Jim was 16 years old in 1941 and attended Navy League Cadets at Milsons Point Sydney for two Saturdays. During seamanship training the boys were required to row a boat around Sydney Harbour, however parental permission was required for this activity. On the second Saturday afternoon an Officer dressed in his finest whites and gold braids addressed the boys as follows, “We need sixty boys to go to sea on Monday, and remember, if you’re big enough, you’re old enough! If you are big enough to get a woman in the ‘family way’ you are a man. Go home and get your parents’ permission.”
Jim went home and asked his mother for permission to go to sea, who told him to ask his father. Dad said, “If mum said so, OK.” Jim still believes that his parents thought he was going rowing on Sydney Harbour. On the Monday Jim departed in the engine room of RMS Queen Elizabeth, carrying Australian troops to Port Tufic and returned to Australia carrying Prisoners of War.
After Jim’s third voyage to Port Tufic the Queen Elizabeth transported 8,000 Prisoners of War to San Francisco arriving 19th March 1942. Arriving in San Francisco the Queen Elizabeth was greeted by U.S.A.F. Fighter Planes who were swooping under the Golden Gate Bridge. RMS Queen Elizabeth later returned to Sydney with 15,000 U.S. Troops.
Richard, Jim and Jack on leave in Sydney 1942.
Jim sailed again on the Queen Elizabeth to Port Tufic; then transported prisoners to New York City before returning with another 15,000 U.S. Troops to Sydney. During this voyage ‘the Lizzy’ was anchored in Rio and taking oil from a tanker. Rio was a neutral port and enemy ships were also at anchor. The crew had been instructed not to allow any part of their body to extend outside the confines of the vessel. One non- compliant young crew member was seen ‘hanging out’ of a porthole, apparently taking in the view. A South African Army Guard was standing in the oil recess with Jim on the Queen Elizabeth and instructed the young crew member to get inside the ship. The guard fired at the crew member, the projectile missed and the ricochet killed a Brazilian crew member of the oil tanker.
On a subsequent voyage the ‘Lizzy’ was in need of maintenance and during this time dry-dock in Singapore was unavailable. The nearest available dry-dock was in Canada where the crew suffered from bitter winter temperatures. The Canadian Red Cross assisted the crew with clothing and supplies during their stay at Esquimalt, while Canadian school children assisted with cleaning the vessel.
After repairs and fumigation RMS Queen Elizabeth sailed to Scotland where Jim was discharged in 1943. Travelling by train to England Jim commenced his journey home as First Class Passenger on RMMV Stirling Castle from Liverpool.
On the way to Sydney the Stirling Castle anchored in Durban where Jim and others took opportunity to visit the local attractions.
The preferred method of transport in Durban was by rickshaw. Jim and his friends kept the same rickshaw employed everywhere they went, and anywhere they went the cost was the same, ’two-bob’. The rickshaw was pulled by an African in ceremonial dress that would ‘whinny’ like a horse at every intersection.
Jim arrived in Sydney after mid-1943, still aged 17 years and was told “Why don’t you join the Yanks?”
“What’s the Yanks?” replied Jim and soon after made his way down to Walsh Bay.
Jim was employed by U.S. Army Transportation Corps on 10th September 1943 as Trimmer. Within the week he was assigned to S-142 Pulganbah, a steel coal burner of 225’ which had already seen action in New Guinea.
Whilst passing Sydney Heads on Jim’s second voyage to New Guinea, the crew of Pulganbah saw an Australian aircraft make a crash landing on the sea. The Captain gave orders to rescue the crew of the plane which was accomplished without much difficulty. The aviators were taken to the galley for a shot of rum and while this was occurring the Captain gave orders to ‘save the plane’.
The Able Seaman (Don Campbell) placed a strap around the fuselage and began to winch the plane from the water. The aviators returned to the deck and saw what was going on. They started screaming at the crew to ‘Let her go, let her go.” Jim looked over the bow of Pulganbah and could clearly see two brightly coloured bombs on the belly of the plane. As the plane moved in the sling the bombs were hitting against the side of the Pulganbah and Jim took cover. The plane was released to the ocean and the Captain decided the plane must be sunk, as it was a danger to shipping. Two U.S. Army Gunners aboard Pulganbah fired twice at the aircraft, missing both times. Jim thought the first round would have landed in Wollongong! The Captain hollered, “Knock it off, we might need a few of them when we get up North” and subsequently called for the RAN to attend and sink the plane.
Jim recalls running the Pulganbah ashore to pick up around 30 wounded Australian Troops who had made their way from the Kokoda Track. Jim recalls the soldiers marching towards the coast carrying each other, a memory he will never forget. Pulganbah used her own anchor winches to get off the shore and was completely suitable for the task, conveying the troops to hospital in Milne Bay. During March 1944 Jim was discharged from Pulganbah and enjoyed leave until he was assigned to S-153 Wannon, steel hulled coal burner of 167’. Upon arrival in New Guinea Jim was transferred to S-146 Maiwara.
Maiwara was a single screw cargo steamer that supplied troops in New Guinea, Bougainville and New Britain. After approximately four months aboard Maiwara Jim was transferred in Sydney, discharged and re-employed the very next day as Fireman.
