Continued from Training in US...

Our contingent of about 10,000 men boarded the Queen, which was fourteen decks high, 1080 feet long, weighing 86,000 tons, nearly twice the tonnage of our largest battleships. The rest of the troops boarded the President Coolidge and the Mariposa. We set out under the Golden Gate Bridge at about 1500 hours on March 19, 1942 with an escort of one U.S. cruiser and one British cruiser. Two submarines later joined us. We went south along the coast of South America and then headed west toward Australia, stopping to refuel in the Marquises Islands.

Our fleet entered Sydney Harbor on April 6, after 19 days afloat. The anchor was dropped here, because there was no dock that could accommodate such a large ship. As we began to go into our disembarking positions we were surprised to see that we were anchored close to the Queen Mary, the second largest ship in the world and the sister ship of the Queen Elizabeth. I had never dreamed of ever seeing either one of these mammoth ships, much less both of them lying side by side in an Australian harbor. The reason for stopping at Sydney Harbor rather than our final destination, Melbourne Harbor, was that Melbourne was not deep enough for The Queen to enter.

We disembarked from the Queen Elizabeth by barge and moved to the docks. At this point we were ordered to load onto an old Dutch freighter named The Van Houtes. Our departure was delayed by several hours. The ships crew of Javanese sailors had decided to go on strike. They had been out at sea for many months and wanted to go home to Java. It took the Dutch Captain quite a while to convince the crew that they could not go home because the Japanese had occupied Java, a Dutch Possession. Finally, late that day, we got under way. The ship moved from Sydney out into the Tasmanian Sea. This sea had a worldwide reputation for being one of worst areas on the globe for treacherous waters because of the tremendous ground swells caused by underwater mountains. On top of this we ran into a bad storm. Almost everyone aboard became seasick, including about half of the Javanese crew. Strangely, it didn’t affect me.

All of those who were able to perform duty were assigned to man guns that were mounted on the top deck. During this three-day trip many things happened to cause concern. We encountered waves that were so large, as we came off a mountain of water and plowed into another they would break over the decks. The old 5,000-ton freighter would creak and groan to the point that we land lubbers feared it wouldn’t stay afloat. To top things off the toilets were located on the fantail and were open to the sea. It was a speedy proposition to use these facilities without getting a bath in the bargain.

The ships crew kept sheep for food, which they butchered right there on the ship. They also kept goats, in a small pen in the hold, for milk. They fed these but didn’t butcher any during our trip.

The crew on this ship introduced us to some strange customs. They played music on some very strange instruments. At least they called it music. It was an oriental type and it didn’t resemble music as we knew it. Also, they cooked up big pans of a rice dish and then they would sit down on their haunches around it and eat it out of the big dish with their fingers.

On April 9, 1942 we docked in Melbourne, Australia. The local populace lined the docks and gave us an enthusiastic welcome. As I made my way along the docks I was stopped by a lady reporter for the Melbourne Sun, Melbourne’s largest newspaper. She asked me many questions but I was only able to furnish my name and rank (anything else being prohibited.) I was carrying quite a load: my full field pack, my rifle, my barracks bag and my Gibson Dobro guitar. After taking my picture she left. My picture appeared in the paper the next day. I was able to obtain a copy, which I sent to my mother, but it has since become lost.

About three days after arriving in Melbourne, my platoon Sergeant told me that I had a letter at the Orderly room. I smiled and said yea I’ll pick it up, knowing the whole time that no one could have gotten any mail to me this soon. I hadn’t had a chance to write home yet and even our Command didn’t know where we were headed when we left the states. I couldn’t stand the suspense so I hurried down to the Orderly room, and sure enough, there was a letter addressed to Corporal Hugh Reynolds Guitarist, U. S. Reinforcements, Melbourne, Australia. Needless to say I was dumbfounded. I believe I was most likely the first person in our Division to receive a letter after arrival in Australia. The writer was a young lady who was the Amateur Guitar Champion of Australia. The letter began “Dear Yankee Cousin, may we cordially welcome to Australia.” She invited me to contact here and to make an appointment to see her as soon as I was able to do so. I did see her on many occasions. It was a great experience and I continued to correspond with here for some time after returning home.

We had moved by rail about sixty miles from Melbourne to a small town called Seymore. Here we set up a tent camp and the Aussie army fed us our first meal. The meal was cooked in two oil drums that had been made into cookers. One drum held mutton stew while the other held an Aussie version of coffee, mostly chickaree. Soon a truck arrived with a load of unwrapped bread that was stacked on the back like cordwood.

Aussie kitchens consisted of hot water, which they boiled to make steam. They would put stew in the big pots and then put an iron pipe on the end of a steam hose. They would apply steam to the bottom of the drum to cook or heat the food. The Australians were charged with supplying as much food as they could to support the allied military effort in the Pacific. We were issued whole mutton carcasses on a regular basis. Soon it got so we couldn’t stomach it. Many of the carcasses were burned in the pits. As time went on our Mess Sergeant, Dean Thorson, was able to take the mutton into town and trade it for beef.

