My Poppa and World War II.

Yesterday, I went to visit my 95 year old Grandfather who has found himself in respite care for the first time.  Up until about two months ago he has been living independently up at Bribie Island but apparently he has started having chest issues and subsequent breathing problems – but when I asked him how his chest was getting along, he told me the most bizarre thing… that he’d always had chest problems on his left side ever since he ‘fell down a mountain’ in WWII when serving in Papua New Guinea.   Falling down a mountain?  Huh?

My Poppa was conscripted to serve in the Australian Army during World War II, probably in 1942, (I didn’t know he was a conscript, I always assumed he had volunteered), and he found himself enlisted into the 25th Battalion, which was largely formed of men from the Qld Darling Downs region, most of whom were present at the Battle of Milne Bay and was later assigned to ANGAU, the Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit.  Anyway, he tells me while he was assigned to the 25th Battalion, at some point they were engaged with the enemy (the Japanese Army) and he was forced over a cliff and ‘fell down a mountain’.  Leaving him in the RAP with broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Like many returned veterans, my Poppa never talks about the war much and I had only a rudimentary knowledge of his service in Papua New Guinea.  Hell, he never even really spoke to my grandmother about it, from what she said.  I knew that he had served with American troops and that at some point he had received a Military Medal for bravery – he had single handedly attacked a Japanese hut and shot two enemy soldiers before killing five more with an axe/machete, leaving his platoon outside in safety – the erroneous and watered down concepts I had, of how he came to be awarded this high distinction, are recorded here.  I was not aware that he had suffered any injuries while in the Pacific theatre, but here he is, a man I have known my entire life telling me he ‘fell down a mountain’ and had residual chest issues as a result of a puncture lung and scar tissue on that lung… so I started asking him some more questions about his time in the war in the hope that he might open up a bit.

He spoke to me for the first time about his presence at Milne Bay and how the Japanese soldiers landed on the beach appeared to be expecting very little resistance, for they knew the Australian soldiers posted there were all conscripts – in the Japanese imagination, that meant they were men who didn’t want to fight, and in their arrogance they expected to walk all over them, as the Japanese had experienced no great amount of resistance and had not suffered any defeat until this point in the war.  My Poppa told me how the volunteer Aussie soldiers referred to conscripts, like himself, as Chocos (Chocolate soldiers – a derogatory term for a soldier who looks good, but melts under pressure… a term the current Australian Army relegates to their Army Reserve).  Anyway he personally thinks the Japanese felt that the Chocos wouldn’t give them any trouble, but they were wrong, really wrong.  And were defeated at Milne Bay and forced to retreat.  He spoke about how he remembers seeing about 200 dead Japanese soldiers on the beach when the Japanese pushed inland but they were eventually forced to retreat when met with unexpected veteran Australian reinforcements.

The Battle of Milne Bay, (25 August – 7 September 1942). One of the barges used by the Japanese forces in their unsuccessful incursion.

The Battle of Milne Bay, (25 August – 7 September 1942) – one of the barges used by the Japanese forces in their unsuccessful incursion.

Throughout our visit yesterday, he said several times that the ‘Japanese soldiers did horrible, terrifying things that I just can’t tell you about’, it was obviously a coping mechanism developed over the last 70 years, maybe even necessary for his own mental preservation, to justify the things he did in the Pacific.  Even though I reassured him I had read several books detailing the war atrocities that the Japanese had committed against enemy troops in the Pacific, he was still reluctant to share details of the things he had seen.  The only specific example he was prepared to share personally, was that on one occasion they had found some of their own Signals guys wrapped up to palm trees with comms wire, and it was obviously that the Japanese soldiers had used them for live bayonet practice.  But other than this, Poppa would only say that the Japanese soldiers were very free and creative with torture – ‘it was just the way they were trained’ – and that these practices among others, would eventually be labelled as Japanese war crimes.


The AHS Centaur with prominent red crosses on her bow and funnels.

