Chapter 22.


An airdrop, at the best of times, was always a very risky business, because, a smoky fire had to be kept alight to attract the aircraft, and the smoke would also catch the attention of any enemy patrol in the vicinity.  If the enemy patrol happened to be on a neighbouring hilltop at the time of the drop our smoke and the aircraft would be seen and they would know what was going on.  If this situation arose our only hope was that they would be far enough away to prevent them getting to the site while the drop was in progress and the stores were being collected.

The day for the drop, 18th April, came and our fears proved to be groundless.  The operation was made successfully by two B25s.  In all they dropped ten storepedoes and we hastily gathered the goods and put as much distance between us and the village as possible.  Everything had arrived in good order even though one of the parachutes hadn't opened properly and we were more than satisfied although some articles ordered had not arrived and were promised in the next drop.

The parachutes used for the stores drops were sometimes made of silk but were often hessian.  The containers, or storepedoes as they were called, were made from plywood and were a cylindrical shape with a diameter of about 15 inches and about 6 ft. long with a conical shaped nose.  Each carried a surprising large amount of stores.

Unfortunately, the hessian parachutes often had a nasty habit of not opening fully, which meant they came down on a slant and generally landed wide of the mark!  We soon found it was not much fun running through the mist and smoke being chased by a descending, out of control, storepedo!  Those not opening fully were like bombs from a divebomber with the fluttering sound of the malfunctioning chute adding to the worry of its eventual impact.  They certainly brought back a few memories of earlier days in the Middle East.

The aircraft was forced to make the drop from an altitude of about 2000 to 3000 ft. — a rough estimate on my part — to get any sort of accuracy.  Ideally the storepedo should land on the cleared top of the hill, because if it missed and went down the slope, among the trees, it would take too long to recover.  The local natives certainly didn't mind if some of the storepedoes went astray and, as we had to collect as much as possible and quickly get out of there for our own safety, those that were badly off course were given up as lost.  The natives had plenty of time to recover the errant stores and the odd silk parachute was a great prize for them, to say nothing of the contents!

Living off the land in this type of country, despite the common belief that all tropical jungles teem with all types of edibles, is particularly difficult especially for white people.  Food is always a problem, and very much more of a problem in this godforsaken area, even for the natives, and for us to remain in a reasonable state of health, food drops were a necessity.  This unscheduled drop was the first of four during the operation, and they were all carried out without a hitch and delivered to the designated villages; a plan that worked perfectly due to the expertise of the airmen who flew the planes.

Even with the supply drops, our food still had to be supplemented with such items as native bananas — very much a rarity this far from the sea — sak sak, taro root, native nuts and occasionally a grub that Sam said was a witchetty grub!  I wasn't convinced it was the dinkum article, though it wasn't so bad when roasted!  The taro root is good tucker, much the same as sweet potato, and is a type of yam and usually plentiful, especially where there is a lot of water.  The plant has a large leaf, shaped like an elephant's ear, and is easy to identify.

Never at any time were we actually hungry, although on occasion the food was a little on the doubtful side!  Sam's choice, of what he called suitable edible local flora, wasn't always a success when cooked!  Often, a decent home cooked meal would have been very welcome and, at times, even bully beef and desert wafers (army biscuits), would have been considered a gourmet meal!  For a couple of days after a food drop we usually ate pretty well but afterwards some of the food often had to be abandoned because of our inability to carry.  To be on the safe side we always made an attempt to hide the leftovers in the unlikely chance of some day having to retrace our steps.

The drop had provided us with a couple of surprises. Bob received some mail from his wife and, we had been sent some chocolate by John Beatty.  We thought it rather strange there was only mail for Bob until he told us he had only arranged for his mail to be sent forward!  Apparently it had been left to the individual to arrange for his own mail to be forwarded.  A peculiar arrangement!  We were not impressed!

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