Rain sent rivers of water cascading down the mountain track making it slippery and hard to find a foothold. Private Glen Jones struggled up the path towards Jivevaneng where 'A' Company was ordered to relieve 'D' Company of the 2/17th Battalion.
"Does it ever stop raining?" complained Private Ed Symonds.
"You want an easy life," replied Corporal Pete Meadows.
"This bloody track's dangerous. We're lucky we're not those poor bastards lumping those mortars," said Glen pointing to two soldiers slipping in the mud while trying to carry their large weapons.
"It rains so much, you'd think it'd wash this bloody island into the sea," grumbled Ed.
"It can take the Japs with it," said Glen.
"I'm so wet; I reckon I've got mould under my balls. I'd bare my arse to the battalion just to be dry for a while."
"You might get a few takers in this mob," said Pete.
"No wonder with the Yanks taking our sheilas," snapped Ed.
"You're an unhappy bastard," said Glen.
"What the bloody hell have I got to be happy about? I'm wet, hot, could be killed at any time. I'm getting bloody six and six a day. That's gunna make me fuckin' rich."
"At least they'll bury you for nothing," said Glen.
"I am an ungrateful bastard."
Early the next morning in the
Small arms fire from the enemy covered the Australian positions. Glen returned fire into the surrounding jungle. Enemy machine guns chattered, but were ineffective because the diggers were in safe cover. Australian mortars hissed and Glen heard the crump of explosions in the jungle. Pete slid in beside him. "Why don't they bring up the rest of the battalion?" Glen asked.
"The Nips have cut the wires. We can't reach headquarters."
A Japanese machine gun sent dirt flying around Glen's trench. He kept firing towards the muzzle flashes and soon all around him were firing at the machine gun. Australian three-inch mortars found the range, trees, and dirt around the gun started to fly in the air until the gun stopped firing.
The edge of the jungle seemed to come alive with Japanese screaming incoherently, eyes crazed with wild courage. Glen felt panic and alarm as he faced the charging horde. Then he saw the faces and the dead looks of mind numbing fear on the faces of the Japanese and felt a reluctant admiration for them. Mortars landed amongst the charging enemy and Glen saw bodies thrown into the air and landing in piles like discarded cordwood. The charge stopped and those still alive seemed to be like frightened schoolchildren before rifles and machine-guns from the trenches cut them down. Wounded Japanese were crying out and crawling their way free of the battlefield back to the jungle.
Glen watched as the carpet of bodies started to jerk. The Australian riflemen continued to pump bullets into them. Glen looked at Pete. "Make sure they're dead. We don't want them jumping up and surprising us," said Pete. Glen joined the rest in firing bullets into the dead enemy. He needn't have bothered, mortars landed among the bodies picking them up and ripping them apart. "The bodies can be used as cover," said Pete.
Glen hung his head in his hands. He didn't want to watch.
The crump of mortars sounded on the other side of the village, followed by machine guns and rifle fire. It didn't last long; the enemy was driven back again. The battle settled back to spasmodic firing from both sides.
Glen ducked his head as heavy firing started opposite him. The Japanese were blanket firing with machine guns and rifles. He punched the air in exhilaration when he heard the distinctive hollow plop of Australian mortars start up and the following explosions among the enemy made him smile. The mortars must have been on target because he heard pain filled shrieks from the jungle and the firing stopped.
In mid-morning, the enemy charged out of the jungle shouting and firing in Glen's area. The Australian's had set their range. The rushing Japanese had barely left the jungle before they were cut down. He watched a small broad shouldered soldier rush holding a sword above his head. He seemed to be charmed because he had almost crossed the clearing when Glen shot him in the chest. He staggered and kept coming so Glen shot him again and he collapsed. Glen put a bullet into the Japanese's head just to make sure. The charge stopped. The enemy retreated and returned to spasmodically firing on the Australians.
"You reckon you've earned your six and six today, Ed?" asked Glen
"Give me time. It's only ten o'clock."
"Could be one of those days," said Pete trying to ring out his sopping jumper.
"Tell the CO we want the day off. We want overtime or we'll go on strike," said Ed.
"The Nips'll let you through, tell 'em the CO said it was OK," suggested Pete.
"They don't understand English. We'll just have to shoot the bastards," said Ed as he fired at movement in the jungle. They heard faint gunshots in the distance. "Do you reckon that's 'C' Company?"
