More wartime recollections: Bob Emery

(As recorded on tape in October 1996 and published in Una Voce, March 1997, page 35. An edited version is contained in Tales of Papua New Guinea, page 70)

Our membership records show that R E (Bob) Emery was in PNG from 1933 to 1950. He was in private industry (building, plantations and farming). During his time in PNG he resided or had interests in Wau, Bulolo, Bulwa, Lae, Madang, Ramu, Kainantu, Aiyura, Salamaua, Goodenough Is, Finschafen, Kalingi, Talasea, Cape Hoskins, Witu Is. He joined the NGVR full time August 1941 and transferred to ANGAU in 1943. He now lives in Kingston, South Australia. The narratives show excellent recall.

Members may remember Bob Emery’s story of the bombing of Madang and the rescue of soldiers stranded on New Britain, published in our September 1996 issue. Bob now describes further incidents which took place in 1942.

I am now attached to the 5th Independent Company and they have finished the raid on Heath’s Farm a couple of weeks ago and have recovered from that and the only casualty of any importance was that the Commanding Officer, Major Kneen, was killed. He was a big loss to the Company. The next in command was Captain Lang who took over, but he disappeared after three or four weeks, I don’t know what happened to him, and then the next Commanding Officer was Captain Taylor, I think his name was. At this time I was attached to them and was mainly occupied in reconnaissance work and contacting and dealing with the locals. There were no ANGAU representatives down there where we were at that time and this is just after the East raid, or a month after. The new CO, Taylor, sent for me one day and asked me could I organise food supplies from the locals, vegetables etc, because they were very short of food for the men. They had about 200 men there to feed – this is a Company – and he said they only had enough rations for about another ten days and they had been waiting for stuff to be dropped by air for weeks and it hadn’t arrived yet. Well, that was fairly easy to understand because we were only about, well at the outside 22 or 23 miles from Lae which was held by the Japs and the Japs had complete command of the sky with their Zero planes at that time and I could understand it wouldn’t be very easy to get planes to drop supplies to us where we were. Anyway he wanted me to go and contact the locals and get some supplies from them. Well, I knew that we had been getting supplies from them for about the previous three or four months and they had to feed themselves and they were getting a bit short and I told him this and I said, ‘Look, it’s not going to be too easy to get. We will have to send further afield and we really need some Police Boys,’ and we didn’t have them either, and I said, ‘But if you are so short of rations I think I can get you some groceries if you let me go up to the head of the Ramu, up to Kainantu, there’s a helluva lot of groceries and food supplies up there that we organised out of Madang and they’ve been stored up there somewhere, that is if somebody hasn’t already eaten them, and there’s a fair chance I can get you food supplies down from there.’ Well, he was a bit astounded when I told him this and he said, ‘Well, how long will it take you to organise that?’ ‘Well’, I said, ‘if I left this afternoon, walking (the only way to get there is to walk) it would be three days to walk there and that is walking pretty flat out for about 10 or 12 hours a day, and it might take three days there to organise carriers, and three days to come back.’ I said it would take a minimum of 9-10 days, and actually I didn’t tell him that I was breaking my neck to go because it was getting a bit dangerous down here where we were, only about 25 miles from the enemy, and he said, ‘What supplies would you want?’ and I said, ‘Half a dozen sticks of tobacco and a tin of meat will do me, I’ll buy the rest from the locals as I walk through, with the tobacco.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’d like you to start straight away, Emery … get going.’

Well, this was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, so I went and packed my light travelling equipment which consisted of a rucksack, a groundsheet and mosquito net and a thick flannel singlet that I used to wear when I got cold and that was it, and a tin of meat and half a dozen sticks of tobacco. And I walked down to Kirkland’s Crossing. Well, that was about three hours’ walk from where I was at Bob’s Camp and I got there about an hour before sunset and there was a canoe there and I got the locals to give me a ride up to Chivasing Village – this was up the Markham a bit, and I got to Chivasing Village just as it got dark and I found a place there with the aid of the locals to sleep for the night and I told them what I was doing and that I wanted to get away early in the morning and if there was any young fellow there, a villager, who’d like to come for a walk he could come with me, he might be able to help carry my rucksack.