In May of 1943, a hospital ship, the AHS Centaur, was sunk by the Japanese off the coast of Australia somewhere near Caloundra in Queensland.  The sinking of the Centaur made headlines around the world and confirmed in the minds of the allied countries, the barbarity and savagery that the Japanese were capable of – as this attack on a hosptial ship was irrefutably a crime, being an act in serious breech of the 1907 Hague Convention.  The public was outraged that a hospital ship was targeted and sunk.  Poppa said the sinking of the Centaur steeled the resolve of the soldiers he served with, and their hatred of the Japanese was solidified after that.  For Poppa personally, the sinking of the Centaur was deeply painful and personal – you see, his elder brother Harry was on the Centaur and died on May 14th, 1943 when it was sunk.  By the sounds of it, this event had an enormous impact on my Grandfather and his anger and desire for revenge on the Japanese became somewhat consuming.

canberra times centaur

work save fight avenge the nurses

When working with ANGAU, one of his primary responsibilities was reconnaissance and eradicating Japanese soldiers that were embedded throughout the mountainous jungle terrain.  He was a Sergeant by then, and had a platoon consisting of American, Australian and some Papua New Guinea natives.  I had heard the story of how he was awarded the Military Medal for attacking a hut with no regard for his life, and was told (when I was a kid) that he had malaria and thought he was dying, so he left his unit outside and attacked the hut alone.  That was not true… it was a watered down version of his actual actions while serving in this unit.  Yesterday, Poppa told me that he was so incensed by his brother’s unjust death, that he wanted to make the Japanese pay.  So he started to habitually ingress into these Japanese huts on his own.  He estimates there was at least a dozen or so huts that he attacked and usually they had only one or two occupants.  However one day he burst into a hut only to find seven men in that hut, two of which he shot and the other five he killed with a tomahawk sized axe.

I was a little shocked and struggling with incredulity.  Not to mention completely amazed he made it through the war alive at all, especially given he had acted with such a blatant disregard for his own life on not one, but on so many occasions.  I also found it incongruous with the figure of my grandfather – he was maybe 5’6″ at his prime (now barely 5’1″) and only ever maybe 60kgs dripping wet, and yet during this horrific period of his life when he was at war, here he is quietly telling me fought like some sort of viking beserker, obsessed by the idea of avenging his brother.  Soldierly bravado being what it was, his platoon eventually sought to send him to the back of their column, so that they could ‘get in on the action’.  They were especially keen to push him to the background once my Poppa was told by his American CO, that he was being commended for an American Silver Star, and an Australian Victoria Cross.  With a melancholy and yet slightly wry smile, he tells me the first time they went on patrol after he was relegated to the back of the pack, their unit was attacked that very day from the rear by Japanese soldiers, and he once more found himself in the thick of the attack.  His fellow soldiers were not too happy about that either apparently.

On another such occasion when they were moving through jungle terrain with my Poppa once more relegated to the rear of the patrol, he caught view of a Japanese soldier out of the corner of his eye appearing to be flailing his arms.  Acting on instinct and thinking a grenade had just been thrown, Poppa shot him dead, though he later reflected that he might have been trying to surrender.  He said ‘it wouldn’t matter if he was [trying to surrender], they would have shot him anyway, we weren’t taking any prisoners’ (this policy evolved due to Japanese POWs managing to kill numerous allied forces once in custody, including incidents of POWs grabbing scalpels and stabbing doctors attempting to save their lives).  Poppa told me that he checked the soldier’s pockets for intel (common practice) and found a photograph of the man’s wife and two small sons.  Having a wife and one small son at home himself, it was after this incident that Poppa decided war was ‘complete rubbish’ and he decided he wanted little more to do with fighting.  The photograph seemed to bring back some humanity and perspective, that he seemed to have lost along with his brother, Harry, when the Centaur went down.

He also told me, that after that incident, he had decided that there was no God… because surely if there was a God, he would stop them all from killing each other.  I never knew my Poppa has been an atheist most of his adult life, he kept his beliefs to himself while my grandmother oversaw us all being raised as Catholic.  The conversation transitioned fairly quickly from him sharing some of his memories to taking an unexpected philosophical bent, so I queried his logic: “Poppa, what if there is a God… but he’s just an arsehole?”  Poor Poppa.  Not used to hearing his granddaughter using such language; and through the laughing/coughing fit my question caused, he looked at me and said, ‘You know, I never thought of that.’

