Ioribaiwa Ridge. Then onto Imita Ridge.

Our wedding anniversary, we were married at St John’s on the 16th September 1944.

When we bought the 2/14th and 2/16th back onto Ioribaiwa Ridge on the afternoon of the 11th September we all dug in, our orders were from Col Cameron. There were only the remnants of the 2/14th and 2/16th and the 3rd Bn. There was some talk of the Pioneers being there somewhere, the 2/1st Bn, and the 2/6th Independent Company, some of them where wondering about somewhere.  The main bodies were the remnants of the 2/14th and 2/16th Bns and 3rd Bn.  The Platoon I had, 10 Pl of B company, linked up with the remnants of the 2/14th and 2/16th who had become a composite unit as they called them. According to history they were 380 strong, at the time Col Cameron told me they were 320.  Anyway, I asked some of the fellows where the 2/27th Bn was and they were very cranky, they said, ‘They have taken to the bush!’  That’s the words they used so anyhow we had to dig in using our bayonets to dig and our steel helmets to remove the soil.  We had no other means to dig in.

Anyhow we dug in.  Col Cameron said at that time there were around 2000 Japanese at the creek below where we were on Ioribaiwa. I am not too sure what the figures were but they were the words he used.  We dug in. I linked up with the remnants of the 2/14th and 2/16th, about 80 metres away. It wasn’t just a few feet or yards away, it was a fair distance because we didn’t have many troops to cover the area on Ioribaiwa.  The Track was just slightly to my left.  The Track went through the centre of the 2/14th and 16th positions.  There were other tracks that could be used. The Track was on a slight spur that they had occupied.

At that stage the 21st Brigade was commanded by Brigadier Porter, Brigadier Potts had been relieved a couple of days earlier.  However that was the 12th, 13th and on the afternoon of the 14th of September the 25th Brigade came up, a fresh Brigade.  Our orders were to stay there dead or alive.  Before the 25th came up we had already been shelled by the Japanese and on the 12th and 13th the 3rd Bn had their first casualties from Japanese artillery and mortar fire from down further on the creek but that was over to my right flank, further over.

Where 10 Pl was we were on a fairly open area.  There was some heavy timber behind but we were on an open area as were the 2/14th and 2/16th.  Up behind where I was on the edge of the trees was a 3rd Bn 3 inch mortar.  This is before the 14th of September.  I went up to the mortar fellows because I knew once they opened fire the Japanese would send over counter mortar fire to try and get the mortar and we were underneath that line of fire.  When I went up to talk to them I discovered they had no sights for their mortar and they only had 12 high explosive mortar bombs.  12, 10 pound projectiles.  So I said to them get rid of them as quick as they could and do it pretty well straight away. One mortar man said, “Where are the Japanese?” I said they are just down the creek a bit.  About 1200 yards away at that stage.  One fellow lined up the barrel and another organised the bombs to be dropped down.  So they fired rapid fire to get rid of the 12 bombs and they picked up their mechanism, base-plate, barrel and tripod and off.  Needless to say, within a few minutes Japanese shells came right over the 10 Platoon positions but weren’t dropping short.  If they had they would have got some of our fellows.  Luckily they went into the timber and they fired there for some time.

On the afternoon of 14th September we were told that the 25th Brigade was on the move, that is the 2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd commanded by Brigadier Eather.  Way back in 1939 Brigadier Eather, as Colonel Eather, had commanded the 3rd Battalion in the Militia.  According to one of the old 3rd Battalion Militia fellows Olly Candish, Eather’s nickname was ‘Chloroform Charlie.’ On the afternoon of 14th September some of the elements of the 25th Brigade were coming up. The 2/31st Bn went to the left flank towards what we knew as the Spotter’s Hut, the 2/33rd went to the right flank and the 2/25th stayed just below Ioribaiwa at the back in reserve. We learned not long after, when the 2/31st went toward the Spotters Hut they ran into pretty stiff Japanese opposition. The 2/33rd got a bit lost but some of them were able to link up with D Company of the 3rd Battalion.  But they also had some casualties.  That was on the 14th, on the 15th the Japanese penetrated a 3rd Bn position on the right flank and some fellows were killed or wounded.

