Memories of war – Anzac Day 2012
For this year’s Anzac Day blog post, I thought I would share some extracts from a memoir written by my father-in-law, Noel Edward Farmer (1923 – 1999). In December 1941, after waiting impatiently for three months for the Navy to find a slot for a seaman who “knew how to handle boats”, Noel wrote to the Navy to ask if they were aware that Japan had entered the war. A month later a slot at Flinders Naval Depot was found. He was soon appointed a midshipman, although he rose to Lieutenant by the end of the war, and to Captain in the Naval Reserve.
The following extract describes an incident in 1942, when Noel was just 19.
‘Westralia’ went to Brisbane after Aitapee to pick up air force stores. When leaving the Brisbane River the gyro compass system broke down and the Navigator, running along the upper deck to the gyro room, fell over a deck bolt and was badly concussed. Young Farmer, despite or because of his lack of knowledge/experience at that time, was training as Navigator’s assistant and was promptly propelled into the top job – and hence the immediate task of taking a 14,000 ton vessel drawing 30′ through the Barrier Reef and Torres Strait to Darwin with only a magnetic compass. All Navy captains may, and all merchant masters must, unless they have specially qualified for an exemption, take on board a Torres Strait Pilot when making this trip of some 2,000 km – but not my Captain. I had a canvas deck chair placed on the port side of the bridge and spent the next five days there except for toilet visits below. The Captain did somewhat similar and about six days later Westralia berthed safely in Darwin. After about three months, and to my great surprise, the Captain’s secretary handed over a cheque in favour of Midshipman N E Farmer from the Navy in Canberra for about 14 pounds, with a chit attached saying “Pilotage – 1100 nautical miles at 3d per mile”.
This next extract describes a day in 1944, when Noel was aged 20.
It was a grisly day. … The 7th Fleet had a policy that any enemy soldier taken alive in a landing be sent promptly to a designated ship for interrogation. After replacing the originals on our ill fated southern beach with reserve troops I agreed to take two prisoners in my boat to be interrogated. When the prisoners were dragged to the beach they were young, hurt, shell-shocked and stark naked. My boat was beached, bow on, about ten feet from the water’s edge so that anyone boarding had to walk out into water at least one foot deep. The prisoners were in no condition to walk. Their escorts informed me that they were not intending to carry the cretins aboard and began to swing the first by hands and feet to throw him about fifteen feet on to the steel deck.
“Not on,” I said. “Carry them aboard or take them back to your own medics for treatment.” It was the only argument I ever won with a revolver and a threat to shoot US servicemen, if they threw the prisoner aboard – I’ll never know if I would have shot them. For their part they were young, scared, had seen many of their buddies killed and were fearful of their short term future when darkness fell on a slaughterhouse beach.
When hoisted back aboard ‘Westralia’ on conclusion of that eventful day I was told to report to the Captain. He sat me down and handed me a signal from the Navy saying that brother Charles had died.
The final extract describes a time in January 1945, when Noel was 21.
When we entered Lingayen Gulf air attacks increased in fury and desperation. Every second plane seemed to be Kamikaze and after dropping its bomb load headed for its selection of target and tried to crash on its bridge. … As in Hollandia and Leyte, I led the first wave boats to our allotted beach. We kept on unloading troops, equipment and stores forever it seemed from all variety of ships. Our boats crews tried to ignore the fear and death around them – and tried to conceal their own gut feelings from the green troops we carried.
We fed off the land – that is, we broached the stores we carried to meet our needs – and that day I first saw and ate canned grapefruit pieces. I liked them and ate a lot. The US knew how to feed its front line troops. Here we were in Lingayen on day one with guns and bombs going bang, Kamikazes having a suicide picnic and death all about – cruising slowly towards a beach carrying tons of grapefruit pieces for those who survived to eat them.
Lest we forget.