Anyway, having lost much of his thirst for war after the incident with the Japanese soldier and his family photograph, Poppa managed to get himself transferred to working from Port Moresby and spent the remainder of the war working to get supplies out to troops and thankfully didn’t see any more forward action.  At some point, he was summoned to meet with the US General who had command of the ANGAU troops – he thinks his name was General Close or Closte, but is unsure – ostensibly to be congratulated for his brave and heroic efforts, and to be given a pat on the back for the commendations that were being submitted for his awards.  Poppa started to laugh a little as he recounted what occurred at that meeting.  It seems that he may have inadvertently become a victim of that famous and typical, laconic Australian sense of humour – one that is still not very well understood by many Americans, and one which most definitely was not understood (or appreciated) by an uptight American Army Commanding Officers in 1943 war time Papua New Guinea.  When asked how he got along with his American troops, my grandfather jokingly told the general that ‘they’re alright blokes, but nowhere near as good as our Aussie Diggers’.  On top of that Poppa made another social faux pas and declined to stay and regale the General with tales of his exploits, he is definitely NOT the braggart type, and told the General that he had to return to his men.

Not long afterwards, my grandfather discovered his Victoria Cross commendation was downgraded (for lack of a better term) to a Military Medal commendation, and his American Silver Star commendation disappeared into the ether all together.  So it appears that the US General really did not appreciate my grandfather’s sense of humour at all!  Not that he seems to mind… in fact he seems to find it rather amusing that he had been getting plenty of ribbing from his comrades who were oddly jealous of the commendations, but then he accidentally insults their General, and then doesn’t get the awards anyway!

We spoke for several hours.  He told me of the night where he watched from the tree line of the beaches near the cargo jetty at Port Moresby as the Japanese bombed, and half sank, the MV Anshun and how they all expected the Japanese to target the nearby Hospital Ship, the TSMV Manunda, as well, such was the reputation of the Japanese Army after the sinking of the Centaur.  He related how there were sailors swimming to shore from various vessels that had been bombed, many of them yelling in Filipino, and how the Australian soldiers tried to get them to shut up, before they were shot by Americans mistaking them for Japanese.  He also mentioned that on returning to his tent that night, he found a large piece of shrapnel from the Anshun had ripped through his tent and embedded in his bunk – good thing he wasn’t in it at the time.

He spoke to me of being assigned to a machine gun patrol at some point with an American named Tom Henderson (he thinks), and how Tom would plant down his machine gun and saw through the tops of the coconut trees where the Japanese would hide… and ‘every now and then they would see one go *plop* and fall from the trees’.  Eventually Tom was shooting at some coconut trees one day and got hit by a Japanese sniper, before he could start shooting at them.

He told me of an occasion where they were moving through some jungle terrain and the guy walking right beside him was shot in the head.  It could just as easily have been him, and he often wondered why it wasn’t, especially considering that he was wearing a very noticeable slouch hat and had rank on his sleeves compared to the other guy.  Another incident that convinced him that there is no God and life is just random.

All up, I learned more about my grandfather in one day than I had in the preceding 30 years.  His experiences touched me profoundly, but not as much as the trust he showed in allowing me to be the first person he has spoken to about these things in over 70 years.

Credit Where Credit is Due.

It was pointed out to me yesterday, by my very dearest and very oldest (she’s not so old, I’ve just known her forever) friend, that I have a long standing habit of ‘referring to other people’s authority’ in conversation.  A statement which initially confused me somewhat, for as anyone who has known me for longer than twenty minutes has probably figured out – me and authority don’t get along so well.  Never have.

However, my friend’s keen sense of observation has noticed a particular idiosyncrasy of mine – apparently when passing on information, I have a tendency to reference what I am saying, to others whose expertise I acknowledge and respect, rather than just stating the information out right.  Presumably to lend or gravitas to the argument, according to my friend.  For example when discussing infant bottle feeding, at some point I have told her about the myth of baby bottle sterilization – that we, as an ever obedient consumer society, are conned into buying expensive bottle sterilizers to clean baby bottles.  However, apparently I didn’t just tell her that these expensive products were time consuming and unnecessary because if you think about it, common sense tells you that once you remove the bottle from the sterilization unit they are no longer sterile… No, apparently I referred to the authority of a microbiologist friend who had initially informed me, that sterilizers are no more effective than simple hot water, dish washing detergent and air drying practices (don’t use a dish cloth – your average kitchen dish cloth is bursting with fruit flavour… ie: germs.), thus lending expertise and weight to my assertion.

