So on 13 July 1943 it eventuated that we six volunteers were transferred to the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet Amphibious Landing Force as per the three of us indicated in the ‘Movement Order’ below.
We traveled to Brown’s Bay, north of Cairns, for jungle training, including landings in the surf in rubber boats.
At Brown’s Bay, we were joined by six men who were expatriate New Guinea planters, District Officers or Administrators. They had been seconded from the Allied Intelligence Bureau’s M Special Unit (Coastwatchers), and were to become the leaders of parties destined for infiltration into enemy territory where they were to reconnoitre prior to the planned invasion by US forces.
These ‘old hands’ were well-known Coastwatchers, including ‘Blue’ Harris who had already assisted many Australian escapees from the Rabaul fiasco (and was later killed during the ill-fated landing at Hollandia, now Jayapura), as well as Andy Kirkwall-Smith, Lyn Noakes and John Murphy (the latter being subsequently captured at Gasmata and held prisoner in Rabaul, although his signaller Les Carlson, one of our six volunteers, was killed by the Japanese).
At Brown’s Bay we signallers were assigned to these leading Coastwatchers. I was attached to Kirkwall-Smith’s party for deployment north.
In Cairns in August 1943, we embarked on an American LCI – Landing Craft Infantry – to make base on Fergusson Island, north of Milne Bay (New Guinea) and abreast of Goodenough Island – coincidentally where my twin brother Tom was stationed as part of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 100 Squadron, flying in Beaufort Bombers.
Travelling by US Patrol Torpedo (PT) boats, Kirkwall-Smith’s party made a brief sortie into the Japanese occupied Cape Gloucester in New Britain and also made landings on the Trobriands (Kiriwina) and Woodlark Islands to report no enemy occupation. We were then being transported on another ship to insert us into Buna on the South Coast of New Guinea (occupied by the Japanese). However the mission was aborted as the American troops had invaded the area. Returning to Fergusson Island, and without any prior notice, the unit was disbanded, without any reason given as to ‘why?’.
As an aside, the PT boat was an incredible experience, traveling at high speed (60kph) with torpedoes stacked on the deck ready for launch.
At this juncture, the party leaders returned to the Australian ‘Ferdinand’ coastwatchers, the code name given to the organisation by Feldt because, as he explained it, like the bull in the Dr Seuss children’s tale The Story of Ferdinand, ‘it was not our role to fight but to sit under a tree and send signals’. Of the signaller volunteers, three of us, including me, elected to join the M Special Unit Coastwatchers, with the others returning to their mainland LHQ unit.