And so it was on the 20th March, 1944, when all plans had been finalised and all needs satisfied we were flown with Millar and his team, again by Dutch Catalina, to an in-land camp, north of the central mountains, on the Idenberg River.  Here, a Dutch army officer, Capt. Van Eichoud, had already established a base camp for forward operations.  The camp was situated on the north bank, where the river by virtue of a bend, formed a sort of a backwater and an ideal place for the Catalina to drop anchor in the relatively still water away from the fast flowing main stream.

Capt. Millar and his two radio operators, Tas Bailey and Jeff Atkins, were also offloaded and wasted no time in setting up the link station.  Tas Bailey, as the nickname indicates, hailed from Tasmania and Atkins from South Australia. Bailey was an old N.G. hand and obviously was very competent and used to radio work in the wilds having been engaged as a radio operator with A.I.B. on an operation behind Wewak early in 1943.  Their gear was impressive.  A large collapsible table, three canvas chairs and folding bunks were erected in a sizable green tent and the radio equipment installed on the table.  From what I had seen of the Coast Watchers radios it seemed to be a similar outfit and was quite bulky and made our small radio look insignificant.  If the camp was under attack, though this would be highly unlikely, the set would have to be abandoned or wrecked as it was much too large to carry away.

Power for the radio was provided by wet batteries and a charging arrangement in the shape of a small portable petrol Briggs and Stratton motor was supplied to keep them charged.  Because of the necessity of keeping a 24 hour watch, the radio had, as one of its components, a separate speaker. A speaker is preferred to earphones in this case as the operator, as long as he remains in earshot, is not tethered to the radio as he would be if using earphones and can easily hear incoming callsigns when engaged in other duties.

When everything was installed, and contact made with Merauke, I suggested to the operators that I would like to do away with the figure in front of the call sign.  They agreed it was a nuisance and were happy to omit the numeral but were against reversing the callsigns and I had to be satisfied with the shortened versions and was not overly put out with their refusal to reverse them.

This base camp was ideally situated in very heavy jungle country alongside the river, a large, fast flowing stream very much like the Sepik, but flowing in the opposite direction, to the northwest.  It empties into the South Pacific Ocean at Tandjung (Cape) D'Urville and, like the Sepik, is subject to frequent flooding.  It is bordered on both banks by very thick jungle growth and for the most part flows through very hilly and rugged country.  At this point the river was about 60 yards wide and ideal for landing a Catalina provided the pilot made a preliminary sweep to detect floating objects in the water.  After landing it was only necessary to taxi round the bend into comparatively still water.

It certainly was a safe camp, being well concealed from any searching aircraft by the overhanging canopy of tree branches and was much too far inland to be worried by the Japs and was really only accessible by aircraft, such as Catalinas, able to land on water.

Our first task was to gather more of the available information about the type of country and the route we were likely to take on the patrol from maps that Van Eichoud possessed.  He was much more obliging and helpful than his mates at Merauke — thank goodness — but the information was sketchy and, more or less, identical with the maps we already had. Most of the area ahead was stamped on the map as — RELIEF DATA INCOMPLETE — which indicated it was largely unexplored.  Although it was pleasing to see that included in this unexplored wilderness were several small, named, native villages close to our proposed route.

The actual distance we were being asked to cover appeared to be not much more than seventy or eighty miles as the crow flies but, as the AIF soldiers had found on the Kokoda Track, we weren't crows and therefore lacked the gift of flight!  In this type of country, where one row of hills follows another in quick succession, seemingly forever, the actual distance straight across, from one hilltop to the next, is relatively small and appears to be only little more than a stone's throw away.  But, when the attempt is made to cover the distance on foot, it quite often turns out to be a day's march, and an extremely difficult one, especially when it is raining and the ground underfoot is muddy!  One has to be very fit to travel in this country.  Still, it was nothing new and we were well aware of these difficulties and all pretty fit and barring accidents thought we would be able to handle the terrain okay.

The next job was to re-pack the gear.  The hills, mostly, would be two to four thousand feet above sea level and every pound weight would count on the days ahead.  Only items absolutely essential to success could be carried.  On these operations the temptation to pack small, non-essential, items is strong and this is where self control and previous experience comes in and the decision is made to leave such items behind.  We were always warned that unnecessary and valuable articles should not be carried but left behind in a safe place.  To this end, and before leaving HQ, it was required to make a list of all personal possessions left behind on a form titled:  INVENTORY OF PERSONAL EFFECTS —  which gave a list of the articles and followed with the words:

The following is an inventory of the personal effects of the late —  Joseph Blow; QX 11111; Sgt. FELO.

This was done in case of the death of the operative so that the belongings were then returned to the next of kin.

Every serviceman is well aware that arms and ammo become extremely heavy, especially in hilly country.  But as they were a necessity, even though we had been advised to avoid contact with the enemy at all times, other items had to be reduced to a bare minimum.  On this patrol we would be continually moving and would not, at any time have a permanent camp, so everything would have to be carried on our backs.  It only takes a couple of days march, with a too heavy pack, to convince one that some items carried are not really necessary!

