Back, once again, to Brisbane and on March 17th, 1944, on an early sunny morning, we left our comfortable headquarters at "Kirkston" (a lovely old three story home at Lutwyche, high on a hill just before what was then, the Grange tramline turn-off) and were taken by a motor launch to a spot just off the mouth of the Brisbane River where we boarded a Royal Dutch Air Force Catalina for our trip to Merauke, Dutch New Guinea.  We were accompanied by Capt. John Millar and two radiomen of AIB who were to set up a base camp on the Idenberg River and relay our signal traffic to Merauke and to ALAMO FORCE (U.S.) at Finschafen.

The aircraft was pretty crowded with our twelve, and Millar and his offsiders, but the Dutch crew were very helpful and went out of their way to make us as comfortable as the limited space would allow.  We were assured that our extra weight was, not a problem, as the aircraft was not carrying any bombs on this trip, although she still carried a full, most impressive, complement of weapons.

Our experience of Catalinas was limited to the occasion we had been hastily evacuated from a Mosstroops perimeter on the Sepik River just before the Japs arrived in force. During this drawn out operation all supplies had been brought in by the Cats landing on the river; in itself no mean feat, considering the amount of floating debris being carried along by the swift current, not to mention the crocodiles!

We had, during that operation, had the misfortune to be strafed by a friendly (?) U.S. Catalina — I can still remember it was number 34 — and I had been astounded by its fire-power even though in three passes, from a height of about 150 feet, it failed to hit anything but trees!  It was a nasty and unforgettable incident!

The Catalina — a very efficient aircraft — is U.S. built and designated as a Flying Boat, or PBY, and is a Patrol Bomber.  It has a wingspan of 104ft and a hull length of 65ft and normally carries a crew of eight and 4000 lbs. of bombs and is powered with two Pratt and Whitney radial engines each of 1200 h.p.  It is a true amphibian though normally it uses its body for takeoff and landing on water but, if the occasion arises, can use its wheels and make a ground landing.

It is very comfortable and reliable and renowned for the ability to stay in the air for long periods — as much as 20 hours!  However, the aircraft is not noted for its speed and cruises around the 100 knot mark so our journey was going to be rather long and tiring and altogether the distance travelled would be in the vicinity of 1800 miles and by the end of the trip we would be happy to reach Merauke, two days later, and stretch our legs.

Our first stop would be at Townsville — about half way to Merauke — for an overnight stay and then the final hop next day of another 900 miles to our destination.

We arrived at Townsville just as darkness was setting in and were rather surprised to see a rather poor attempt at a blackout although the docks area was darkened.  Evidently they weren't expecting any air raids.  We were taken ashore by launch and provided with bunks and a good hot meal at an army establishment in the docks area and next morning — the 19th. — were taken back to the aircraft, where the crew, having spent the night on board, already had the engines turning over ready for take off on the leg to Merauke.

This was a new experience for our native constables. They had come to Brisbane by ship and flying was a real adventure for them.  For the first part of the trip they were very quiet but once settled down became more adventurous and really enjoyed themselves, although it was still a while before they could be induced to look out from the side blisters!  There was much talk among them about the wonders of flying and how they would be able to impress their friends and fellow policemen about their journey in the "balus belong guvman" (government bird) when they returned.

Late in the afternoon, the aircraft arrived at Merauke and landed on the river.  From the air on the way in we had a good view of the area and it was not an impressive sight.  Merauke appeared to be just a small village, built on a series of mud flats, with several European style houses, which we correctly assumed belonged to the Dutch administration, and some native huts.  Another mile farther inland, away from the swampy area, we could see a few rows of army tents which turned out to be our destination.

To Chapter 5 ->