Sunday, December 11, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday

(Also for Magpie 95 and Sunday Scribblings)
"V" for "Victory"

The above picture might rather nicely, if surreally, suggest a war adventure ol’ Berowne had a few decades ago.
You see, truth is, ol’ Berowne is just that: ol’. He’s been on this earthly planet for an impressive number of years. He served, perhaps not as heroically as some of the others, but he nevertheless served in World War II.
And that war adventure took place in the South Pacific in 1943.

My ship, which was heavily loaded with huge drums of aviation-octane gasoline, was scheduled to leave Australia for New Guinea, where large numbers of aircraft were waiting for us so they could get on with the war.
However, we had earlier on this assignment committed the faux pas of running smack into the Great Barrier Reef, leaving our vessel with an enormous hole in the bow that you could have driven a jeep into. This rendered us almost immobile; actually, it meant that we were forced to creep along at about three knots – about the speed of a tired man walking – to return back to our Australian port.
I was just a kid then and, along with the other crew members, we weren’t feeling all that bad about the hole in the bow. After all, it meant the ship would have to go down to Sydney into drydock while they fixed things, and that meant the crew could enjoy a week or two of Sydney high life while the war was put on hold.
However, an official, some sort of grand panjandrum who was in charge of things, came aboard with news. It seems, he said, they were so desperately in need of our drums of gas up there in New Guinea that authorities decided to send us anyway.
This seemed, to everyone on our ship, simply insane.

Not only did that hole in the bow slow us to three knots, but the Australian coast at that time was looked upon as a happy hunting ground for Japanese submarines. They were sinking ships there in '43 about as fast as they could be built.
And did this geezer realize what our cargo was? This was before jets; warplanes then used gasoline – and aviation-octane gasoline was one of the most volatile and dangerous substances on earth. A sub wouldn’t even have to use a torpedo; one well-placed machine gun bullet could easily blow up our ship.
Well, it seems he had thought of that.

They were going to provide us with our own personal Australian corvette. A corvette was like a small destroyer and its job was to hunt subs. Usually, since they were in short supply, they were restricted for use only with large convoys; however, in this special case – i.e., a ship with a vitally important cargo that could only limp along at three knots – they’d let us have one.
He thanked us all for volunteering for this dangerous mission. None of us could remember having volunteered, and we didn't quite know how to un-volunteer. :-) He made the V for Victory sign and left.
The plan was for the corvette to tightly circle our ship continuously, 24 hours a day, while we crept north. Having a corvette in such close proximity to our ship would hopefully discourage any ambitious Japanese sub commander from trying anything.
It seemed to work. We inched our way along without being attacked. How those Aussie corvette guys must have hated us: endlessly having to circle, circle, day after day.
Anyway, long story short, we finally arrived at the harbor in the New Guinea jungle and anchored. Our captain went ashore to report to the general. Loud shouting was heard from his office.
Seems the two-star guy was angry. Why did they keep sending him all that gasoline? He already had plenty and he didn’t have a fuel depot or any other way to keep more in the jungle. He ordered our skipper to turn around and take it all back to Australia.
The cap’n pointed out we had this big old hole in the bow, and the Aussie corvette had taken off in a hurry once we got there. The general wasn’t interested. “Take it back!” he said.
The skipper, pretty angry himself when he came back aboard, seemed to be bent on retribution. He had us take off the hatch covers and fire up the winches. He began to pick up the drums, one by one, and just dump them in the harbor. (Gasoline floats.) Once the army saw this happening they had a change of heart and sent ducks – the large amphibious trucks – and we loaded it all on to them.
The above may seem to be fiction, an old guy's fairy tale, but it's what happened.
At any rate, I didn’t get to Sydney on that trip but I did on several others. That city was then, I can personally assure you, paradise for an American serviceman. Ah, those beautiful Australian girls; they're grandmothers now. I’d like to think that a few of them look back and remember Berowne fondly, just as he fondly remembers them.

59 comments:

jen revved said...

What a wonderful tale, rich memoir. This makes me think you have other stories akin to this one and should memoir-ize, perhaps. xxxj

Berowne said...

What a great comment; thanks, jen.

Helen said...

This grandmother certainly enjoyed reading your Tale .. beautifully told. I've visited Sydney ,,, fell in love with the city.

Leslie: said...

Having read your blog for a while now, I must say you have loads for a memoir, and I second Jen's suggestion. I really enjoy stories about the war.

Kay L. Davies said...

