EXTRACT FROM VERN STONE DIARY NOEMFOOR
We think our destination is to be Noemfoor Island off Biak Island. On through the night with a glorious moon lighting the water like day. The gentle sway of the ship was a good incentive to sleep and my eyelids closed soon after dark.
The morning found us heading into land, but not Hollandia as we thought, but Wakde Island about 80 miles west of Hollandia which has just been captured within the last few weeks. We sailed into a harbour between The Island and the mainland to anchor there amongst about 50 other ships of all types including a hospital ship. A large air base is situated on the western end of the island and during our stay of 17 hours fully one hundred planes must have landed or taken off. We were anchored right in close to the shore and the dense jungle could be followed all along the beach.
At dusk on Tuesday night, with three other L.S.T.’s we were under way once more heading to the northwest. About an hour from our anchorage a troop ship and a Liberty ship joined us accompanied by a destroyer so our convoy became 6 ships escorted by 2 destroyers and 2 large sloops heavily armed. The sea was very calm and by evening on Wednesday we were sailing past Biak Island. The Japs are still in part possession of this Island and occasional puffs of smoke from allied bombing could be seen from the ship. As the evening closed we were told to prepare to disembark in the morning so bed was an early item. During the night we were woken twice with air raid alerts but there was no action.
Next morning found us heading into the coral shores of battered Noemfoor Island. Three days previous to our landing the initial attack had been made but the opposition is still having a dangerous nature. The destroyers covered our landing, which was an epic one because of the coral reef. The tide was failing but our machinery went off in four feet of water and one can only realize the great task of unloading by partaking in the action.
I left the ship about five in the evening and after loading drums of petrol in water up to the waist I waded in to the shore. Our Drome is right along the beach and a beautiful strip. The pounding of our bombers had not harmed the strip to any great extent but the number of smashed planes told of the accuracy, which our boys can lay their eggs. Jap planes were everywhere in terrifying wrecks and all classes of Japanese equipment was in abundance. This Island had been a large base for the Japanese and there are still 3000 of the little devils just over the hill from our camp.
Our first night was spent in the mud the rain made us happier and after working like hell all day we were filthy dirty but too tired to worry. There is no water yet and our water bottles are sadly depleted. My first desire was to climb into bed but our slumber was very broken. Not 10 minutes after getting into bed the artillery opened up on the Japs and kept firing for the best part of the night right outside our door.
A Jap bomber dropped a few eggs and altogether we had an interesting night. The new day dawned and we rose with a cup full of water to wash the sleep out of our eyes and clean our teeth and then back to the toil again. God, I am tired but there's plenty to do and the rain is coming down continually.
Prisoners and wounded and natives are everywhere. I saw a pretty little Filipino girl, which the Yanks had rescued from the foul Japs. Japanese Geisha girls were killed by the patrols we sent out and war was and is being waged in complete disregard of humanity. Heavy tanks are beating paths into the jungle and the Japs are getting the worst end of the stick. But our side isn't getting it all our own way. Wounded are being carried back on stretchers and in Jeeps, bullet torn and weary, as we are.
The next day I went out to where our largest bulldozer was bogged to the footboards in a creek. Out into the Jap patrol lines in a tractor over the muddiest and roughest track imaginable. The mud was waist deep in places and we passed American paratroops camped under a ground sheet in a bomb crater or a shell hole in brown slushy mud and enclosed in by dense jungle. After getting the dozer out of the bog we had to go round the bottom of the hill where about 200 Japs had been mown down by machine gun fire. Bodies were heaped up about six feet high and the stench was overpowering. It was our job to bury them and it was a hellish job believes me.
After that job we turned back to the camp and crawled slowly back through the mud with our tractor, tired and weary. Sleep seems to be a thing of the past. The very same night we had six alerts announced by a 90mm ask-ask gun just below our camp. The concussion lifted you out of bed every time it went off, so you had no hope of sleeping through a raid. I think we had about an hours sleep and then back for another nine and a half hours work the next day. This routine has been going on continuously since we arrived here.
