A Local Hero:
War in any form is a very traumatic experience, that remains with a soldier for life. To him, his first war is generally his worst. Commandos are a specialist type of infantry unit, their role as one which took them into practically every area, to do every conceivable type of job. This is the area of New Guinea, the soldier of one of our very own local lads. Corporal Keith “Blue” M of the 2/3 Independent (Commando) Company.
It was Anzac Day 1943 & 2/3 were feeling satisfied with two successful raids against the Japanese on the Komiatum Track. When on the 28th April, Lieutenant C was ordered to take a patrol & raid the Komiatum Track again, to draw the Japanese away from the Bobdubi Ridge.
As the patrol neared the junction of Stephens Track, they spotted an enemy position. Lieutenant C decided to move closer to assess the enemy strength. He ordered the patrol to wait & took four men, Sergeant C, Corporal (Blue), Private Fred & Private Joe with him to gather the information. Unknown to the patrol, the Japanese had spotted our troops & were waiting for them to get closer. When Lieutenant C’s reconnaissance party moved up, Fred, forward scout at the time, spotted a booby trap trip wire & yelled “BOOBY TRAP” as he dived over the ridge.
The Japanese opened fire with a machine gun burst. Joe fell dead. Sergeant C managed to escape, Blue was hit & rolled down a steep slope, Lieutenant C escaped by jumping down a slope where he found the wounded Blue, his leg shattered by the bullet. He did what he could to make him comfortable, left him his tommy gun & rations, then headed back for help to carry him out. Meanwhile Corporal L was waiting with the remainder of the patrol heard the Japanese open fire, decided to go to Lieutenant C’s aid; he took the medical orderly Roly G, with them. As they forged ahead through the jungle, they saw four enemy soldiers examining Joe’s body. Lamb fired his tommy gun killing them. They found no trace of Lieutenant C, Sergeant C, Blue or Fred. Hoping they had survived & were moving back to join him, Corporal L pulled back before the enemy could outflank his party.
Lieutenant C heard the patrol attacking but could not link up with them (they had already withdrawn) he decided to go back & tell Blue that he had to go all the way back to their appointed rendezvous. In his effort to find the patrol after their engagement, he had wandered through a lot of jungle & had difficulty finding his way back to Blue.
Suddenly the silence was shattered by a long burst of Tommy gun fire, followed by a burst of enemy fire including light machine guns. He assumed Blue had been found & killed as the tommy gun was now silent. He could not investigate as he was unarmed, he had given his weapon to Blue & he continued on his way to the nominated RV (rendezvous).
His patrol was waiting to see if any survivors made it back & were pleased to see him. He told them about “Blue” & his assumed death, the party then returned to Wells OP which had been their jumping off point for this operation.
Their commanding Officer Major W, was unhappy about the assumption that “Blue” was dead. He ordered a search to be made for him. Lieutenant C returned with a patrol to the general area of the ambush. He & his section were moving cautiously through the jungle when they heard a familiar voice “Don’t take life so seriously, there are no Japs around for miles”. It was Blue. He was dragging himself along the track backward using the palms of his hands & the seat of his pants, with an improvised splint of broken sticks tied together with a lawyer vine on his wounded leg. He was not a pretty sight. His arms & shoulders were red raw & his good leg was practically worn to the bone. The flies had blown his knee which was badly shattered, but he was still able to crack a joke with his mates & thank them for coming to get him.
All members soon heard of Cpl Blue’s tremendous feat of endurance: with no food or water, he gathered moisture from moss & leaves to stay alive. He had been abandoned & presumed dead, it was unlikely that anyone would venture along the native track, even the natives had been withdrawn from the area. He had to travel on the track, it was his only chance. When he came to fallen logs blocking the track, he would have to climb over, go round or dig under them, all the time dragging that wounded shattered leg.
He had no modern day beacons to signal his position & if he had tried to light a fire, as a smoke signal, it would only have brought the enemy. The Medical Orderly, Roly G, said that he had even set his leg so well that it never needed resetting.
