Chapter 32.


We could hear and see that the Americans were very rapidly taking over.  Aircraft were plentiful and all those we saw had U.S. markings.  The sounds of fighting had just about ceased except for some sporadic gunfire and what sounded like the odd mortar explosion from about 2 miles ahead.

The last eight hours had not produced any contact with enemy soldiers and it came as a surprise when we found three .303 Lee Enfield rifles lying on the ground to the left of a well-worn track.  Examination showed they all had full, or nearly full, magazines and were in pretty good condition.  Goodness only knows where they came from and how they got there, as obviously they were rifles belonging to our army.  Had they come from Aitape or Wewak or points further east?  We would never know!  To make sure they would not be used the bolts were removed and thrown into thick undergrowth much to the dismay of the constables who would have dearly loved to own them!  Perhaps, in the years ahead, someone would find and wonder where they came from.

We were close enough now to try to make contact with the U.S. forces at Genyem.  After a short discussion it was decided that it would be a good idea to send a couple of the police boys ahead to make contact.  We reasoned that the, "quick on the trigger", Yanks would be less inclined to shoot up a couple of natives than a couple of white men.  Anis, because he spoke reasonable English, with the boss boy, Yaru, as the other one, seemed to be the best pair to go.  But, not right away.  First they were to reconnoitre in the direction of the firing and to remain under cover and not make contact, and to report back as soon as possible.

It seemed a good idea and we decided the boys would go next morning, all being well.  After making camp for the afternoon, Sam and Bob with three policemen, went back to a nearby creek, for a well needed clean up, a couple of hundred yards away.  The rest of us were to wait our turn and go when they came back.

Within minutes we heard gunfire from the direction they had gone.  Neville, and the rest of the police, went quickly to investigate while I stayed behind to guard the camp.  The shooting was of short duration and within ten minutes they were all back at the camp.  Sam was waving an officer's sword and had a bag full of paper money which, of course, turned out to be worthless invasion stuff and we reckoned he must have killed another paymaster!  He said he was going to sell the sword to the first Yank he met!  Neville also had scored one of the Japanese army imitation Lugers.

Bob said they had surprised a group of four Japanese soldiers having a swim, without a guard of any sort and they had paid the maximum price for their carelessness!

Of course, once again, they were sitting ducks!  They had attempted to get to their rifles but only one had succeeded and they were all killed. That brought our tally to 52 without loss to ourselves. Neville, who had been hit with a splinter of rock from a ricochet, and Wunias, who had been nicked the day before, with a graze on the left arm, were our only minor casualties.

That encounter put the finish to the idea of having a clean up and the gear was hurriedly gathered and camp shifted about a quarter of a mile away.  You can see that we were always careful and very mindful of doing the right thing for our own protection, which was something the enemy did not appear to practice, to their own undoing!  A quarter of a mile doesn't sound very far, but in the patch of densely timbered country we picked, it was a good safe distance.  My radio message reporting our daily activities, and what we proposed to do the next day, was quickly sent and the rest of the night was ours.  A safe camp it may have been, but we still kept a couple of guards out all night!

Morning came and a bright sunny day looked in the offing and after a quick meal Bob sent the two policemen on their way with instructions to be back early in the afternoon.  In the event they met any Japs, Yaru carried an Owen and Anis a carbine.  We had no worries; they were two very reliable policemen and would do the job.

About 2pm they returned, all smiles, and reported there was a U.S. forward post, a little over a mile to the north, manned by two soldiers.  The post was some 50 yards in the bush ahead of a perimeter defence in a largish village clearing and we reckoned it had to be the one on our map named Genyem.  If this was correct, there was still some 10 miles to the coast and from there, about 10 miles east to Hollandia.

The boys said there seemed to be a lot of soldiers and native houses in the perimeter.  We thought it could be a company or even a battalion of Americans.

So, early next day, with Yaru and Anis in the lead, we warily approached the forward post and when within one hundred yards the two boys went up alone.  We had decided that they should not carry any weapons and wear just a pair of shorts to try and give the impression that they were local natives.  If, and when, they were allowed to approach the forward post they could then, speaking in English, tell the Americans of the rest of our party waiting to make contact.  Bob had given Yaru his army slouch hat to show, reasoning that most Americans would instantly recognise it as Australian.

Anis said later that it was touch and go whether they were going to be shot out of hand and it was only his good command of English that finally convinced the lookouts they were friends, and not Japs.  He showed them Bob's hat but it didn't help any, and when he revealed that there were more of us in the bush ready to come forward they decided this was a job for an officer and one of them ran back to the perimeter.  In quick time, a Major and another officer plus a squad of ten men approached the forward post.  Anis said it was plain to see they feared some sort of a trap and were not about to take any chances as they were armed to the teeth.