On various another occasions I have shared general information with her about cars, car maintenance and even driving practices, apparently drawing on the authority of an ex-boyfriend who worked in the car industry and raced cars for a hobby as the relevant authority.  Likewise apparently with IT or computer related issues, always referring to someone that she perceived, that I perceived, held more expertise than myself in the area under discussion.  I also have a tendency to cite research and articles I have read rather than stating things as just knowledge or facts that I have acquired (likely this a habit of the perpetual student, in me).

Not only that, but she has also noticed that I apparently unwilling to take ownership of those little idioms that you come upon in life that stay with you – eg: ‘Having one child takes up all of your time, and having three children takes up all of your time as well’ (wise words passed on as being from my mother).  So after many years of study – yes, my friend is a particularly analytical creature with an extraordinary memory, and she has a habit of studying her friends – she has decided that I have some underlying habit of referring to the authority of others.  She didn’t express a hypothethis ,as to why I do this.  Whether it is because she thinks I have difficulty trusting my own judgement, or whether it might be simply to reinforce my position with my listener by referring to a (perceived) more expert opinion.

But I have been thinking about it and honestly?  I think it is simply a matter of giving credit where credit is due.  We all learn things from so many sources around us, especially now in the Information Age, some of it credible, some of it not so credible, some of it down right bullshit and for many many years now I have been taking things I learn with a grain of salt unless it is from a well respected source or well referenced.  And yes, this often includes information gained from my friends.  Can I claim credit for realizing all on my own that my baby bottles are no longer sterile as soon as I open the container?  No.  I would have keep on wasting my time using the stupid thing, like a good little consumer, if my friend hadn’t pointed out the nonsense staring me in the face.  So I pass on the credit for providing this jewel of common sense, to my friend.

It’s weird how this works in my head.  But I strongly suspect I am not alone.  I believe this, giving credit to individuals for the information they bring into our lives, is important to a lot of people.  On Facebook, for example, if we want to ‘share’ a link that a friend has bought to our attention, we are given an option to include their name on our page, connected to the article/webpage/photo, as the original finder or provider of said information.  Now, unless Facebook is being stupid (which it frequently is, especially from your phone), I ALWAYS leave the name of the person who originally posted it.  If someone has provided me with information that I feel is worth sharing, then I feel they deserve to have the credit for finding it.  My finickity nature on this one also extends to things that are sent to me privately – if a friend sends me something via private message or something, and I think it is worth sharing with the world at large… I often feel the NEED to ask that friend if they mind if I share it on Facebook, or Reddit or via email or whatever?  I have no idea why I do that, except that I feel people should be given credit for the knowledge they bring to us that variously (or vicariously?) enriches our lives in some way.

So yes, in discussions I am probably frequently heard referring to authors of authority, especially on politics and current events.  But when discussing the wisdom that friends have generously bestowed on me, and which I am now sharing with others – I strongly suspect it is primarily a matter of making sure I am passing on the credit to the person to whom it is due.



SSAA Belmont Pig and Plate Competition

I don’t usually shoot the Pig and Plate competition and when I got there I realised I had forgotten what the rules and course of fire were for this particular comp.  Unfortunately, our local website doesn’t contain info that would let me know what to expect before I turned up.  So I am writing it up here in case it is another two years before I turn up!

The Pig and Plate is a metallic silhouette competition with targets set at 15 meters, 25 meters and 50 meters.  It is shot with the shooters choice of centre fire handgun.  The competition is clearly designed with revolver shooters in mind, as each row of targets is designed to be shot in a series of six.

If shooting with a revolver, shooters will need a pistol and three reloads of six rounds (either reloading by hand if you’re confident or speed loader is you want to save time.  If shooting with a semi-automatic pistol, shooters will need to load six rounds into each magazine.  Shooters will need a minimum of 54 rounds of ammunition to complete the competition.

Upon approaching the line, each competitor will have a spotter to perform safety cross checks, ensure the course of fire is completed correctly, and tally your score.   The range will be called open and shooters will be instructed to load their first six rounds (either directly into the chambers of their revolver or by feeding in the first magazine).  A siren will sound and the shooter will have ONE MINUTE (which is actually a really long time!) to shoot the follow sequence:

  • Five rounds at the front row of five PLATES set at 15 meters
  • One round at the round PLATE to the right of the silhouettes set at 25 meters
  • Six rounds at will, at the five RAM and TURKEY silhouettes set at 25 meters
  • Six rounds at will, at the PIG silhouettes set at 50 meters

The first sequence must be shot left to right with one shot at each target – first the five plates in the front row, and the sixth plate which is set to the right of the second row of silhouettes.  Each competitor shoots once only at each plate, and must move onto the next target if a target is missed.

silhouette pig and plate comp

*Note that the plate at 25 meters has been drawn smaller – it is not, it’s just further away!

