|The joss-man's huge fist
enveloped Tony's hand and squeezed it tightly for a moment.
Palmer," he said, "and good luck."
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
Tony had mumbled some
"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
Green one oh, half-speed. Here they come again – hard a-port – full
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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!
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.