War – Admiralty Islands (August 1945-March 1946)

I was still on Momote on 6 August 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered on 14 August. 

The news spread like wildfire around the island with WVTD running hot with the updates of events. The next day Wednesday the 15th was declared as VJ Day in the Pacific. It was all over. There were big celebrations on Manus and Momote and special posters and postcards were printed to commemorate the day. I collected some of each which I still have. Some postcards were quite humorous.

Document – Cartoon – Admiralty Islands Telephone Directory, Restricted. Source: Doug Cash Collection

 

Document – Post Card – V P Day (music version), Greetings From The Admiralty’s – with handwritten note by Doug Cash ‘ V-Pacific Day Souvenir Air Mail Card Mailed Admiralty Islands SouthWest Pacific’. Source: Doug Cash Collection

Document – Post Card – V P Day (hut version), Greetings From The Admiralty’s – with handwritten note by Doug Cash ‘ V-Pacific Day Souvenir Air Mail Card Mailed Admiralty Islands SouthWest Pacific’. Source: Doug Cash Collection

Document – Poster – VJ Day, Manus – With handwritten notes by Doug Cash ‘1. Unloading Supplies at Mount Hood Dock, 2. View of Ball Diamond at Main Naval Base, 3. Receiving Ward at Hospital, 4. Front View of Base Chapel, 5. Celebration V.J. Day, 6. Base Band on Parade, 6. Cruiser in Dry Dock’. Source: Doug Cash Collection

The deck of the battleship USS Missouri was the venue for the formal surrender ceremony which took place in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. I would like to have been there for that but only top brass made it from Australia and that was fair enough. Our representative there was General Sir Thomas Blamey. I have some good snaps of the surrender ceremony in New Guinea. Down in the Australian cities friends and relatives and the general public were having a ball celebrating VJ Day, but we knew that by the time we got home the surrender excitement would be over.

Western Mail, Perth, Thursday 16 August 1945, page 5 – VP Souvenir Edition. Source: Trove

Aussies and Yanks alike, we were still in the Admiralties waiting for our orders to pack up. We were taking it easy now and making trips to the American PX Stores to spend our money on things to take home. During my time on Momote I had been sending parcels home to Joan and most of them arrived safely, but not all. There were cigarettes for the relatives, Mennens shaving cream, razor blades and all sorts of sundries that were hard to get back home. She has just told me that I sent home a couple of grass skirts. I don’t think I got them from an original owner but more likely from a tribal handicraft expert. The parcels used to take a while getting to Perth so when they were opened they had to be aired for a day or two till the jungle mustiness aroma was lost.

My mail from Joan was coming regularly so that was something to keep our spirits up while we were waiting to see some action from RAAF HQ about our future movements. Roly wrote to me that 6 weeks after VE-Day in Europe he was posted out of the RAF and back into the RAAF. From early November he had been posted to No. 11 PDRC and since then had been winding down awaiting embarkation orders for his return to Australia. He had been active with the concert parties again, and he had met an English girl, Joan Sellars, and they had been married in September. That really was interesting news. More of them later.

Sunday Times, Sunday 16 September 1945, page 15 – Roly Marriage. Source: Trove

The Americans soon got their “home, boys” orders and they started disposing of some of their heavy equipment. They used to float new aircraft out on barges and then push them into the sea. I suppose they had no way really of transporting all their planes and vehicles and other heavy gear back. They would have had many leftovers of everything back in the States, and in the euphoria of peace as the “war to end all wars” notched up victory for our side, why take anything home. However, the Americans stayed on longer than had been expected. On Manus they had built airfields, docks, repair shops, hospitals, and accommodation for over 100,000 personnel. It seemed a waste but the Yanks we knew were only too ready to tell us to take a jeep or two home or “give” us some­thing else that was impossible to get off the island. Anyway, what could I have done with a Lockheed Lightning aircraft, or a few jeeps or trucks. All ships were needed to get servicemen and valuable priority equipment home to the USA. Seeadler Harbour was busy with ships coming and going. Seeadler had held up to 600 ships at one time prior to the island landings further north. 

Manus had been mandated to Australia by the League of Nations after the Great War. It had previously been a German colony. Now it was an American base built at a cost of $100 million plus. Its future came under discussion when the South-West Pacific Command was dissolved as from 2 September 1945 by MacArthur’s GHQ Order No. 41. However, the Order excepted the Admiralty Islands from any immediate transfer to Australian control. The Americans wanted long-term base rights to be shared jointly with Australia, as it was felt that Manus was well-suited for a permanent Pacific base.