Our unit has captured about eight or nine Japs since we arrived here which is something unprecedented in the RAAF until now. Prisoners are numerous and many look happy at the capture. Their prospects when captured are much better than when they are resisting. They are being starved out and many specimens are poor undernourished devils coming in to give themselves up.
About a week after our arrival at Noemfoor our unit moved into its proper camp site about eight miles from our original camp and about eight times worse. It rained the whole time during our move which took about four days to complete.
We were without tents, excepting Officers of course, and we had no washing water except what we caught off tarpaulins and found in bog holes in the road. We all worked, slept in the rain, with no dry clothing, nothing except mud, slush, and toil. We were so happy!! The mud is knee deep here and a rich deep brown colour and it clings to your clothes and sets hard in about an hour of sun.
Thick jungle is everywhere and giant trees make places impenetrable. At last we have been able to procure a tent and are beginning to feel a little more comfortable. Today I have washed some clothes for the first time in a fortnight, and had a wonderful wash all over in half a bucket of water.
As the days pass by we gradually get settled into our camp and things become the dull routine of camp life. Except for occasional alerts Tojo leaves us pretty much alone. On the 29th of July just after we had come back from a church service the alert went and the whole place was blacked out. The dull roar of planes very high came gradually in on the silent night and then all hell let loose on Jap Bombers. A Jap pilot circled around for about half an hour finding his target with flack lighting the sky like the 5th of November. Down he dived suddenly and collected a fuel dump, which sent flames high in the air. His mate came in behind him then zoomed out across from our camp followed by a hail of lead. But he managed to evade the issue and I bet he sat back in his cockpit and grinned at his damage - the yellow devil.
The Kamiri airstrip, the original landing place, has developed beyond recognition from what it was when we first arrived. It is a beautiful coral strip and borders right along the beach. Nearer our camp, and especially the pride of our Unit is the Kornasoren Air field captured off the Japs at 3pm on Tuesday 6th of July. In eight days it was made serviceable for kites and now it is the bigger Drome of the two. Thunderbolts, Boston’s, Black Widows, and Liberator Bombers are here in scores and are leaving day and night to bomb the Celebes and the Philippines. It is a common sight to see fifty or sixty graceful Liberators moving slowly but surely towards an objective, which may possibly be our next landing point.
The work is piling up on us and shift work has become necessary to keep the machines up to the drivers on the strip. Many dispersal bays and roads have to be constructed and it is no mean job repairing 20-ton tractors in sweltering heat or slushy mud and rain. Work continues on the strip in amazing style. It is now the largest strip in the South Pacific and it houses an enormous number of planes. The progress of the Island is astounding and one has to see it to believe such undertakings are possible. At a guess I would say that there are 30 miles of smooth coral roads and nearly forty miles of dispersal areas on the two strips. A rough estimate of Liberator Bombers alone would be 150 and there are twice as many Thunderbolts.
Australian Squadrons are here also Boston’s, Kittyhawks, and the dauntless old Beaufighters of 30 Squadron who have followed us through the whole show to date.
Borneo is being bombed from here. It is a 17 hour journey by Liberators and several nights I've watched them take off loaded low to the ground as they taxi to the end of the strip like great eagles. Plane upon plane take off behind each other until the whole sky is a throbbing roar of noise. It is a thrilling sight, but one sometimes thinks about what death and destruction they are about to cause. The war seems as though it will never end.
Towards the end of October it is my good fortune to get a trip to Biak, the well-known American base that took such a lot of retrieving from the Japs. Parts for tractors were badly needed for our Unit and so I had to go over to the supply depot to identify and obtain new stocks.
Leaving Noemfoor by air in a C47 transport plane we circled the island before heading out across the sea. The isle lay far below, in flat relief, with its ridges and jungle rolling across from shore to shore. The installations of the island look amazingly different from the air and one gets the idea of a toy map layered out beneath you.
The journey across was glorious taking about forty minutes. The blue sea, far below, stretches unending as far as the eye can see and away in the distance, growing closer all the time the tall cliffs of Biak could be seen. Flying over the shoreline the ghastly reminders of terrible bombardments were noticeable. Gaping craters and shell holes studded the beaches and whole plantations of coconut palms were literally sheered from the face of the earth. Eventually our plane came into land and we were soon bumping along the runway 100 odd miles from where we were an hour ago.