Everyone was full of admiration for this display of courage & endurance. Blue had only one person to thank for his rescue & that was Major W, who had sent the patrol back to search for him.
Blue’s early years were spent in Camperdown, then Port Campbell. He showed promise at football & moved to Melbourne where he played a few games for St Kilda. Unable to find employment he returned to Port Campbell. He was able to secure a position as a Herd Tester at Ellereslie. When the war began he enlisted in the AIF then the 2/3rd Commandos. He shipped out with the 2/3rd to New Caledonia, but did not see any action, they returned to Australia, sharpened their training & sailed for New Guinea, they flew into Wau & straight into action, to save the airfield, after Wau they assisted in driving the enemy back to the coast. It was while driving the enemy back that Blue was injured, he was carried to Wau & flown to Australia, he did not return to his unit (the 2/3rd Commandos). After the war he obtained a Soldier Settlement Block at Ellerslie, married J & they had three children. When Blue & J retired from the farm, they bought a house in Thompson street & live their til their deaths in 1996.
The last line is incorrect - Grandma died 16th April 1987 @ around 10am - I was in year 11 Maths & I remember a cold shiver came over me & I remarked to my friend at the time that I thought my Grandma had just died. She'd gone into surgery for a ruptured stomach ulcer & died on the operating table. I didn't find out until I got home from school that day. She was very special to me & both Grandma & Grandpa Mc were the first adults who treated both my sister & I not as children, but just as people & equals. I loved them both dearly & am fighting back tears now just writing this.
Grandpa died 17th April 1996 around 4pm 9 years & 1 day after Grandma. My Dad (his son) had gone into hospital the night before with his brother & sister & they had all bid him farewell. Mum called me the next morning to let me know he would probably pass away that day & that she was working so it was OK (Mum is a nurse & was working in the hospital on that day; she would not have had any time to sit with Grandpa). I have never been more distraught in my life at the thought of him laying there alone & dying alone. Luckily I was able to jump in my car & drive straight down there (3 hour drive). On arrival my Dad's sister M was there, she'd kind of felt the same way too. We sat with him for the afternoon reminiscing & talking about family. Grandpa died to the sound of us talking & laughing about funny family incidents over the years. Maybe he wanted to get away from the chin wagging, but I take comfort in knowing I saw him out & that he was not alone.
I was annoyed on reading the 3rd version of the story. I felt it tarnished Grandpa's courage somewhat. Perhaps Lieutenant C really did leave Grandpa his rations & gun. Maybe Grandpa was too delirious from his injury to notice. Maybe the "brass" didn't convey to the troops that the mission was to go back & look for Blue, rather than have another go at taking the position. I'd have thought that looking for their mate would be more motivating, but maybe I'm wrong. All I do know is that it was along time ago & peoples memories fade.
My memories of my Blue are still very strong & emotional. He was my Grandpa, but he was also my mate. I love you Grandpa. RIP.
PS I'll tell you just a little bit more, now that I've pulled myself back together. Grandpa had Red hair when he was young, which earned him that nick name of Blue (but I only ever knew him as bald). He had a wicked sense of humor which ended badly one day when our dog Freckles bit me, instead of Grandpa, who'd pulled his tail. He loved to grow vegetables & every year when the pumpkin's were ready, my sister & I would find pumpkin's with our names carved into them by "fairies"! He also grew beautiful "magic" beans with help from the fairies. According to his war diary, he & his mates went AWOL a couple of times while still in Australia to go visit family or go to the "pictures". He became a dairy farmer at Grandma's request - she only agreed to marry him if he did so, as that was all she knew how to do, so a dairy farmer he became. He loved a nice cold beer & a counter meal at the local pub. His favourite TV show hillariously was the "A Team" & he loved Mr T. After Grandma died, he vigilantly tended her fuscia's - he didn't like flowers - but they were the only flowers she liked & she never liked them inside, just to look at in the garden.
PSS This series of posts was inspired by Slyde who more recently lost his best friend who was also his Grandpa. Hugs Mate.