Merauke is situated on the southern coast of the island of New Guinea and is approximately 40 miles due west of the Papuan/Dutch New Guinea border.  It lies at the mouth (delta) of the Merauke River which flows into the Arafura Sea and is some 250 miles north west of the tip of Cape York and before the advent of hostilities, it had been a minor Dutch settlement.

The cluster of olive green tents we saw from the air was indeed the Dutch army camp and this was where we were to stay until ready to depart farther a field.  The tents were on a square and level strip of red ground covering a couple of acres.  On the northern side of the camp, a small creek running along the edge of a series of low hills, was filled with clear water — rather unusual we thought, as all the other small streams were carrying the muddy overflow from the river. This streamlet was apparently fed by a spring from the hill side and provided water which was pumped to an elevated tank in the middle of the camp.  The stream eventually made its way to one of the numerous other waterways that made up the delta and to prevent backflow of the muddy water a weir, made of rocks and cement, had been constructed on the western side of the campsite.

Our welcome was rather less than cordial and we were a little disconcerted by the cool reception we got from the Dutch commandant but put it down to the Dutch, well known, arrogant nature.  Nevertheless we were given three, eight man, tents close to the high tank and adjacent to, what they were pleased to call, the ablutions area and were then escorted to the camp mess and given a good hot meal which was very much appreciated.  After the meal, and feeling much better, we returned to the tents and found them, on closer inspection, to be in a bad state, with the ground underfoot very wet and messy.  Apparently though, and we were pleased to see, the former occupants had liked their comfort as the tents were provided with good types of canvas stretchers which would keep us off the damp and muddy ground.  We were particularly grateful for this small piece of refinement in these otherwise extremely rough living conditions.  Earlier there must have been quite a large concentration of troops in this area, as indicated by the number of tents, but now only a few of them were in use and they were occupied by Malays, who appeared to be policemen of sorts.  Along the southern edge of the camp, next to the main administration buildings, were half a dozen better looking tents being used by a sprinkling of Dutch servicemen, all O.R.s.  After introducing ourselves we found them friendly and quite helpful and almost all bilingual with a good grip of English.

Neville, Sam and myself took one of the tents and the policemen had the other two.  Capt. Miller and his two signallers were apparently given quarters elsewhere and quite obviously were more acceptable to the Dutch than our lot.

Our trip had been comfortable, but the meals during the flight had naturally been pretty ordinary and we had been ravenous and really appreciated the nice hot meal and were now looking forward to a good sleep.  First thing to do was to get some semblance of order in the tent and we were wondering how to protect our belongings and keep them off the muddy ground until Neville — clever lad — came up with the suggestion that we commandeer a couple of stretchers from a vacant tent to pile our gear on.

Without waiting to ask permission we quickly grabbed a couple of the stretchers and piled all the gear on them and were ready to turn in, fully clothed but, minus boots.  There weren't any blankets or other bedding materials provided, just the stretchers!  Not that their absence was a problem as we had been in the army long enough to become used to this lack of those small refinements usually found in a family bedroom! Indeed, sleeping on a stretcher was an unheard of luxury!

By this time it was rapidly becoming dark and we were in a hurry to turn in before the daylight was completely gone.  In this part of the world once the sun dips below the horizon the light is gone, there being very little twilight, and except for our torches we had no other means of illumination.

Unfortunately, to finish a very ordinary day, just as we settled down, a storm that had been promising all afternoon, decided to let the heavens open and we were deluged with water from the leaking roof and the ground beneath us was flooded.  We spent a pretty uncomfortable half hour in almost total darkness, broken only by frequent flashes of lightning, huddled on the stretchers, soaked to the skin, waiting for the storm to finish.  Like most tropical storms it was of short duration and we were left with a sodden mess of gear although, thanks to our extra precautions, the important stuff escaped most of the deluge.  The stretchers we were using as beds, unlike the tent, proved to be waterproof and very efficiently collected and held the water that came through the roof and had to be turned upside down to drain after the storm abated. It was a bad start but, despite the soaking, we were tired enough to get to sleep and have a reasonable night's rest. The evening was probably an indication of things to come!

To Chapter 6 ->