Friday, October 15, 2010

Grandpa V1 of 3

I'm going to give you 3 different versions of the same event.

Version 1 - is an interview done with my Grandpa by a country newspaper reporter - what follows is the article she published. This is Grandpa's recollection of what happened to him during some of World War II.

I have changed some of the details to protect privacy.
This Grandpa was my Dad's Dad - he passed away in April 1996. We were pretty close having grown up next door to him til he & Grandma retired off the farm & moved into town. Even then, as I was in high school in that town, I visited weekly & stayed often. I'll write more about him later......

Terang Express 2nd April 1994
“ANZAC DAY MEMORIES OF A WORLD WAR II COMMANDO"

Keith M, a member of the Terang RSL for the past 50 years will be among the ex-servicemen & women who attend the Anzac Day Ceremony at the Terang war memorial next Monday.

Mr M served in the 2nd/3rd Australian Army Independent Commando company during World War II in New Guinea where he was badly wounded. He showed great courage & determination by crawling backwards up a mountain on a narrow track to return to his unit. He served as a corporal & was promoted to sergeant when serving in New Guinea. He can still remember his army number VX #####. After the war Mr M had his own dairy farm at East Framlingham. In 1980 his son & daughter in law took over the farm & he came to live in Terang.

Prior to the war, Mr M worked as a herd tester in Camperdown & as that was a reserved occupation he went to Melbourne to join the Army. “We did our initial training at Royal Park & were then sent to the 6th Infantry Army Training Battalion at Darley” he said. “Six men including myself from country areas from that group volunteered to go to an isolated & independent training camp at Foster on Wilsons Promontory for three months where we were specially trained in all aspects of military warfare”. Each independent commando company had 320 men. Two NZ independent companies were also trained at Foster.

“We were divided into sections of 22 men & each section was divided into two subdivisions. I was in the third company formed” Mr M said. “The first company of men were put on all the islands between Australia & the Philippines & the second company were marooned together in Timor & spent practically all the war up in the hills & survived with the natives” he said. “Most men were trained in one specific area such as wireless or engineering. In our commando unit we had to look after ourselves & it was essential that we knew about explosives. We undertook extremely dangerous operations going in & out on foot to enemy territory. We were really harassment troops & not trained to fight in armed combat”.

He said that the original instructors at the training camp were Brittish officers who were sent out to train the Australian men in the commando companies. “My company was initially going to Timor as reinforcements to the second company but when were on the troup train in Oonadatta, the Japanese bombed pearl harbour on December 7, 1941 & the plans were changed. “We were sent to New Caladonia, a French island that the Japanese army had not invaded. Our role was to find out enemy movements, particularly in submarine & aircraft & protect the island which was the biggest nickel mine in the world, from falling into Japanese hands. In those days nickel was a scarce commodity. The island is about 33 miles wide & 150 miles long& has a mountain range up the middle. We remained on the island for 12 months until we were relived by 40,000 American troops. We lived on army rations & supplemented with catching fish: we would blow up the sea with hand grenades to catch them. The natives liked us doing that & used to take most of the fish. We came home to Australia for 3 weeks leave & then my unit, the 3rd independent Commando Company was sent to New Guinea.” Mr M said that the objective of the Japanese was to capture Wau in the centre of New Guinea. Wau was a big gold mining centre & the only way in was by air.

“We went in via a Douglas DC3 aircraft & it was pretty tricky as there was only one gap through the range & cloud before the plan finally got down on a shirt 1100 yard run way. Everything –troops, ammunition, food – had to be brought in by planes. Each plane held 22 men & their equipment & it was a quick operation getting in & out again as the Japanese were positioned at the end of the aerodrome. We had to fight the enemy at the end of the aerodrome & we had to push them back to Lae & Salamava”.

Mr M said walking was difficult as you could only go single file along a narrow track. We spent months travelling 5 miles. On a reconnaissance mission, my unit of 12 men was involved in running into a booby trap. In the enemy machine gun fire I was unlucky enough to be hit in the leg”. Overcoming immense obstacles, he used his pocket knife to dig under a log & get on the other side. He used vines & sticks to make a splint for his leg. His unit had gone by then as they thought he was dead. Mr M dragged his leg backwards up the steep mountain range, his aim being to reach a native sugar plantation. This took him four & a half days without food as they had left their packs halfway down the track. He drank very little water which he obtained from leaves on the ground. At night he covered himself with leaves & shivered himself to sleep. “One of my biggest problems was leeches which got into my mouth & even in my nose” he said. “I finally got to the top of the range & heard voices & footsteps which turned out to be my unit”.

The rigged up stretchers & took Mr M back to a field dressing station. He said the fuzzy wuzzies (natives) took him & all the wounded men out over the 10,000 foot high razor back mountain ranges back to Wau. “I would not have survived if it was not for the natives” he said. They carried the wounded men on stretchers over the one foot wide tracks with sheer drops to the river below – a very difficult feat. “One little chap walked beside me with a big banana leaf to keep the rain off my head. I was put on a plane & sent back to a big field hospital in Port Morseby. The wounded were going back home by ship but the plans were changed when the Australian hospital ship the “Centaur” was sunk by a torpedo with a great number of lives lost including doctors & nurses. The next day we were flown back to Townsville”.

He didn't talk much about the war to us when we were growing up, other than to mention that he thought PNG to have some of the most beautiful country he'd ever seen. Our Farm, & the smaller farm Dad & Grandpa bought next door are both named after places he fought in PNG. He had the utmost respect for the "fuzzy wuzzies". This term was used affectionately by him & he did not mean any offence by it.

4 comments:

Ute said...

Jaysus H. Christ mate. Your Grandpa was truly amazing. Four days, with a broken leg...no food or nothing.

This is a brilliant account of history Cat. Look forward to your next installment.

Heh, 'fuzzy wuzzies'... reminds me of 'Dads Army'. ;o)

Kate said...

Awesome account - my Great Uncle who recently passed away was a commando in new guinea too and was head of the australian comamndos assoc! Small world.

Thanks for sharing :)
Kate x

Here's a link to my uncle's story -
http://www.theage.com.au/national/hellraiser-shoehorned-full-life-20100513-v1s7.html

AlleyCat said...

Hey Ute - thank you - it's pretty humbling re-reading through these stories.

Hey Kate - thank you too. I'm off to read your uncle's story now.

AlleyCat said...

Whoa Kate! Your great uncle had an amazing life! Shirley Temple, Maralyn Munroe & the Beatles before hitler & the war! He sounds like a very interesting, motivated & very fun man. Thank You for sharing him with me. XO