Anyway I slept – rested – I didn’t sleep such a dickens of a lot because I had the walk ahead of me and I was up before daylight, ready to go, and there’s a local there, standing alongside me and he said he wanted to go with me and I said, ‘O, good on you, Rastas, let’s go,’ and we got going. Well, I reckon the hottest walking in New Guinea is the stretch from Chivasing to Kaiapit. You are walking in kunai all day, there’s no shade, no trees, you get an odd island of trees, but they are not on the road – and when I say road it’s only a foot track. Anyway off we went and we walked and we walked, all day. Round about midday we stopped for about half an hour and had a bit of a feed – a couple of bananas or something like that I got from the locals the night before, and on we went and we got to Kaiapit just about dusk and I just walked straight up to the House Kiap and got the locals to cut me a bundle of kunai to put on the floor, spread my groundsheet over that, rigged up the mosquito net and started resting. I had a bit of a wash in the creek not far away. Anyway, the tultul turned up after I had made myself comfortable for the night and he was a nice sort of bloke, he had been working for years for the white men and he was a bit interested to know what was going on. He gave me a couple more bananas and a half a paw paw and a nice piece of cooked kau kau and I opened my tin of meat and gave him a bit of it and gave my friend who was walking with me all day a bit of the tinned meat and we had a nice feed.

We got going again first thing in the morning, walking walking walking, we crossed the Markham round about midday or a bit later and we kept on going and we got to the last village on the other side of the Markham – we are now on the South side and we are getting close to the mountains. Up till now we had been walking on practically flat ground and we arrived at this village and I decided we’d stop there that night because it looked to me as if we would start climbing the next day and we would be climbing all day and that is what happened. I slept there that night and in the morning the bloke that came with me from Chivasing, he retired with a couple of sticks of tobacco to cheer him up and another bloke came with me and we started climbing. Well, we climbed all day, well it seemed like all day, but about 3 o’clock in the afternoon or 4 o’clock, we were walking, it’s cold, it’s drizzly rain, showers, and it’s foggy and we were walking in fog and I said to this local, ‘For Heaven’s sake, where is this place?’ And he said, ‘O Masta, i no long we nau, i klostu, klostu.’ Anyway, about five minutes later, all of a sudden there’s a log fence right across the track and the only way to get over this log fence was to crawl up a bit of a ladder, which we did, and got over it and on the other side of the log fence we were in a garden and we went about another half a dozen paces and there’s a house. I walked into the house and this is the Agricultural Officer’s house at Aiyura and in the house there’s a white man sitting down there who I knew quite well, Jim Brough, and he just had afternoon tea and he’s eating fresh cooked scones with butter and cream and what looked like strawberry jam to me. Well this was pretty good tucker compared with what we had been getting down below where I had just come from. He made me very welcome and I had some tea and scones and then I told him what I wanted to do. I said, ‘Do you know anything about this cargo that was brought up from Madang a month or two ago, or three?’ ‘Oh, yea, yea,’ he said, ‘We got it all here. It finished up at Kainantu and then they decided to bring it over here because if the Japs took the place they’d find it at Kainantu.’ He said, ‘We built a big storehouse out in the bush here not far from Aiyura and it is all stacked up there.’ ‘Well, good!’ I said. ‘I want about 100 boy loads of supplies to take down to the 5th Independent Company down near Lae. ‘Oh well,’ he said, ‘that’s no problem, I can organise that for you.’ So I left that to him and I spent the next couple of days resting and eating. Incidentally they had the garden there full of a big patch of strawberries, ripe as anything – you could eat strawberries all day if you wanted to. Well I ate them until I got sick of the sight of them.. They were milking a cow – they had fresh milk and cream and were making butter. And Jim had got this all to himself. Now this place was run by Ron Brechin who was a Roseworthy Diploma of Agriculture bloke. I had been at Roseworthy when he was there and he is now over at Kainantu looking after the refugees from Madang and everywhere else, that were walking in and he was feeding them, that’s the old people and the sick and everybody else who didn’t want to stop down close to where the Japs were, and from there they rested and then they walked on up to Bena Bena or Goroka or somewhere and they were flown out, but that’s another story.