Food.  Food for the constables would be bully beef and rice and included in their pack was stick tobacco and newspaper for rolling — an important item.  They preferred this to our compo rations and I must admit that sometimes their food appealed to me more than ours.  The only good thing about our rations was that they provided, as well as food, items like cigarettes, tea, chewing gum, army chocolate and small toilet articles such as razor blades and tooth powder.  The razor blades were always handy but I did not have any intention of using them for shaving having made up my mind to grow a beard for the duration.

For cooking we had been supplied with a nest of American billy cans, the biggest one holding about one gallon of water though we did not anticipate having to cook much on this trip except perhaps rice and the occasional native vegetables such as taro.  We each carried the issue Australian army mess tins with the folding handle and these could be also used to boil water and cook in, if necessary.

Arms and ammo, first aid kit, tinned wax matches, compass, a U.S. army poncho and hammock each, all to be carried, meant we would be well loaded.  Excess baggage such as cameras, extra clothing, toiletries etc, were not even considered.  We had to be ruthless and leave such things behind. And, most importantly, items that could cause identification such as paybooks and diaries had to be left in Brisbane for safekeeping.

We all had a choice of weapons; the main ones being either a .30 calibre U.S. carbine or Owen gun.  Someone had suggested a Thompson would be worth taking but that advice was ignored.  Sure, the Thompson had a greater hitting power but its lack of reliability, ungainliness and the extra weight of the larger calibre ammunition meant it could not compete with the Owen.  I'd had a bit to do with Americans, and their much talked about Thompsons, and the way they used (wasted ?) ammo meant they really needed a mule train following to keep up the supply!

The carbine was a different kettle of fish and looked very attractive and had the additional advantage of being light with a fifteen round magazine, and semi-automatic action. The Owen, with the iron skeleton butt, was around the same weight, and with the magazine fully loaded, just a little heavier but just as easy to carry.  Personally I thought the Owen was the more reliable and robust of the two and I chose it because I knew its worth.  The carbine had the advantage of a longer range and was also easy to carry but, in the type of country we were anticipating, a weapon with an effective range of, at the most 50 yards, would do the job.  Very rarely does one encounter any greater distances of clear view in heavy jungle.  Neville and Sam also preferred Owens while Bob decided on the carbine.  The native constables were to carry carbines and not their usual .303 rifles.  A spare Owen and Carbine and two pump-action 12 bore shotguns — very handy, among other uses, for shooting pigeons etc, for food — were carried by the policemen.

Each of the Owen gunners carried an additional five full magazines as well as the one on the weapon.  Actually we were using the double, reversed ended magazines welded together and I always thought the two fully loaded mags on the gun tended to spoil the balance, but at least they gave those extra rounds before reloading.  The U.S. carbines also had five additional magazines plus an extra fifty rounds each to compensate for the smaller capacity of their magazines.  The ever present problem with machine pistols and semi-automatics is the inclination to discharge more rounds than are really necessary and they can be really very wasteful if not handled correctly — something which is not always possible in the heat of battle.  The magazines were carried in the standard army issue pouches and were not one of my favourite pieces of webbing but had to do as they were the only ones available.

The shot guns were to use number two and three shot cartridges as this size shot was considered best for a number of reasons, but mainly because they were an excellent offensive and defensive cartridge with great hitting power.

We were also carrying short barrelled Lugers, that had been captured in the M.E., and liked them as they used the same 9mm. cartridges as the Owens although they had one disadvantage in that the spent cartridge very occasionally failed to eject.  The cartridge case was the cause of the ejection trouble as the pistol was designed to take a parabellum round and this type of cartridge was not available.  We considered this to be only a minor disadvantage as the Luger was only a fall back weapon anyway!  I carried mine in a shoulder holster — much more comfortable than on a belt.  In Brisbane I had been lucky enough to get a skeleton holster from a gunsmith.  On an earlier operation we had tried the longer barrel on the Lugers and, with the wooden backed holster, used them as machine pistols but they weren't popular and being semi-automatic weren't in the same class as the Owen anyway.

We were really very lucky in being able to choose our firearms and it was one of the many advantages of serving in this type of unit.  In my previous 7th. Division unit one carried in the way of arms what the establishment directed whether you wanted it or not.  In my case, being a wireless operator in a tank, I was obliged to carry a .45 revolver — a cumbersome weapon at best —I would have much preferred a smaller .38 calibre revolver.  Also, in the infantry, you are given no choice unless you have the good luck to be a Bren Gunner or one of the few in each platoon to carry a machine pistol such as an Owen or Thompson.  The rest of the platoon have no option but the .303 rifle; excellent as it may have been.  But it doesn't take long to find out that this single shot weapon lags well behind in the confidence stakes when the chips are really down — especially when used in close quarter encounters.  Advancing under cover of Owen gun fire is ever so much more easy than the single shot rifle that has to be cocked after every round.  You may say it only takes one round to kill an enemy.  True enough!  But in the heat of the moment who is counting?  An Owen for me every time!