"Could be," said Glen. "Sounds like they want to join the party."
"Fuckin' gatecrashers. You reckon they'd wait for an invitation," said Ed.
Glen yelled, "'C' Company, you're invited to the party."
"Sounds like it's on," said Pete.
It rained steadily as sporadic firing lasted from the attack in the morning until mid-afternoon.
In the evening, a bugle sounded. The Japanese attacked. Glen, Ed, and Pete fired at all they could find. The Japanese were easy targets and Glen wondered why they kept charging to their deaths. The clearing was littered with bodies and some badly wounded. But, they kept coming suffering heavy losses. Then Glen noticed some of the enemy was dragging the dead and wounded back into the jungle. He reasoned that command was right to mortar the enemy bodies although he was sickened by it. The Japanese had given up using their comrade's bodies as cover to attack the Australians. Out of respect, the Australians stopped firing, allowing the Japanese to withdraw taking their dead with them.
"It's bloody noisy," complained Ed. "They like to yell and blow those fuckin' trumpets."
"That's to frighten shit out of us," replied Glen. He noticed Australian stretcher-bearers hurriedly carrying a wounded digger to a safer area.
"There're not doing a bad job," agreed Pete.
"All we can do is to keep killing them, maybe that'll discourage them," said Ed as he fired at movement in the jungle.
"What's that smell?" Glen asked.
"There's a couple a dead-uns from last night, the flies have got them," said Ed. "Why don't cha go and shoo the flies away."
"Hey, Johnny," their attention was drawn to a voice from the edge of the jungle. "Let me in. Let me in, man, the Japs are right behind me."
"What's that?" said Ed.
"The Nips are playing games," said Pete.
"Come in, mate," yelled Glen. "There's a nice hot bath and plenty of sheilas to do what ever you want."
Shooting started. "There goes that bastard with the trumpet again," Ed yelled, "Here comes the shooting gallery."
The Japanese attacked, this time trying to blanket the Australians with machine gun fire. They were slaughtered as they left cover. Glen started howling like a dog and other Australians took up the cry of the 9th Division from Tobruk. The sound echoed around the town like a hundred wolf packs howling defiance.
The Diggers beat the Japanese back again and again; this time the attackers took most of their dead with them. The sound of the howling dog increased in tempo until they heard an answer from down the Jivevaneng track. "Maybe we can make the Japs shit themselves," Glen said.
The rain and mist continued all night as the Japanese directed sporadic rifle and mortar fire at the well dug-in Australians. Glen noticed the weapon pits were filling with water and the mud began to smell. By noon, the drizzle turned to torrential rain, drenching everyone and filling the trench almost up to Glen's knees. In the afternoon, under cover of the sheets of rain pelting down, the Japanese attacked again.
"Can ya see the bastards?" yelled Ed making the water in the trench slosh around as he moved.
"Good enough," Glen yelled. "They can't see us." All through the day and the next night, the Japanese took heavy losses. Glen lost count of the attacks and enemy soldiers he shot. The torrential rain abated to persistent drizzle and Pete, Glen, and Ed started to bail out with their helmets. The water was, by this time, over their knees.
"Would you like to join me in the pool?" asked Ed in his best English accent.
The next night was quiet with occasional firing, which Glen found more frightening than the continual noise. He couldn't sleep and stared anxiously at the jungle. The following day, the only activity from the enemy was occasional shooting. They heard the sound of fierce fighting some distance off as D Company attempted to reach the beleaguered A Company.
On the 4th of October, a native
In the afternoon, Glen, weary but greatly relieved, trudged into Battalion Headquarters with the rest of 'A' Company to the cheers of watching diggers. The cheers lifted his spirits and stopped him thinking about seeing so many dead bodies littering the ground around Jivevaneng.
Glen couldn't sleep. He thought about the frightened boy who went into battle at Tobruk. That boy hardly resembled the man who fought in the battle of Jivevaneng. He had a job to do; he knew how to suppress his fear and the revulsion of killing another man. The plain stupidity of the Japanese charging to their deaths onto the Australian guns amazed him. But he had no illusions about what would have happened to him and his mates if the men from
Ed and Pete were next to him in the dry tent. It seemed they had been wet all their lives and were finally dry. It was too quiet to sleep.