I spent three days resting and eating strawberries and fresh scones etc. This house at Aiyura was where Ron Brechin had been stationed, he was the Agricultural Officer and he was the man who was responsible for the milking cow and the butter and everything else and he had taught the locals to milk the cows and how to handle the stuff and he was also the gardener, he planted a lot of strawberries and a few other odds and ends, and Jim Brough was the caretaker just at present. While I am resting for three days, Jim is organising the carriers and the cargo and getting it all ready and on the fourth morning I was ready to leave and we left Aiyura and were walking downhill now to the village where I slept just before I got here. We got in there round about midday with all this cargo and I got the luluai and tultul and told them what we wanted. We wanted a couple of rafts made to put this cargo on, and we wanted a couple of locals to run each raft. They hopped into that and got stuck into it. I had plenty more sticks of tobacco now – I got some from the store – so we were able to pay them well. I can’t remember whether Jim Brough went down the river with me or not, I think he went back to look after the place. I slept there that night while the blokes were making the rafts. All they had to do was use driftwood which had drifted down the river – it had to be capable of floating to drift down the river anyway – that is what they made the rafts out of. We loaded up the stuff the next morning and off we went with a couple of locals on each raft and me sitting on one of the rafts with them.

We camped that night down the Markham somewhere, it might have been near Kaiapit, but we were still on the river and we pulled ashore. The next day off we go and we get into Chivasing the next afternoon. Well, I had been away from Nadzab for about 10 days and anything could have happened while I was away, so I wanted to find out from the Chivasing people whether it was safe to go on. They reckoned there were no Japs down there at Nadzab where we were going, so on we went and next morning we get to Kirkland’s Crossing with these two rafts loaded up with merchandise and I went ashore there and I found the Quartermaster’s representative who was there and I handed all the cargo over to him and it was his job to look after it after that, but I also had the foresight before we got there to pick out a few tins of choice rations and hide them for our own use later, because once the Quartermaster got his hands on it, well the officers got first pick and all we got was what they didn’t want and it was dished out very sparingly. Well, while we are getting rid of the cargo and organising this, this is around about 10 o’clock in the morning I suppose, Chivasing is not a long way away, Jock McLeod walked into the camp. Well, I knew Jock quite well and I got talking to him and it appears that while I was away the 5th Independent Company had sent a patrol in to get a prisoner and Bill Chaffey was one of them and Dick Vernon was one – he was the local bloke – and Dick Vernon was killed on this trip and they didn’t get a prisoner. Then the Japs followed them back up the road and raided the camp and all the AIF blokes now were on the other side of the Markham, not the Lae side, the other side. Prior to this they had had a camp alongside the villages, but the villagers had now asked them, if they couldn’t keep the Japs away, would they keep away from them because all we were doing was drawing the crabs on them, so now they had pulled them all back and we had no contact with locals on the Lae side of the village and they hadn’t had any information for about a week from the other side. Jock was going over to see the Gabsonket people to find out, if he could, what the enemy was doing and whether they were coming up that way. Well, Jock knew them very well, and they knew him because he was a kiap and I said to Jock, ‘Can I go with you?’ and he said, ‘Yes, yes, you come with me,’ so both Jock and I went across the Markham and we walked across then up to Gabsonket village which was about an hour and a half walk, I suppose, and we were pretty cautious because we didn’t know who we were going to meet on the way. We got in to Gabsonket, we were made quite welcome, just the two of us, the locals knew we were both New Guinea men and we got a lot of information and we stopped there for an hour or two talking and then we decided to go back.

