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.

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