Ship to New Guinea

472px-Victory_cargo_ships_are_lined_up_at_a_U.S._west_coast_shipyard.jpgVictory Ships

We got to Melbourne and were bivouaced somewhere but were assigned to a Victory Ship right in the port and I believe that the dock workers were fairly scarce because of the absence of able bodied men   so we spent several days loading ship with supplies for our journey for again we knew not where. We knew it would be to combat somewhere.  We were loading food and barbwire and ammunition and everything that had to do with these trips.  The deck had planks stacked neatly over what was the food supply.  I’ll tell you more about that later
This was a Victory Ship made in the U.S., a new line of ship being turned out quickly, therefore they were not very comfortable.  One of the things that were added to the ship were the “heads” which were strung out on both sides of the ship.  They were made of wood and overhung the side of the ship so that the waste matter would be dropped into the sea.  Sort of an afterthought, I would say.
We finally boarded ship in Melbourne and got under way, under escort with destroyers and headed north along the coast of Australia presumably into the war zone.  The sea was fairly calm and sunny every day and there was a feeling of elation and excitement, generally speaking and we were glad to get away from the routine of camp life.  We were bored since we had been hearing all of the reports of the progress of the war.  We knew that there were other Marine divisions that were hitting places like Bouganville and we had gotten word that the army had landed in New Guinea.
During the trip a couple of events occurred which are probably worth recounting.  One was that Sgt. Bales and Pvt. Gregory had gone AWOL before the ship sailed.  We knew not what happened to them but later it came out that both of them had been picked up by the MP’s which was easily done because there were no more Marines in Melbourne or Ballarat for that matter and it was probably easy to spot a young man with or without uniform in that environment so it was easy enough to spot them. It later came out that Sgt. Bales had contracted a venereal disease so we never saw him again.  Pvt. Gregory, will be a story for a later telling.
That was one event and the other one was a simile to the Caine Mutiny,  which  brings to my mind the case of the missing strawberries.  In this case there was a missing one or two cans of fruit such as fruit cocktail or peaches or something.   Someone had pried up the floorboards on the deck that we were sleeping on in our cots and the discovery was made that the cans were missing.  Well, there was a thorough investigation and all the bunks were checked out and it came about that the perpetrator was found and arrested and brought before Col. Hughes and the Court Martial.  Col. Hughes, was called “smiling Col. Hughes” because it was said that when he smiled you were going to get a tough sentence.
This fellow got 30 days bread and water on the ship and was confined in a rope locker in the bow of the ship which, consisted of a space probably 5 or six feet square and quite deep down into the bowels of the ship.  You could look down and see him through a grating in the top deck.  There were ropes down there coiled up that I suppose he slept on.  That was his sentence. 
The unjust part of it was that sometime during the cruise probably a week later, Col Hughes and the ship officers decided to have a pie eating contest for our entertainment.  The ship’s cooks brought up many pies and Col Hughes brought up the prisoner who was allowed to sit and watch while several of the members of the ships company and the Marines ravenously ate the pies and were timed while doing so.  It seemed a little cruel and unjust. I don’t know if it was against the Navy Regulations but nobody said anything and we felt sorry for him.
Life aboard ship was relatively dull; but relaxing and if you had spare time you could go to the Chaplains office and get a paper back book to read.  I read several books during my time aboard ship.   It was during this time that the first paperback books were available.   I don’t think that books were ever printed that way before and they were for distribution to the armed forces.  Reading was one way to pass the time.  We had a several modest working parties, cleaning and sweeping I think that I was assigned to a gun watch at one point and that took one or two hours in the evening.  Other than that it was sort of uneventful.
There was another thing that I will always remember.  I happened to be standing at the rail one day and I was standing next to Lebrock, who was a fellow I didn’t know very well, but he had the demeanor of an older man especially when he smoked his pipe.  We got to talking and he was talking about his girl friend back in Australia whom he had left. He had written a letter to her that he wanted to get mailed.  I think he had the idea that he would marry this girl because he was serious about it and had established a good relationship with her.  At any rate, he talked with rather a sad outlook and it sounded as if he had a premonition of something happening to him, which it later did.    
We anchored off the town of Townsville that is in Northern Australia, and just inside the Great Barrier Reef.  Actually, we anchored out just beyond the Reef.  I had read and heard about the Great Barrier Reef and was anxious to see something that I hadn’t seen before, along with a whole lot of others who were also curious.  I don’t understand the purpose of the stop over except that possibly they picked up someone or a unit that was coming along with us but; we saw some smaller boats going into town and coming back. We stayed probably a half a day and then resumed our northward journey.
The scuttle but finally reached us that we were headed for New Guinea.  I judge that after sailing maybe three, four or five days we finally sighted the Island of New Guinea.  It was most remarkable that as we got closer and closer to the island there were dolphin swimming out in front of us heading into Oro Bay which had already been secured by the army.  There were several ships anchored out there; but the big thing was that what we were looking at were pretty big mountains of lush greenery, which were the Owen Stanley Mountain Range.
The other side of the range on the coast was Port Moresby, the big city of New Guinea, which  was occupied by Australians.  We learned that the Japanese had tried to take Port Moresby but the going was too rough trying to get over the mountain range and also due to the tenacity of the Australians.
As we approached the port of Oro Bay there were ships with army people aboard so we got some hoots and howls and a lot of derisive cat calls about how late we were getting in there to fight the war.  At any rate, we pulled into the bay and anchored off shore.  There was a good size loading dock.  Oro Bay looked like a well established army base with some minor conveniences.  There was an air force base within a few miles, there was an outdoor theater and a medical unit and other kinds of facilities that indicated that they had been there for a little while.
The only problem was that they were still subject to Japanese air raids and the army was still fighting in Buna which was not too far up the coast, therefore we were told that the ship would have to be unloaded as quickly as possible to minimize the risk of getting a bomb hit since we were carrying ammunition and bombs and every sort of thing we needed.
Accordingly, most of our troops disembarked took all their gear with them and set out to set up a base.  Unfortunately, I was chosen as one of the people to help unload the ship.  This turned out to be one of the most exhausting manual labors that I have ever experienced.  As it turned out we worked for  seventy two hours straight, I kept track of the time.   We had approximately six hours of sleep and there was nothing to sleep on except what I recall was sleeping with a 2x4 under my head and sleeping on the steel deck.  We were so tired that we slept pretty well before being awakened for more work.  The work consisted of standing under the opening in the top deck above and waiting for the crane to lower a cargo net which was quite large and we would unhook the cargo net from the hook and lay it out flat and stack whatever equipment or food boxes into the net and then hook the net back up to the crane and signal for him to heave it up.  I guess it was probably lowered to the outside to the dock where it was loaded into trucks and taken away somewhere.  The hold was loaded up in layers so that the top layer was probably food crates, barbed wire and ammunition and finally bombs and it went on and on.  Each time we unloaded one layer the decking would have to be stripped and the next layer would have to be loaded onto the cargo nets.  This continued for the whole 72 hours.   By the end of that time we did have an air raid and an alert in the middle of the night.  At one point and we were concerned that we might be subjected to a bombing attack because the bombs were still in the bottom hold of the ship.  Fortunately, planes were driven off so that we never got the bombing attack directly.
After seventy two hours we finally got to disembark and join our group.  They had already set up tents and tent rows and I fell back into the tent that I was supposed to be in.