. They usually wait until the Aussies have done all the work and then they come and claim all the praise.
April 25th. Nine months out from home and I'm starting to wonder if we'll see another half-year slip by before getting back. Nine months in these tropics is equal to eighteen months anywhere else. No towns, no Malaria, dengue Fever, ticks, tinea, everything you can think bad about this place is here. But every day we are nearing the end and we're proud to say that we've done our job.
Several Kittyhawks have already tested the Drome out landing to refuel. One plane was saved from crashing. A busted fuel line made its return to Milne Bay impossible so the pilot maneuvered it down on to the partially completed strip here.
One Sunday morning three of us set out for a walk and discovered a beautiful waterfall set deeply in the heart of a towering precipice and rocks. We had a hectic climb down to it, negotiating an eighty-foot cliff with much strenuous effort and not a few thrills. The water fell about fifty feet into a beautiful deep pool set in a basin of solid rock. We had a swim there and enjoyed the coolness of the churning water, then set off back to camp hazarding a trip downstream rather than climb the precipice again.
At last after over a fortnights break mail has again put in an appearance. News from home is lapped up at mail times and when there's none the spirits of we boys are rather low.
This place is a contrast to Moresby. There it was forever hot and muggy no matter when the season. Here it is more of a direct heat, which really burns on a sunny day. The mornings are cool like the evenings and there is a considerable amount of wind and rain. The natives inform us that in another month there'll be "Plenty Guba" and all our tents will be blown away. Something to look forward to
The Vivigani?? Air Strip is gradually being prepared for fighters. It is believed that a squadron of spitfires is to be stationed here together with bombers, Kittyhawks, etc. Our C.O. informed me that this place was to be a big concern when completed, but I hope it's not my lot to see its end. It is just on twelve months since leaving home and orders say it is to be a fifteen-month sojourn in the tropics.
Meals have been shocking the last few weeks. The supply ships have been delayed and bully beef and meat and veggies has been the main diet - starvation diet it is too. The canteens are stacked full of fruit, tongues, milk, and everything else, yet we can't even get what is due to us.
All the names of places on this island are native. The chief landing place is named Vivigani, where a couple of large barges form a kind of makeshift jetty. Leading to the beach is corduroy?? Road abridging a large swamp alive with mosquitoes. Further down the coast, about five miles, is Bolu- Bolu where an American force looks after landings. Inland from there is Belly-Belly, in a coconut grove. From they’re to our camp bulldozers and graders from our camp built a road through thick jungle. Fords and steep inclines make this journey a very rough and arduous ride. Five creeks are crossed within five miles.
The days go by and work on the Drome nears a preliminary completion. Steel matting are being put down by the Yanks and the A.I.F. while our unit is building roads, dispersal bays and tarring the strip. There is much to be done and it will be many months before it is a completed Drome. Never the less, on 13th June the Kittyhawks landed as a beginning of operations from the Vivigani Air strip. Eleven planes from the famous 77 Fighter Squadron swooped across the bay between Ferguson Island and Goodenough about half past four and landed on the new strip. Kites have been here before but they've been landing on the emergency strip. Numerous "Biscuit Bombers" land on it every day.
The 13th lived up to its name for on the same Sunday night an enemy kite dropped its bombs and incendiaries on a camp about two miles away. There happened to be a picture show on at the same camp and the incendiaries burst directly overhead burning a few of the crowd but no serious casualties. Heavies were dropped behind a bank near the show and the blast caused a bit of panic. The projector and speaker were damaged in the rush for shelter. They came over us without signal and they were on us before we could get out of bed. There was a mad rush for the trench and quite a considerable mix-up when we all landed in the trench at once. Reg succeeded in getting squashed by one of the boys landing on him. I badly ripped my foot and bruised my hip while trying to put my shoes and pants on and get in the trench all in the same movement.
On the 14th June some more Kittyhawks arrived and the first search light battery came in to being on Goodenough. It was an American unit and situated up above our camp at the foot of the mountains. When the light swings around on the black precipices at night it is a very beautiful sight. Palms and jungle are spotted like some scene from a theatrical production.