Our Minister for External Affairs at the time was HV “Doc” Evatt MHR and he gave the US a big “No, No”. The Americans argued no further and in November 1948 handed over control of Manus to the Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU). The Doc was not a businessman for Manus was a tropical paradise that would have been a bargain at the rumoured price of 2% of its value. I think we could have had Manus, all in, for one million pounds.

All Manus needed now was people to keep it running. The jungle would soon start to overgrow everything put out to pasture away from the main buildings. The creeping jungle growth was slowed a little when Australia had second thoughts about Pacific defence and established a naval base on the island in the early 1950s. The RAN transferred its base units at Finschhafen (on the tip of the Huon Peninsula about 100km east of Lae) to Manus. In the end the local Manus clan would have had a field day with the buried treasure in the jungle. Finders keepers.

Sometime in October we received our orders to pack up. The RAN was going to take us off Los Negros and Manus Islands. We boarded the Navy’s HMAS Ping Wo and sailed (steamed) away from our dreamy tropical islands. The vessel had no sails but it was an unusual ship. It was one of the “China Fleet” of four vessels owned by the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company but taken over by the British naval authorities before the fall of Singapore in February 1942. The navy boys on the Ping Wo told me that she had been a Yangtze River gunboat in earlier days. She was flat-bottomed with a shallow draught, five or six metres. Her sister ships were HMAS Po Yang, HMAS Whang Pu, and HMAS Yunnan. Two brothers I knew in Bert and Reg Hayes were stokers in the RAN and we often talked about the ships. They knew a lot about the China Fleet. One of them could have served on the Ping Wo but I am not sure on that.

HMAS Ping Wo, Madang, 1944. Source: Wiki

Over recent years I have met a few chaps who served on the China Fleet, one as recently as 1988. We were at bowls rolling up when I heard one player mention the Ping Wo and I was astounded. I walked across and told him that I had sailed on that vessel and we had a long chat about the China Fleet. Apparently, many navy men were not too keen on sailing on any of the four ships as they were considered to be a bit dangerous in rough weather. No worries for me on board the Ping Wo as ignorance was bliss for me then. We were well looked after by the navy cooks with three meals a day and morning and afternoon tea thrown in. I spent most of the daylight hours on the flat aft deck behind the funnel. The ship could have been about 300 feet long and close to 3,000 tons. Our shared quarters were comfortable but I think we had the choice of hammocks or dossing down on the flat deck. The weather was warm so I settled for the deck. It was only two nights till we reached Madang. The navy treated us well all the way.

Back at Air Defence Headquarters I found everybody excited about going home. The one problem was that a points system operated and every man was on a list. There were points for time served in the tropics, in the RAAF, marital status, and family commitments. The points system put me somewhere in the middle so it was a case of just waiting. We were kept busy packing up in readiness for the reversion of the base to its original copra (coconut) plantation. I can remember one unusual, and tragic, event when one airman was waiting for transport south after his points score came up. He was helping clean the camp up and was riding on the back of an open truck when it passed under a coconut palm. Right at that moment a coconut detached itself from the palm and silently fell down hitting him right on his head. It killed him outright.

On 10 December I was posted to 2MRS (Medical Receiving Station) Madang. We were all being posted hither and thither to other units as our own folded up. We of the lower priority status were filling the places of our rank equivalents who were now on a home posting, and were filling their time in at the transport pool. I reported in to 2MRS in time to farewell my predecessor who handed his bayside hut over to me. It would have housed four men but now I had it to myself. It was on the edge of Madang Harbour opposite Sair? Island where we had a radio station. It had four open sides to let the sea breeze in and was well-built. 

Madang Harbour, 1945. Source: AWM

The thatched roof had a wide overhang on all sides so the rain was no problem at all. The wooden floor was raised a few feet off the ground and there were three sets of steps leading off it. It could well have been something erected by the indigenous workers on this particular plantation for the use of the planter’s family. Before the other Flight Sergeant left he showed me where he had his fish trap. It was right alongside the hut and he told me that he caught fish with it nearly every day. It was simply a matter of checking it each morning and taking the catch up to the mess. It worked out very well. I would take the fish to the cook and share the catch in return for the cooking for my lunch or tea. It also meant a few extras on my plate as well. The fish trap was a piece of chicken wire shaped so the fish could only get in but not out. With a bit of spare time on my hands I decided to repair the trap to catch more fish. For the next three days it was empty and I was the one who had been trapped. Too greedy? I put things back the way they were and the cook and I were back in business.

