Category Archives: Port Moresby

The Fight Forward Ep 1

Moving Up (including What do you say to a Dying Man?)

Set up camp then back to the wharf

We went straight into the wharf when we got into Port Moresby, we didn’t wait off the coast at all.  Things started to move straight away.  They had trucks to transport us to Bootless Bay.  It was a clear day, we never got a lot of rain around Port Moresby.  We got in about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

We had no idea where we were going to fight. We took up our positions and all our weapon pits were sighted to defend Bootless Bay.  See the Japanese had landed in Salamaua in March but in Moresby there didn’t seem to be that much concern at all.  We heard nothing other than we knew they had landed. We had no information about where they were moving or whether they were moving or not.

The trouble is General Morris, he was the head fellow there, but they were out of touch with reality with what was in front.  It was a young soldier’s war and a young Commander’s war but we were still saddled with a lot of 1914 1918 activity which wasn’t the way to go. It was only the individual soldier’s themselves who saved the day.

No one talked about Singapore, just that it was one of our greatest disasters, the fall of Singapore.

At no stage did we have a defeatist attitude by any means.  At no stage.  Our attitude was that things were pretty rough and going to get rougher but we would win. We would win.

We only heard of such a thing, that there was a track, in July when some of the 39th Battalion were sent up.  Part of the reason we knew then was there were a certain number of Bren Guns taken from the 3rd Battalion to give to the 39th.  Before we went up onto the Kokoda Track on the 5th September all those guns had been replaced.  But the thing is, in July I think, there was 40 guns from the 3rd Battalion, we polished them up and oiled them and so on to go to the 39th Battalion.

It was mainly AMF Militia in Port Moresby.  There was an odd AIF, same of the Anti-Aircraft batteries and so on and some of the ASC were AIF. Some, but not that many.  The Airforce fellows were always friendly and co-operative, the Australian Airforce.  But they were Australian’s, that was why they had that approach.

Bootless Bay, Papua New Guinea

Bootless Bay, Papua New Guinea, 1943

Nothing was set up for us at Bootless Bay, we were just allocated an area. We had our normal ground sheet and half a two man tent. You and another soldier put the two half-tents together and made a little shelter but that was only three feet high and the kunai was four feet high.  There’s no breeze in the kunai and the sun was beaming down.  In the daytime we were training or unloading ships or guarding airstrips.  In the nighttime it was pretty warm still in our tents.

We dug a two man slit trench in our tent about 18 inches wide and three or four feet deep which meant that you had a little sleeping device on either side, which generally added up to be a bundle of kunai so you had a little sleeping bed about eighteen inches wide and on the edge of that was your slit trench and then the canvas tent came down and touched you on the knee so there was not much movement before you fell into the slit trench.  To get out of the tent, you generally had to get into the slit trench, which was in the middle and climb out the other end. It was a good idea for protection but it was pretty restrictive.

They didn’t seem to worry much about inspecting our tents but in 10 Platoon, my Platoon, it was all pretty standard.  At that stage our Platoon Commander, Col Richardson, would come back sometimes.  We always had a Platoon Commander nominated but you didn’t see them that much.  I operated as if I didn’t have one, as my concern was the fellows and, being a Platoon Sergeant, you looked after all their cares, equipment, training and so on. It was pretty good as there was never a dull moment, as far as I was concerned. The same with my friend Bob Taylor, the Platoon Sergeant of 12 Platoon of B Company.  Bob cared for his men very much.  But the fellows themselves, they were very good, they were pretty cooperative.  There was no disgruntlement in 10 Platoon, because any disgruntled soldier, the ordinary, happy-type soldier sorted them out.  They would tell him to wake up to himself.

We had a number of reinforcements from Dubbo camp. There was Les Alexander, Bill Carter, Graham Toddman and others and they all blended in very well.  A number of us transferred to the AIF there.  Not that that mattered because there was still the same attitude and everything.  It was read out from Routine Orders from Battalion that those who wished to transfer could do so.

Cargo ship being unloaded at Port Moresby August 1942


There was no change whatsoever in our status as a result of transferring but then in about July some time, when Bob and I used to work at the wharf at Moresby, the Air Force Catalina base was not far down, so one day Bob and I went down and we told them we wanted to join the Air Force so the Officer there gave us some papers to fill in, which we did.  We used to see the Air Force fellows, we’d be working pretty hard and the Air Force fellows had a little bit different life also a fair bit of activity so we thought we would probably contribute more by being with them at that stage.  About half-way through the Kokoda Track campaign, later on, we received orders that we could report somewhere and be accepted into the Air Force.  We were almost half-way through the Owen Stanleys so we both disregarded our letters.


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.