Monthly Archives: May 2012


I saw a fair bit of the coastline as we came into Pom.  I was mainly interested in the reef, there was a fair bit of reef. I was surprised with the tropics I thought we would be greeted by tall coconut palms right down to the water.  There were some but they were sparse.

As we came into port, we were restricted in a way having to get our gear into order to go ashore. Once you got your bits and pieces you were able to go to the rail and watch the ship coming into the wharf. Of course we were all very keen to see what we were heading into. I took it as an adventure.  We were landing at Port Moresby, that was it.

There was a fair bit of commercial activity near the wharf.  There was also a reasonable number of Papuans. Papuans we met, they had had a pretty rough life by the look of them.  Anytime you shook hands with a Papuan they always smiled and welcomed you to their country.

We always thought of the tropics as a colourful place and there was no doubt it was colourful in parts but it was more or less an area where there was a wharf, trucks driving around, a certain number of Papuans.  That was it.  We were ushered down the gang-plank onto trucks and away we went.

From the wharf we lost no time in getting to Bootless Bay by vehicle.  We were still wondering what struck us a bit because of the temperature.  There was no facilities there at all, just plain kunai grass and bumps, the odd tree.  Savannah country.  We were allotted areas in the kunai grass not far from the sea itself at Bootless Bay.  There was nothing like running water, nothing like that.  All your water bottles depended on the Battalion water cart, as they called it.  There was no showering facilities or anything like that. It was just plain primitive.

On the first night, we put our groundsheet in amongst the kunai, curled up on the groundsheet in your khaki shorts and shirt, took your boots off, that was it.  Reveille was six thirty in the morning and for a few days there was no organised kitchen.  We just ate bully beef and biscuits for breakfast, dinner and tea.  Eventually there were Company cooks organised and then you got stewed bully beef and probably a bowl of rice.

We still had Company parade, where you formed up in your Platoons and then we were issued with orders about our defensive positions, but in no time we were put back onto the wharf to help unload ships, that was interesting.  We were young and strong.

We were kept in the dark about the intentions of the Japanese even thought the Japanese had landed in Salamaua in March 1942.  There was some bombing raids by the Japanese, some around the port area but they were mainly headed for the main bases around the Seven Mile Drome or somewhere out that way.  They seemed to let their bombs go too early or too late. There wasn’t much concern about the Japanese bombs.  We weren’t given any definite word that we were going to fight the Japanese.  I think the idea was the High Command seemed to be waiting for the Japanese to come to Port Moresby and fight them in the Port Moresby area, which seemed to be a bit strange. Their major concern seemed to be unloading ships and guarding airstrips.

We unloaded general stores, food and vehicles, we unloaded some earthmoving equipment, carry-alls as they called them – scoops with wheels on.  A lot of food-stuff in cases, in boxes and so on.

We hadn’t heard anything about such a thing as the Kokoda Track.  All we knew was that there was a place called Hombrum Bluff and there was jungle behind Hombrum Bluff.

At sea

The main body of the 3rd Battalion was on that ship.  The one’s who were a little bit late went by train from Sydney to Townsville and then from Townsville they caught a ship called the ‘Bontekoe’ to  Port Moresby.  They arrived not that many days after us. We landed at Port Moresby on the 27th of may.

The old ships were pretty slow in those days, that’s it.  They probably went as flat out as they could, but they were still going through troubled waters.  We were in a convoy, we had a good naval escort but there was no talk of any submarines.  A land-based aircraft flew on patrol during the daylight hours while the convoy was going along.  There were other troop-ships in the convoy. The Dutch war-ship the ‘TROMPS’ was with us and it was a very sleek looking vessel.  Our main activity other than the lifeboat drill, were lectures and lessons on warfare up on the main deck which was better than being down in the hold.  There would have been some cargo on the ship but I’m not sure just what.

At times we could pick up the Australian coastline.  They didn’t seem to be that far from it.  Other times all you could see was sea.  I never got sea-sick at all, some became sea-sick, but it never worried me.