On the morning of the 16th about 10 o’clock Col Cameron said to me “We’ve got orders to get out. We’ve got to get back to Imita Ridge.” He said, “It is pretty rough because everyone was determined to deny the Japanese Ioribaiwa Ridge.”  We were determined to die as earlier it was a do or die order.  Anyway we got ready and by about 11.30 all the 3rd Bn was ready to move and we moved back in an orderly manner to Imita Ridge. Once we got back to Imita we were allotted defensive positions there and the 3rd Bn one was just close to the actual Kokoda Track.  We were under the Command there of the 25th Brigade and we dug in on Imita and it was a pretty safe place to wander around and so on, which the fellows did and we settled down there.  That was the 16th when we withdrew there.

It was about the 19th when Col Cameron called for 50 volunteers to go forward and find the Japanese and fight them on Ioribaiwa, on the left slightly towards the Spotter’s Hut direction and to find the extent of their line.  So he called for 50 volunteers. Myself and Sgt Bob Taylor, 12 Platoon B Company, went up with another eight. Each rifle company was allotted 10 soldiers. We went up with eight other volunteers so we put our names down.  A little while later Bob and I thought, ‘Who is going to be the Officers?’  We went back again and we learnt that there was Lt *** and another was going to be his second in command, so we immediately said to the Adjutant, “We are not going. Right, we are going to strike our names of the list and we are pretty sure the rest of B Company will too.”  I don’t know about the other companies.  But B Company struck our names off the list. We were back in our little pit and a couple of hours later Col Cameron sent a runner down for us and Bob and I went back and he said “What gives?”,  and we said “We don’t like the Officers, Sir.”  So he said, “If I change them will you volunteer again?”  “It all depends who they are going to be.”  So he said, “Capt Atkinson and Lt Bill Dullard.” So we immediately signed on again, that is the B Company fellows.

It was to be a five day patrol, and to travel as light as possible and some expert said instead of taking 5 normal tins of bully beef and biscuits and so on, that 5 days of emergency rations would do but the emergency rations are pretty light. Anyhow Bob and I managed to carry a couple of tins of bully and some biscuits and when we set off it wasn’t too bad going but we had to take a pretty deviated route so the Japanese wouldn’t pick us up. So the first day wasn’t too bad but the second day we were getting pretty hungry and on the morning of the third day we were going along and we went through a bit of plantation. Bob found a little pineapple about 5 inches high. We were pretty hungry.  So Bob chopped the top and the bottom off with his bayonet, split it down the middle and we ate it, skin and all.  It was pretty sour but it was good.

Onto Ioribaiwa Ridge

On the 7th of September our 3rd Battalion was on Ioribaiwa Ridge. We were still trying to come to terms with the rough tough going but at this stage we were told what was happening, that the Japanese were advancing and driving the Australians back along the Track.  In the afternoon, we received orders to go to the Spotter’s Hut on the left flank, just B Company. So away we went. The Spotter’s Hut was about 2 to 3 hours march from Ioribaiwa on the left flank.  We had with us two signalmen who had a cable for our communications with Battalion Headquarters so away we went but the cable ran out about an hour and a half’s march from where we left Ioribaiwa.  We left the two signalmen at this creek B Company continued onto the Spotter’s Hut. The Spotter’s Hut was a reasonably large, well built native structure.  A typical structure for that area.  In the middle of the floor was about a four foot diameter stone circle where they would light their fire. So at the Spotter’s Hut we took up defensive positions without digging in.  The next day, early in the piece, somehow or other we received rations, a fair number of rations. That went along ok until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when one of the signalman staggered up the track and said to the Company Commander, B Company had to report back to Battalion HQ on Ioribaiwa.  We had arrived the previous afternoon and now, the next day, on the afternoon of the 8th we received orders to head back.  The Adjutant Capt Jack Jeffery had introduced Bob Taylor and me to Colonel Cameron before we left Ioribaiwa. He was bringing either the 39th or the 53rd out.  He had been given Command of the 3rd Bn and we met him before we went up to the Spotter’s Hut, just a brief introduction.  When the Company Commander received word we had to report back to the Battalion, his words were, “We’ve got to get out, back to Ioribaiwa.”  And immediately he took his Batman and another Platoon Commander went with him with his Batman and away they went.  And I said to Sgt Bob Taylor of 12 Platoon, I was 10 Platoon, “Bob we’ll be getting out but the place has got to be left in an orderly manner. The latrines have to be filled in, surplus rations to be destroyed.”