I was reasonably familiar with the 2MRS base having spent those weeks in the hospital ward with my injured leg. Some of the same nurses were still there and they were quite friendly. My main job there related to medical supplies and equipment. 2MRS was still busy with patients as the folding up of units reduced the number of First Aid Posts at bases, thereby channelling men to 2MRS for treatment. I seem to recall that we had another earth tremor when Karkar or one of the local volcanos got angry one night but I am not adamant about it. Karkar was about 25 miles NE from Madang. 

2 Medical Receiving Station, New Guinea, 1943. Source: AWM

It was at 2MRS that I first took driving lessons. There were so many young men who joined up with no idea how to drive a car, but who finished up flying aircraft from Tiger Moths to Lancasters. Many would not learn to drive cars till they left the Air Force.

The 2MRS Transport Sergeant, Thompson or Johnson, took me up to Alexishafen which was about 16 miles north of Madang. I took him the first part of the way as he put me behind the wheel and away we went. I soon got the hang of it as we drove along a reasonable jungle road that just held two small vehicles passing each other. No problems till we came to a small river in a gully which was crossed by a single lane bridge with no side railings. Down the incline I went, changed gear at the bottom to cross the bridge and climbed back up the other side. It sounds easy today but not then. Just as another jeep came over the top and started down I stalled the jeep after hurrying the gears and could not get going again. A quick change of drivers solved the problem as the other fellow backed off a bit and all was well. I was soon back in the seat till the road narrowed and became rougher. More lessons needed.

Alexishafen was so named by the German traders who arrived in the Madang area in the 1880s. A Lutheran Mission was built closer to Madang and there was also a Catholic Mission near Alexishafen. We looked at that on our way up and also the places where the Japanese had built airstrips and bases. Beauforts and Vultee Vengeances carried out heavy raids on “Alex” in March 1944 when time started to run out for the Japanese as Allied forces gradually overcame them.

On 2MRS we were now looking towards Xmas 1945 to take us into the New Year and closer to a home posting. Soon the hospital wards were being decorated and now the war was over everybody was in good spirits. Xmas dinner arrived on time and we all sat down together, officers and nurses, NCOs and airmen, to eat our way through a delightful feast prepared by our chefs. On the spur of the moment I sent a copy down to the Sunday Times where the editor suitably responded in these words: 

TURKEY AT MADANG

Sending a cheerio from New Guinea, F/Sgt. Doug. Cash, R.A.A.F,, attaches a copy of the Xmas dinner menu of his unit. 

This is No. 2 Medical Receiving Station, Madang, N.G. 

Relatives of the boys will be glad to see the menu to know that they were well looked after:

Roast seasoned turkey (Cranberry jelly). Roast crumbed ham and fried banana slice.

Vegetables: Baked potatoes, baked pumpkin, green peas, French beans. 

Sweets: Parisian trifle and cream,  raspberry jelly and ice cream,  steamed plum pudding and brandy sauce. 

Mixed Nuts, sweets, almonds, figs, iced beer, fruit bon-bons, cafe noir.

Sunday Times, Perth, Sunday 6 January 1946, page 14 – Turkey at Madang. Source: Trove

The George Bennetts family from Kalgoorlie spotted the item in the Sunday Times and cut it out and sent it up. I still have it. 

Early in the New Year I received a letter from Roly telling me that he had reached Fremantle on 28 December after being posted home on 30 November 1945. Cec was home, Roly was home and I would soon join them I hoped. Roly’s wife Joan was to follow on a “Bride” ship from the UK and we all were keen to meet her soon. All the family on my mother’s side were English so we knew that we would have no trouble in making her welcome in our own family.

I was at 2MRS till 18 February 1946 when I was posted to Northern Area Command (NORCOM) which had its Headquarters in Madang. Men were being posted from unit to unit to fill the gaps as the higher points airmen were posted home so shifting about till your turn came around was an everyday event. More goodbyes. Once given a tent at NORCOM I was soon meeting new friends but one of them was an old friend, Steve Eade from Kalgoorlie. I was soon spending my leisure time swimming in the bay close to our base with Steve and his mates. He now lives in Mandurah and we drop in now and then to have a cup of tea with Steve and his wife, Lorna. We have been exchanging Xmas cards right down through the years.

I was now separated from aircraft and spare parts, radar gear, and medical supplies, to something entirely different. With the withdrawal of Air Force and Army personnel from Rabaul and other base areas to Madang, their food and catering requirements were based on NORCOM. The RAAF had much earlier taken over the cold storage units and other facilities for storing rations, which were originally the premises of the well-known island traders, Burns Philp. The OIC of my section explained the layout and the procedures for keeping the Air Force, the Army, and ANGAU fully supplied with the food necessities of life, and then left me to it. I do not recall ever seeing him again. It was up to me.