They had some crew there with heavy anti-aircraft machine guns.  Our Company supplied three anti-aircraft Bren guns with the Bren tripod, two soldiers on each gun, under the direction of the Dutch crew. They did fire some Bren guns in practice.

My friend Sergeant Bob Taylor, – Platoon Sergeant of 12 Platoon, I was Platoon Sergeant of 10 Platoon, B Company –  Bob and I stayed together as much as we could.  There was a Dutch crew of course, but they had Indonesian ‘rouseabouts’. Sometimes we would meet a crew-fellow and he would take us on a guided tour of the engine room.  Some places were out of bounds.  We were pretty inquisitive.  That was part of survival too, knowing what was going on and working out things and so on.  Once we were on the ship and we got to know the rules and requirements of us, when we met an odd ship’s officer and he seemed a bit talkative we asked him could we have a bit of a wander about and he’d end up generally taking us on a tour down below and to the engine room, up the top to the bridge and look at the mechanism there.

It took up a little bit of time which was pretty good, climbing ladders, up and down ladders and so on.  Then of an evening or when we could, both of us would go up to the bow of the ship.  We were always interested in the rise and fall of the bow with the waves and watching flying fish.  And at nightime when we could stay up there a certain time we used to watch phosphorous on the sea.  On the port side of the ‘Van Heutz’ they had what they called a paravane.  It was a steel cable from the bow of the ship onto a floating device that looked like a torpedo some distance from the ship and the idea was the steel cable was to deflect any mines away from bumping into the ship.  It was only on the port side of the ship.  We were intrigued at the way that used to work.  We used to watch the other ships in the convoy and the escorting warships the way they used to dart about.

The ‘Van Heutz’ called into Townsville for a short while.  But we found life on ship very interesting.

The ‘Bontekoe’ stayed at Townsville and it arrived in Port Moresby on the 29th or the 30th because they picked up some of the troops who had supposedly been absent without leave who couldn’t make it back on account of the short final leave.  They were taken from Sydney to Townsville by train.  Not only the 3rd Battalion, other Battalions too.

The components of the 14th Brigade – infantry – were the 3rd Battalion, the 36th Battalion and the 55th Battalion plus Brigade Headquarters.  There was the 14th Field Regiment and the 14th Field Ambulance.  There were other pieces of the Brigade but these were the main ones.

The whole Brigade was equipped for what they called War-time Establishment.  We all had our Bren Guns, Thompson Sub-machine Guns and our Service Rifles.  They had all been issued about June / July 1942.  And yet the 39th Battalion, who had gone on ahead of us, still had mostly Lewis Guns.  We had handed our Lewis Guns in.  And yet the 39th was allowed to go up to Port Moresby with First World War light machine guns.

RAAF Lockheed Hudson Bombers

The trip was pretty uneventful, although up towards Townsville, one of the Hudson planes we were watching closely, was flying along fairly level and then next minute took a nose-dive into the sea.  The ‘Van Heutz’ kept on course but the Navy ships raced over to where the plane had disappeared into the sea.  We heard later that a body had been recovered but that was it.

Convoy ZK.8

‘On 18th May Tromp and Arunta … left Sydney escorting convoy “ZK.8” of four ships – the Dutch Bantam (9312 tons), Bontekoe (5,033 tons), Van Heemskerk (2996 tons) and Van Heutz (4,552 tons) – carrying 4,735 troops of the Australian 14th Brigade to reinforce Port Moresby.  They reached their destination without incident at the end of the month.

‘Royal Australian Navy.  1942-1945’ G. Herman Gill. Australian War Memorial, Canberra.  1968.

HMAS Arunta

Starboard lookout, HMAS Arunta


Bede and Alf with their father George at Central Station

Bede and Alf with their father George at Central Station

We met Dad under the clock at Central at about 10 o’clock in the morning, and I had to be back at the Showground at the wood chopping arena at 12 o’clock. I was always spot on for timing so I only had a couple of hours to talk to him and Alf. Not long after that Alf went from La Perouse to Geraldton in Western Australia with the 56th Battalion.

