Chapter 27.


The radio batteries were the original set and had done a marvellous job but were becoming run down and would soon need replacing with the ones I had taken from the Dutch drop.

Next morning we turned out early, had a final look at our engineering feat, the bridge, and were well on the way by eight o'clock.  Our destination was getting a little closer every day and we reckoned that it was about 20 miles away, as the crow flies, though taking into account the hilly country the actual walking distance would be almost twice as far!  If all went well it would be six or seven, very cautious, walking days away.

Since leaving the Dutch party we had made only two minor contacts with the Japs, though we knew they were about, as often an occasional rifle shot was heard usually some distance away, and as long as they weren't shooting at us we were quite happy.

At the next native village, this time situated on top of an extremely high hill and one, thankfully, that had been photographed, a list of requirements was sent to base and next day, to our great relief, the aircraft arrived and did a good job of landing every storepedo in the cleared area, with all of the chutes opening nicely.  At this drop, all six of the chutes were made of silk.  We kept one and gave the rest to the villagers who must have thought it was Christmas with all that cloth!  Cloth of any sort is greatly prized by the natives and coloured cloth most of all.  They do weave their own cloth from a species of tree bark and while it is very durable it lacks the qualities of woven cotton or silk.

(Natives in this area, as well as the natives across the border in Australian New Guinea, do not wear any clothes except for a woven belt with occasionally some fibrous material hanging down the front for the women and for the men a "cok bokis" (cock box), as the policemen called it, secured round the waist with a woven cord.  This box was cut from the stalk end of a locally growing gourd hollowed out and fitted over the penis.  Usually a dilly bag carried over the shoulder completed the outfit with one or two woven bands round the arms.)

This drop had been our most successful and was completed in less than fifteen minutes and, in the next half hour, we had gathered all the goods and cleared out of there after leaving about 20 pounds of rice with the natives as a reward for their help in collecting the stores.

The natives were always present when a drop was imminent.  Though, when the planes came they always ran for the safety of the bush and from their hiding places they watched the storepedoes floating down and by their actions were greatly astonished at the way the parachutes came from the aircraft and opened and floated down slowly.  They would stand there, with mouths open, chattering among themselves, at the way this manna from heaven arrived!  Scared they may have been, but when the planes departed their fright was quickly overcome by the sight of all the goodies contained in the storepedoes and we were forced to keep a sharp lookout to prevent them from absconding with some of the stores.

At a suitable distance away as it was now late in the afternoon we camped and Bob soon had a message ready to go, and with help from Anis, I whipped up the aerial, made contact with base and started transmitting.  Half way through the message I realised I couldn't hear my own Morse signals in the earphones and that meant either the earphones were faulty or the signal wasn't being transmitted.  A quick test proved the earphones okay so obviously something more serious had happened.

What was wrong?  I sent a QSA for signal strength to base.  No answer!  I tried again, but still no answer, and then switched the radio to receive and in a few minutes had a request to repeat all after a certain group.  Obviously they had missed some of the message but apparently were receiving my carrier wave but no signal.  A quick check seemed to prove the radio okay so I switched back to transmit and requested signal strength but still no reply.  By now I was convinced that something serious was amiss with the set and that a look at its innards was justified.

Although the set had been well waterproofed I had always been careful not to allow it to be exposed to the elements and become wet for fear of insulation breakdown in the wiring.  For this reason I had been careful not to remove it from its protective container and was not keen on doing so even now.  Like a waterproof watch, once the back is removed and the seal broken, its resistance to moisture entering is lost and it would be the same with the radio and, in this climate of high rainfall and humidity, I was particularly reluctant to remove the case though it now seemed necessary.

I wasn't at all confident of finding the fault as we had not brought testing equipment or spares, except for the aforementioned peanut valves, and this certainly was not the right environment to start looking for faults in such an intricate piece of equipment as a radio.  However, the screws were removed and the top cover lifted to have a look, in much the same fashion as a motorist who, in a broken down car, raises the bonnet on the off chance that the fault may be obvious.  And it was!  I was lucky!  There the problem was, right before my eyes.  It was the small slave relay that worked in synchronism with the Morse key.  It appeared to have something amiss with its armature and a closer examination revealed a broken return spring ,which kept the armature permanently attracted to the relay core, and consequently it could not follow the key movements thus preventing its contacts from repeating the signals from the Morse key.

Disaster!  What do we do now?  It was an easily repaired fault if a replacement spring had been available, but miniature helical springs like that were only obtainable many hundreds of miles away.  There appeared to be only one possible solution to our predicament.  Transmission by voice.  I knew we could bypass the faulty relay and use voice, but would the signal be strong enough to read?  Morse transmission has a greater range for a variety of reasons but it seemed there was no alternative; it was voice or nothing!

I replaced the cover and told Bob that I would try voice transmission and if unsuccessful would try relocating the aerial to a more suitable position.  I repeated the base callsign, LF, three times and then hopefully switched the set to receive and waited and in quick time I had an answer.  Base must have been puzzled at the switch to voice transmission but sent the letter, K, — go ahead — and amazingly signal strength 4, which I thought was pretty good.  I immediately sent our message using the ABLE, BAKER, CHARLIE, phonetic alphabet and their reply, the letter, R, — message received — came back and I signed off.

A short time later we sent another signal telling of the problem and asked for a spare armature spring, or if none was available a new radio.  Within ten minutes the reply that I had expected came back.  There was neither a spare radio nor armature available and from now on we were to send in voice while they would stick to Morse code.  So, that was the last of our Morse transmissions and voice would have to do the job from now on.  We could only hope that our transmitted signal strength from now on would remain satisfactory.

I was happy enough to use voice transmission.  It had one disadvantage but also an important advantage.  The Nips would realise that the English language transmission was being sent from close by and would try to locate us with their direction finders, if they had any.  However, I felt this was only a minor disadvantage as we could easily increase our chances of not being detected by ensuring transmission time was kept to a minimum and being continually on the move.

The advantage, and a big one at that, was if something happened to me, as long as one of the party were capable of encoding the message — and I knew Bob could — anyone would be able to send it and base could reply by voice.  None of the others were proficient in Morse code, though Bob professed to be, but I very much doubted if he could send or read a message without a great deal of trouble.

Thankfully, this was another crisis solved.  Lady luck had indeed smiled on us once again and I was grateful that the fault on the set had not been really serious.  If voice transmission had been unsuccessful and we had lost the means of communication with base the existence of the operation would have been threatened.  But, now that voice transmission had proved successful I was fairly confident in maintaining contact as long as the location of the aerial was carefully sited and patience used in passing messages.  Transmission from here on, if the maps could be believed, should improve as we were fast approaching less hilly and more open country.

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