Great story, Berowne. There you all were, delivering an unwanted cargo. Gotta love a story like that.
I'm not as ol' as you are, not yet, but I've reached the age where everything reminds me of something that happened when I was young. I was just admitting that to a longtime friend in Oregon last week.
I even heard someone mumble "Another one of Kay's stories" recently.

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

Susie Clevenger said...

I loved reading your memoir....it gives a glimpse into your life...nice work

Isabel Doyle said...

I am sure the city is not unmarked by your visit. Interesting tale.

jaerose said...

A moment in time..a memory carried on an air ship..I always think if 'you' can remember someone else can too..Jae

Berowne said...

Isabel D: "I am sure the city is not unmarked by your visit."
H'mm. A comment strangely ambiguous in meaning... :-)

Berowne said...

Helen: "This grandmother certainly enjoyed reading your tale .. beautifully told."
Just as I enjoyed reading your comment - thanks.

Cad said...

From 1943 to now is a fair ol' lifetime!

izzy said...

Wow! thanks- very good tale! It seems there is room to maneuver even when things seem hopeless
and unavoidable!

Laurie Kolp said...

Well, at least they came through for you.

kaykuala said...

Great narrative Berowne! Such stories are gems as they get told on an occasion like this. Otherwise they remain in memory of those who experienced them. Thanks for sharing!

Hank

Berowne said...

Cad: "From 1943 to now is a fair ol' lifetime!"
Very true, believe me. :-)

Doctor FTSE said...

Excellent narrative story. Couldn't help wondering whether sending you back to sea at 3 knots was time-efficient in the long run.

Berowne said...

You're right, 3 knots was in no way time-efficient. However, it was felt, mistakenly, that there was a desperate need for the cargo.

Brian Miller said...

how could they not remember you fondly..smiles...fascinating berowne and to realize it is not fiction that was a pleasant turn at the end...

Ann Grenier said...

A wonderful story Berowne. How frightening though. I always credit a guardian angel with that caliber of protection. I'm sure that there are many who would appreciate your memoirs as suggested by others.

zongrik said...

thanks for sharing these moments from your life

sharplittlepencil said...

Berowne, thanks for a recollection only you could make both historically pertinent and oddly funny at the same time. I love your stories of the war, because so few men tell them... it's true. Most men of my dad's generation simply let it gnaw at them in their guts... this was great. Thank you. Peace, Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/my-favorite-bouquet-correct-version/

Tigerbrite said...

Thank you for this. My Dad was on the first Normandy landing from England to France in WW2. He was Royal Signals and was responsible for the first report of the landings to headquarters. He was mentioned in dispatches but did not speak of any of this for most of his life. Only a year or so before he died.

Karen said...

Thank you for this wonderful narrstive. Reading this in proximity to December 7 makes me all the more grateful for you boys.

Carrie Burtt said...

Trust me Berowne they remember you fondly....love your personal narration of history.....this is brilliant and a testiment to the amazing man that you are now!! :-)

phil said...

What a gas! (sorry, couldn't resist).

Thanks. Love stories like this.
One of my fav books is 'The Cruel Sea'.

Berowne said...

phil: "What a gas! (Sorry, couldn't resist)."
There's no fuel like an old fuel. Sorry, couldn't resist. :-)

Carver said...

This was a great post and an important time in history.

You made me recall a story I didn't fully hear until I was getting married in 1980 and my parents and in laws met for the first time. I'm from the U.S. and my dad was in the air force during WW II on a carrier ship going to England. That ship was in a wreck (I don't remember the details although Bill would). Bill's mother (my MIL) was telling my mother about how her only brother died on the way to serve overseas.

He was at the end of the ship where almost everyone died. My Dad was at the other end where they were trying to save people. My mother said to my father who was talking to my FIL to be, you have to hear this story. Dad confirmed that was indeed the tragic wreck he'd told mom about. What are the odds that the daughter of the man who lived to come home and have children would marry the nephew of the man who died in the same wreck?

Roger Owen Green said...

Everyone in WWII served in their own way; you didn't need to be storming Normandy beach.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Hildred and Charles said...

I enjoyed your Pacific adventure, - I guess these SNAFU's happened often and could be frustrating and hilarious, all at the same time. My husband, a Lancaster pilot, has a few of these wartime tales to tell, and we have tapes of veterans' reminiscent that are both poignant and entertaining. Alas, so many of them are gone now.

Other Mary said...

Military intelligence - the ultimate oxymoron! O.o

Rek said...

I enjoyed this tale. Though it is easy to imagine and have a laugh at the comedy of errors that happened as an armchair reader..must have not been so for the ones experiencing it. A well preserved memory, this one.

photowannabe said...