Down came the rain as soon as we arrived for an hour or so and we took shelter under the wing of our kite. About five O'clock it eased off and the Sergeant who was with me, and l, set out to find the supply depot which we guessed was somewhere on the island but neither of us knew where. After many rides in trucks and wrong turnings we finally found ourselves on the right road and at last arrived at our destination. It is an American camp of about 60 men and we were made very welcome.
After a feed of fresh steak and iced drinks we were given hospitality that was amazing. Beds were supplied and blankets and no end of chocolates and candy. For a week we lived in these conditions. A picture show every night right in front of the tent - there was no need for us to even get off the bed to see the show.
The meals were delicious after the hard tack we had got used to. There were fresh eggs in abundance, fresh fruit, steak, fresh meats, Coca cola, and lots of iced drinks. We didn't want to leave the place. I spoke to a couple of Red Cross American girls. They talk rather peculiarly but aren't hard on the eyes.
Our sojourn came to an end suddenly when we were told to report to the airstrip and soon we were hightailing it back to Noemfoor the Island of heat rain and monotony.
News came through that the Philippines had been invaded which is very heartening. Our supplies are being taxed as they are all going up there and our meals are becoming atrocious. No immediate move can be seen for our unit yet but things usually happen in a hurry and one never knows where he may be within a few days.
Personally I want to go south but then, who doesn’t?
I was promoted to Sergeant on the 1st November 1944.
December looms into view and with it memories of our enjoyment this time last year. Who knows how long it will be before we're having such a wonderful time as we did then, but I don't think it will be this year anyway. Things are very quiet in this sector. Not even a raid to break things up. There is plenty of work to be done however.
I went for a motor drive one Sunday afternoon, out on the main highway to the other side of the island. The scenery is strangely similar to the drive around Belgrave in Victoria only instead of gums great trees of cedar, rubber, and other types tower high into the sky. Relics of Jap existence can be seen in many places but on the whole it is a very uninteresting island to tour.
Christmas comes and goes and the festivities were varied. Many of the boys got horribly drunk and there are sore heads and ugly tempers during the Christmas week. We put on a concert on Christmas night in which I sang a couple of songs. Most of the artists had a few under the collar and it was a pretty rum sort of a concert.
Christmas morning we had a church service, which was a very simple but peculiarly beautiful one. My thoughts were far across the sea to those of my family and sweetheart. Strange but all through the Christmas period I felt that they were very close. Mail came in on the right days and I had quite a few parcels to dispose of. The weather was comparatively cool and the rain came down steadily all day on the 25th. They only thing that really dulled the spirit of Christmas for me was the set back in Europe.
The Germans are counter attacking successfully and just when everything seemed to be heading for a final assault this must happen. But patience is a virtue and only God knows how many people are succeeding in that virtue. I'm becoming skeptical about he war. It looks as though it will never end but who are we to cast an opinion. We are but teeth in the cogs of destiny and the end is in the hands of the all powerful God above who has seen fit to let this war wipe off some of the worlds surplus orgies and lusts.
1945 dawns, and with it prospects of another move. It is hard to solve the meaning of the new movement. We are going back to Biak for what, I do not know. It looks very much like an assembly depot, to get ready for another "do". It is rumored that the AIF is meeting there and we are to form up with them and go into Borneo. I hope this is not the case, as in another month, we will have had twelve months of this tropical tour and a journey another 1000 miles west will mean a deal of time longer before we go home.
By the 14th January our workshops had been pulled down and all machinery had been made 100% serviceable. The hours were long and arduous and our Officer gave us very little let up. At the moment we are awaiting transport across the 90 odd miles that separate us from Biak. Some of the Unit has already gone, but the majority of us are yet to go.
On the morning of the 16th we were dragged out of bed at 4-30 am, breakfasted on fresh eggs (wonder of wonders) and set off to Broe Bay, the embarking point, in torrential rain. On arrival we were told that we wouldn't be going until tomorrow morning. Typically air force to mess us about, so back we went to camp, sopping wet and with many complaints about the force and especially 62 Wing, which is our direct headquarters. We spent the day playing cards and sleeping and in the evening we went and watched our last picture show on Noemfoor Island.