Earlier I had walked down the ramp to the little park down the bottom there.  I forget the name of the park now. We were assembling there to board the trams for the Showground.  I had sent my kit bag on earlier.  I had been down toward where the tram stop was where I left some other bits and pieces with my friend Bob Taylor so I could walk back up to Central to meet Dad.

Bob and I had travelled to Queanbeyan and back. Of course, Bob didn’t know it at the time but that was a final leave for Bob.  He had met Joan earlier on but not that time.  He went to his parents place, in Church Lane in Queanbeyan, just across from the Anglican Church.

Bob Taylor and Bede

We had all our gear with us when we left Saltash, all our bits and pieces including our rifle. Everywhere we moved we had it but I had left my rifle with Bob that day.  I went up to Central unarmed.  From about June 1941 we always had our rifle with us, no ammunition. No Bren Guns or sub-machine guns. We had our bayonet.  We took our equipment off on the train and put it up on the luggage rack.  We had a spare belt so we didn’t have to have the bayonet on all the time.

I had to leave Dad at about quarter to twelve.  It didn’t take long to get to the Showground.  We formed up in the woodchopping arena on the seats around there.  We were there until about 4 o’clock before we were taken to the wharf.

Those who could get back were there.  Some got back a bit late and went straight to the wharf.  There was a bit of a confrontation there because they were supposed to go to the Showground.  Some were accepted to be taken on right up to about 5 o’clock.

When we were in the woodchopping arena we met up with our friends and found who couldn’t make it back.  There were roll-calls of course.  It was understood that some couldn’t make it back in time.  They also understood that the men didn’t have the time to get back and how important it was to see parents, relatives and friends.  We knew what final leave meant.

We had no day-boys.  These were the soldiers who lived in Sydney who had were given leave to go back to their Sydney home at night and report back in the morning.  There were a number of soldiers in the Showground doing various things.  We did have some Sydney fellows at that stage, they weren’t day-boys but were the same as us and had to conform to what timings we had.

There were Government buses to take us to the wharf. We had each been issued with a number on a piece of paper which we put in our pugaree on our hat and we boarded the ship in numerical order, in our Company, in our Platoon.

I think at that stage Lieut Dovey from Canberra was our Platoon Commander. A very good bloke, a nice fellow. Bill Nordsvan was sent to D Company.  We had Lieut Palmer as our Company Commander.  We had a Lieutenant as a Company Commander.

Dad said as we parted the main thing was to learn as much about soldiering as I could as that would help me to survive.  He wasn’t upset at all.  The poor fellow, he already knew from the 14-18 War what it was like to be separated from family and friends.

My youngest brother was under the joining up age and in those days, the parents were required to sign the documents. Reg was keen to go and he told Mum and Dad at home in Whitton, if they didn’t sign his enlistment papers he’d run away from home. So they signed his papers.  He joined the 2/20th and went to Malaya.  He fought some action there, mainly in Singapore but he was taken prisoner on 15th February.


When we got to the wharf we went up the gangplank in numerical order onto the troopship ‘Van Heutz’.  From there we were allotted our B Company area.  I don’t know how many ladders we went down but we were deep in the bowels of the ship.  The only ventilation was a canvas shute that delivered air to the hold.

Down there on a hook was a hammock and they were set up in such a manner they were very close together.  When it was time to turn in, I remember in the hammock I had I got in one side and fell out the other.

It was a bit of a new experience being on a ship for me and I suppose many of the other chaps.  We had lifeboat drill and we’d been issued with a lifejacket so we formed up at our allotted lifeboat with our lifejacket on.  We stayed there for a while till we were dismissed.  We stayed with our Platoons and in our Company which was still pretty good.

On the morning of 18th May the convoy sailed out of Sydney Harbour.

Mostly the mood was jovial because we hadn’t been on a ship before. We were soldiers and we accepted what was dished out and would grin and bear it which was how we operated.

