The Army - 7th Mechanical Equipment Coy

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Shortly after the 7th Mechanical Equipment Coy A.I.F was initiated, troops were assembled in Sydney and shipped to Wewak in New Guinea. A Sergeant, three Sapper Mechanics who had been separate from the troop assembly and myself made up the new Coy. We were required to transport numerous vehicles (jeeps, transport trucks, machining and welding trucks, large and small bulldozers and auto patrol graders) from Sydney Wharf by tramp steamer to rough Open Ocean unloading approximately half a mile off shore from Wewak.

The dozers and auto patrols weighed in excess of the 5 ton regulated capacity of the ancient ships loading cranes. Once again I used my initiative and stripped the dozers of heavy blades and massive winching mechanisms and the auto patrols of blades, engines and gearboxes with the help of my Sapper Mechanics. When loading, I had to (with tongue in cheek) assure the ships mate that the loads were less than 5 ton and the whining and moaning of his hoisting gear was due to their old age and lack of proper maintenance.

It was interesting to watch the unloading in rough waters, with the ship heaving and rolling and the landing barges (with drop fronts) bobbing up and down alongside. I had to remain beside the ships crane operator to ensure he always obeyed my instructions while my Sergeant and Sappers were onshore reassembling the dismantled machinery. The instructions were to slowly lower the loads overside until he noticed the lifting cables slackening off as the barges surged up under the loads and then to immediately release his clutch to let the load run freely as the barges dropped.

I eventually got ashore with the last load where my sergeant informed me I was once again ‘under threat’ of demotion to Sapper via Court-martial. A Senior (and idiot?) Officer, already established at Wewak, had come to the beach out of curiosity upon seeing a ship being ocean unloaded and large amounts of heavy equipment being beach landed under active war conditions, the occasional Jap bombs having dropped near by. When he saw the reassembly being carried out, he demanded from my Sergeant, the Rank, name and unit of whoever was responsible for the unacceptable reassembly of machinery on a windy sandy beach and threatening disciplinary action.

The only bomb damage to my men was the hitting of their heads on diffs and gearboxes as they dived and squirmed under vehicles to avoid possible shrapnel. Distant sporadic rifle and machine gun fire added texture to the comparatively dangerous situation.

                  • Peter to Sort out final location

During my time in Wewak I had a batman appointed to me, he would on occasion act as G.P. driver. At one stage, to test his acumen, when he eased accelerator pressure (load off engine) I carefully used my knee to nudge the small gear lever into neutral. Whilst he was underneath the G.P. to see if anything had fallen off I reinstated the gear lever. I did this at least three times but he never twigged. Eventually he got his revenge – for quite some time I slept in one legged pyjamas; the missing leg had been left ‘accidentally’, on the outside of the cut down 44 gallon drum in which he boiled my clothes.

At one stage in Wewak the Corporal and his staff on mess duty had trouble waking up early to prepare breakfast for the platoon so I contrived an alarm clock to be placed near his head. I removed the glass face of a standard issue pocket watch and mounted it onto a block of wood to which I placed two fine wires, one with a slight bend on its inner end. Both wires projected between the watch face and under the hands with the bend extending to just above the hour hand (but below the minute hand) this way the clock hand would push the bent wire sideways onto the other wire completing a circuit and activationg an electric bell. On awakening, the Corporal could move another switch, which stopped the bell and turned on the tent light, which I’d attached to the same circuit. This light circuit included a resistance so that the light would be dim and not arouse the other sleepers in the tent. - All tents were equipped with lights powered by car batteries.

In Wewak it was rumoured that

1 – the Japs cut the clothes off a dead Australian Soldiers leaving the clothes and take the corpse to cannibalise it due to the paucity of their food supply and

2 – that in the hours of darkness the Japs had the habit of creeping into Australian camps and rolling live hand grenades into tents sleeping six soldiers, so in our camp I arranged, between lights out and reveille, four patrols of two men in two hour shifts.

Two of my jobs in Wewak were:

1 – Clear an area on which to build a camp hospital, clear all vegetation by pushing it over a near by cliff into the sea and fill in all the various bomb craters made by both Jap and Australian bombs.

2 - Via a Chinaman (which was built from palm tree trunks that are fibrous) load a convoy of at least 16 trucks at a time with road stabilising material for the fighting division to build and stabilise roads chasing the Japs into the mountains. Because of the multitude of bomb craters I used my big D8 dozer for hospital and only a couple of small D4 dozers for the convoy loading. It usually took two to three blade loads of the small dozer to fill one truck, this took about 15 minutes, multiplied by 16 truck and it ended up taking about four hours to load the entire convoy. Late one night I was told by field phone that disciplinary action was to be taken against me because of the time it took to fill the convoy etc.