We headed back to Kirklands Crossing and when we got back it was about 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, it was a very hot day, to cross the river at this time they were a bit nervous about sending canoes over the river in the daytime because you never knew when the Jap Zero were going to fly up the river from Lae and have a shot at you. It only took them about half a minute to get from Lae up to where we were, so we had to sit down there and wait until dusk before the canoe would come. We both had no dinner and it was stinking hot, so we sat there on the side of the Markham for an hour or so and round about 3 o’clock we decided we could swim across. We swam across but we both nearly got drowned on the way. For one thing, we had overlooked the fact that it was fresh water and not sea water and I was wearing a belt that had attached to it a Bowie knife, a revolver, a container full of bullets and a compass, and all this stuff was heavy and it was really hard to keep afloat in the fresh water. Anyway, we got across, it was rather touch and go there for a while that Jock and I weren’t drowned.

The main reason for this tape is to give you an idea of what happened to some of the stores that we got out of the bond stores in Madang. All the Government people had just packed up and gone and abandoned the whole lot for the enemy. Well, we, the NGVR, knew that we could not stop them landing if they wanted to but we did rescue all these stores and we shifted a dickens of a lot of stuff out of Madang with the help of the locals and we were able to pay them fairly generously because we had all this trade tobacco which we also salvaged and all this stuff had just been abandoned, and in the District Office it was the same, the records were just left there for the Japs to take over. Well anyway, we got all this stuff going up the road – I was down the bottom end, on the Madang end, and as I said before we had men stationed all the way up the line. Then Kirkwall-Smith and myself and a couple of other blokes left that job and went across to New Britain but while we were away it was still going on, then when I got back and I walked up the road to try and move things on a bit faster and eventually I got to where Monfries was working the radio and I got the message to report to Nadzab. Well I just kept going from there and I didn’t know what was going to happen to all this stuff that was on the way; well apparently it finished up right up at Kainantu and that couldn’t have been better, and then they took it across to Aiyura and got it away there. I think that was a good idea because Kainantu is out on a public road more or less and there were a dickens of a lot of people going backwards and forwards at this time, most of them refugees not doing much good to the resistance to the enemy and it wouldn’t have taken them long to clean up all these groceries. By hiding them they were kept for later on when they were able to do a bit more good, like feeding some of these troops that were getting a bit short of rations.

Regarding rafting down the Markham – prior to the war I was planting coconuts in Lae on my agricultural lease there. I had about 150 acres of coconuts planted when the Japanese took over. I used to get the seed coconuts from Nadzab up the Markham. There was a very big variety of nut up there and an old bloke who had a plantation at Narakapor, that’s not far from Nadzab, he used to collect them for me and then I had two or three locals, apparently smart sort of blokes, and they used to go up when we had about 500 or so ready to shift, tie them all together and they would float down the Markham, they would make them into a raft. Well, I went down with them a couple of times so I had had a bit of experience of this rafting business. I walked up the Markham during the war three or four times, up to the head of it, and coming back I always rafted down the Markham. I couldn’t see much sense walking down if you could get on a raft, so I knew a bit about this rafting business.

Well, when I arrived at the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles outfit at Nadzab, they had had patrols in very close to Lae for some time and they used to have secret tracks that they used to walk in there. Anyway, the Japs caught up with them and both of the parties had to leave in a dickens of a hurry, but now the Japs knew the secret tracks that they had been using and it was a bit of a problem to know now how to get in close to Lae and avoid the enemy at the same time. Just around about the time that the 5th Independent Company was brought in, we were informed that the NGVR and the 5th Independent Company were going to be called Kenya Force and the CO of this was Colonel Fleay and prior to that our boss had been Major Edwards – Bill Edwards – he was still with us.

