Lt. R.R.(Bob) Cole was appointed as leader of our party.  Bob was the obvious choice as he was a former New Guinea patrol officer and thus a man who had extensive experience of the native population and who would be at home in the type of country that would be encountered during the operation.

The other members of the party were :-

Sgt. A.N. (Neville) Dening.

Sgt. M.G. (Spike) Berrie

Cpl. A.J. (Sam) Lulofs

and eight New Guinea native policemen whose names appear further on in the story.

Here is a little personal history of each of us:-

Bob, our leader, though slightly stand-offish at times and a little abrupt but a good bloke, was born in the year 1914 and was the second oldest.  He was about 5ft. eight inches tall and very fit and had enlisted from New Guinea at the start of hostilities, joined the A.I.F. 6th. Division, and his unit had been lucky enough to go to Gt. Britain for a time and then return to the Middle East.  Eventually he returned to Australia in the early months of 1942 and from there was seconded to A.N.G.A.U. (Australian & New Guinea Administrative Unit) and eventually joined up with F.E.L.O.

Yours truly, a quarter of an inch over six feet in height and a little on the thin side; the son of a grazier from a property in south-west Queensland, and aged 22 years, enlisted in the A.I.F. 7th. Division, and went to the Middle East in the middle of 1940 and returned home to Australia in March 1942.  From there to New Guinea.  My unit took a bit of a caning at Sanananda and was disbanded shortly afterwards and later I was lucky enough to be asked to join F.E.L.O.

Neville, always the pink cheeked boy, who came from the small town of Texas not far from the N.S.W. border, was then a little over 19 years of age and about 5ft. 10 in height. He also went to the Middle East with the 2/33rd. Infantry Battalion, and returned in 1942.  He transferred to F.E.L.O. at about the same time as I did.

Sam, about the same height as Neville, but much heavier, was born in 1904 and joined the 2/5th. Independent Company (Commandos) and saw service in New Guinea around the Markham Valley early in the war and from there was seconded to F.E.L.O.  He was born in Sumatra of Dutch parents and migrated to Australia before the war and became naturalised.  He was fluent in the Dutch and Malay languages and was our resident linguist.  He still had quite a trace of Dutch accent but had acquired a good command of the English language even though he had some difficulty in correctly pronouncing w's and r's!

As stated earlier we had all not long returned from an operation named "Mosstroops" on the Sepik River, inland from Wewak.  This was an operation run by ANGAU and it had been a difficult mission in particularly rugged country from which we had been hurriedly evacuated on the day before Xmas Eve, 1943.  It was here that we met Bob who had been patrolling for FELO in this area.

During our stay with Mosstroops we had offended the Japanese troops in the area by killing a few and they had decided we were a nuisance and had to go, and after a few more minor scuffles, we took the hint and beat a hasty withdrawal, courtesy of a U.S. Catalina aircraft.

So, Bob was the leader; Neville, second in charge and, Sam, the linguist and general dogsbody.

Yours truly, having had considerable radio experience in the M.E. and N.G., was saddled with the radio duties; worse luck!  I would have preferred any other job, but, if this was the only means of being part of the operation I was prepared to take the job, although it would be accompanied with a little grumbling from time to time.

(A few words about the problems met by wireless operators, as they were called fifty years ago, would not go amiss at this point.  Looking back now, and seeing the great advances radio telephony has made over the intervening years, I think we did remarkably well at our trade considering the drawbacks in design and circuitry of those days.  Instead of the present day extremely reliable and rugged solid state miniature transistorised circuits we were cursed with a set full of thermionic valves which were not only cumbersome and very fragile but were prone to give up the ghost at the most inopportune moments!  They were delicate and bulky and needed to be treated carefully.  Every component was built on a much grander scale, especially the power supplies which, due to the heavier power demand by the valves, were a load on their own and consequently much more difficult to transport.

Communication posed many more problems those days. Not only were the radios less efficient and lacking the refinements of the modern sets, such as frequency control, small power drain, ease of operation, greater range etc., they required a greater backup of spare parts and a lot more patience to establish and maintain contact.

Being saddled with the radio was a disappointment. I was well aware that this assignment would be a particularly demanding, thankless and onerous job and having already completed a little over three years of radio work in the army I had been looking for a welcome change.  My time as a radio operator gunner in a tank in the Middle East had particularly soured me towards more of the same and then having to carry a small radio as an infantry man in the Buna, Sanananda campaign, completely erased what little enthusiasm that remained. I could write a large book about the trials and tribulations of the radio operator, the favourite whipping boy when things go wrong!  It would make interesting reading!  There are forever problems, no matter how well things are going, and the operator is always working, either sending, encoding or decoding messages when the others are relaxing.  A very similar situation exists nowadays when a married couple both go to work.  At the end of the working day they arrive home and he gets his feet up and relaxes while she has to keep going and prepare the evening meal!  Like the operator her work is never finished as there is always something crying out loudly for attention!)

The rest of the party were native police constables from New Guinea.  These policemen were from the top half of the island — New Guinea — which in those days was not to be confused with the bottom half — Papua.  New Guinea policemen tended to look down on the Papuans and often referred to them as "allsame Mari" (women) because of one of their habits of bleaching or colouring their hair.

The native policemen were:-

No.2434    YARU     District  MANUS

No.2433    ANIS         "     MADANG

No.2780    ARAM         "     WEWAK

No.3018    KAKI         "     BOUGAINVILLE

No.2790    WUNIAS       "     WEWAK

No.2451    SABI         "     MADANG

No.2788    SABOKINYA    "     WEWAK

No.2446    WONGE        "     MADANG.

They were all good soldiers and experienced policemen and very dependable.  Three of them, Anis, Wongi and Sabi had been with us on the Sepik.  The other three were well known to Bob and had been with FELO for some time and jumped at the chance for a bit of action.  Of course they all spoke pidgin English and some were easy to understand, and some not so easy.  Wongi, who appeared the eldest, had a nasty habit of talking with his pipe in his mouth and, to me, was well nigh unintelligible though the other policemen didn't seem to have any difficulty in understanding him!  Anis spoke pretty good English and even kept a diary.  He had been to mission school and most of the time was with me and often acted as a welcome interpreter!

Before leaving Brisbane we had been informed that the Dutch administration was most unhappy we intended taking New Guinea native policemen into their territory, but we were determined that they should accompany us as they were very important members of the party.  We had believed their reasons for not wanting to accept the policemen had been cleared up before our departure for Merauke.  As it turned out we were wrong, as you will read later.

Apparently Commander Proud, had insisted that the policemen go, or nobody would go, and that had settled the matter. 

Before leaving Brisbane we were granted a short leave of a few days and then spent several interesting weeks at the Canungra Jungle Training Centre involved in some intensive jungle training.  This was an exercise in which we thought we were already fairly competent, but that's the army way of doing things!

Canungra proved to be similar to a lot of New Guinea but lacked the rainfall and consequently it was somewhat easier to get about.  Not nearly as much mud or mosquitoes!  As "old hands" we had a good time there and found it a much kinder climate than the northern half of New Guinea. 

From Canungra we were taken to Fraser Island — the largest sand island in the world — situated off the coast of Maryborough — to the "Z" Special Unit training camp and were given a quick course in small boat work, demolitions, small arms training and the Malay language.  Mastering languages, even at school, had always been my weakness and while the others picked up the language quickly — and at that I guess we were taught only the simple stuff — yours truly, never the linguist, failed dismally!  Fortunately, there wasn't a test at the completion of the course to reveal my shortcomings and Sam, of course, showed us all up, including the teacher!

To Chapter 4 ->