Out I went with a jeep and a driver to my new work location. The premises had been knocked about during the war but when I took over some repairs had been done and new equipment installed. My helpers consisted of one corporal, a driver, and a work gang of about 12 locals. Pidgin English was the lingua franca of the day and we all got along just fine. “You hearim tok-tok belonga me”. One feature of the food store I remember was the smell of the dehydrated vegetables. Beetroot and cabbage aromas were so strong that you tended to want to be somewhere else for a while to get some fresh air. On the other side of the coin however we had the benefit of the cold store to sample for fruit or a cool drink.

Each day Jeeps and trucks would come in from the Army, ANGAU, and our own units with their orders. There was now a better variety of food and all our customers made the best of it, as far as we would let them. 2MRS was well-treated with an extra chicken or two, and as I write this I seem to remember being allowed to keep my hut on the water there till 2MRS packed up, or I was posted home. NORCOM and 2MRS were close together.

NORCOM tent or 2MRS hut I was still swimming with the NORCOM boys and on one of these days I got the shock of my life. We used to swim from the shore to a 44-gallon drum floating platform about a hundred yards from the beach. Just as I dived in to come back the other chaps yelled out and I saw a Manta ray in full flight as it leaped out of the water between me and the shore. Its leap clear of the water was short-lived and it flopped back on the water in a great splash of foam. I was back on the float in record time for I had no idea what might happen next. Was I safe? I waited for the ray to surface again before swimming back over. The ray must have been ten feet wide and could have weighed 1,000 pounds (500kg), or more (NOTE: rays can grow to 7m wide and 1,350kg). It seemed to be black on top and white underneath as I watched it have its little game around the bay. I need not have worried for the “Devil Ray”, to use its other name, does not have a sting in its tail. Landing on you would be NBG.

After I had returned to Madang from Manus the RAAF had called for applicants to volunteer for the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) and I was keen to get a posting there but so were many others. I thought that my slight knowledge of Japanese might help me there but I think you needed to have the inside running. It reminded me of a time back in 14 Squadron when applicants were called for a one-year crash course in Japanese to be studied at Sydney University. Interpreters were urgently needed so I applied reasonably confident that my earlier lessons in Japanese might help. With the CO’s recommendation my papers went off to RAAF HQ at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, and that was the last I ever heard of it. Later a friendly Sergeant familiar with the system told me that a large number of the chosen group failed on course. He thought that the students had liked the Sydney lifestyle more than a Japanese education, or found the course too demanding.

A fellow member of our 1941 rookie days in Squad 69, Bill Pearce, signed himself up with ANGAU, when his posting back to Australia came through. Accounting was his field and he had grown to like the tropics enough to want to stay. He tried to talk me into that but I was much younger than he was and it was not for me. I was headed for Perth and it was only a few days later that my points score brought me a posting home, as from 23 March 1946. I was to report to No. 5 Personnel Depot in Perth once transport had been arranged. I decided to cut my baggage to a minimum and put what I did not want to carry in a box addressed to home. PX store goodies, a few souvenirs, odds and ends, and a few books I had picked up. All in all a suitcase-size box to be loaded onto a ship going back to the mainland. Well-labelled to 21 Victoria Square, Perth, and well-secured against inquisitive handlers, it still failed to arrive. I wonder which port it was lost at. I hope it gave them malaria or dengue, or blackwater fever, or even yaws. What’s yaws? Never ask that or it could cost you a drink.

Another clearance form was soon in my hand and I was on my way to the harbour to jump aboard a Catalina flying boat headed for Brisbane. The A24 Catalina (US PB2Y) was a twin-engined aircraft which gave great service to the Allied forces wherever they were flown. Long-range coastal patrols were their forte, so I stepped aboard my Catalina at Madang with the greatest of confidence. It did not take many passengers and I think another chap sat with me and four RAAF nursing sisters were crowded in up front. I think we did the trip in one hop as there was a direct flight line to Brisbane if you flew over the mountains of New Guinea. Some of the peaks were 14,000 feet high and they were part of a mighty dividing range that ran through the middle of the island. There were many deep valleys and fast-flowing streams. We skirted the tallest peaks but I remember the cold as I sat there wrapped up as best I could in my tropical clothes. It was freezing up high. The nurses were quiet and I think some had taken a pill or two to settle themselves down for the long trip. It could have been 2,000 miles or so. It was an uneventful flight except for a few moments over the mountains when one engine gave a few coughs and we seemed to slow up. Finally touch down at our harbour destination.

