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3 Warrior's Tales

These three stories have been chosen to represent the 3 Services in WW2. Each in it's own way is something special. They are not about the Generals, The Emperors and the Kings. Are are told in simple language by simple people. Click the Links.

THIS WE HAVE KNOWN   1939-1945, Allan Doyle: Royal Australian Navy

The joss-man's huge fist enveloped Tony's hand and squeezed it tightly for a moment.

"Good-bye, Palmer," he said, "and good luck."

"Thanks, Master, and the same to you."

Tony turned abruptly and flung his hammock over his shoulder, jostling it into position as he walked up the gangplank.

For months he had hoped for this draft. He had expected to be pleased. Now that it had happened, he could not understand the vague misery that filled him. His draft ashore meant that he would be home with Edna and his adorable three-year-old daughter at least every second night. Two and a half years' sea-time should be enough for any man, he thought, and yet – this inexplicable feeling.

He paused at the head of the dock and turned to look in mute farewell. He would see her again. She would be swinging around No. I buoy; or standing out to sea, the spray-swept heads fading rapidly astern. But he would not be with her.

She looked almost the same as the day he had first come aboard. Recently returned from America and Portsmouth, where she had been commissioned from the Royal Navy, she had been undergoing a refit.

He remembered that first day. The Jimmie, resplendent in his white uniform, had struck Tony dumb with awe, towering over him. He had felt just what he was: a sea-going sailor, with five minutes' sea-time in a dry dock.

"Is that how they taught you to stand to attention in Cerberus?" the officer had shouted.

Tony had mumbled some unintelligible reply.

"Well? Speak up, man, and stand up too!" he had bellowed, and roughly seized Tony's shoulders and forced them back until his shoulder blades had ground together. He remembered with a grin the hurt pride and anger that had flared within him.

The hot September noon hung over the dockyard as Tony's mind slid back into the past. He saw his ship thrown into lurid relief by the glare of the flames that leaped into the night from a crippled sister cruiser. He saw the blistered guns, eternally pointing skywards as his ship lurched in the spray and shrapnel of bursting bombs; he heard the chilling shriek of the bomber, the steady pounding of the pom-poms, the death chant of the point-fives, the crash of four-inch; he smelt the acrid fumes of cordite, and the stench of fear sweat, but through the incredible din, he heard the voice of his Captain, firm and unshaken, speaking down the voice-pipe:

"Steady-steady. Green one oh, half-speed. Here they come again – hard a-port – full steam ahead!"

The sun was hot on Tony's bare head as he absently twirled his hat in his hands, the dockyard reverently quiet, to watch the farewell of a sailor and his ship. He raised his eyes to the mast. The direction finder was gone. He remembered the day that happened. The day the bombers had scored a direct hit. The day Mick had died.

He recalled the quietly heaving sea, a track of shimmering moonlight, like a woman's daring evening gown, flung across its breadth. He heard the soft voice of the Padre: "We commit his body to the deep. He heard the faint sigh of canvas on wood, the dull splash, as, one by one, his dead shipmates plunged into the sea. He thought of a line of doggerel that Maxie had written:

"Little strings of bubbles, bursting one by one,
Broken chains of bubbles, marking where he's gone.
Never more to wander, never more to roam,
Down to Davy's Locker – a Jack goes home."

Tony's eyes were stinging, and a hard lump rose in his throat as memories of the past flooded his mind. The runs ashore in Alex, with Mick, and Doug, and Maxie. Rue de Soeur, the whisky and crême de menthe... the champagne and Mavra Daphne in Athens, the beer in Haifa and Malta, card games in the mess, kai watch by the galley after a bitter two hours on the bridge, the sodden heat of the magazine, tense with the strain of near-snapping nerves, the staggering lurch of the old ship, battering Nature's face in the grip of a hurricane off Crete. The greenies, hoary and grey, that flung themselves upon her, and were contemptuously thrust aside as the gale screamed with rage through her rigging, the long intimate talks with Mick up on the fo'c'sle, the soughing wind of her progress mingling with the wash of her bows as she pulsed and lived beneath them.

They had talked of home, of love, of life, of politics and the war, of Edna and Trina. Edna, his wife, and Trina, well, Mick was still over there, fathoms deep.

The faces of the men he had lived and drank with crowded around him. Doug, Maxie, Tinker, Lofty, Knocker and Blue – they were all there and one by one they passed. Tony knew now why he was unhappy. He loved this ship. He had loved her while he had cursed her and the Navy that was her. Cursed her as she had lurched through raging seas or ran before a gale. Cursed her with his heart, yearning for home and his wife's dear face, while all the time she had bound his soul more closely to her own. He was leaving her now, and he felt that he was leaving part of his heart with her.