At 4 o'clock on the 17th January we were awakened again, fresh eggs were served again (marvellous) and back we went to the Bay and embarked on an L.C.T. with several units of our heavy equipment. At 6-45am we sailed through the reef, away from the shores of our home that lasted over
6- months it was six months of continuous of pouring rain. The barge we were on was deep in the water but it rolled a bit and a couple of the chaps were seasick. There were 16 of us on the ship and there was very little room to get comfortable.
By 12 o'clock most of us were drenched to the skin and not a little happy. After a meal, which was very scanty, we lazed about on top of trucks etc., and the sun started to shine through. Biak loomed into view about the middle of the afternoon and it was pleasant watching the changing coastline. About 10-30 the same night we sailed into the anchorage of Biak. Off the shore stood many ships all lit up. The land was just a mass of blazing lights. It appeared still to be the large base it was when I was here before.
We landed at midnight and unloaded the machinery. I was in charge unloading and luckily everything went off without a hitch. We waited about until our W/O found the whereabouts of our camp and then we travelled about three miles to our half erected future home; for how long I don't know. It is rumored that we second timers are going home from here. I hope it is right but I can't see it.
Our camp is right on the sea front and though it is very rough with coral, the tides rising and falling limits the hours of swimming the tide is right in you don't have to touch the bottom but when it's out it is very hard on the feet.
But it is far better than we had at our last camp. The meals have been extra good up until now and the amenities and entertainment are far superior to those of Noemfoor.
Aerial activity is very pronounced here and Liberator Bombers are doing mission regularly every day. Giant 4 engine Douglas transports land here too, 36 hours from San Francisco. There are a lot of women, all American, and several live artists shows, mostly Vaudeville.
The Island is a hive of activity and industry. Giant assembly line hangars turn out B25 and B24 bombers. Erected out of great girders, tremendous marquis and tarpaulins are slung from them covering acres and acres. Our particular workshop is a large affair and our equipment has been doubled. We are very well equipped though the machinery is getting rather a state of disrepair. Our workshop crew is flat out daily keeping up with breakdowns that occur regularly on the maintenance of roads, strips, and docks.
It is noticeable here, the speed, which the Americans get things done, and the efficiency of their headquarters. Our particular wing of the RAAF is the slowest and most strict adherer to red tape that I have ever seen. We've been waiting a month for a picture show that was ready three weeks ago but can't be commenced until the Wing Officer of Welfare sees fit. The boys are swiftly becoming tired of our own Officers and a current of unrest is going through the camp. The Officers seem to want parades, clean boots, and salutes more than they want work. They can't have both and the boys are letting them see it.
A few air raids might knock a bit of sense into these Officers who think that all the war is for is to let men who have been through the mill and loathe showiness that is unnecessary, throw bouquets and respectful glances at their superior beings.
March comes around, turning the calendar at twelve months since old Aussies shores were under my feet. Rumour is going about of a move to Java or somewhere in that direction. If this turns out to be true we are in for a hot drop,
I imagine and little chance of getting home in two or three months. But we are resigned to destiny and it is in the hands of God to return us when he sees fit.
On the 20th of March I was sent nut on a job at a nearby quarry in our workshop's jeep. This vehicle has been the companion of many narrow squeaks as it is unofficially the property of our redheaded Warrant Officer in direct charge of me, and his recklessness is a key word in the history of our workshop. This afternoon it was to take a bigger hiding than ever. On my arrival at the quarry I discovered that the job had been completed by one of our other fitters and as he was about to return to the camp, being young and stupid as we are, we decided to race back to camp.
His two passengers, fitters from our workshop climbed into the jeep with me and away we went. All went well until we neared the camp, about 100 yards from the entrance. I was well in the lead, until turning the corner at over 50 miles an hour, when I got into a tailskid. Up over the side of the road we went, took a leap of about 12 feet across a ditch, and turned over on one side. Both my passengers were tossed helter skelter in all directions, the jeep rocked back on its wheels and being still in gear rumbled forward with me still sitting at the wheel dizzy and shaking. I crashed it out of gear and it rolled to a standstill against an embankment.