Fascinating service during war time. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

Berowne said...

Terrific story, Carver. Thanks.

ninotaziz said...

WWII was terrible and terrifying. But many stories,amazing, sad and sometimes, feverishly romantic, survived. Thank you for sharing, Berowne.

Tumblewords: said...

An amazing tale. Amazing.

Pat said...

Great story! I liked this: "None of us could remember having volunteered, but we didn't quite know how to un-volunteer." Thanks for the laughs.

My dad was on the battleship USS Maryland during WW 2 and for a few years afterward and he had lots of war stories. He was in battles in the south Pacific. The Maryland was his home from right after Pearl Harbor through 1946. I did a post about how the attack on Pearl Harbor led indirectly to my parents meeting... http://www.patandjerry.com/2011/12/pearl-harbor-day-or-how-my-parents-met.html

Berowne said...

"This was great. Thank you. Peace, Amy"
What a fine comment; thanks, Amy.

Lyn said...

For sure you must be fondly remembered by some of those Aussie beauties..your life is a good movie,indeed!

lotusleaf said...

I enjoyed the story of your adventure. Very valorous!

manicddaily said...

Wonderful wonderful story and very sweetly told. K.

Nicholas V. said...

Amazing story! Yes, I agree with you the picture prompt this week certainly resonated with many people's old memories...

Lydia said...

A perfect post. What a fascinating story, so crisply told. I did not know that about those old subs being able to be blown up by a "well placed machine gun bullet." Amazing.

That the image prompt brought out this story is a wonderful no-wonder! And your final line? Beautiful; really choked me up. I bet they remember...

Anonymous said...

Dear Berowne: Really had a good read this a.m.; an excellent account of WWIIl a class act Berowne! You have to give credit to your cap'n's fast-thinking. Sounded like you all deserved at least two weeks shoreleave after that fiasco and at least a few metals. As riding on a powerkeg whether volunteer or not definitely would test one's mettle, in more ways than one. Thank-you for your bravery! Chiccoreal

HyperCRYPTICal said...

Excellent Berowne and I am certain them ol' Australian gals have fond memories of you!

Anna :o]

Berowne said...

HyperCRYPTICal: "I am certain them ol' Australian gals have fond memories of you!"
Hope you're right...

Berowne said...

Lydia: "I did not know that about those old subs being able to be blown up by a well placed machine gun bullet."
Er -- it wasn't the subs being blown up; the subs did the blowing up. :-)

Berowne said...

chiccoreal: "Sounded like you all deserved at least a few metals after that fiasco."
A few metals was about all I got. :-)

Sheilagh Lee said...

the people in charge always seem to have their heads in other places.sounds like quite the adventure.

Margaret said...

Without a doubt, this is my FAVORITE post of yours, and you have many good ones. Truly, this story is so insane it couldn't be made up. Yes, right them down. I'd love to here what happened in Australia! :)

Berowne said...

Margaret: "I'd love to hear what happened in Australia!" :)
So glad to hear it. Some weird stuff happened to me in Aussie.

RMP said...

what a tale! and true to boot...I can't even begin to imagine what that trip must have been like. you weave quite a spell with your words.

MaryA said...

My husband served in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He was just a kid then too. He was orignally assigned to a merchant ship in the armed guard and later spent some time on the USS Missouri. He enjoyed your memoir today as much as I did.

JANU said...

Nice post...sorry to know u missed those Australian beauties...:-)

Dave King said...

Maybe your trip did something to oil the wheels, then? Great tale well told, so thoroughly enjoyable.

Berowne said...

"Great tale well told, so thoroughly enjoyable."
What a fine comment; thanks, Dave.

Francisca said...

Incompetence and stupidity are not modern inventions. Today communications systems (as in hardware/software) may be more readily available, yet if they are not sanely used, insanity ensues. Sounds like you were dragged into someone's insanity back then in '43. What a story, Berowne!

Berowne said...

An encouraging comment, Francisca, and much appreciated.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

My dad was in New Guinea and Australia at the same time as you. He was in the Army Air Corps, Jolly Rogers. But he was much older than you when he served. WWII was THE big event of his life and he remembered his experiences with utter clarity and specificity. He too loved Australia and the Australians. Years later, working as a civilian for the military, he would bring home Aussies stationed at the base to swap stories and have a meal. Thirty years later he went on a sentimental journey visiting people and places from the war years. They remembered him, just as I'm sure folks remember you. I haven't thought about all this in a long while. Thanks for reviving the memories.

Wayne Pitchko said...

nicely written.....thanks for sharing all..happy NY

 
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