Final Leave

I didn’t know anything was on until 14th of May.  At that stage I was in charge of an ammunition guard on the Hunter River and a Signal Platoon sergeant, Sgt Billy Meahan came out about 4 or 5 miles to find me and to let me know to bring the Guard back in.  I was good friends with Bill and I said ‘what gives?’ and he said ‘there’s something on.’  When I got back to the Battalion I spoke to an Intelligence Sergeant named Clarrie Shaw and Clarrie said ‘Keep it under your hat but we are going to go on final leave and then head to Port Moresby.’

We were taken back to Greta from Saltash to go into Sydney to board our trains for final leave.

The men were pretty subdued.  Because a lot of soldiers knew that in 48 hours they would hardly have time to get home to see their people.  Some had to travel to Bega, Bombala and beyond, Crookwell, Cooma and so on. Singapore had fallen on 15th February, Rabaul had been occupied on 23rd January, I think that is correct.  So we knew there was going to be a tough time in front of us when the Japanese were on such a roll.

The main coverage in the press was that they were unstoppable after the fall of Singapore and Rabaul and on 23rd March I think they landed around Salamaua so they were already getting a fair foothold in New Guinea.

The fellows knew that final leave meant for some of them that was it.  They would be able to see their people and friends but didn’t know what chances there were of coming back and seeing them again.

The 3rd was drawn from Goulburn, Queanbeyan, Crookwell, Yass, Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale, Bateman’s Bay, Moruya, Braidwood, down the coast to Bermagui, Merimbula, across to Bombala, Delegate, Dalgety, Cooma, Jindabyne, Adaminaby.  There were a number from the Sydney area, they came along later from Dubbo Camp.  Then there were fellows like myself drawn from the Canberra area but from outlying parts.  The area wasn’t that big in one sense, just drawn from that part of NSW.

I had no chance of getting out to Whitton to see my mother and family.  I rang and told Mum and Dad and Dad caught a train to Sydney and I met Dad on Central Station under the famous clock when I landed back on the Cooma Mail on Saturday morning, 17th May.  I met Dad there and I’d already got word to my brother Alf who was 56th Battalion stationed at La Perouse. He was a Corporal.  He came into Central.


I was able to get home to see Joan in Queanbeyan and her family.  Actually on that day we got engaged.  We headed for home on the night of the 14th, I got to Queanbeyan on the morning of the 15th and we got engaged that day, Joan’s birthday and I left on the Cooma Mail on the night of the 16th to be in Sydney on the 17th.  At that stage I was still 21 and Joan was 19.  Her waiting started on 15th May 1942 until I received my Certificate of Service in February 1946.

My brother Reg was missing after the fall of Singapore.  He was known to be there on the 15th February but there was no word of him for 18 months or two years that he was still around. Dad had been wounded at Quinn’s Post in the War to end all Wars and there he was on 17th May with two of his sons in uniform and another son missing after the fall of Singapore.

Dad stopped in Sydney on the Saturday night and then went home the next day.  I was unable to get out west to see my mother and younger brothers and sisters.  I would have seen my mother last in Christmas 1940.

The fellows from Bega, Bombala and down that way stayed in Sydney and missed seeing their people.  The ones that did go right home, like the ones from Crookwell, ended up being absent without leave and they embarked from Townsville on the ‘Bontekoe’.

That was my first time on a ship.

The well-trained 3rd Battalion

The 3rd Battalion AMF embarked for Papua New Guinea on 17 May 1942,  70 years ago. This blog is about the 3rd Battalion on the Kokoda Track.

From Port Moresby, 560 men went up onto the Track on 5 September 1942 and 110 answered the roll-call at Gona on 4 December 1942.

One of the survivors of that Campaign is Capt Bede Tongs MM.  Unless indicated otherwise, the words are Bede’s as he tells the story, 70 years on.