Lastly, we were issued with Weldrods; a most, to say the least, peculiar weapon which looked for all the world like a twelve inch piece of one inch waterpipe!  It was a silenced (very) .22 calibre single shot pistol and fired a .22 short cartridge with doubtful accuracy, even at short range!  The magazine acted as the hand grip and the trigger was without the benefit of a guard and the whole thing was not very impressive and personally I thought, that because of its questionable value and weight it would be the first thing to be dumped!  And dump them we did except for one, which was kept just in case it was ever needed for some close quarter action.

Most of us favoured machetes, or scrub knives, but I found a Malay army cutlass preferable as the hand guard offered much better protection against wait-a-while vines.  I carried mine in a scabbard on my belt and, at first, it proved to be most awkward because it was longer than a machete and tended to tangle with my legs, but I soon got used to the extra length and found it just as effective as the machetes.

Everyone carried their favourite knives, usually the commando variety, though I for one didn't intend getting close enough to a Jap to use mine!  An Owen gun, I knew, would beat a knife anytime as it certainly has a greater range!

Watches.  Bob and I were issued with U.S. army Waltham pocket watches, which looked to be ideal, but turned out to be next to useless in the wet and had to be replaced twice!  Then, unlike nowadays, it was apparently pretty difficult to waterproof watches!  I had the same problem with a Waltham wrist watch when dumped in the surf off the coast of Borneo on a later operation.

Compasses.  Each carried an army issue prismatic compass, which proved to be excellent.

Hand grenades.  Something that no soldier should be without, were, because of their weight, limited to one each. A pity, but they do get pretty heavy after a while and they do make a lot of noise when used!  We had enough in the ammo pouches as it was and I, for one, being the careful type, had never been keen on the way they were carried, by the Yanks, through the ring on the pin clip!

A valuable piece of equipment was the U.S. army lightweight nylon hammock with waterproof top and mosquito netting complete with Zip fasteners to close the netting. But, we soon found out for safety sake, the Zips were never closed in case of a surprise attack, as they would prove a hindrance when a speedy exit was needed.  The hammocks were a quick way to set up somewhere to sleep and keep out of the incessant rain and much better than sleeping on the ground among the leeches.  Two trees was all that was needed and they were always in abundance.  The constables weren't provided with hammocks but instead each carried a largish waterproof groundsheet and a light wool blanket and always seemed to be able to keep themselves dry no matter what the conditions!

Spare wool socks and half a towel each and the jungle green shirt and trousers we stood up in was considered to be sufficient.  No underclothes.  The only piece of luxury (?) equipment was a U.S. army nylon windcheater with the woollen lining removed.  The good old army slouch hats were worn though I often look back and think something like the fatigue hats that are worn now would have been much better as the slouch hats proved to be a real menace in thick vine scrub!

The policeboys had khaki shirts and shorts and lap laps.  They were barefooted and preferred it that way as their feet were not used to boots, and when one examined the soles of their feet with the hard skin almost a quarter inch thick, we could only agree that, in their case, boots were really not necessary.  Their load was not as great as ours as far as personal equipment went but they were expected to carry the radio, extra weapons plus most of the food.  After a food drop they would be pretty well loaded for the next few days until we managed to ease their load by eating some of the excess.

All gear was carried in individual U.S. army packs, rather than the regulation Australian army issue, as the U.S. pack was a lot more comfortable on the back, and could hold quite a bit more equipment as well.  Though, as we all knew when first put on, all packs feel comfortable but after a while, when fully loaded as ours would be, even the best of them start to chafe and become uncomfortable.

It is often said a soldier marches on his stomach. True enough!  But, he also uses his boots!  For the Europeans (for Europeans, read whites) in the party, boots were certainly one of the most important items of equipment.  We knew there were a lot of steep hills ahead to be climbed, and that there would be plenty of wet weather and mud as well, so we had to choose the type of boot carefully.  On an earlier operation the U.S. army, calf length, canvas boots had been tried and found most unsatisfactory, although before testing they seemed to be ideal for the job.  The rubber soles which were deeply grooved would put some truck tyres to shame and looked to be the ideal boot but, while they were excellent for climbing hills when the ground was dry, they were hopeless in the mud once the tread filled up!  The same applied to the normal U.S. leather boot with rubber sole.

The good old Aussie army boot seemed to fill the bill with one modification.  We bought a quantity of brass L-shaped screw on studs from a local bootmaker and screwed them into the soles and they proved to be just the shot when combined with the long lace up U.S. army canvas gaiters.  They were hardwearing and very robust and after being given a few coatings of dubbin (grease) were well nigh indestructible.

First aid kits were a personal thing and were complete with most requirements such as bandages, sulpha tablets and atebrin, aspirin etc.  Each of the kits contained two syrettes of morphine, in case of severe sickness or wounds and, privately, I thought they could be used as a lethal dose if needed!  Our friends, in a sister unit, "Z" Special, were issued with what was known as "L" pills — cyanide tablets — in case of capture.  We thought they were bunging it on a little!

To Chapter 9 ->