Chapter 31.


That night we got to talking about the Japs in the hut. They had plenty of rice, which was puzzling as all the other stragglers had very little.  We were also amazed by their carelessness in not keeping a proper lookout.  Neville, always the thinker, suggested that they may not have come from Hollandia but from farther a field.  Perhaps, he said, they had come from the east, and travelled along the coast from over the border at Vanimo, a little over 30 miles away, and had probably planned to go to Hollandia but had heard the sounds of the landing, had realised what was happening, and made a detour in a southerly direction to bypass the hostilities. When we discovered them they were having a much needed rest before going further westward.  We agreed it was a strong possibility.

Fate had caught up with them when they found the old hut and decided to rest awhile before continuing their trek westward.  They would have expected the area to be safe from attack this far south and had obviously become careless and because of this carelessness had paid the supreme penalty.

Once we knew they were in the hut their fate had been decided and they never had a chance to withstand our attack.  We had shown them no mercy.  We may have been feeling guilty about the outright slaughter but, what else could we have done?  We could have bypassed the hut and let them go on their way — perhaps to fight and kill some of our own soldiers at a later time —  or we could have attempted to disarm them and taken prisoners, but this was a risk we were not prepared, or able, to take.  Unnecessary killing?  I don't think so, and on reflection, I think we did the right thing.

A few days before we had been told on the radio that the Americans had occupied Genyem — a village 15 miles from Hollandia and only a few miles north of our present position. During our talk Bob said that as we were close to the U.S. troops now seemed to be a good time to make an attempt to contact them and next day we should advise base of our intentions and slowly make our way northwards.  Our operation was clearly finished.  At least it was ended as far as gathering information was concerned.  In this part of the world the war had clearly been won and the enemy routed.

Off we went next morning, a little excited, but still keeping a good lookout.  This area was only lightly timbered but the low shrubby undergrowth reduced visibility to about twenty yards or so.  Sam and I were used to taking the lead in the mornings and Bob and Neville in the afternoons and I was walking slowly, just in advance of Sam, and my pack was feeling unduly heavy.  We'd had a big day the day before and were pretty tired and some of us were recovering from our latest malarial attack — a disability we had picked up earlier in other places — and consequently did not have our minds completely on the job.  My lethargy, however, quickly left me with a rush for on entering a small clearing I saw before me a lone Nip perched on a rock about twenty yards ahead, obviously having a rest.  He saw me and reached down for his rifle, which was propped against the rock.

My reflexes have always been quick and my Owen was cocked ready to fire.  From the hip I aimed and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened!  A misfire!  Unheard of in an Owen gun!

I recocked and tried again.  Still no luck, and as I was about to dive for cover, there was a blast over my left shoulder and the Jap, just as he was aiming his rifle, fell to the ground.  It was good old, dead-eye Sam, come to the rescue with his trusty carbine.  Thank goodness, and may God bless you Sam!

I've often thought about that Jap and the misfire.  Here I was standing, momentarily frozen — very momentarily I can assure you as fear can give my reflexes that bit of extra speed when needed — to the spot, with a weapon that wouldn't fire, utterly defenceless, or thought I was!  In the heat of the moment I had completely forgotten my Luger in the shoulder holster!  What would have happened if Sam hadn't been there?

That same morning, after changing the magazine and firing a couple of rounds to see if everything functioned properly, we was again sneaking quietly along, now keeping a good lookout, when suddenly a Jap popped up on my right no more than 6 or 7 yards away.  He fired his rifle — I heard the report just before the Owen began to rattle — but he must have been a bad shot as he missed.  Fortunately for me, being left-handed, my Owen was under my left arm and it was a natural movement for me to pivot and fire.  This time the Owen didn't fail me.  More by good luck than good shooting my burst of four rounds caught him in the face and that was another one!

By now I was thinking that this wasn't one of my best days and was hoping for a little less excitement to keep my nerves under control.  Two near misses in a couple of hours was enough for me!

In the afternoon Bob and Neville took the lead.  A most welcome move, I thought!  So Neville went ahead.  Sam was a little put out as he loved to lead because it gave him the opportunity to get first crack at any Jap, who might be silly enough, to cross his path.  By the end of that day we got six more Nips.  Neville, with a very clever manoeuvre, got four in one group and Sam got a couple.

I know this may sound like shooting kangaroos but you can be assured it was much more risky than that!  These fellows were armed and could shoot back.  It was, them or us!

Why didn't we take them prisoner?  A good question!  Perhaps we could have, assuming of course, they were prepared to surrender, and they most certainly were not!  We, so few in number, were taking enough risks as it was and had been very lucky to have escaped without any serious wounds and the thought of, at this time, having about 40 odd Japs in tow was quite out of the question.  We had seen, at other times, the things Japanese prisoners could do to the unwary and were determined it was not going to happen to us.  Our complement of twelve men was not nearly large enough to guard them without risking our safety and we couldn't provide them with food as we had barely enough for our own needs.

It was tough on them, but that's the fortunes of war.  They would have done the same to us given the opportunity.  Keeping them captive was a risk we were most certainly not prepared to take!  Bad luck for them!

Looking back, after all these years, I realise that most, if not all, the Japs we killed in those last few days of the operation, probably would have died anyway, of starvation or sickness, in the following weeks.  There was no help and precious little food for them in that wild country and taking the long view, perhaps we could have tried to dodge them and saved our ammo!

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