The Recollections & Collection

 

of

 

Cpl. KEITH LLOYD MCGILVERY

 

 

About mid 1943, Ground staff, having been posted from Bankstown and stationed for several weeks at Menangle Park Racecourse outside Sydney, our 24 Squadron Vultee Vengeance Dive Bombers had gone ahead to New Guinea and were later based at Dobadura. The base was chiefly shared with an American B25 Mitchell twin engined bomber Attack Group, primarily involved in pounding the immense Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain, following their lightning like dash across the islands of the South West Pacific. The 2nd October 1943 would see us transported by Douglas DC3 and an overnight stay at Rockhampton. Here we were fated by various local dignitaries, including street dancing, to farewell us on our way to participate in the recapture of the lost territory in the South West Pacific. We stopped at Port Moresby next day, and connected with another DC3 for transport over the Owen Stanley Range via the (Kokoda) gap where many Australian Diggers fought valiantly on the Kokoda Trail. At Moresby I well recall while being instructed on how to play Poker and not knowing I had a near unbeatable hand, I asked what next to play!!! Nevertheless the low price of a carton of Chesterfield Cigarettes softened the blow of speaking at the wrong time during a game of Poker.

 

Dobodura

 

One's mind has been forever indelibly imprinted with my first vision of war. On settling in to our campsite on the bank of a fast running river, we had lunch in the meshed insect proof mess, a tribute to the Americans maintenance of health to service personnel and then returned to the workshop on the side of the Dobodura strip. On approaching the strip we witnessed what might have been a half dozen damaged Mitchell bombers after returning from Rabaul. Most were showing some form of disrepair with one having the remnants of human remains scattered around the pilot’s cockpit.

 

Having been made aware of the possible implementation of the garrotte by the enemy, featuring wire around the neck, it isn't difficult to realise the momentary thoughts of my experience on guard duty at the local phone where, in the event of a Red Alert (Enemy aircraft approaching) during the night when, typical of Australian equipment, the air raid alarm was a vehicle rim, to which one must make a hasty report before wailing into it with an iron bar and shouting RED ALERT. Once when I was preparing to announce an alert I was temporarily stopped in the semidarkness by the uncomfortable feeling of wire under my chin. However I soon did realise it was one of the airmens recently installed clothes line strung between a couple of trees!!!!

 

Our RAAF mustering of Wireless Maintenance Mechanics had only recently replaced the WAGs (Wireless Operator Air Gunners), hence virtually little flying but a concentrated Course of Radio Electronics, mainly at the Melbourne Technical College, and recognised by our American colleagues as far superior to the training of their personnel. Taking a ride, in the second seat of a (Vengeance) dive bomber to test radio equipment, the pilot would fly out over a sunken Jap ship in the harbour at Buna, where from many thousands of feet, it was customary to aim the radial engined (Pratt & Whitney) monster at the target with its reported 88 degrees diving ability, hence the dihedral wings for additional strength. As easily understood, in a dive, hurtling down at several hundred miles per hour, it was apparent that anything unsecured in the cockpit, like ear phones, leads, etc, just floated in midair.

 

Kiriwina

 

On 22nd November, we travelled to our next posting to Kiriwina Island in the Trobriands, once again by Douglas DC3. This was certainly the nearest I saw, to the fabled Islands of the South Seas which inspired the ex American, James Michener, to write the book "Tales of the South Seas" from which the classic play and movie "Bali Hai" originated. Topless coloured women were, of course, the order of the day. The islanders being very friendly and the men folk most helpful, in scaling up Coconut palms to collect the delicious fruit. When no help was available, I remember my often vain attempts at shooting down a bunch with my .303 rifle and often having a shower of Coconut milk from puncturing the fruit instead of the stems. The beautiful white beach sand with the occasional red flecks and outings to the nearby reef, by rowing out in an empty aircraft belly fuel tank and diving into the clear blue water. It was a sight to be remembered together with the multitude of gaily coloured fish.

 

Nadzab

 

On 7 January 1944 we departed from Kiriwina aboard the Liberty ship, "James D Doety" arriving at Lae in the Huon Gulf at 17:30 on the following day, accompanied by the occasional red alert for enemy U-boats, to keep life more interesting. Transport trucks were provided for our posting to the Nadzab Air base which comprised several aerodromes in the Markham Valley. Probably some of the largest games of Swi (Two Up with 3 pennies for a quick result and exchange of Dutch Guilders) took place at Nadzab where our Australian tents contrasted with the bell type of our American friends. Several American Ack Ack gun emplacements were spotted around the bomber and fighter airstrips at Nadzab. The allies having gained air superiority and some complacency and a little over confidence had left some of these Ack Ack sites unmanned not far from our mess. There was to be a sudden change one morning just as we were enjoying breakfast. A lone Japanese fighter apparently followed a DC3 transport under the radar, and commenced a strafing run over the mess, which was promptly evacuated. Myself and my mates sheltering in the nearby gun pit until ejected by the American gun crew, which should have been there in the first place. Others took to newly dug and partly used Latrines, there being no time to study the contents for such an unexpected Japanese visitor!!!!

 

The Australian designed "Chuffers" at Nadzab, were of special interest to the Americans who enjoyed the efficiency of a steel disc from a 44 gallon drum being used as a hot plate to cook their favourite "hart cakes". Chuffers were constructed of about 12 feet of aluminum tubing gathered from crashed or shot up Jap aircraft from the airstrip at Lae, This was attached to a tap on a one gallon container, mounted on a tent post. About 10 feet of eighth inch aluminium tubing was attached to the 100 octane fuel supply aluminum tubing, the other end being coiled copper tube and pinched by multi-grips to create a nipple so as to regulate the flow of 100 octane fuel supplied from a gallon can, gravity fed to the improvised burner. Upon turning the fuel tap on and lighting with a match, the drum disc quickly heated and turned it into a very hot open air oven, emitting a succession of sounds like CHUFF...CHUFF etc. Like most major inventions the Chuffer had its bugs. The designer had overlooked the chance of a fuel feedback occurring which could splatter 100 octane fuel about, and on one occasion was responsible for a tent being incinerated. This was much to the dismay of our C.O as at the time Chuffers being in close proximity to tents was then prohibited. I understand someone did add a non return valve fashioned from a rifle bullet to overcome that defect in the original design. 

 

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