LABUAN
{No.5 AIRFIELD CONSTRUCTION SQUADRON LABUAN}
                                                                   {ALWAYS FIRST}
EXTRACT FROM DON NORTHMORE RECOLLECTIONS LABUAN

Early in April, 1945, two N.C.Os of No. 62 A.C. Wing were sent on special operational duty to Morotai to select Camp sites for the Wing and the ACS’s where we would stage waiting for the 24th Brigade 9th Division to arrive.

At this time, the Americans were conscious of an imbalance in the Lend Lease costs and were allowing only commissioned’ officers to fly on operations in their aircraft and were charging the Australian Government, 40.00 U.S. per head to transport Australian servicemen under Lend Lease arrangements.

The sergeant and corporal detailed (Sgt. NORTHMORE; Cpl. Allen) were ordered by their Adjutant, to roll up the sleeves of their shirts to hide the rank chevrons and were duly issued with an air travel authority (which still exists) as Flight Lieutenant and Pilot Officer respectively. The surnames were those of officers serving with the Wing:

The two men presented themselves to the U.S. transport officer, resplendent in their grubby faded jungle greens, battered slouch hats, carrying their Thompson guns and gear. While weighing in, they heard the call over the P. A. "Two Australian Officers", and they were the object of some interest as they walked out to the plane, where groups of immaculately uniformed young officers, direct from the U.S. training schools, looked at them with amazement. It seemed they didn’t know Australians were engaged in the war.

On arrival in Morotai, the two NCOs (Sgt Northmore; Cpl. Allen) made arrangements for camp sites and the transfer of No. 61 A.C. Wings site and tents to that of 62 A.C. Wing. They also visited No. 14 A.C.S. who was due for relief after completing the constriction of Pitoe and Wama strips.

In due course the various formations of army, naval and air force components arrived and set about preparing for the first all Australian combined service actions in Borneo.
 

THE LABUAN ISLAND. BORNEO OPERATION 0BOE 6

No. 5 A.C.S,
A.C.S, and associated units of Airfield Engineers landed and camped on Morotai and soon the 2/32nd Battalion of the 9th Division and its associated units were there, while the convoys for the Tarakan Balikpapen actions were formed and left before the end of May.

On the 3rd June, we assembled on the beach to board the LSTs and other landing craft. The men boarded with weapons and gear, while the heavy equipment such as tanks, dozers, graders, trucks were below deck, all waterproofed for an amphibious landing.

After six days voyage up through the Sulu Sea, to the coast of Palawan in the Philippines, the convoy, shepherded by the destroyers, turned southward in the China Sea towards North Borneo. We watched the flying fish breaking through the waves and saw the small command vessel sailing in the middle of the convoy, for protection.

We had been briefed on the coming campaign, to expect enemy action from surface craft, submarines, and Kamikaze attacks. Ashore, we would encounter the most atrocious collection of bugs and wogs we had yet heard of and I suppose some wondered what kind of place we were being pushed into.

However, the voyage proved uneventful, excepting for episodes like that on LST 936, when some smart type turned on the fresh water (with a pliers) for showers, after the Captain had ordered it off. So, when he discovered this, he threatened irons for the culprit and then ordered salt-water showers, and NO hot water to wash mess kit. The result of the former was that most of the men aboard arrived at the landing with all kinds of skin eruptions, tinea, etc, which worsened as the sick bay and our medic supplies ran out, and green dye from our uniforms caused infection.

The lack of hot water to wash mess kits resulted in dysentery for most, all of which could have been avoided.

On 10th Jane, 1945, No. 5 A.C.S. landed on "D" day, with the 24th Brigade, A.I.F. 9th Division, when we were again under Australian Command. We had crept into Victoria Harbour before dawn and absolute quiet had to be maintained; it certainly was, under the strict U.S. naval discipline on the L.S.T.

On shore, we could see lights of vehicles travelling on a road towards a headland and as the sun rose, we found ourselves in Victoria Harbour, Labuan Island. Opposite, on our right was a white lighthouse on s green grass capped cliff, reminiscent of an English scene, but we were in the tropics.

At 7 a.m. the Australian cruiser "SHROPSHIRE" which was replacement for H.M.A.S. "Sydney" opened up with broadsides from her 8" turrets, our L.S.T. along side, and the blast from the muzzles were deafening, in fact, painful to the eardrums some of the time. The bombardment lasted half an hour or so, the shell bursts ashore being seen clearly. Soon it was supported by waves of Liberator bombers and Beaufighters firing rockets, which put the ack ack battery on the point out of action.

It 9 a.m., the 9th Division Infantry landed from LSTs alter a few broadsides of rockets bad been fired. The troops’ landing was initially unopposed but resistance was soon met as they advanced towards the airfield.

Commandos  had cleared the mines from the beach the day (or night) before, making the landing easier.

As we followed on up towards the airstrip, we were told the local population had been warned to evacuate the town to avoid casualties and it was rumored that some Australian W.A.C.’s had been killed when the Japs got wind of the invasion.