The 19th of June saw the first Spitfire land in the New Guinea area. Two days earlier the ground staff for 70-squadron arrived- the Spitfire Squadron. Its kites haven't landed in full force yet but today was the first edition.
Another boon to our island is the introduction of picture shows again. The first show was a real top notcher after such a long spell since the last one.
On the 27th of June a Squadron of American P38's arrived. We have every fighter plane used in the New Guinea campaign here now. In a few days we are going to start laying the foundations for a bomber strip. Crushed rock will be needed for it and it is my particular job, with a couple of pals to make the crushing plant workable. We estimate that 25 yards of gravel can be crushed per hour by the type of plant so at 24 hours a day there ought to be a good pile of metal turned out.
The southeastern trade winds are becoming very annoying. Several times our tent has been all but blown sky high. The winds have been blowing for nearly a month now and the dust and filth is awful. If it's not dust it's rain and if it's not rain it's heat, so I ask you
On Saturday the 10th of July a Spitfire made a graphic landing on the Drome. He was doing aerobatics about 2000 feet up when his motor cut out during a steep climb. In a split second the plane seemed to slip backwards then turn over on its side. Somehow the pilot got her flattened out and came gliding in at a terrific rate no more than 15 feet from the ground. He had no chance of putting it down on the strip, as his speed was too great. The doomed kite raced across the end of the Drome, hit a small hillock and bounced into the air then smashed down on its belly to skid to a stop about ten yards from a belt of trees and scrub. It all happened within about half a minute and the pilot made a grand job of getting down although a certain amount of luck was with him. A few moments after it jerked to a stop the Perspex cover opened slowly and the pilot got out very white and shaky but otherwise okay except for a small cut over one eye. The boys gave him a cheer and slapped him for his good handling of such a quick mishap.
The very next day a Lighting (P38) hit a tree and burst into flame. Something went wrong with the controls and it crashed a mile or so from the strip. The pilot, an American, was burnt to death.
Saturday, the 29th of July, was the Anniversary of our Squadron leaving Melbourne. Exactly a year since loved ones were seen and the city lights grew further away in the distance. Several of us had a bit of a spree with a slap up feed. I think it was the best we've had since I tasted the good eats that Mother used to make. After filling ourselves to the utmost the unit turned on a concert, which was an extra good one. To wind up the year we had supper handed out to us in the Sergeants Mess by the Sergeants, Flight Sergeants, and Warrant Officers. This was quite a remarkable occasion for Number 5 Mobile Works Squadron.
It is into August and we are getting impatient for leave. The rumors are flying high and if one were to believe them we'd have been around the world several times and had a ton of leave.
On Sunday morning a cobber and I set out to explore the coastline between Vivigani and Bulla Bulii, the two main landing places on the Island. The beach is lined with dense mangrove swamp alive with mosquitoes and everything that crawls. In one of the tracks we startled a crocodile about three feet long and that was the biggest I wanted to see. The beach itself is very narrow and steep except where the swamp and various creeks have their outlets and there are many sandbanks and backwashes. Past Bulla the swamp gives way to jungle and beautiful coconut trees line the beach. It is a picturesque setting especially with the fading afternoon sun on the water as it was this day before we returned to camp.
A cricket team from each section of our Squadron has been formed and much fun as well as perspiration was brought out on Sunday afternoons. Our unit team played the Army one afternoon and won easily, but another air force team showed them up a bit.
Our C.O. of Workshops has a motorbike and at every opportunity the boys find jobs out on the Drome somewhere so they can have a joyride. My prowess as a bike rider is somewhat rough but I've proved the bike will do 65 miles per hour.
The meals are very poor indeed. The fruit has gone right off and sugar is a rarity indeed. Some days there is only one meal that is edible and usually curried M & V or Bully beef with bread and margarine - no jam or anything else.
Six Bombers were operating from the Drome for a few days. Accompanied by about forty Kittyhawks and spitfires they bombed and straffed Gasmata causing great havoc amongst the "yellow' men.
Gradually our job of strip building is nearing an end. The boys have a gigantic job ahead of them in that the all purpose bomber strip has to be completed by the 10th October. It is a few days behind schedule but our C.O. informed us that we would be going home when it was finished and never have we worked so hard and consistently. Twenty-four hours a day, wet or fine, it has been steadily forging ahead with all sections of the unit pulling their weight (excluding the cooks).
