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U3A Writing: A Slice Of Army Life

Jack Isaacs recalls the day when a curse saved his life.

I travelled to the Middle East and returned on the Queen Mary. There was quite a contrast between the two trips. On the way over, there were only 3,000 troops on board and I shared a single berth cabin with two others. On the return voyage there were 10,000 troops on board and I shared a similar cabin with 15 others.

Returning to Australia in early 1943 prior to going to the Atherton Tablelands for training for New Guinea, I was kept busy treating up to 100 patients a day, but knowing I must get fit for the tropics I swam each morning against the fast flowing stream and after work each day I played volleyball with a heavy medicine ball.

After three months heavy training we set off for the coast in a convoy of trucks travelling in black-out conditions down a newly made, very windy, dirt road. Despite the conditions the journey was made without mishap.

We went through Cairns to Trinity Beach where we practised for the first amphibious landing by Australian Troops since Anzac.

We travelled from Cairns to Milne Bay in a Liberty Ship where we had luxurious accommodation in the hold.

After three days we arrived at Milne Bay at 10 am in bright sunshine. However, in typical army fashion we did not land until 3 pm, when, as usual, it rained. So we arrived ashore soaking wet.

After four weeks of intensive training and more practised landings, we embarked for the attack on Lae, travelling on an LST (Landing Ship Tank).

Arriving offshore we witnessed a bomb attack by three Japanese planes on one of our infantry landing craft and saw one of the bombers shot down. Many of our men were killed, including the battalion commander.

We were then sent below and held there in ignorance and fear, in what we regarded as an overgrown sardine tin. Luckily, this attack was the only resemblance to Gallipoli.

On going ashore I was put in charge of a company of the 2-11 field ambulance, and was shown a map which clearly indicated the track to be taken. After travelling about half an hour I was pulled up by a voice saying, "Don't go any further Jack, as this is the forward platoon, and from here on - Japs!"

I took the troops back a couple of hundred yards for a smoke, while I contemplated a swift end to my military career. A short time later my CO, who was noted for his short temper, came into sight. He said, "Hell Jack, where are we?"

Those words were pleasant to my ears; he was lost too.

Now I was appointed Liaison Officer to Brigade Headquarters. This certainly tested my fitness. I had to march behind the forward battalions each day, and then go back at night to report on the next day's plans to my CO.

One of these nights, after reporting to my H.Q., I again got lost. I was pulled up short by a hand around my neck and a sharp point at my throat. "Shit!" I yelled, and a voice said, "That's not the password, mate, but it saved your life!"

I had run into a commando group who then led me back to Brigade H.Q.

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