Anyway, they sent for me again because I knew a little bit about the place and wanted to know did I know of any good track for a patrol to get in to Lae. Well, this is just after the 5th Independent Company arrived and there’s all these young highly trained commandoes, they are all very fit, looking for a fight, they’re going to shift these Japs in about five minutes they reckon, and they wanted to do a raid in Lae and they wanted to know how they could get in there and they asked me did I know any way of getting in there. I said ‘Oh yea, yea, there is an easy way you haven’t tried yet’. And they said, ‘Well, what’s that,’ and I said, ‘Go down the Markham on a raft at night time.’ They reckoned that was a wonderful idea. When I mentioned it I thought these commandoes, it will be right up their alley. Well, about a day after I had told them this, the boss sent for me and said, ‘Look, Emery, we want you to go down the Markham on a raft,’ and I said, ‘Why me, for God’s sake, what about these commandoes?’ and he said, ‘Oh no, you’ve done it, you know all about it.’ I was about the oldest bloke there then, and I was more or less worn out – anyway I found that I had put myself in and I had to go. Anyway I was allowed to pick a companion for this trip and any gear that we wanted that they had, all I had to do was ask for it. A friend of mine, Bill Murcutt, had said to me two or three times, ‘If you ever get a chance to take me on one of those patrols, I’d like to go with you.’ So I went and saw Bill and he was all in favour of this rafting racket, going down the Markham at night, so we got the job. Well, we collected rations and a compass and a few other odds and ends we thought we’d want. Prior to this the raft had always been made by locals but we had woken up to the fact that a local could walk into Lae from where we were up at Nadzab just as fast or faster than the raft could and we knew that there was a bit of communication between the locals who were helping us and the Butibum blokes who were working with the Japs. So we reckoned if we were to get the locals to make the raft, well, straight away they’ll know what we are going to do and the Japs will be waiting for us when we get in there. So we decided we would make the raft ourselves. Well, Bill and I drew enough rations to last us for about a week and one of the main things we got hold of was a big damper which had just been cooked. We didn’t have any biscuits in those days – the ration biscuits which are very easy to carry and you don’t have to cook them. You could always get rice but you had to cook it and we didn’t want to light fires in Lae, cooking rice, so we took this big damper, we could eat that, and a few other tins of stuff, and camping equipment as much as we could carry, and then we headed across to the Markham and found a place alongside the river in the big kunai. There was only kunai alongside the river and we spent about a day there collecting timber that could float and tying it all together. Bill Murcutt had produced a big coil of light rope, I don’t know where he got it from, and it was very handy for tying these logs together, and eventually we had quite a respectable sort of a raft made out of logs all tied together and we were ready to go. We set out just before dark when we were ready to go and we put our cargo on it and we floated down the Markham that night. It was very dark, that was one of the reasons why we were going at this time, there was no moon, and it was a pretty hair-raising sort of a trip. It was so dark that I couldn’t see my companion on the raft and he was only about two yards from me, he was on one end of the raft and I was on the other and it was so dark I couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see me.

Here we are travelling along in the dark. The river winds all over the place, there are sandbanks and little sandy islands here and there and the deep water goes round them and if you’re not careful when you come to these sandbanks you finish up on top of them and you’ve got to get off the thing and push it off into the deep water again. Then there’s big logs that have come down in a big flood and only the top of the tree is sticking out of the water. These big trees were all pointing downstream and they sloped up – you would hear water whirling past them as you came to them, you couldn’t see them – so that if you hit one in the dark then all of a sudden the raft would start to lift up because it was running up the log and then with a bit of luck it would slip off and drop back into the water again and this happened two or three times and that made it a fairly exciting sort of a trip. Anyway, round about midnight we stopped for a while, we had been going fairly well, and we had a bit of a spell and a bit of a talk and then we kept on going and kept on going and round about four or five o’clock in the morning we went past Markham Point. You could just see Markham Point because it was high up against the starlight. Well, we knew we only had another mile or two to go and that’s what we wanted to do. It was just getting daylight. We wanted to get off this raft and get on the land and if we went father there’s a landing place there and I knew there was a track which would take us through the big jungle across to the side of the aerodrome and that’s what we were aiming for, but about half a mile before we got there, or a mile before we got there, the river sort of divided, there’s a big island in the middle of the river and a lot of water went down between the island and the land and the raft shoots down there, and we’ve got no control over it and we’ve just got to hope we don’t hit anything, and there’s another big log right across, a big log jammed and before we knew where we were our raft just dived underneath it and we had to jump off very quickly and grab what luggage we could and we lost most of our rations.