The dockies were moving about again. Their lunches eaten, they trudged down the steps that led to the bottom of the dock. Her sleek, long hull dwarfed them to pygmies The raucous clatter of a riveter split the heat apart and shattered the spell that bound him. Roughly he dashed the back of his sweaty hand across his eyes, picked up his hammock, and turned away.

The Long The Short & The Tall

THE men in jungle green marched on down the sunny street. The tall men and the short men, the slender men and the robust men swung on their way with the quiet, assured air that only soldiers have who have learned to be soldiers by meeting the enemy in battle. 

Joe and the cove behind him, and Blue and the bloke with the scar on his jaw and the thousands like them who marched. These are the Australian Soldier, not one man but thousands of men, the vulgar and the fastidious, the quiet and the rowdy, the rough and the gentle. They know battle. 

They know the dirt and the misery, the courage and the comradeship, the weariness and the deep sleep. They learned about these things in the Desert and in Greece, in Crete and in Syria, in besieged Tobruk and on the bloody sands of El Alamein. They met them again in New Guinea, in the evil green of the jungle, where a snapping twig means danger and a careless step might mean death.

They will march on, these men, and some of them will die on other battlefields, and sickness and wounds will take many of them out of the battle line, and some will still live when peace returns to the world, but the Australian Soldier will be in the line at the last as he was in the line at the first.

For though these men are part of the Australian Soldier, he is more enduring than any of these men alone and he will live when they are dust - the thing they created that is bigger than themselves.

That Bomb Means Your Son Will Have a Father;

WO Pilot A. Holcombe: 15 Sqn RAAF – Pacific 1945

I was a Beaufort bomber pilot operating in Dutch New Guinea (now West Irian) with No. 15 Squadron of the RAAF and stationed at Middelburg for the last three months of the war.

Middelburg was an island about 1200 to 1500 metres in diameter, 20 kilometres from the equator and just large enough to have an airstrip, which was extended each end into the sea.

We were about 2 kilometres from the coast and daily we could see the Japanese on the beach. Our nearest Allied bases were Biak (about 600 km to the south-east) and Morotai (about 600 km to the north-west).

With us on our "tropical paradise’ was an American army unit. All told there were about 700 of us on the island: 350 Aussies and 350 Americans.

Our job was to contain the Japanese units within several hundred kilometres of us and counter their activities. While we had no air-to-air opposition I can assure you that they were not short of anti-aircraft guns and ammunition of all calibres and used them very effectively as witnessed by the aircraft they were shooting out of the air during raids in which we were helped by Dutch Kittyhawks from Biak.

Indeed I was one of those responsible for flying ‘shot-gun’ over a downed pilot over a period of 24 hours while Air-Sea Rescue organised a Flying Fortress to drop a lifeboat before the Japanese nearby got to him first.

Most of these raids were carried out on and around Manokwari and Sorong, about 100km from us with an occasional sortie as far afield as Ceram, 400 or 500km south of us.

My wife and 2½ month-old son, our first, (whom I had not yet seen) were staying with my in-laws when the first atom bomb was dropped.

My wife said to her father (a World War 1 veteran) "Daddy, what does this mean?" His reply was "That means your son will have a father." Little did he know how literally true that was!

When an Intelligence Unit went into Manokwari after the surrender of the Japanese they found plans indicating that the Japanese were going to invade our paradise and we were going to be the floor show at a quiet throat-cutting party on the night of August 25. The Japanese surrender pre-empted that by just ten days.

Why was the atom bomb dropped? The German army fought right to Hitler’s bunker in Berlin. Hitler and the German Army were Mickey Mouse compared to the fanaticism of the Japanese, so there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Japanese would fight to the last man with conventional weapons.

I do not have to do any research on this. I and many thousands like me who have seen those tracer bullets coming up at them and seen those innocent-looking black clouds appearing around them from the anti-aircraft guns, have it burned into their brain what the conditions were like in those days.

Indeed as we get older it appears ever more frequently in our thoughts. Believe me the Japanese were not acting like a defeated nation.

I have reason to know about the psyche of the Japanese.

After being spared by the atom bomb my wife and I went on to have three more sons. Our third son, at present a resident of Japan is a simultaneous interpreter in English-Japanese and has his own communications company in Tokyo.

He is married to a Japanese girl and they have presented us with two half-Japanese grandchildren. We have been visiting Japan for over twenty years and consider many Japanese among our best friends. How futile war is!

  • Lastly, sir, despite the opinions of the bleeding hearts brigade there is no gentle way to kill or maim in war. If the war was justified then so was the bomb!

  • Thank God and Truman for the dropping of it. What a wonderful way to end a war, but what a terrible way to start one.


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