During November 1944 Jim joined S-151 Erina for five weeks before being transferred to S-96 Coweambah, a wooden coal burner of 82’ built in 1919. Approximately six months later Coweambah departed Milne Bay heading for Sydney under-tow. A new cook had joined Coweambah in Milne Bay who stayed in his bunk for four days, during which period the crew survived on onion sandwiches. On 10th June 1945 Coweamah anchored near South West Rocks on the mid-North coast of NSW. Coweambah had been under-tow and her Captain was aboard the towing vessel. After midnight the crew of Coweambah realised that their tow-vessel had departed, with their Captain!
Approximately 0300 the winds increased to gale force and the anchor would not hold. Jim was in the engine room putting on a pitch when the sea came through the door. In Jim’s words; ‘Thinking the ship was upside-down I started to swim down to look for the door to the deck. Then the ship gave a lurch and I was thrown through the opposite door into the sea, luckily not hitting the bulkhead.’
‘I was fully clothed, my stokehold boots undone and I promptly kicked them off. Dungaree pants were the next to go. Try as I may I couldn’t pull my big roll-neck sweater over my head because the sea was rolling and dumping me. The sea was so bad I didn’t know if I was headed out to sea or into shore. The ship’s boat was floating upside down on the lee of the ship. I swam to it and straddled it. Then I saw a big wave approaching from the weather side right over the top of the ship. I called to the crew sheltering on the lee side, “Look out!” Then I realised I was next for this wave, so I stood and jumped towards the ship to avoid being crushed by the lifeboat when the wave hit. When I came to the surface I found a lifejacket that I put on. It was then that the Engineer, one-armed Arthur Salt, threw a Gladstone bag which I knew contained his life’s savings, some thousands of pounds. He called out, “Look after that Jim.” I swam to try to get his bag, but it was so buoyant the wind just blew it ahead of me. The bag was never seen by any of the crew again.’
Jim could hear a crew member yelling “Help me please, help me please” and believes it was the cook George Michalitsis who did not survive.
One crew member was Jimmy Ford who had a hold of the galley door jamb. The door was held by a cabin-hook which was dislodged by a wave and the door slammed breaking eight of his fingers.
The five crew on-deck all abandoned ship. They were separated by the waves which over a period of thirty minutes tumbled them towards the shore. In Jim’s words; ‘I was tossed by the waves and dumped on the beach.Then I was sucked back out and washed back in again. This time I grabbed a big pig-face vine that was hanging over a bank of sand and was able to hang on as the wave receded. I pulled myself up with the help of the vine and got beyond the reach of the waves. At this point I began to see the other fellows on the beach and I went to help them.’ Jimmy Ford lay unconscious on the beach and required assistance.
Crew member Eric Thrower called out, “Jimmy, I got your wallet!” and gave Jim back his wallet complete with 30 quid and the St Christopher coin inside. Eric had kept Jim’s wallet tucked in his belt all the way to shore. Some fisherman came to the rescue and took the crew back across the river where the Ambulance was waiting to take all six survivors to the Macleay Hospital. The survivors were Ian Cripps, Arthur Salt, James Gadd, Keith Roals, Eric Thrower and James Ford. Jim lives close by to South West Rocks and for years after the foundering of the Coweambah old fisherman would tell Jim that wet notes were coming in ‘all the time’.
Two months after being washed from Coweambah, Jim joined USAT C W Pasley as Fireman, later promoted to Oiler. Pasley was the first concrete ship to sail into Port Phillip Bay, affectionately known as the ‘stone frigate’. Weighing 7,000 tons with a displacement of 11,000 tons Pasley had transported the bodies of American servicemen killed on the Northern battle fronts to Australia for transfer to American soil and burial. After the ship had been cleaned she sailed to Borneo then to the Philippines.
In the Philippines USAT C W Pasley was loaded with 4,500 tons of bombs for return to the U.S. via Japan. After leaving Palawan, Pasley was hit by a typhoon in the China Sea. Jim was in the engine room and a message from the bridge declared that the rudder was not working. Those in the engine room could clearly see the apparatus that operated the rudder and assured the bridge it was working just fine. After a few minutes another call came through, “There’s something wrong with the rudder.” After several calls the Engineer replied, “It might be a good idea if you have a look at the rudder.” Upon inspection it was revealed that there was no rudder, it was gone.
Jim could hear the bombs rolling in the hold and hitting against the bulkhead. He was in the engine room with Oswald King and they could see that the ship was rolling to 45 degrees. A U.S Navy vessel was nearby and advised the crew to abandon ship. After jumping ship in winds of 300 km/hr., Jim boarded a lifeboat with Australian crew member George Jones and several Filipino crew members. George was on the tiller and the Filipinos on the oars began to pray. George waved the rudder handle and said, “You better row and forget that business!”
When they reached another vessel the Captain cut their lifeboats lose with most of their gear still on board. After several weeks on Okinawa the crew were advised that aircraft had spotted the C W Pasley floating in the China Sea.
The crew returned to the ship on rubber dinghies. After boarding Pasley it became evident that this ship was built to withstand the typhoon. All the holds were dry and only one leak had occurred through the stern gland.
C W Pasley was towed to Yokohama for repairs. Whilst in Japan, Jim had the opportunity to buy a camera with which he took many photos and it was good buy, as Jim still has the camera in working order today. The crew of the Pasley were transferred in November 1946. Jim was flown from Japan to Brisbane, discharged in Sydney on 12th January 1947.
U.S. Troops in post-war Japan