I collected my thoughts and looked around to see my two mates picking themselves up none the worse for wear except for a few bruises and barked elbows, shins etc. My shoulder took belting from the dashboard and my shins also but the jeep came of worse, three broken wheels, a cracked brake drum, and a lot of explaining to the boss on my part.
I talked him around after a few white lies, I hope, and if I ever have another crash I don't want to be any closer to the end of life than I was in those few moments.
Three days later another truck was coming back to camp in the dark without lights when it tipped over. It was in a horrible state and all passengers were badly injured. One chap was crushed between the mudguard and the wheel as it tipped over and cut him about the stomach and legs and he died within a few hours. Another died next morning. Our unit has lost five men since leaving Melbourne now, two through utter carelessness, and the others through the performance of their duties. Such is the way of war.
The endless routine of war and camp existence continues into May, when suddenly comes the word to get all machines in the best possible condition, ready for a move. On the 5th of May after strenuous work by our fitters and long hours all was ready. We had two days rest then on the morning of the 8th of May two L.S.T.’s arrived to take us God only knows where. My tip is somewhere in Borneo. to
By evening the ship was loaded and we had to get our own personal gear stowed by our bunks. At about 8 o'clock that night I was sitting on my bunk reading the last letter I was likely to get from my sweetheart for awhile when a sailor walked through the deck ringing out "THE WAR IS OVER IN GERMANY'
It seemed an answer to the letter I was reading, as in it; there had been a longing request to God that the war would soon be over. What rejoicing and thanks to God will be given by the people of the earth for the peace that has come into Europe? As I heard the news I thought of the great weight that would be lifted off the people of England, France, Belgium, Holland, yes, and even Germany.
But the feeling of elation wasn't very high within me. Here I was on the night of an armistice, yet embarked to go further away from those dearer to my heart than life itself, and into what none of us know. By the time we arrive at our destination I'll have spent 15 months in these hellish places, but God may put a speedy end to the Japanese and let us return sooner than we think. At the present moment I can't see any likelihood of getting home before October, at the earliest. But faint heart never won fair maid and I certainly have my heart set on winning a maiden far more beautiful than the most priceless jewel.
At 5 o'clock on Tuesday evening, 9th May, our L.S.T. No 806 pulled off the beach and headed out into the bay, there to anchor until the morrow. My particular job during the trip is to see that all our dozers, tractors, etc., are made thoroughly waterproof which will be quite an undertaking. But the boys I have working for me are a good crew and all pull their weight without any asking. We expect to be about three weeks on board. The meals are fair so far. The showers are salt water so by another couple of days we'll be that filthy that we will be able to smell ourselves. The days are spent when not on duty, lazing about in the sun, dodging the rain, finding a cool spot, or sleeping in a bath of your own perspiration.
But we manage and are happy in the thought that, although we are going further away, it should be our last journey before going home to comfort, love, and peace. May God please grant it that way? We stayed at Biak longer than we thought and it wasn't until Thursday night at about 7 o'clock that anchors were lifted and we were on our way.
There were six L.S.T.s in the convoy, escorted by an American sloop. Our first stop is Morotai, so we believe, in the Halmaheras. Our boat is fully loaded and the roll is noticeable although it isn't very rough so far.
On Friday morning the "stand by for action" call was sounded and the ships guns were manned but nothing materialized. On the afternoon of the same day, Friday 12th May, we crossed the equator. King Neptune was receiving his subjects and treating them in a royal way with grease, Atabrin, and mustard plasters, followed by a washing down with salt water from the ships fire hose. It took me about an hour to get cleaned up and the taste in my mouth was vile for the rest of the day. And so we passed across the other side of the world.
On Sunday at down we sighted land; great towering mountains on all sides and our way lay up a narrow strait of water to a long flat island - Morotai. About mid-morning we dropped anchor in the boy amidst a flotilla of ships of a magnitude beyond imagination. Every type of ship from rowing boats to cruisers was there not only in singles but also in half dozens and dozens. Our convoy of six L.S.T.’s was but a puny number to odd to such a mighty collection of ships.
