Chapter 21.


Bob decided we would not move away but retreat a little farther back in the scrub and that we could ease the food shortage by cutting down one of the many sago palms, which grew in abundance in this swampy country, and produce sufficient sago (sak sak) to keep us all going, in a sort of fashion.  (Sak sak comes from a tree belonging to the Cycad family and is almost all starch and certainly is not to be recommended as a staple diet. It comes from the pithy centre of the palm and when separated and washed and dried is a whitish powder.  It can be cooked, either inside a length of bamboo or spread and baked on a flat stone.  The first method, when cooked and removed from the bamboo, emerges as a clear, inedible, sausage shaped tasteless glutinous mass and the latter culinary masterpiece appears as a partly clear flat cake dusted with what seems to be a fine ash but is really some uncooked sago on top.  Neither method of cooking appeals to the European palate any more than ashes from the cooking fire would!  But it is food and the policeboys didn't seem to mind eating it!)  Definitely not recommended as a constant diet, though we did find if the cakes were spread with a layer of Vegemite they were greatly improved.  The thicker the layer of vegemite the better the taste!  This same sak sak, in most inland areas of this large island, is a main source of food.

While the sago extraction was proceeding Bob sent Sam and two policemen with some food to relieve de Bruina and Heck at the river and then sent Yaru, Aram and Kaki on a recce to Boendroe village about five miles away to see if they could pick up any sign of the Nip patrol.

Next day Bob, obviously feeling the inaction, decided he too would walk to the river and bring Sam and the policemen back as they weren't really needed there.  On the way he came across a large deserted European type house, about two miles from the river, which showed signs of recent Japanese occupation.  His careful scouting of the surrounding area did not reveal any of the enemy so he proceeded to the river.

Our next move was to return, once again, to the Nawa River to await the recce party.  We left Sabokinya to complete making the rest of the sak sak and he was to await the return of the three policemen from their patrol and then join us at river crossing.

Twenty-four hours later Sabokinya and the three recce police arrived and brought news of a Japanese patrol, just north of Boendroe, moving in the direction of Genyem. But they had seen nothing of the missing Dutch party.  We then returned to the vicinity of the big house in case the Japs came back and camped in the bush nearby.

For two days we maintained a watch on the river track and sent out scouting parties but had no contacts.  Again I remained behind as my fever (?) had returned making my radio work almost impossible.  Listening to Morse code when suffering from a splitting headache coupled with the shivers is not much fun and my resolve to demand an offsider on the next operation was considerably strengthened.  An extra radioman would not go amiss in times like this.  I know "Z" Special always had an extra man to do the coding and radio work, if it became necessary, and surely we could do the same.

Thanks to their stupidity the Dutch had very little gear and needed re-equipping even down to boots.  The proposed airdrop was a risky business with the Japs so near and we were unhappy because our original plan had been for a drop in another six days and this additional one would upset the programme.  But, nothing could be done about it and we obtained a list of their needs and sent the message back to base asking them to get in touch with the Dutch HQ and arrange for a drop on a nearby village, in four days time.  A village which, by a large piece of luck, was one that had been on one of the series of photos.

To Chapter 22 ->