Australia was at war and they were pretty grim times.  The Germans were on a roll in Europe and even though something seemed to be stirring in the Pacific there was nothing definite.  But we were preparing for war and we were preparing for war against the spread of Germany.  And I could see it myself that whatever fell in Europe bought them closer to Australia.  At that time America was neutral and that was it.

And therefore with that atmosphere anybody who was fair dinkum took to their training fairly seriously and we also were told that a well trained soldier was a survivor which made it more important to grasp the training that was offered and carried out.

We went up to Saltash about January 42 to May, about three and a half months.  We went from Greta Camp to Saltash and in those days it was known as a Battle Station.

But then by the time we got up there in January 42 the Japanese were in the war.  We were at Bathurst Camp in December 41 when the Japanese declared war.  So we knew then the one we were going to fight were the Japanese.

Right from 1940 when I joined the 3rd Battalion we were on what was called the First World War establishment and the strength of a Battalion in those days was 1017 I am not sure if we got right up to 1017 but we got pretty close to it.  In 1940 the Officers rode horses and we had horse transport.  Some vehicles but most of them had been requisitioned from private enterprise. You saw a vehicle with ‘Billy Smith’s Bakery’ or ‘Jack Smith’s Butchers’ on the side.  Eventually other Army vehicles came in but horse transport was there all the time.

They had a full complement of the 3rd Battalion there. Les Alexander and Billy Carter, the two 17 year olds I had in 10 Platoon were there.  Some other young ones joined us later.

Each of the Companies were more or less isolated at Saltash.  Where B Company was, the one I was with, our position was on the sand bed where Newcastle had some of its water drawn from underneath the ground. We could only dig down about 18 inches and you were more or less into the water itself as far as making slit trenches was concerned.  Some of our activity was putting up barbwire entanglements which were left there permanently as a barricade to any invading forces that may have come across in that area up through the beaches.

There were huge mosquitoes in that area, called Hexham Greys.  I didn’t see them anywhere else other than in that area.  They were gigantic mosquitoes.  When we were doing the barbwire entanglements, we had a fire bucket or a number of fellows with fire buckets with green leaves from the bushes to make as much smoke as possible to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  Our accommodation was tents and at night time you had a fire bucket handy producing some sort of smoke. We had no mosquito nets.  And our dress was khaki shorts and shirt and steel helmet.

We carried on normal training, weapons training and field craft and a fair bit of activity so we were still pretty fit.

The training was done by the NCOs and the Officers.  They each had different lessons on field craft, weapons and general infantry activity.  It was carried out by Officers and NCOs.  The army pamphlets on the different subjects were good.  Anybody who adhered to the Army pamphlets was heading towards survival because you were putting the pamphlet knowledge into practice to be a survivor.

Rifle range activity was good and everybody liked that.  We went to the Stockton rifle range to fire live rounds which was pretty good as it was a very up to date range.  The facilities there were spot on.  In June/July 1941 the 3rd Bn had been issued with Bren Guns in place of Lewis Guns and new web equipment to replace the 14/18 web equipment. We had also been issued with new Thompson Sub machine guns, .45 calibre with Winchester ammunition.  We practised firing those from suitable range as a close quarter weapon.  We even had some odd live grenade practise.  Throwing live grenades, it was a bit limited but still some.  We had a fair amount of practice throwing drill grenades which are the ones without explosive, as part of our training which was intense.

We had a fair bit of bayonet training, with dummies and firing. but the bayonet training was always a pretty good physical exercise because there was a lot of determination and things like that.

The main thing with Saltash was battling the Hexham Greys and the number of barbwire entanglements we erected.  There were different places Saltash, Hexham, Medowee.  The Hunter River where we were was tidal and brackish water but about 30 feet from where the brackish water was, we would dig down and with a 44 gallon drum with the top out of it, make a container for water and the water we obtained there was fresh.  We used the water from there to boil the billy and for washing and shaving and so on.