In the meantime the Platoon Commander of 11 Platoon was coming down the track, it looked as though he was heading off too.  Bob and I stood in front of him and said “Where are you going, Doug?” He said, “We’ve got to get out.” We said to this Lieutenant, “You’re the only Officer left and you’re staying!”  He took the hint and went back to his Platoon.  By the time we straightened things up and destroyed surplus rations, in some instances it was just puncturing bully beef tins with a bayonet, it was close on dusk and we were ready to move off.  Cpl Barry Flint of 10 Pl had a torch, still with batteries in it, so away we went through the jungle and Barry had to flash his torch every now and then and it was getting darker and darker. Anyway, we came to a ridge and I knew there was a creek at the bottom, about two feet deep water and fairly wide so we decided to stay in the jungle rather than attempt to cross the creek.  So first light next morning we took off again and when we arrived back at Ioribaiwa, we were met by the Adjutant and Colonel Cameron and this Company Commander. Bob Taylor and myself were at the head of the column of B Company.  When we halted, Colonel Cameron said “How come your Company CO was here so many hours before his troops?” Bob and I hadn’t practised but we both in unison said  “He shot through, Sir.” Colonel Cameron’s words were, “He did, did he!” That was all he said.  That Company Commander who shot through on us was sent out of the Battalion and we received another Company Commander, Capt Stan Atkinson.  We knew he wasn’t such a popular bloke but he was our Company Commander.

We were allotted a defensive position on Ioribaiwa Ridge. That was the morning of the 9th.  About midday on the 10th B and A Companies were ordered forward to help extricate the remnants of the 21st Brigade.  We went forward about two and a half hours along the Kokoda Track and then Colonel Cameron said “Halt and take up a defensive position.”  We didn’t dig in, just were protected behind trees.  10 Pl was on the left-hand side of the track and Bob Taylor’s 12 Pl was on the right-hand side of the track. We took up an ambush position and 12 platoon was in reserve just a little further back and waited for the remnants of the 14th and 16th to come through.  Odd soldiers, some walking wounded, were coming through then the main body of the 14th and 16th started to come through. We said to some of the early ones, the fit looking fellows, “What gives?”  and they said “Nothing to worry about, she’s all right, everything’s all right.” Bob and I said to each other, “If everything is alright, why are they coming back?”  So we still took up our positions and one fellow even gave me two sticky grenades for use against light armoured vehicles, trucks and whatever.  The poor fellow hadn’t walked on much further and I threw them into the jungle because they were absolutely useless as far as I was concerned.  By about 3 o’clock we were ordered to return to Ioribaiwa Ridge.  When we got back to Ioribaiwa it was starting to get on in the day.  B Company’s positions were allotted close to where the remnants of the 2/14th and 2/16th were.  My Platoon ended up with the composite unit. Colonel Cameron said that they were 320 strong.  We were also told to dig in and there was no retreat from Ioribaiwa.  We would stay there dead or alive.  The Japanese had to be denied Ioribaiwa Ridge.

4 September 1942

Arrived back at camp at 6pm from unloading ships to be told that we are moving up to the Owen Stanley Ranges, to go onto the Kokoda Track, tomorrow morning.  We had to dispose of surplus equipment and collect more ammunition.  We primed our grenades and I added a grenade discharger to my kit and collected the base plates I needed.

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
http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/053500

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

PORT MORESBY, PAPUA. 1942-08. A CARGO SHIP BEING UNLOADED.
http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/026255

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.

Disembarcation

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
http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/128046

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
http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/ART21521