Scoring is as follows, 10 points for each plate knocked over, 30 points for the ‘bonus’ plate at 25 meters.  10 points for each ram, turkey or pig target that is knocked over.  A perfect score for a shooter on completing the first round would be 180.
Each shooter has three opportunities to shoot the course of fire, and scores from each round are combined to give an aggregate total.  A perfect score of three perfect rounds would yield a maximum score of 540.

It is a great fun shoot.  Will be there again soon, I hope.

Cirque Tattoo Cover up.

I have a tattoo on my left shoulder that was done by Gary Davis when I was younger… quite a bit younger.  In about 1991 to be precise.  It is a pixie and it used to always remind me of Edouardo.  Anyway I am much older, and so is she – and both of us have aged, rather poorly.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting her a face lift (I’ll worry about getting me one later!).  So ideas, what to do with a fairy that I don’t exactly dislike, but would like to see freshened up?

tattoo 1MC

I don’t want to get her covered by a large hibiscus, or a Japanese carp, or an owl (don’t ask… there appears to be a weird trend for them lately) or something just because these sorts of designs can lend themselves well to covering old ink, because I still rather like her actually.   And it occurred to me that she could very easily be converted into looking like a Cirque du Soleil character and keep much of her previous charm.  Now, I know this is probably taking the whole Cirque obsession a little far… but surely this option is a bit more personal and more interesting than just putting the fairy on a big mushroom or in a crescent moon or with some other fairy related object that is equally common?!  I dunno.   I have been gathering pics as inspiration for her transformation, but the Cirque is so wild and creative, you could literally go with anything.

UPDATE (June 5):
I’ve been talking with Kenny Morrissey, the tattooist who is going to do my cover up, and from what he is saying the blurred lines and deep colours of my current fairy are not going to translate well into the pic that I hastily sketched out.  But I can look at having a total cover up done which really opens up the possibilities in design.  I sort of landed on a Cirque concept due to wanting to keep the fairy, but now I am kinda attached to the idea.  But with so much inspiration though – where to start?  I’ve been thinking about this:

cirque-du-soleil---dralion-  Decisions, decisions.

Well, after very little ado and not much debate, I decided that I love the Dralion dragon/lion…  and given I had a few weeks to live with it, and was still enamoured with the idea, so today I went to have it done.  This is how the grey work thing goes:
tattoo RMB grey work cover upIt’s basically to lighten up some of those darker lines and to smooth out the tones and colours to allow a new design to be laid over the top.  The photo shows the original fairy, the grey after it was applied and the piece as it was healing – it was a lot smoother and clear by the time went back for the cover up (about three weeks we let it heal).  So today I got it done.  First the outline, which always hurts like a bitch!  Especially that bit high on my shoulder and round section of the ball…
RMB Dralion Progress1 Cirque du Soleil tattoo cover upThen Kenny started with the colouring in bit, and we got this far before needing a break for some lunch and for Kenny to hang with some students that were coming in.  I could really *feel* the sections that were going over the recently healed grey work.  I definitely recommend leaving three to four weeks between grey work and final work…
RMB Drailion Progress 2Then back to it after lunch.  Now, I am not sure why, but as you sit there traumatising you skin you kind build up a tolerance to that particular type of pain, so when you bugger off for half and hour and let it start to recover, when you start in again, it’s like ‘what the fuck?’, and shit does it hurt.  Best bit about that though – while Kenny was working his magic, I totally couldn’t feel any of my normal back pain.  Better than morphine!   😀

And at the end of the day, I have this gorgeous dragon tattoo based on the Cirque du Soleil’s Drailon poster… and I love it!  It looks fantastic and totally covers up the old pixie.  Kenny Morrissey at Morrisey’s Tattoo Couture – you’ve excelled yourself and absolutely exceeded expectations!  Thank you, I am a very happy camper!
RMB Dralion 2 RMB - Dralion 1

I think I am officially Cirque obsessed now… certifiably so.  🙂

Cirque logo