Joining Up & Training

My pay book showing the date I joined up

My pay book showing the date I joined up

Joining Up

On 14 January 1942, at the age of 18, I attended the Albert Park Military Barracks where I passed the ‘medical’ after a Doctor grabbed me by the testicles and asked me to cough!

There were about 50 of us in my group and a burly Sergeant-Major commanded ‘Okay you lot, raise your hand if you work in an office or as a school teacher.’ He told those of us who raised our hands to ‘Stand over there!’ As I had worked in a Chartered Accountants’ office for the previous two years, I stuck up my hand. He then said to the others: ‘The rest of YOU ARE INFANTRY!’ Thus, my later destiny as a Coastwatcher was set.

Training

I was then encamped at Camp Pell at Royal Park in Melbourne. For six weeks, we were marched daily to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and taught how to send and receive Morse Code messages. I achieved a reasonable speed of 25 words per minute.

…. ..  – ––– .– .–.. .–..–.–– –––– ..–

Morse Code key

Morse Code key

Initial Deployments

From RMIT I was stationed at Land Headquarters (LHQ) at Park Orchards (an outer suburb of Melbourne) where I was one of those maintaining the only radio link with Port Moresby when the Japanese were within 26 miles of that vital port city. Coded messages transmitted round the clock on eight hour shifts were passed to and from the Military intelligence chiefs at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne.

When the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) came on strength to relieve base troops, we were relocated to Indooroopilly on the Brisbane River in Queensland from where I was trucked daily to the just-built basement foundations of the not-yet-built University of Queensland campus at St Lucia. From here I was again rostered to maintain the Morse Code link with New Guinea.

Nine months after arriving in Brisbane, six volunteer signallers were sought for a secretive special assignment. Ignoring the age-old army edict to never volunteer, I put up my hand to go overseas where my older brother, in the Militia of the 34th Fortress Engineers, was already a POW of the Japanese at Rabaul, New Britain. My twin brother was also up north.

The redeployment involved transfer to the US Amphibious Landing Force of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, of which I am now the only surviving Australian member.

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