By next morning, the Japanese had been forced back to a pocket near Timbali airfield. We had bivouacked near Labuan Airfield while the 9th Division artillery shelled the Japanese positions with there their twenty-five-pounders.

We moved into our pre-selected campsites on the cliff tops adjoining the airfield, and work commenced on getting the airfield into operation. A cursory inspection revealed that the Labuan strip had been so heavily bombed that it was impossible to repair. Therefore, it was decided that one of the main taxiways would be the basis of a new 9,000 ft. bomber strip. Since there was no suitable coral available, it was decided to lay bitumen sealed strip. To do this, it was arranged to "cannibalize" the remains of Victoria town and put it through a crusher to provide aggregate. There was no bitumen expert with the Wing, so they flew up an officer with this experience (from Melbourne) to do the job. He was 54 years of age, and soon rejoiced in the name of "Tarpot Harry".

The only air raids experienced in this action were one aircraft that got through to drop a bomb at the landing and in late June, an aircraft came in at dusk with navigation lights on and bombed the docks but was shot down by a night fighter.

The enemy continued to fight on in the pocket, breaking out at night and mounting raids on the town and docks. They infiltrated our lines at night, creeping along the bottom of the cliffs at times, so that we had to post double sentries and set up trip wires.

One evening, a party of about forty Japs marched down the road to the docks, getting away with this bold move. They gave themselves away by arguing under a light and fighting broke out. Their object was to destroy the dock, as some had fifty-pound bombs strapped to their backs. They blew themselves up during the action in which about forty Japanese died. Before they were burnt, the war artist”, Donald Friend came down and made sketches. The sight preyed on his mind when he returned to his quarters with the Wing, where he shared a tent with a war correspondent.

During a storm that night, the latter got up wearing only his shorts, to shut the tent flap; the artist awoke, and thinking it was an infiltrating Jap drew his pistol and fired, hitting the correspondent in the shoulder. He was taken to 22 M.C.S. (the R. A. A. F. hospital) nearby, and nothing more was heard of the incident.

Meanwhile the Japanese were being pounded by rockets from Beaufighters and No. 5 A.C.S. was busy consolidating the new strip and pushing the extension to 9,000 feet, for heavy bombers to attack Indo China and Japan.

A few casualties occurred; a man was sniped at on the strip in a meal line. Reports of a sniper near the river resulted in the said Jap being flushed out by a patrol. The 9th Division had lost quite a few men, but not as many as expected.

After the landing, aircraft came over and sprayed the countryside (and us) with D.D.T. to kill the "wogs" and it seemed that it was successful, for none of the worst predictions eventuated.

Work on the new 9,000-foot Labuan Airfield continued, as the Allied attacks on the enemy home islands mounted in intensity. The Philippines had been secured, and the Australian Task Force, under General Morshead, came under the South East Asian Command, (Mountbatten’s), when it was disclosed that our next assignment was to be Indo China, which was garrisoned by many thousands of Japanese troops.

The American Air Force was heavily bombing the Japanese mainland, especially Tokio, with B29 bombers. The fire raids were terrible in their results, and the Japanese high command began to panic. Our knowledge of this came from the radio monitoring of Japanese and other foreign stations and we began to feel that the end, at last, was perhaps not far off.

On the morning of the 8th August, a news bulletin obtained from the radio monitors was posted which said,   "On the 6th August, at 8 a.m., a device was exploded above the city of Hiroshima, which has been destroyed." I remember standing there for a moment almost not digesting the significance of this. It then dawned on me what had occurred; I realized that the Allies had cracked the secret of the atom. I remember thinking that this looked like a war winner but boded no good for the future.

HONOURS AND DECORATIONS AWARDED TO MEMBERS OF NO. 5 A.C.S. 1939 - 1945


Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) Sqn/Ldr. S. L. Scott
Member British Empire (M.B.E.) F/Lt. W. (Bill) McCaugham
Member British Empire (M.B.E.) W/OH. (Jack) Farlow
British Empire Medal (B.E.M.) Lac. Churchill, B.A.
Mentioned in Dispatches (M.I.D.)F/Lt. B. Dickson
F/Lt. W. Andrews
W/0 Dakin, O.W.
W/O. Leggett, J.
Sgt. Chubb, A.N.
Sgt. Benson, W.
Lac. Flannery, N. J.
Lac. Welsh, L.W.




REMINISCENCE, S.W.P.A.
A thought of yesterdays, long past
0f mangrove swamps sad lowering cloud
On ragged ridges, and torrents fast,
0f primitive peoples, memories crowd;
Beaches, where the die was cast
And many sleep in blanket shroud.
For them, no love, friendships nor cares,
No childish hands reach out in trust 
Only the earth's embrace is theirs,
The fallen, by fate's fickle thrust.
All hour those who stem' d the flood,
Remembrance of the sacrifice;
Freedom, bought along by blood,
We pray, 0 Lord, may it suffice.

By D. F. N. "On Anzac 1958
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