Adaptable Jeep on the right lines
Name: Ron Boyden
Unit: 2/3rd Anti-Tank Unit
Jeeps were real work horses in World War II and they turned up in the most unusual places.
Because it was just about impossible to build roads through the delta flats of Borneo, someone came up with the bright idea of using the disused railway lines that had run from Weston to Beaufort before the war, by equipping Jeeps with railway wheels.
There were no engines or rolling stock in working order, as the Montenier Ktjel bridge between Beaufort and Papar had been bombed, according to Ron Boyden who was then serving with the 10th Battery 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment in Borneo.
"The bridge spanned the Padas River near Beaufort and using a Beaufighter and two bombs, our intrepid pilot took out the bridge and then proceeded to damage the rolling stock with his machine guns," Ron Boyden recalled.
"One of the bombs just missed but the other hit one end of the bridge and rolled to the middle before exploding and bringing down the whole structure," he said. "Obviously the bomb had a slightly delayed fuse.
"Actually most of the Japs had retired to the coastal mountains a few miles inland from us by this time. To overcome the loss of the bridge the engineers put the strong flow of the Padas River, said to be at least 15mph, to good use by stringing wire hawsers across the river and attaching a barge to the wires. By altering the angle of the barge, the force of the water provided the propulsion to get from one side to the other.
"To get back to the Jeep - it was a very successful operation and the army added a couple of flat top rolling stock for transporting various goods," Ron Boyden said. "This rail was used fairly effectively once they got the weight right.
"The Jeep itself was the biggest problem as it frequently slipped on the rails due to its lightness and we had to increase its weight with sand bags and sleepers. Even then we often had to assist it to commence moving by manually pushing it to start it on its way."
The Jeep supplied the forward positions with rations, ammunition and other material but its speed was rather limited and it rarely exceeded 20mph.
"The Japs came down on odd occasions at night to block the line with logs or sabotage the lines by removing a rail, so the train was often stopped while the matter was remedied," Ron Boyden said.
"There was always a danger of ambush at these delays so the Jeep always carried armed guards. I remember being one of those guards a couple of times. There was a particular blind spot near a point where a spur of the coastal range came down to meet the track. We were very alert about here and slowed down more than usual.
"One or two had to get down off the train and shift any logs or replace a line. Those who got off the train were always covered by a bren gunner."
The train served another important role when it was used for medical emergencies.
"One morning when we were stationed between Lumadan and Beaufort, a young girl was brought to us by her parents," Ron Boyden said." She had awful burns to many parts of her body. Fluid-filled skin hung down from her arms and chest like water-filled balloons and the side of her face was similarly affected.
"We were told by her mother that a petrol lamp had exploded near her. The poor child was in deep shock. Both she and her mother were put on the Jeep when it arrived from Beaufort. I don't know whether she survived or not but her chances did not look good.
"This story of the use of the Jeep was somehow relayed to the Women's Weekly at the time and one of our troops received a copy of the article while we were still there in Borneo.
"In all, our regiment (2/3rd Anti-Tank) had killed about 70 Japs at the time the armistice came into effect.
"This Jeep or similar has now been put on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra."
The original material for this article was written by Ron Boyden of the Australian Capital Territory