We began a very tough training program. All of our crew served weapons had to be carried to and from the designated training areas, which were three to four miles from our camp. Sometimes upon leaving the training area we would load our crew served weapons on vehicles and then we would make a forced march into camp at the rate of six miles per hour. A very hard task for us short legged people. We soon coined a phrase after the long-legged Major Hawk who led these forced marches. “Swing and sway with Sammy Kay, sweat and walk with Major Hawk.”

During this time we were granted passes on a fairly regular basis. Trains would leave a siding near our camp and travel two hours into the Melbourne Flinders Street Station. We would then head off to our favorite spots on foot or in a taxi. Most of the taxis ran on charcoal burners. Some used gasoline, but it was in short supply. A few taxis also ran on natural gas. The gas for the vehicle was kept in bags on top.

Scotch, whiskey, Aussie ale, champagne, fish and chips and pretty girls were in good supply, so our weekend passes into the city were filled with pleasure. We also took in all the sights around the city, even going to the zoo, watching horse races, going to rugby football games, taking boat trips up the river and dancing at the Trocadeero.

In late July we were ordered to move to Queensland in northern Australia near the city of Rockhampton (Rocky, as we called it.) It was located on the Fitzroy River and about 20 miles from the east coast of Australia. Once again we set up a tent camp. This time we scattered throughout a large area because we were now miles closer to the Japanese air bases to the north. We were never attacked here but the Japs did raid Darwin, a city on the northern tip of Australia.

During our trip north we saw thousands of kangaroos and passed within viewing distance of the famed Ayers rock, a rock much like Pompeys Pillar but much larger. As we crossed two state lines we had to unload all of our troops and equipment and transfer everything to a different train. Australia had seven states with five different gages of railroad track and none of then matched. They would soon change this after World War II.

With the camp in place training began immediately. We trained hard, doing a lot of live firing with our crew served weapons. In a five-day period we would march 100 miles. We were only allowed one quart of water per day. On top of this we had continual small unit tactics. Being called on alert was very common. When these alerts were called, we had to pack up all our belongings, roll our packs, fold our cots, strike our tents, load our weapons and move out to a bivouac area that was some distance from camp. In other words, at each alert we totally abandoned our camp. Soon we would go back and set up our camp all over again. This training was necessary but it was also very frustrating.

In order to break the monotony we were issued weekend passes again. Because there was also another Division, the 44th Infantry, in the area the small town was overrun with GI’s. Good thing there was a reasonable amount of liquor and beer available. Unfortunately girls were not as plentiful, but there were dances staged occasionally. As a result, several of us got together and rented an old house at a small coastal village named Yepoon. Here we would spend the weekends loafing, swimming, eating fish and chips and drinking beer. During this period we went south to Brisbane to train in amphibious training (making landings on hostile shores.)

Meanwhile the Japanese forces closed in on Port Moresby on the southern side of New Guinea. There only opposition was a hard-pressed Aussie force, so General Macarthur decided to commit the 32nd Infantry Division because they were in a better position to move. If our Division had went, the 32nd would have had to move into our present positions. This would have caused a big logistical problem. After World War Two it was discovered that the Japanese had planned to invade Australia at Yepoon, about twenty miles from Rockhampton, because of the areas shallow, firm sandy beaches.

As the 32nd Division joined in the battle in New Guinea, the 126th Infantry Regiment was sent to assist the Aussies in their effort to push the Japs back over the Owen Stanley Mountains. The other two regiments of the 32nd went around to the north side of New Guinea to attack the Japs on the right flank of their stronghold at the Buna, Gona, and Sanananda area. After a long struggle the Aussies and 126th were successful in pushing the Japs back over the mountains. Unfortunately the entire force became bogged down at Buna and the entire effort stalled. It was becoming more and more apparent that we would be going soon.

There were more frequent alerts now and new equipment was being issued. Our fatigue clothes were taken into town and dyed a jungle green. The clothes were wadded up in barracks bags so no two uniforms came out with the same pattern. Our mortar platoons were reorganized from four mortar squads to six. We now had six squad leaders (Sergeants), three section leaders (Staff Sergeants), one platoon sergeant (Tech Sergeant), and one first lieutenant (Platoon Leader.) Three 2nd Lieutenants were designated as fire observers. This reorganization came about as we found out that Artillery could neither move as easy, or fire as close to friendly forces, as 81 MM Mortars.

On December 15 we were called out on alert again, but this time we didn’t come back to camp. We proceeded to the Port of Gladstone. Here we spent the next few days loading our equipment in readiness to proceed to New Guinea.