Well, here we were now standing on the bank, sorting out what we had managed to save, we had lost practically all our camping equipment and we had enough food left to last us a couple of days but we didn’t have changes of clothes or anything like that that we had bargained on; we had lost our mosquito net and groundsheets which we would have used for sleeping at night time and we were also in a place on the side of the bank where I had never been before and there’s some of the biggest lawyer vine I have ever seen growing through there where we were and we mucked around there for a couple of hours and it seemed to me that it was nearly impossible to go down the way we wanted to go on the river bank -we could have gone on the water quite easily. After two or three hours – we hadn’t had much sleep the night before – we decided to go back up the river and see if we could get out that way. It was this lawyer vine that was holding us up, or kunda which they called it there, and we didn’t have the knives or the axes of anything else to cut our way through it. Anyway we spent the day trying to get away from the side of the Markham and we slept that night sitting on another bit of a log, in the rain – or tried to sleep – and the next day we crossed the Markham Road very carefully because the Japs were using it and we cut our way through the jungle on the Atzera Range side of the road and it took us all day now to get down past Edwards Farm where we were at night time in the evening, we had a bit of a spell, and then we decided, in the dark to walk down the main road. Well, up till now we hadn’t seen any sign of the enemy or heard any sign of them and it almost looked as if they’d abandoned the place. Well, we walked along the main road, in the middle of the night, in the dark. We were both only wearing sandshoes so we didn’t make any noise, we were pretty quiet, and eventually we got to the creek just before you get to Jacobsen’s poultry farm and this creek I knew had a bridge over it and the bridge had a house over the top of it to keep the weather off it, a roof over it and I reckoned that if they were going to have a guard anywhere that’s where they’d have one. Well, we got within about 50 yards of this bridge, no sign of the enemy or anything else, and we stopped there and we decided we would wait awhile and if we could get across this bridge we could keep on walking right into Lae. Well we lay there on the side of the road, in the dark, and my Hell it was dark alright, but you could see the outlines of the roof of the bridge against the starlight and we spent about half an hour, we were resting and waiting, quietly, and there’s no sound or anything and we had just about made up our mind that we could just walk across the bridge when somebody struck a match on the bridge and lit a cigarette, and the next thing we hear voices and this would be the guard you see. Well, it just shows you, doesn’t it, how lucky you can be! So we had to change our mind now and head back into the bush. Well, anyway, we spent about three or four nights (in the bush collecting what information we could), with practically no sleep and very short of food. We got a bit of information and then we decided, any information we got we had to walk back about 18 to 20 miles with it, we had no radio or telephone or anything, and I came to the conclusion that it was no good hanging around there until we got that weak and mucked up from lack of sleep that we couldn’t get back, so I decided that we’d go back with what information we had and that is what we did, we walked back home, back to Gnasawampam where we started off from and that was a helluva walk because we walked all night and walked all the next day with practically nothing to eat – there was plenty to drink, there were pools of water on the roads all the way and we followed the Bumbu Creek to start off with. Anyway we got back and we got a bit of information and that was the end of that.

Well, I think I am getting near the end of this tape now.

After reading Bob’s previous article (September 1996, p.13), Harry Jackman of Angaston SA wrote –

‘By the way, very few lower ranks have as many entries as Bob in the Official History of Australia in the War of 1939-1945.’ At our request, Bob supplied details of his Military Medal. It was awarded for ‘distinguished and most conspicuous service and devotion to duty between 1st March, 1942, and 29th September, 1942’. The reconnaissance with Rifleman Murcutt, described above, was one of eight occasions mentioned in the citation.


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