We all split up in Brisbane as we were on our own now and the idea was to make your way back to Perth with the assistance of the RAAF transport officers in the eastern states. I wanted to see Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, so I spent a couple of days in each. My first night in Brisbane was spent at the Union Jack Hostel, a community-run organisation typical of the many havens for travelling servicemen established throughout Australia by the many volunteer groups. That spirit is much harder to find today.

The first thing I did was to have a long soak in a hot bath. The water turned a deep yellow as the atebrin-filled pores of the skin opened up. I had now said goodbye to the malaria prevention tablets and also the large salt tablets that had been part of our daily diet for so long. It took me a few hot baths to gradually lose the yellow colour that my skin had taken on. For many months people could tell that we had been in the tropics by our colour.

A look around Brisbane and a check with the transport people got me a movement order to Sydney where I spent a couple of days at a hostel after getting a seat down on a Sunderland Flying Boat which moored at Rose Bay, a place I knew from my boyhood days. My last stop-off point was Melbourne where I went out to the Stores Depot or 1 Personnel Depot, where I collected my pay, and handed in all my tropical clothes. After a sojourn in the mould and mustiness and the damp of the tropics the clothes were no longer wearable. From underwear to cap, from shoes and socks to stripes, I was refitted with a new greatcoat as well. These were needed on discharge as you could not buy clothes just as you wanted them. There was rationing and new suits were hard to get even if you had a cash voucher for it.

As soon as I was ready the transport officer in Melbourne fixed me up with a seat on the train to Perth, leaving on 17 or 18 March. It was going straight through to Perth but I decided to hop off at Kalgoorlie and go home for a few days. Mum and Dad were glad to see me back safe and sound, and Roly and I were soon exchanging hellos and stories. His Joan was leaving England on a “bride” ship in two weeks and we were all happy about that.

Document – Certificate of Service and Discharge. Source: Doug Cash Collection

Back in Perth (April 1946)

For me it was off to Perth, still on my rail warrant, to report in to 5 Personnel Depot (PD). I reported in on the Tuesday and my discharge papers were activated. I had the afternoon off so it was into town and a call on the Moores at 21 Victoria Square. I had wanted to surprise them and that I did. I stayed for tea and supper and we talked about the trip back and talked about the future till it was time to head back to 5 PD.

We were medically examined before discharge and I recall showing the doctor my leg scars and querying the ongoing effects of the wound, now simply a scar. No sympathy there for he told me that it would heal up OK and be better and stronger than ever. Tough man? Once we had the doctor’s all clear it was only a matter of the papers being signed and it was goodbye (I thought) to the Royal Australian Air force. It was Thursday 4 April 1946. A new life lay ahead. The paths that it took still astound me.

RAAF (1948)

Early in 1948 my wartime friend, and AMP rep, Rex Marsh suggested that it would be nice if all our chaps in 14 Squadron RAAF could get together to talk over old times and today’s problems, if any. We were soon under way with me doing the organising with the help of Rex (our former Adjutant), and my friend, Bert Cutten who had been the Sgt pay clerk. Our shop was to be the central contact point for phone calls and letters. A couple of ads in the daily papers soon brought eager responses so we went ahead and fixed a date, April as I remember. I booked the 16th Battalion Drill Hall in Bazaar Terrace (now The Esplanade) and we were under way.

Responses came from far and wide: personal drop-ins at the shop, letters, phone calls and telegrams, some from the Eastern States. When the big night arrived Bert and I manned a table at the door to take their money 5/- (50c), and register them all for future occasions. Everybody was name-tagged. Nobody would remember everybody without that ID. 480 turned up for the big event. Rex Marsh handled the toasts and the speeches, others kept their eyes on the supplies. We had to have a second delivery of beer kegs and top up the pies and sausage rolls with more of the cheese and biscuits. A “tarpaulin muster” saw a response that took care of the extra expense and left something for next time. We still meet twice a year at the ANZAC Club, 11 am 2nd Wednesday, May/November, but now it is over 40 years later. No 480, No 80, just 20 or so. Many of the chaps were ten or more years older than me when they joined up so most of the “stayers” are in their 80’s and not 100% fit. The late Will Rogers said of a US veterans’ parade, “It’s the soldiers who should be in the stands, and the people marching”.

Further Reading …

Virtual War Memorial Australia:

 

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