The sergeant called out to us to come forward and leave our weapons behind.  Needing no second bidding we quickly dumped our weapons and packs and moved out in single file, taking good care not to make any moves that may have been construed as unfriendly.  We were quickly surrounded by the squad who made a great show of menacing us with their weapons and who appeared very nervous, and trigger-happy.  

Speaking for myself, I was terrified and thought this was by far the scariest moment of the whole operation and I could see that the others were feeling the same way.  The soldiers, who seemed very young and barely out of their teens, were excited and almost out of control and it took some stern words from the Major, who along with the sergeant was quite a bit older, to calm them enough for us to explain our existence.  Until he got his troops under control I was fully expecting we would be gunned down at any moment.  A frightening experience indeed!

We had assumed, and rightly so, that any of the forward troops would have been advised to be on the lookout for an Allied patrol.  Not a bit of it, they knew nothing at all and as far as they were concerned anything on two legs in this area would be either Japanese, to be shot at, or natives to be treated with caution!

But, once we had convinced them we were on their side and were 'dinkum' Aussies we were greeted with open arms and treated right royally.

After collecting our gear we were escorted back to the perimeter and once there were immediately surrounded by a mob, all pushing and shoving for position to get a good look at us.  The whole thing was becoming rather embarrassing until Bob asked the Major to call his troops off and allow us to settle down and give us a position in the perimeter where we would be able to relax for a while.  We were taken to the centre and given a place next to the radio operator and the Major's slit trench and here the major and his officers proceeded to ask questions about the operation.  They wanted to know where we had been and how we had got there in the first place; what had we been doing and how long had we been in the area and, of course, a typically American question; how many Japs had we killed?  When told we had been there for a couple of months and had been doing intelligence gathering for their task force they were most impressed and full of admiration and not to disappoint them we bunged it on a little.

Just the same, and despite their admiration, we were annoyed that these forward troops had not been warned of our existence.  It seemed doubly strange that, although we were inserted into the area at the request of the Americans, this forward company had not been notified.  A typical army mess up.  Someone had slipped up!

It was apparent that this company of soldiers were not regular army and had only been out from the States for a few weeks and were as green as grass.  They seemed to be ill disciplined and pretty much at a loss in these surroundings and would have been sitting ducks for the Japs had there been any about.

Fortunately, they had nothing to fear because we knew most of the enemy, except for a few possible stragglers, had been long gone to the west.

They had been out of contact with their HQ battalion for some days because of the failure of their peddle radio and the Major, seeing our radio, asked Bob whether I could try and get in touch with their HQ.

Why they hadn't sent a runner back before this was beyond me.  Though very likely they didn't know the way!  I suggested to Bob that perhaps if we sent the message to Miller he could send it on to Finschafen and they could relay it to the task force.

We did much better than that.  Base, from the day after the landing, had a daily schedule with a "Z" Special unit attached to the task force at Hollandia and from then on I passed quite a few messages through them.  The major was most impressed with our radio and asked if it was made in the U.S.  I was happy to tell him it was made in Australia!

That night we settled down, safe and sound, in the centre of the perimeter.  The troops had dug slit trenches for us and had even constructed a shelter from groundsheets to protect us from the rain!  It felt good to know that we were finally in safe hands and didn't have to worry about the Nips, or post sentries.  Our hosts fed us well and we were more than ready for a good night's sleep, at long last!

Wrong again! 

We had just settled down for the night after having a yarn with some of the Americans.  Most of them came from the state of Georgia and had not been prepared or trained for action in this wild country.  They were nice young fellows, though a little too brash and sure of themselves for their own good and had a lot to learn.  We hoped, for their sakes, they wouldn't have contact with the enemy before they had a lot more experience!

And then it happened.  It had just gone 9pm when, suddenly, there was a burst of firing from the forward post and within a few moments it seemed everyone in the perimeter was up and shooting!

Nobody seemed to know what they were shooting at but that didn't seem to matter!  We kept our heads well down, and it was a good move because, incredibly, some of them were even shooting across the perimeter!

Finally, there were shouts to cease fire from the officers and things quietened down and slowly returned to normal.  We were told later that the forward post had reported they had seen what they thought were Japanese in the trees and began shooting.

Shooting at shadows probably!  Privately we thought they were an ill disciplined mob and the officers appeared to have little control.  Next day we were proven correct when just on midday, as we were enjoying a meal of U.S. rations, someone in the forward post called out that they could see a Jap in the trees.  About a dozen soldiers (?) immediately rushed helter-skelter from the perimeter and headed for the scrub shouting they were "gonna get me a Jap."

They didn't get one and finally came straggling back to the perimeter like a lot of Brown's cows!  We were surprised that they hadn't shot one another!

Next thing, to our amazement, they set up a mortar and started firing indiscriminately into the scrub for about 10 minutes.  God only knows what they hoped to hit!  We were not impressed!

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