Chapter 28.


Next morning we moved on and, after the next hill had been negotiated, began hearing sounds of aircraft in the distance and occasionally one would fly almost directly over our position.  Were they Japanese or American?  Perhaps they were part of the U.S. Task force doing recce flights in preparation for the imminent landing.  Whoever they belonged to would have little chance of detecting our presence as there was plenty of top cover in this heavily timbered country and with the thick undergrowth cutting visibility to only a few yards we were also safe from surprise from enemy patrols. Nevertheless, we still kept an extra sharp lookout and to make doubly sure, always had a couple of policemen in advance of the main party.  If there were anyone about the policemen would know.

We needn't have worried.  There was no sign of the enemy ever having been in this part of the country.  The Nips were very fond of cutting tracks to follow on their patrols and seldom wandered away from the track and we had not seen any of these.  It's rather strange that, farther out we had seen many Japanese patrols but closer in, where we were now, they were absent!  Perhaps we were missing them in the thick undergrowth?  Whatever the reason, we were very thankful.

Not only was there a lack of Nips, but this section seemed to be without natives, or again if they were about, we had not seen any.  The absence of natives was probably due to this section being a much dryer area and the lack of readily available water in the form of creeks and watercourses would prevent the establishment of native gardens.  And, wonder of wonders, there had been a total absence of rain for which we were extremely grateful as it allowed us to partly dry our gear and do some make and mend of equipment that was showing signs of wear.

We had, during the journey from the Idenberg, been puzzled by the lack of animal and bird life and in this area it was almost completely non-existent with only the odd bird and snake in evidence.  Native foods such as sago and taro root was also absent and this was probably the reason natives shunned the region and preferred to live closer to the sea where there was more tucker.

On the 21st April, the long awaited message came and we were warned to expect the U.S. landing within the next few days.  We were also told to move in closer and make our presence known to the Japs without attempting any actual contact but to leave them guessing as to our strength!  In other words, we were to try and convince the Hollandia garrison that they were also in danger of being attacked from their rear!

So, we put on a spurt, relishing the easier, flatter terrain and the lack of steep hills and finally emerged into more open type forest country where the creeks were plentiful and contained good clear drinking water and the edible flora was again in abundance.  (The edible flora was in abundant supply here, but, I stress, this supply would not be apparent to those of us who did not know where to look.  The policemen,

of course, and Bob, to a lesser extent, were all past masters at living off the land but an outsider would very easily go hungry).

In this more friendly (easier travelling) country we were continually coming in contact with natives, and the Nips, and were taking great pains to avoid actual conflict.  The natives were friendly enough but, as they appeared to be in close contact with the enemy, we were not at all sure of their intentions and were not taking any chances.  Some of them were wearing pieces of Japanese clothing and had the occasional Nip cigarette and obviously had been working for the enemy.  And, really, to be fair, who could blame them?  Very likely they didn't find the Japanese any worse than their former Dutch masters!

We had always been cautious when dealing with the native population and now it was time to be doubly careful.  Dodging the Japs and keeping the locals at arms length at the same time was going to be difficult.  Could we trust the locals?  Perhaps they were reporting our movements to the enemy and waiting for us to relax our vigilance before attacking.  We really didn't know! It would not be the first time a small party had been attacked and we knew of a few instances where it had happened in the Mandated Territory and felt that we could easily be in the same predicament if we let our guard down.

Nevertheless, despite the doubts, we thought it would be helpful if the remainder of the stock of beads and parachute cloth, etc was handed over.  The gifts would, we hoped, support the impression that we wished to be friendly and our generosity won instant acclaim from the assembled locals and much argument followed to see how the gifts were to be divided.  Still, despite our friendly overtures, we were determined to keep them at a safe distance and try to prevent them from approaching in any numbers.  This became a job for the constables who had shown they were more than capable of handling almost any situation and had at times demonstrated that they were not averse to using a little force to reinforce their authority.

We also were very careful in not revealing the whereabouts of our camp at night.  This was easier said than done and it was only the policemens' rather robust actions that made sure we weren't followed.

It had become much easier now to augment the rations by raiding the numerous native gardens for bananas and taro root and, this close to the coast palm trees were in abundance and we had the added luxury of dining on the growing tops of the palms — sometimes called "millionaires cabbage" as taking the top meant the death of the tree.  These extra greens were very much welcomed as a change of diet and also proved a godsend because a food drop was out of the question as we were only a few miles from Hollandia.  A drop, at this time and place, would be a dead giveaway and courting disaster.

While reasonably okay for food, we were desperately in need of some new clothing.  All this time without a change had left its mark and we were a pretty ragged lot.  The left leg of my trousers was missing from the knee down and Neville had a big rip in the back of his shirt, which he had tried, unsuccessfully, to mend with some of my cord.  Sam's hat with the snakeskin band was missing and had probably been taken by a hungry village dog and he now wore a grimy piece of parachute cloth round his head as a replacement.  The remainder of our clothes were in a similar woeful state.

Surprisingly, our footwear was still in reasonably good state.  The good old reliable army boots had stood up well to the almost continual wet and muddy conditions although the leather laces had often been replaced with some of my cord.  The U.S. army nylon windcheaters were also in good condition though pretty grimy and badly in need of a good cleaning.  They had been well chosen and were just the thing during rainy weather and in the low misty cloud on top of the higher hills.  We had selected well in those two items.

Bob, experienced in living in this type of country was, when one considered the circumstances, always neatly dressed and had the best and well cared for beard, but for size and length could not begin to match Sam's wild looking growth which was, by far, the most prolific.  I was proud of my effort, as well, but the poor multi-coloured moustache detracted from the overall look, while Neville didn't seem to be able to grow a beard at all.  A few downy hairs under his nose, and a bunch of straggly long hairs on his chin, was his best effort!  But, then he always looked too young to grow a beard!  The police boys were always clean-shaven and put us to shame.  How they managed to shave with the same old blunt safety razor blades was a remarkable feat!

While our clothing had suffered badly we still had almost our full quota of ammunition as there had not been the need to use much and we were well supplied and even had a hand grenade each.  The only other ammo we had used were the shotgun cartridges the policemen had used to shoot pigeons.  I had a feeling though it wouldn't be long before we were using some more!

We moved on, keeping a good lookout, and always with someone, usually a policeman, leading fifty yards ahead of the main party.  Occasionally we would stop and listen intently for a few minutes, as we knew this would pay dividends because, from past experience with Japs, we were aware they were very prone to chattering as they walked on patrol.  A bit like our American allies who patrolled like Brown's cows!

Any day now, we expected to hear the sounds of the U.S. landing and sure enough, very early one morning, while I was on a special radio schedule and the others were sitting talking, we heard the shattering sounds of explosions and gunfire north of our position.  Suddenly the sky was full of aircraft and the sounds of bombing and strafing were coming over loudly and continuously.  Most of the bombing came from the direction we had often heard the sounds of aircraft engines warming up and we guessed the Americans, as their number one priority, were doing their best to put the airstrip out of action.

This was the day we had been waiting for!  The Task Force had landed!  In a few more days we would be able to join the Americans and relax.  It would only be a matter of waiting until all was clear.  How wrong we were!

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