After dinner, the wind ceased, the sky clouded over, and the restless heat of the tropics showered over us with all its fierceness. The decks become unbearably hot, the canvas tarpaulins we hod rigged up become ovens and untenable and in the cabins the temperature soared to the 120 degree mark. Even nightfall was not a blessing as the tropical humidity became even denser. I hope we don't remain sitting in this harbour for long although it looks like a few days at least.
Incidentally - today is Mothers day ."God bless her."
The month goes on, monotonously and lazily and the greater numbers of our unit are ashore billeted out with various units about the island. The Workshops Unit hove been left on board to look after the machinery and as their ore only forty of us we ore living very highly. Fresh meat every day, ice cream every second day and shore leave when we wont it.
One day, about the 18th I went ashore in charge of a party of sixteen lads. I spent the time meeting up with some of the old cobbers from Goodenough and Moresby and then taking a quick look around Morotai. It is similar to Saidor, muddy and surrounded by jungle with little of interest to see. The next night I went to a show on shore but didn't enjoy it much as I'd seen it twice before.
Two days later our L.S.T pulled up anchor and moved across the boy to refuel. We pulled in close to a Liberty ship, converted to a tanker. Hoses were connected and 80,000 gallons of fuel were pumped in a little under two hours. We then untied and went back to our original anchorage to wait - for what?
Each day sees convoys soiling in and out but we just don't seem to join them. Our rumored destination is Brunei Bay, British Borneo. Days pass in endless monotony. The food is excellent with fresh chicken, turkey, steaks, ice cream, tarts, and other luxuries that only the American Navy knows how to supply. The ships wireless gives us the news occasionally and a bit of music. In the evenings we sit and watch the sunsets and the moon. The nights are glorious, the sea being first lit by the gold of the setting sun over the nearby hills and then by the silvery glow of the full pale moon, which shadows the scene in a beauty never seen in southern climes.
An active volcano is across the straits, spurts clouds of smoke high into the sky, and makes an impressive sight. But all this beauty is not really appreciated to the fullest because of the conditions we are under - War.
But yet for some this isn't so bad. Yesterday showed just one instance of the fairness of the minds of our supposedly superior officers. Four Australian nurses came on board for dinner with the C.O. of our unit and two or three other commissioned ranks. Dressed in shirts, trousers, boots, and gaiters they didn't look so hot. After dinner they took to the ships small boat with the men, four cases of beer, bathing costumes and off they went for a picnic over to one of the islets. Good luck to them for that. What is disgusting about the whole thing though is that the boys of our unit on shore have been ordered by the C.O. to attend seven parades a day, drill all the morning and dig post holes and clean latrines of an afternoon.
There is no real work to be done on the island and even if there was there are four other mobile brigades here with only a few months up.
If the C.O. was half a man he would give the boys a holiday - God knows they've earned it with long hours at Lae, Aitape, Noemfoor, and a lot of mucking about on jobs at Biak. Not to say anything of what is too come.
Four Officers were mentioned in dispatches a few weeks back and they were given the O.B.E. or M.B.E
Nerves are starting to fray under this continual waiting. What is at the end we don't know, but I'm sure most of the boys are like me - sick of hanging about here at Morotai.
1st June sees the boys back on the ship with about 100 others. There is very little room and the decks are packed with vehicles and men, beds are in the remotest of places, under trucks, tied to gun turrets hidden under ground sheets. It is an amazing spectacle.
sweetheart out 6 years ago. Much has happened to us both since then and my hopes are that this war will be completed far before this day next year.
Sunday morning came and a church service was held on the forward hatch cover. A new padre gave the service and asked for God's protection.
On June 4th, we were off on the final leg of the journey. As we pulled out of the Bay the magnitude of the convoy could be seen stretched far behind in magnificent splendor. Not until we got out into the strait between Morotai and the Halmaheras could we see the full convoy. 93 ships made up the invasion force including the great Australian. Westralia, Cruiser Shropshire, Kanimbla a hospital ship.