Experiencing the aftermath of atomic explosion
Name: Brian Evans
Unit: BCOF 66 Australian Infantry Brigade
Brian Evans was 18 when he joined the AIF in May 1945 so was a bit late to take part in the fighting. Instead he volunteered for the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) and found himself sailing aboard HMAS Duntroon with other volunteers in March 1946.
The trip proved to be an adventure in itself with a number of incidents occurring which delayed the ship. The trip lasted almost four weeks, at least a week longer than normal, thanks to a typhoon, sickness, damage by a tug and a tidal wave.
With 1400 reinforcements for BCOF on board the Duntroon had to make an 850 km mercy dash to Guam after a Digger became dangerously ill following a cerebral haemorrhage. On arrival at Guam, the ill soldier was admitted to the US Army Hospital.
Meanwhile, all shipping had been ordered to leave Port Apra to dodge a typhoon that was sweeping towards Guam. The ship was by now very short on drinking water and it was strictly rationed for the next three days as the Duntroon headed away from the typhoon.
The ship then returned to Guam where it took on water and was about to sail when an American tug stove in a porthole on her weather deck. An hour later a tidal wave warning was broadcast and all ships were again ordered to leave port.
The Duntroon was forced to stay behind for repairs and lifebelts were donned by all on board while they sheltered below decks. The tidal wave didn't eventuate and after eight hours things were back to normal. After repairs were completed she set out once more for Japan.
Two days later one of the crew collapsed at the wheel with heart trouble but eventually Duntroon reached Japan.
The Australian contingent of the BCOF consisted of three battalions 65/66/67, 34 Brigade HQ, Australian Service Corps and other Army support groups plus the RAAF.
Brian Evans recalls that on arrival in Japan he was stationed in barracks at a town called Kaitaichi and later moved to new barracks at Hiro within the Hiroshima Prefecture.
"Hiro was approximately 10 miles from Hiroshima so naturally, when we were allowed leave we visited the devastated city," Brian said. "It showed the vast effects of the atom bomb which had been dropped six months earlier. We saw many of the scarred and maimed victims who were still living in temporary shelters."
Thanks to his experience as an artist on a Sydney newspaper, Brian was seconded to his battalion's intelligence section, which allowed him greater freedom of movement.
"It also afforded me interesting and varied experiences in the many tasks required in those early years of the occupation," he said. "One of these consisted of traversing some of the main dirt roads, tracks and bridges to ascertain the suitability for truck or jeep transport within our responsibility.
"I also accompanied some infantry patrols, at that time rifles and side arms were carried, in case of possible hostilities. However, to my knowledge no serious incidents occurred."
The patrols were necessary to locate and report stocks of ammunition and explosives as part of the disarmament program.
"In one of the huge and extensive man-made tunnels honeycombing the nearby mountains, we found stores of huge torpedos," Brian recalled.
"Items located in the tunnels were indicated on our area maps back at the battalion intelligence office as targets for future demolition. The information was forwarded to the Australian bomb disposal unit to locate and destroy. I have reason to believe that some of these soldiers were killed carrying out this task."
On one of the patrols Brian and his colleagues found a number of miniature submarines similar to the ones which entered Sydney Harbour in 1942. Many of the mountain tunnels were set up as hidden mini factories producing materials for war, he said.
The occupation authorities decreed that girls sold into prostitution by poor farming families were to be freed of their bonds.
"Teams of soldiers in all areas made raids on brothels, together with interpreters who informed the girls of their rights," Brian recalled. "However, many knowing no other way of making a living, didn't bother to accept their new found freedom."
Another interesting job was to observe the first democratic elections decreed by Macarthur's military government.
"Giving women the right to vote, we were alerted to stop any intimidation, especially by communist groups, corrupt officials and Japanese police who were greatly feared as 'thought police' during the war," Brian added.
"The elections throughout Japan consisted of local, state and federal, covered a five-week period. The group under my responsibility (I was only a 19-year-old private) consisted of two Australian boat drivers, one sergeant interpreter and four Japanese crew for the boats.
"We had two boats: one steam, one diesel which were previously Japanese owned and had been commandeered by the army. Being on detachment from the battalion, we lived for the five weeks in a small hotel in a fishing village called Kinoe. We used one boat to patrol the three islands in the inland sea of the coastal naval port of Kure, which was located in my area.
"In order to be self-sufficient, the second boat was necessary to bring our food supplies as well as to deliver reports of apparent success of compulsory voting. During our stay, we developed a good relationship with the hotel staff on Kinoe. They were mostly women, apart from the elderly owner."
On one occasion they transported several of the women over to another island so they could attend a festival on one of their special days.
Living in Japan was very restrictive for the average serviceman.
"We lived among the civilian populace but had a non-fraternisation rule. We were discouraged by the military police of the three allied forces, American, English and Australian.
"Because of this rule I was fortunate to have the opportunity to share, on numerous occasions, in the everyday life of the Japanese. On one occasion, several of the personnel from our section were invited to attend the wedding of one of our Japanese interpreters.
"In our battalion we had three soldiers who had been prisoners of war of the Japanese and had worked on the Burma-Thailand railway. One of these men, who was a great mate, practiced non-fraternisation with the Japanese. The other two, being typical knock-about Aussies, merged in with the other troops."
Towards the end of 1946, the battalion went on a tour of duty to Tokyo where they were involved in the changing of the guard at the Imperial Palace.
"During my tour of duty in Tokyo, I attended, as a spectator, the war trials where General Tojo, the leading Japanese General during the war, was on trial. He was later executed.
"To smarten the appearance of our drab Second World War uniforms on ceremonial parades, it was decreed we should whiten our webbing. This consisted of gaiters, belt, scabbard, rifle sling and shoulder straps, which up till then had been a dull kaki.
On one of our patrols large quantities of bleach were found so we proceeded to bleach our webbing. We had not allowed for the effect of the bleach on the stitching. Fortunately it was on a practice parade, when the order to present arms was given, that the snappy activity involved caused much of the webbing to fall apart.
"In order to resolve this problem, blocks of soluble whitener, known as blanco, were supplied. However, when any equipment slapping manoeuvre was carried out, a great cloud of white dust emanated from the parading battalion of 500 'blancoed' troops."
Brian Evans spent 20 months in Japan with BCOF, returning to Australia in November 1947. He was discharged one month later at the age of 20.
The material for this article was supplied by Brian Evans from New South Wales