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Getting Ready

 article about Getting Ready

Bill Kelly, John Cross, and Daisy Day, with the rest of the 2nd 43rd Battalion boarded a troop train at 06:00 hours for Brisbane in Queensland. After their return from El Alamein in 1943 and home leave they were on their way again. In a Brisbane pub, John and Daisy drank beer Bill had bought them. We're lucky to be alive so far, how can we keep it that way?'


 


I dunno mate,' said Daisy, we'll need some luck.'


 


We're more experienced, that should help,' said John.


 


We have to be a team, Angry, do you reckon you can keep us together?' inquired Bill.


 


I think so, the Sarge said we'll be in the 9th Platoon and I'll be a section Leader.'


 


We could just fuck off, we'll hide so they'll never find us,' said Daisy.


 


Won't work, even if they don't find us, we'll be deserters. They'd have our guts for garters,' said John.


 


Next day, they continued the journey a thousand miles northward from Brisbane on the narrow gauge railway. It was very cramped as they watched the lush countryside pass by. After a night at Redlynch, they arrived at Kairi. Motor transport took them to Camp G, which was to be their home and training base.


 


They spent the first fortnight preparing the camp area and training facilities. The proximity of the Barron River provided ready-made swimming and washing facilities. The camp area was in virgin country covered with thick timber and grass, but the diggers cleared the camp sites and firebreaks, arranged tents in company lines, carved a parade ground out of the timbered countryside and constructed battalion headquarters and canteen. Bush carpenters used their ingenuity in the erection of mess huts and orderly rooms. No building materials were available, not even nails, so they built frameworks of spars cut from the nearby jungle, binding them together with lengths of lawyer vine. Kunai grass was used for thatching roofs and walls. The majority of the men, after the days toil, went for a swim in the swiftly flowing Barron. They used the river as a ready-made laundry. It was a common to see troops clad only in their birthday suits thrashing wet and soapy washing against the boulders to coax out the grime. Occasionally kangaroos and rock wallabies would hop through the tent lines. Bird life was scarce, except for a few kookaburras. Plenty of crawling life was found while clearing timber. They found grass-ants, spiders, the occasional snake and green tree ants with a vicious bite that built nests like beehives.


 


The troops trained in jungle warfare. John, Daisy and Bill threw themselves into training; they knew their lives depended on it. In the first week of the Kairi Camp, the diggers began work on a battalion assault course and rifle range. The unit was placed on a new war establishment for a jungle fighting battalion. The changes from the desert were the elimination of the anti-aircraft and carrier platoons. Bill, John and Daisy, dressed in their new jungle green uniforms, transferred to the 9th platoon A' company as riflemen.


 


On the rifle range, Bill contemplated his next shot from five hundred yards with the Lee Enfield three-o-three. He squeezed the trigger and heard the whack of the bullet into the butts. The diggers in the butts signalled a bullseye as they slid the target back up. There was cheering behind him, he had not been aware he had an audience. So far, he had a perfect score, one more shot to go. He fingered the bolt and placed a round into the chamber. The rifle felt an extension of his arm as his attention went back to the next shot. He went through his drill, allowed for the slight breeze and squeezed the trigger. The tension as he lay on the range was electric, the target disappeared, he heard a faint cheer from the butts; the target came back with the signal of a bullseye. The range party cheered as Bill made his weapon safe and stood up. He was the first in the battalion to shoot a perfect score.


 


The jungle was wet; the diggers found the training hard and slippery. They were sent out for three or four days where they had to camp and try to stay dry. These tactics accustomed the troops to live and move in such country, the diggers had to learn about close fighting and jungle observation. They practiced river crossings as well as spending time on the jungle-training course where targets that suddenly appeared tested them and they had to identify as friend or foe. If they were foe, they had to fire at them immediately.


 


The battalion moved away from Kairi to practice amphibious landings with the American 532nd Boat and Shore Regiment. This took three weeks and after completion, they returned to Kairi. Training completed, they were away again and at Cairns wharf at 10:00 hours on the 8th August 1943, they embarked on the H.M.T. Manoora for New Guinea.


 



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