The dry season is nearing its end. There has been practically a drought for the last month but it has been fully appreciated because the Drome has progressed further in that time than ever before.
Italy's capitulation brought a great feeling of the end at last being in sight. The news is always waited for of a night here and when the news is good the boys all feel that this is not all in vain.
On the 5th October the Japanese decided to pepper us again. From our island home we looked out across the sea to view ack-ack and bombs exploding sixty miles away at the Trobiands. Twenty-one planes were supposed to be doing them over. Half an hour later the significant drone of Jap aircraft could be heard coming our way. We grabbed tin hats and made for the trench. The searchlights were up and then the "ack-ack" started. There are only eight heavy guns on this island but the barrage they put up was little short of amazing. Shrapnel was whirring and falling everywhere. All around the trench, through tents and goodness knows where else. Then came the dreaded whistle, down came the anti-personnel bombs, and down went our heads also. Three bombs landed on the strip doing little damage while the others spent themselves in the grass.
For several evenings Tojo has made a nuisance of himself. There were not very many raids but numerous alerts, which keep you in the vicinity of the trench for a couple of hours all for nothing.
At long last the strip is finished and on 10th October the first planes took off and landed on it. 30 Squadron's Beaufighters christened it as they did at the last one we built. Now it is complete the rumors are flying high about our going home. Too bad for the C.O. if he can't get us back after he promised- we'll never work as hard again I bet.
The week after it was finished Rabaul was pasted severely with the kites from here as escorts and much activity is being prepared for the yellow man. A Douglas DC 5 visited us one day. A monster of a plane with a passenger load of 60 fully equipped men. Another day a Boston, fully laden with bombs burst a tyre whilst taking off and crashed. The ensuing explosions were terrific and the plane was entirely wiped out with the pilot being burnt to death and the two other crew escaping with minor injuries. It was horrible watching the pilot burn through the Perspex nose knowing that no one could do anything for him.
The 23rd October was a red-letter day, in that I reached the mature age of 21 years. The comfort and celebrations of loved ones was missed but several of us made the best circumstances and we managed to spend a very pleasant evening. I think I can say that of all the feeds I've had since leaving home this was the best. We pinched bread and butter from the Mess, the baker made me two birthday cakes, and we scrounged tomatoes, cucumbers etc., also a great tin of pork from the Yankees. With speeches and responses the evening was rather pleasant, though ironic, and we completed the night with a card bout.
A gift from the A.C.F to all R.A.A.F. units in Goodenough was a full size picture unit. It was set up in our camp and called the "Crackerjack Theatre" after our nickname. The opening night was a great success, men walking from everywhere to see it. Since then there has been several excellent shows.
Into November, another month onto our tropical service and we are getting a bit puzzled about leave. Rumour is many and yet there doesn't seem to be too many authentic ones. Armistice day passes with wishes for just such another happening for this war, but although the Allies are doing magnificently there seems to be a few years of hardship ahead yet.
Early on Tuesday morning, on the 16th of November a guard rudely woke us out of our slumber to inform us that the whole station was to be on parade at 7-00am sharp. With beating hearts we went down to the parade ground to await further surprises. At last the good news was read out. We have been posted south and are to proceed as soon as transport is available. Our cheers were many and with much excitement we raced around getting our posting papers fixed up.
For the next two days we loafed about, washing, playing cards and getting rid of surplus gear. On Friday night we were told that we had to be ready to move off at half past three next morning. There was no sleep for us that night but we were disappointed when we were informed that it was off as the boat was not ready. Still what was another day after sixteen months?
It was Sunday 21st November when we moved out of our camp, which had been our home for eight long months. In a convoy of trucks we rode out onto the main drive through the jungle and arrived at the wharf just as the sun rose out of the dark sea between Ferguson Island and Goodenough. We embarked on the S.S. REIJNST? a Dutch steamer of about 6000 tons and finally sailed from Goodenough Island at half past seven that Sabbath morning. The ship was much more comfortable than a Liberty boat having fresh water showers in it but we were stowed away down in the holds as usual. Needless to say we slept on deck to get a bit of fresh air.