So I added a big D8 dozer to the two small ones, I used the D8 to tear out a massive amount of coral and shell to build a large stockpile and two parallel heaps alongside to prevent spillage from D8’s blade pushing a full load. This large load would have been prepared for it by the small dozers so it could fill the truck below in one go. This meant the convoy of 16 trucks was filled and away in 45 minutes. This worked admirably for the next few days (although I received no congratulations) BUT it then rained continually for the rest of the week. So of course the loose stockpile and the fibrous palm trunks got saturated. With the next break in the weather, the first convoy was successfully loaded but the next day the third truck in line got filled with its load, the Chinaman and the D8 dozer. After cleaning up the mess I confronted the complaining Lt. Col. and asked what disciplinary action against me was still proposed. He just said 'HURMP' and walked away.

The atom bombs dropped on Japan caused cessation of hostilities therefore and a mass exodus of Australian troops from New Guinea. This meant I was forced back to my Company H.Q. At that time the Major 0 1/c of the Coy was back in Australia being 'bowler hatted' out of the army so I became acting 0 1/c responsible for Coy dissolution. The other two officers and most of the troops, 'like rats deserting a sinking ship', were allowed to go for 'demobilisation'. I held back several sappers and the very unhappy Quartermaster Sergeant. I had little or no Q.M. experience so I needed the Q.M.S.’s assistance. Some of the sappers were needed to return all vehicles and earthmoving equipment to Wewak Q. Depot. All other war equipment was crated to travel back to Australia.

When the crating was finished the rest of the sappers were allowed to depart for demob leaving my batman, the disgruntled Q.M.S. and myself to ship back to Townsville with the crates which were returned to the Q. depot there. The three of us plus a heap of signed receipted returns then travelled to Sydney where the final Coy dissolution meeting was to be held. We joined the queue waiting for the dissolution meeting and as we waited I learned that my Q.M. Sergent had taken advantage of the free travel for uniformed service personnel by going to Melbourne for his long awaited demob.

His departure meant it would be up to me to present all documents at the final dissolution meeting, so I went through and checked them only to discover just how disgruntled my Q.M.S. was. To my chagrin, I realised that the signed invoices for the return to Wewak Q depots of all the machinery, transport and dozers etc. was missing, evidently having been thrown overboard by my Q.M.S. as revenge for his retention from early demob in New Guinea. Fortunately the third unsigned copy still remained.

This meant that I went through a very swift learning curve on the details of all Q matters and managed to establish, by urgent (4 star) signals to and from Wewak Q. depot, the validity of the unsigned third copy of the machinery return. By other devious machinations including a bottle of Scotch and Gin I arranged for the Army and the Coy war equipment tables, including receipted invoices of all materials returned to various Q. depots, were all within 98% of agreement.

************ You could write here "It was a good thing I could get them to agree, since the Colonel had left some equipment out in the bush to start a gold mining company with a few years later."

Over many years the bargaining power of premium spirits and wine (such as scotch and champagne) became more apparent. Added to this was the spate of high taxation in the U.K. that caused high earners to become domiciled outside of England. An example of its consequence follows: When finalising the surgeon’s fee for his massive operation on a successful Barrister, both agreed adequate payment was a case of Scotch. The reason for this was that the surgeon would lose 80% of his fee through taxation and the Barrister would have to earn over 80% of his fee for the same reason. The American Navy, unlike the British was ‘dry’. For this reason I imagined a sufficient a number of cases of scotch could acquire one of their warships. In any case, unlike Australia, all offensive equipment leaving U.S shores, bound for war zones were written off on departure from the U.S. This explained the ready agreement of U.S. personnel to freely donate any of it to associated Army or Personnel. I had intuitively used this trade several times with the U.S Navy and the U.S and Australian Armies as well as the Dutch during my Army career.

Another piece of trivia –

My experience with YANK ‘LEND LEASE’ war equipment supplied to the Australian Army (to wit) bulldozers etc. prooved the welding joined components to usually be substandard. When this equipment was used, beyond its conventional role, to lift trees or large rocks out of the ground with the outside tips of the pushing blades, the blades disintegrated. Also a lot of the ‘welded’ Liberty ships disintegrated in really rough seas.

Another instance of YANK bad workmanship and supervision was the inadequate ‘fireproofing’ of bare light section central structural steel, which contributed to the collapse of the YANK TWIN TOWERS. The intensity of the aviation fuel fire was sufficient to soften the central core's ‘light section’ steel, which bent and fell onto lower core sections, the extra loads causing them to also collapse.

