Chapter 18.


On the next recce patrol, on 4th April, several natives were contacted about two miles northwest of Lereh at a small village named Fiara on the south bank of a swiftly flowing stream.  They told the same story, that occasionally Jap patrols were seen in the vicinity, but had always been evaded.  One small Jap patrol, of six soldiers, which had been seen two days before, appeared to be moving in an easterly direction.  This seemed to be an excellent opportunity to make our presence felt, especially as their patrol was small in numbers, and from Fiara, with Lt. de Bruina and eight others of the Dutch party, we set off in that direction to see if contact could be made.  While not exactly spoiling for a fight we thought that the time had come to show the enemy that they were not alone in this area.  But, despite a series of sweeps to the east, we had no luck.  The lack of contact was not unexpected as this patch of rock-strewn terrain had made progress particularly rugged and, combined with the heavy rain and very thick undergrowth, good visibility for any distance was minimal.  We were rapidly becoming fed up with the never ending rain and were looking forward to returning to a more friendly area.

At this point in time, although only 13 days had passed since we had left the Idenberg River, we seemed to have been here forever and only one of those 13 days had been free from rain.  All our belongings were soaked and would remain so as there was no chance of drying anything.  We turned into our hammocks at night, fully clothed and in full marching order, with all weapons, boots and packs dripping wet.  The hammocks, by this time were liberally coated, inside and out, with mud collected from a hundred swampy gullies and small creeks and the smell from the wet clothes and boots was well nigh over-powering, but at least we had shelter from the elements until, all too soon it seemed, it became our turn for sentry duty. Here I was sometimes lucky because, quite often, my radio duties kept me occupied until late at night and saved me from taking my turn on watch.

Next day, 5th April, Lt. de Bruina, a Malay policeman and two of our police boys came down with malarial attacks. We returned to Fiara very disappointed and frustrated and took possession of a couple of deserted huts, on the Etia River, for protection from the rain.  Being in the huts meant we were obliged to keep sentries out to prevent surprise attacks.  Our policemen were quite willing to act as lookouts along with some of the brighter looking Malays.

In the meantime De Bruina had become very ill but there was nothing we could do but dose him with quinine and hope for the best.  The rain was still coming down in buckets-full and late in the afternoon to compound our problems the river began to rise very quickly and a quick withdrawal was needed, so we staggered back to higher country, wet through and surprisingly cold, carrying De Bruina on a makeshift stretcher.

Here we met some more natives, with Malay speakers among them, who appeared to be pretty friendly.  At least they were friendly with us but were very pointed in avoiding the three Malay police with De Bruina.  With Sam's help we questioned them and found they were the first lot of natives we had contacted who actively disliked the Japanese!  Whether this was put on for our benefit was not clear though Sam thought they were "fair dinkum".

That night, on my late radio sked, word came that another food drop, with the long awaited trade goods, had been made at Lereh the day before and next day the rest of the Shark party from Lereh arrived carrying the cargo from the drop.  Despite them saving us the trouble of picking up the drop from Lereh they were not welcome as we now had many more mouths to feed and worry about.  Some of their party were sick and the Malay policeman was still very ill and delirious and looked to be beyond help and later he somehow, while no one was looking, managed to disappear into the bush.  We put out a search party but couldn't locate him anywhere and next day some of the coolies continued the search and finally found him down by the river.  He had hanged himself!

Much against our better judgement we remained with the Dutch party and continued patrolling the various routes leading toward Hollandia while endeavouring to contact as many natives as possible.  But, we were very much hampered by the other party and eventually decided the time had come to move away from them as they were slowing us up a great deal.  Their task, of harassment of the Japs, was different to ours and separation would definitely be to our mutual benefit.

Moreover, the Dutch seemed to have an inordinate number of health problems and were ill equipped for the type of work they were supposed to be doing.  Some of the Malay soldiers were not fit and appeared insufficiently trained for rough bush patrolling on hard rations.  Their officers had difficulty with some who seemed temperamentally unsuited for these conditions.  Nobody seemed to care!  It was time for us to leave!

The "Shark" patrol had not been supplied with any trade goods and even before leaving had not anticipated using any but while with us they soon realised the benefits that could be gained by gifts of trade goods and made many demands on our meagre supply to use as presents or payment to the natives.  As a consequence our stock was very quickly used up in requirements for the forty odd members of the Dutch party and this lack embarrassed us shortly afterwards when we were in need of some native guides.

Later during the operation, after more trade goods had arrived with an airdrop, we were again obliged to share as the goods dropped to the Dutch party were mostly useless.  Items such as large axes and spades and shovels were dropped and these were quite unsuitable for a mobile party to carry.

Our smaller and much more experienced party was capable of moving quickly, and making more frequent contacts, to give the impression of a much larger force, whereas the combined Dutch party of over 40 men and bearers had proved to be extremely cumbersome and unwieldy.  Clearly their numbers were a hindrance to us, and themselves.

To Chapter 19 ->