We didn’t seem to have any ‘bad boys’ as they called them, they behaved themselves well.  There was no detention compound, everybody worked well and trained well.  At times we had leave to go to Newcastle.  We had to catch the ferry at Stockton and in those days the hotels traded from 6 o’clock in the morning to 6 o’clock at night.  The idea was to have a drink at the Stockton Hotel and then catch the ferry but sometimes they would get carried away and the ferry would be on the way to the other side when they came out.

Newcastle people were all very nice to the soldiers.  It was a good place to go on leave to.  There was another hotel at Nelson’s Bay and in those days hotels were quite friendly.  About every fortnight we could get a day off for local activity,  no home leave until we got the final one.  The last home leave had been Christmas 1941 When I went home to see Joan.  Anybody who had to travel by train for a distance, it was a bit hard to be back on time.

The hotel at Nelson’s Bay was just off the road.  Some of the fellows were in isolated patches and they were able to sneak off at times to the hotel. They had to keep an eye out for the Colonel’s battle-buggy as they called it, luckily the windows were clear and they could watch up the road  but when the Colonel’s buggy came along up the road they would be scooting out the doors and out anywhere they could get to because he always pulled up and wanted to see if anybody from the 3rd Battalion was in the hotel.  A couple of times myself and my friend Bob Taylor, the other Sergeant, would be there and the barmaid would say ‘There’s a tap-room there, boys!’ and she would open up the door and we would dive in so there was no-one in the bar.

We had what they call Regimental Police.  There was a Sergeant, a Regimental Police Sergeant.  We had a very wild fellow,  he was a good bloke but if someone wanted to play up a bit he was branded a wild fellow. He came from around Mittagong way, he was wild but not dangerously wild, he was promoted to Regimental Police Sergeant and that tamed him down. He was spot on after that.

He couldn’t act independently, if an Officer or NCO called him to act he operated under their command, he couldn’t find something himself.  He just couldn’t wander around grabbing people. That’s in the 3rd Battalion, I’m not sure what happened in other units. He was more like a figurehead, his presence was supposed to calm things down.  We had no reason to call on him in B Company in my experience.

Commander of 10 platoon, let me think, they changed them a bit and we never saw much of any of them, it could have been a chap by the name of Jack Dovey, probably Lieut Jack Dovey.  The Company commander was Captain Bill Nordsvan.  Another platoon Commander was Lieutenant Bill Woodger.  Probably even Col Kermode was another Platoon Commander.  A, C and D Company seemed to have more consistent Platoon commanders who were with their Platoon.  Generally if a Platoon Commander showed some potential they were transferred or used up somewhere else, seconded somewhere.  That left the Platoon Sergeant in charge.  Some were even at schools.  They never attended many schools which was pretty sad because they needed that education on military activity. unfortunately, some of them thought they knew everything without needing to go to a school.  In most instances the Platoon Sergeant was more capable than the Officer in charge of the Platoon.  The Platoon Sergeant always conducted lessons according to the army pamphlets.  I used to carry out lessons on weaponry and field craft and orders and so on.  Generally an officer wandered around directing things, in some cases they participated.

We did a fair bit of fire and movement exercises which was pretty good because that stuck by us later.  Training in open warfare formations, extended line and arrowheads.  We even had mock street and village fighting with no structures.  We threw a lot of practice grenades that was grenades without explosives in them which was pretty good practice for accuracy.  We always stood up to throw them in practice.  For live grenade practice there was a special grenade arrangement as we were in pits and the instructor would move to another section so the person throwing the grenade was the only on in the pit in case they dropped the grenade.  It was pretty scary practice for some of them to throw a live grenade.  Our early live grenade practice was all with the 7 second grenades but in the jungle in combat we had a 4 second grenade.

The chap who threw the grenade also primed the grenade. You unscrewed the baseplate and the different fuses were in a special container. The 7 second had a clear stem on the mechanism and the 4 second had a little red rubber band. The idea was at nighttime you could feel along it and if you felt this little band you had a 4 second fuse.  Once they threw an odd grenade that was live they got into the swing of things and it was no problem.