*********************** Peter please rewrite the following two sentences as they are unclear and hard for me to interpret.

This removal of the floor-to-floor horizontal support of the core section to the main columns turned them from short to long columns, which buckled from the loads above so dropping the building above with high impact onto the lower section collapsing it. The validity of the above is proven by the building that was hit lower down with higher load above was the first to totally collapse.

When the day of the dissolution meeting for my Coy arrived, my batman and I fronted up to the Major presiding with all our documents on hand. The batman took all the papers and retired to a back room with the Major’s Sergeant. While they were there I listened to the Major gripe about how long it was taking to deal with other Coy’s dissolution, as there were threats of military or civil action against several Coy Officers. Apparently a lot of valuable army equipment got demobbed with Officers of those companies.

About 20 minutes later the Sergeant returned and was greeted with ‘What, more trouble!?!” by the Major. The reply was “No complaints. All records tally within acceptable limits.”

As the surprised look on the Major’s face subsided, he effusively shook my hand and congratulated me on my company’s efficiency.

This was only the second time I was congratulated during my Army Service. The first time occurred at the Bomb Disposal School.

When the Jap's were in ascendancy in New Guinea the locals tended to side with them, so the ‘powers that be’ in Australia decided to collect several tribal leaders from N.G. and tour them up the East Coast from Melbourne, to make them aware of the Australian preparations to oust the Japs.

At that time I was preparing to dispose of the really dangerous parts of the acquired American bombs (discussed in the previous chapter). A Colonel appeared and asked for a demonstration of our activities, he was accompanied by one of the New Guinean tribal chiefs and his interpreter. The chief, on first appearance, seemed to be about 3 meters tall. He was very robust with wide shoulders, thick arms and thighs and had a great deal of feathered regalia sprouting from head, shoulders, thighs and calves. While we were all standing close to my workshop, I explained to the Chief (through the interpreter) what I was going to do. I then laid the explosives out, lit the fire trail, and returned to the group turning to watch the explosion, which was extremely loud and produced a hefty shock wave.

When I turned to see the effect of the explosion and shock wave on the tribal chief, he was nowhere to be seen. He turned out to be on top of my workshop roof, seeming to have jumped 20ft high and 30ft sideways, we watched him descend with a shamed look on his face. That evening in the officers mess the Colonel effusively congratulated me and said that was the best and most effective demonstration so far encountered.

INSERT SKETCH HERE - (To be found in typed draft numbered 9/2)

The very heavy shock wave probably helped the Chief on his upward journey, which the LOUD sound of the explosion had started.

This was the second time I had witnessed the marvellous increase of physical ability caused by an instant surge of adrenalin. Long before the event of car and street trafficators, hand signals and police on point duty were the norm. While still attending U.W.A. I, at one time, rode my motorbike down Barrack Street towards Wellington Street, which had a cop on point duty. I was overtaking a car on its right side when, without warning, the car started to turn right forcing me to drive at the cop. All I saw was a pair of boots passing over my head. On crossing Beaufort Street Bridge I turned to look back and saw the cop on the pavement corner gasping. For the next nine months I used Plain Street to travel from Crawley to Maylands.

As another piece of trivia I once, whilst walking in the opposite direction on Bourke Street in Melbourne, made eye contact with General Mc``Arthur without my showing any form of acknowledgement of his presence in Australia. Incidentally, post-war McArthur got canned in his attempt to regain power in the USA.

Another snippet was that the head of the Australian Army, General Blamey owned a gold mine in New Guinea and toward the end of the hostilities there, he used Army troops to work the mine. A lot of Blamey’s profit went back to Australia virtually in the pockets of the troops. They made moulds of all their heavy tools into which they poured molten gold, painting the results with silver frost (fine grains of aluminium powder in oil) to simulate the colour of their tools.

From this it should be blatantly apparent why, on Demob, I’ve never contemplated joining Army R.S.L (Returned Soldiers League). I have no desire to socialise with self-opinionated pompous idiot Ex-Officers.

My father used to tell me that one of the main reasons for the Anzac disaster in Gallipoli was due to idiot English Officers. All the ships were loaded wrong. What was needed first was loaded onto the ships first and what was needed last was loaded on the ships last. This is a bit like the decision to locate Australia’s Capital City (Canberra) inland beyond the range of enemy battleship guns or like the large guns in Singapore fixed facing the ocean and incapable of being turned around to shell inland against the Jap’s land invasion!.

