Chapter 33.


Next morning, we decided that it would be much safer if we got out of there and continued on to Hollandia under our own steam.  It was only another ten miles and in this flatter country we would be able to easily do it in a day.  At the radio sked we asked base to alert Hollandia that we expected to arrive either, late that evening, or the next morning.

Much refreshed, after our first good night's sleep for ages, we set off and about midday came to Lake Sentani; a beautiful stretch of lovely clear water backed by low hills on the southern side.  The water looked very inviting and we were certainly in the need of a good wash and brush up so we had a very welcome quick dip, boiled the billy and then continued on the way.

Nearing the coast we met a squad of ten soldiers who had been sent to contact us.  They were a different kettle of fish and looked to be, well-trained regular army soldiers, which made us wonder why the brass, in their wisdom, had sent such a badly trained company of raw troops to Genyem.

We were going to Dempta, a town situated on Humboldt Bay, some 10 miles east of Hollandia.  About two miles from our destination the ten man squad left with the intention of reconnoitring the area directly to the west.  We thought it rather funny, after having successfully navigated through the wilds for the last two months, when the sergeant asked whether we would be able to find our way to Dempta!  Bob assured him we were more than capable.  Nevertheless, the sergeant picked a two striper to act as our guide and we readily accepted the offer thinking we would be able to use him as our contact man when we reached the troops at Dempta.  The scare we had when making contact at Genyem had been sufficient excitement and we weren't keen to repeat the experience.

Rendezvous with the forward troops went smoothly, thanks to our guide, and we were escorted to the main camp and there interviewed by the Colonel.  Unfortunately, I am unable to recall the battalion number, but I do remember they were regular army and appeared to be well behaved and well trained.  The colonel treated us right royally and made sure we got everything we needed.  We even had a beer with him, and although it was only low alcohol U.S. canned beer, it was much appreciated and went down well!  Instead of a tent we were given a, not very clean, native hut for our quarters, which suited us and before leaving, the Colonel asked Bob to come and see him later to talk about the operation.

We were told where to go to get a meal and the Quarter master was asked to supply us with anything we needed in the way of clothes, etc.  We readily accepted the offer of towels and singlets, underpants, etc, plus a blanket each and such luxuries as toothbrushes and toothpaste.  I took the opportunity and asked for a pair of trousers but had to settle for a camouflage suit to replace my torn ones.  Those of us who smoked, stocked up on cigarettes and the policemen were supplied with tobacco, though they weren't keen on the American loose leaf style, which wasn't nearly as good as their stick tobacco.  At meal times we joined the chow line and were suitably amazed at the goodies arranged on tables.  Tobacco, cigarettes, even small cigars, shaving gear and a variety of lollies, plus writing materials were all there for the taking at no charge!  What a difference to our army!

Bob thought it would be a good idea for all of us to see one of the army doctors for a check up.  Neville and myself, and a couple of the police boys, had suffered a lot from malaria we had contracted the year before in the Mandated Territory. Apart from that our health generally was pretty good, which was remarkable considering we had been living for the last two months under the most trying conditions.  We all had a few cuts and scratches, and two had minor wounds that were almost healed but needed a bit of attention.  It wouldn't take us long to get really fit again.

What was needed more than anything else was a really good rest.  Six or seven days with nothing to do but eat and sleep would be very welcome and then we would have to think about the trip back to Australia and a spot of leave.

The operation had taken close to nine weeks and we were all comparatively well cashed up with a goodly amount of money in our paybooks that we had been unable to spend.  It would have been nice to have something to spend at the local U.S. army PX but the paybooks were back in Brisbane.

During operations it was usual for an extra five shillings per day to be added to our pay as 'danger money'.  This extra money made our pay look a little more respectable and was very acceptable though it was unfair that the P.B.I. (Poor Bloody Infantry) didn't also get it!  But, we had received it on other ops and were not about to refuse it this time!

Bob had gone by light plane to Hollandia several days before to make a report to some of the brass so we decided to follow him.  With the help of a ride in an empty army truck we arrived and were quickly provided with a place to stay by the Americans.  We were a little put out that the local 'Z' Special party weren't particularly happy to see us and put it down to professional jealousy!

Obviously nobody had thought about arranging our trip back to Brisbane, which we thought was a pretty poor show.  Bob went to the "Z" C.O. and he very decently arranged a lift for us for the following week.  In the meantime we could just lie around, rest and look at the sights.

Despite all the sounds of bombing and strafing during the landing we could see very little evidence of damage to the town.  A few buildings had been destroyed but a remarkable number were untouched.  A number of cargo ships had been sunk in the harbour and the wharves and harbour sheds had taken a heavy battering; U.S. engineers were hard at work restoring the damage.  We didn't see the airstrip but guessed it would be badly damaged as well.

The P.O.W. compound was about a mile out of town and it came as a surprise to see how few Japanese it contained.  We estimated there was about five hundred, at the most.  The majority of the garrison must have gone bush and headed westward up the coast, to God knows where, before the invasion!  From our own experience we knew they wouldn't last long in that country as there would be precious little to eat and it was about 80 odd miles to the next Japanese garrison.  Most of them would die, but I guess dying would be preferable to being taken prisoner!

The only really decent houses were on the hills at the back of Lake Sentani.  According to the Yanks most of the better buildings had originally belonged to the Dutch governor and some of the other high-ranking government officials.  It wouldn't be long before some of the American brass were in occupation.  The Yanks certainly like their comfort!

We were just putting in time until an aircraft became available and there was nothing to do but wait, laze about and be early for the 'chow' line, as our Allies called mess parade.  And we were certainly amazed at the quantity and variety of the chow that was available.  And the food; turkey, ice cream, pancakes (hot cakes), bacon rashers, orange juice, fruit, etc had us really astonished at the way the other half lived.  Shades of bully beef, rice, sago and army biscuits!

One day, while sitting talking to some Americans, we were approached by a War Correspondent from the ABC who wanted to make a record of our experiences during the operation.  We weren't particularly keen but Bob convinced us that it would be something of interest to our families.  The war correspondent turned out to be none other than Damien Parer, of all people!

Bob declined to take part in the interview, which I thought a little strange since he had been so keen for us to do it, but we went ahead and Parer set up his equipment and asked us lots of questions, all the time recording the answers on tape.  The whole session took about six hours and he said it would be made into a record of about half an hour's duration and would be broadcast in Australia before the month was out.

When the recording was eventually finished he played it back and it was awful and extremely amateurish, to say the least.  But, Parer thought it was excellent and was quite happy with our effort, though I think he was being diplomatic and we came to the conclusion he was not hard to please and told him so but he stuck to his guns, noted our addresses and promised a copy each when we got home.

This had been our third operation in the New Guineas and each one had been tougher than the last.  What next lay in store for us, we wondered?  More New Guinea perhaps?  The way the war was progressing we didn't think so.  Farther to the north-east seemed to be the most likely.

The Sixth and Seventh Divisions were doing all the mopping up and the Japanese were finished in New Guinea except for some small pockets here and there.  As far as the war here was concerned, the Allies would be moving on and our next job could be somewhere in the islands to the north-east.  Perhaps Borneo.

Thus ended a very successful patrol.  It had been a great achievement and we could look back with a great deal of pride on our exploits of the past nine weeks.  Every man in the party had pulled his weight, especially the eight native policemen, whose bushcraft had been invaluable.  They had proved to be 'number one' (one of their favourite expressions) soldiers and had been, collectively, a tower of strength during the operation and deserved a great deal of the credit for its success.

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