Service Company, 186 Infantry Hard Labor, Wounds and Death

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, 41st Division Historian

 

In January 1943, Service Company embarked with our 186 Infantry from Australia for our first time in New Guinea. We landed at Port Moresby on the way to relieve 32 Division on the north coast. By nightfall, we lay in luxurious jungle hammocks with zipper mosquito nets for tired sleep. We were near the airstrip.

But we did not know about Aussie AckAck emplacements nearby. When Jap bombers hit the strip that night, Aussie 90 mm guns blasted us awake. Some men slashed or dived right through the mosquito nets to the ground. Mail Clerk Scofield and others did total flip-flops in their hammocks and ended up in a tangle.

Several days later, we boarded the filthy Dutch freighter Bontekoe for our voyage around the end of eastern New Guinea to Oro Bay. Two destroyers and two mine-sweepers guarded our little convoy. Once, two Jap Zeroes made a single strafing run on us, then flew on past.

Bontekoe had a filthy Javanese crew using shower stalls for latrines. Creosote was used to cover the odors of this converted cattle boat. Odors were sickening, especially for men already afflicted with malaria or dysentery.

Landing at Oro Bay, we had to hike 18-20 miles up the shore towards Simemi. A Jap plane futilely strafed us; we futilely returned fire with M-1s. Natives came to carry our gear and assist our sick. When we forded streams thigh-deep to waist-deep, we posted outguards against crocodiles and Japs.

At Simemi, we even ran some patrols and found Japs more sickly with malaria than ourselves. But mostly, we carried on the complicated assignments of a Service Company which has to support the many needs of 18 other regimental companies.

Service Company had the payroll section, the mail section, the medical detachment, vehicle maintenance, and three ammo sections, one for each of 186's three rifle battalions. Above all, we "kept on trucking" ammo, food, water and medicines to 186's Companies.

Along with Regimental Headquarters Company, Cannon Company, and Anti-Tank Company, we were in the Provisional Battalion. All three companies could be "decentralized"; that is, assigned partly or wholly to other outfits. For example, Service Company was detached from 186 Infantry's main body and held back six weeks from returning to Australia. We were assigned to detached 2nd Battalion 186 Infantry to defend 6th Army Headquarters at Milne Bay. (There was no fighting.) About six months later after refitting and training in Australia, Service 186 embarked for Biak. On May 27, 1944, main body of Service landed dry and unopposed on Bosnek Jetty.

 

Continued in Biak Campaign…