As the saying goes, 'if you have a good Sergeant Major in charge of the troops you have a good Company'

Many years after the war, I received a letter from one of my Sappers who served with me in New Guinea; in this letter he remarked that I was the best Officer he had served under in the various Engineering Companies he had been attached to. He also went on to reminisce about the time he and a mate were stealthily walking through the bush, keeping away from established tracks in proximity of our camp. When they came across an abandoned Jap machine gun post concealed near the crossing of two tracks. The gun was loaded with a belt of ammunition and had another belt of ammunition sitting in a box alongside. They toted gun and ammo back to camp and gave the troops a demonstration of the destructive power of the weapon by decimating the adjacent woodland.

Soon after the War the Q. Depot at Mataranka, some miles south of Darwin, was massively stocked with returned War equipment and set up for the disposal of them to civilian communities. The transport section was divided into two sections 'GOERS' and 'NONGOERS', 'NOGOERS' were damaged and commandeered army vehicles not suitable for civilian road usage. An entrepreneur bought this latter section. The Goers were auctioned off with only accredited Eastern States car traders allowed to attend and bid. This group elected only one member to bid resulting in all vehicles being purchased at rock bottom bargain prices. The problem of driving a multitude of purchased vehicles south was solved by them recruiting small number of drivers each of whom drove one vehicle. This vehicle was attached to three extra vehicles with a special towbar that turned the front wheels in the direction of the towing vehicle. Very few of them reached Melbourne; most were sold enroute at a massive profit to the dealers.

The large number of vehicles meant at least four trips south for the drivers, one of whom was the brother of my friend in Perth. This driver urged my friend to join the driving team. Having recently demobbed at Karrakatta, and deciding not to rejoin the PWDAD for a month, I went with my friend to Darwin. Whilst awaiting the drivers’ return from their first trip we both went to the 'NOGOER' section and purchased several vehicles at bargain prices. He bought one and I, several with the money my mother had saved for me.

Because of my assumed paucity of work for my father during wartime the Army clothed and fed me and provided free rations of beer and tobacco. I expected to be away from civilisation for a long time so I allocated the bulk of my stipend to my mother to give the impression of established dependency and allow her to make a claim on the Commonwealth in the event of my demise. On Demob I found that she had accrued it to give to me so I used it here. My purchases were; a left hand drive commandeered 5-ton truck with damaged headlight and a kilometre per hour speedo, similar to the one I used to transport bombs from Melbourne to Wodonga; the remnants of a similar right hand drive truck from which I stripped the right hand steering and it’s MPH speedometer; a new unused Bren gun tracked carrier, which I drove into the bush and stripped of its radiator, engine, gearbox, rear axles and dashboard instruments with its MPH speedo; and a wheel-less Ford Utility.

At the time petrol was rationed in Australia, so I drove my empty left hand drive truck to Darwin, scavenging empty 44-gallon petrol drums dumped in various locations along the route. On arrival at Darwin, I obtained petrol coupons and at the Shell Depot. I left all the drums as a deposit for two drums of 44 gallons of petrol bought using some of those coupons, the rest of the coupons I kept for use, if needed, during my trip West and in Perth on my arrival. I also bought two 4-gallon drums of engine oil. On return to Mataranka, I arranged for my friend to buy 5 wheels for my Ute when he returned south, and freight them to me in Perth. I loaded my truck with my other acquisitions and headed off to Alice Springs where I travelled on the GHAN railway, getting off just prior to Adelaide. I obtained some newly available sealed beam headlights for the truck, fitted them and commenced my non-stop drive on the dirt tracks that were then, the road across the Nullarbor. On arrival back in Perth I happily received a sizable cheque from the Darwin Shell Depot for the surplus 44-gallon drums. I then started a fortnight of feverish activity upgrading the truck to right hand drive, swapping the Speedo and selling the modified truck to a farmer. The wheelless Ute was then stripping of its engine, gearbox and radiator. I fitted to it the bren gun carrier engine, radiator and gearbox and of course the 5 wheels sent by my friend. After a top overhaul of the stripped Ute engine it, its gearbox, radiator and the trucks KPH Speedo were filled to my father’s 1928 soft-top Dodge Touring car, making it a V8 FORGE (half Ford half Dodge). As it turned out, because of the Dodge's differential ratio, the KPH Speedo became a MPH Speedo on the Forge.

Some time after the birth of the Forge, my parents travelled down south to visit friends in the Capel Metricup area where they pulled off to the side of the road to have a picnic lunch. A few minutes later a new Oldsmobile Sedan pulled up alongside. The driver got out and asked ‘what in the hell have you got under the bonnet – for the last 10 miles I’ve been trying to overtake you’. His eyes popped when he saw the V8 power plant.

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