Telegram brings good news for a change

Name: Peter Haythorpe
Date: 1945
Unit: Royal Australian Artillery
Location: New Guinea

Telegrams were all too often the bringer of bad news during World War II. So when Mr and Mrs Haythorpe of Manly, New South Wales, received an urgent telegram on 21 May 1945, they feared the worst. Their son Gunner Peter Haythorpe was fighting in New Guinea.

But when they opened and read the telegram it brought good news - the ABC was to broadcast that night at 7.50pm an item from their correspondent Frederick Simpson that would be "of interest to you."

They had an anxious wait as the clock ticked slowly towards the allotted time and they grouped around the set, tuning in to 2FC. Then they heard Simpson's report crackling over the airwaves with his despatch from New Guinea.

His report had taken some time to reach the ABC but it proved to be a thrilling account of a patrol involving their son.

Pasmil, Thursday 10 May 1945

"We move out for a terribly difficult day. It is just light and we must be ready in half an hour." Simpson said.

The objective is termed "The Great Road". It isn't so great when we reach it. But that story comes later.

This road must be cut by our inland forces. The coastal forces are likely to drive some of the enemy back so he tries to escape from the Wewak Isthmus and it is the job of this unit, first to cut this track and then later to clear the high ground dominating Wewak itself.

We're into the deep gloom of the jungle now.

Long columns of men turned packhorses. The Boong Train may reach us later, but it is difficult to anticipate anything in this warfare. Many of the men are carrying over 100 pounds of supplies and equipment. One reel of signal wire which is carried and paid out by two men weighs 96 pounds. These men must carry their own equipment in addition.

The Walkie Talkies are the radio side of communication. With them the O.C. can keep in touch with his subordinate officers on the trek. There is communication within the moving units as well as direct communication to the various headquarters further along the line.

There is only one way to get through this jungle stuff in the matter of direction, and that is by compass bearing. The infantry officer checks with the artillery officer. A further check is made on the number of feet of signal line that is being paid out. I listen to a direction from the OC who, by the way, comes from East Perth. He is making a further check by means of the artillery.

Over the Walkie Talkie goes the message: "Hello Twelve. Have message for you. Over." Twelve answers, and the OC gives further direction. "We are going to get the artillery to fire a shot of smoke shortly, so check for position and if we can't see we will get them to fire a round of HE."

And we couldn't see the smoke so the high explosive came to us from miles back and on the direct order of fire from the artillery officer with us. From the direction which he gave on checking the sound we had a direction bearing.

To the artillery officer the OC again remarks "Well how is it?"
And the reply is: "Right on the Dot, Sir."
We trudge forward again.

Gunner Calder Simpson of Belmore, Sydney, Gunner Peter Haythorpe of Manly, Sydney and Bombardier Jack Stanley, of Wilstone, Brisbane are on the arty signal line, but it is almost invidious to single out individual men in this particular job of work.

Rest period once again for a few minutes. The units are instructed to take up defensive positions automatically.

Three of us are sitting idly at the base of a tree. "What's that?" yells one of the boys. Three feet away from us a death adder throws up its head. We kill it, and not many yards away we kill its mate.

But the death adders we fear are the enemy snipers. The day is young as yet, and there is a story to tell in time and place.

Ahead of us now the scouts report a village. A recce party is sent forward. We await their return before moving. Once again defensive positions are taken up. In a few minutes the party is back. Appearances are deceptive. There is no village, but there is impassable swamp. We know what that means. We must find some way through it. Men curse this water that has lost its way. But into it we must go... Others have waded into this swamp before us. The Jap has been there to cut the sage palms which grow from the stagnant and filthy waters.

Saw toothed leaves drag at the skin and clothing. The leaves of the Gympie set the skin afire with a deadly stinging. The skin will be aflame 24 hours afterwards. The welter of intertwined vines throw men into the filthy ooze. They emerge as filthy as the slime into which they were thrown. The ants drop onto their clothing from the overhanging foliage. Their acid sting is another rotten business.

"I've had this," is the remark from several of the boys. So have we all. Nevertheless, there is the will to go forward.

Yet sometimes there is singular beauty. Here and there the filth ooze is covered with a parrot beak flower. Its blooms are from an overhead tree, and around the base there is a crimson carpet. Few of us have the eyes to see this.

Do not think I have over-stated this swamp business. My pencil cannot cover an adequate statement.

At last we are through.

By now we have taken a wide swing to the right. We must get back to the bearing direction of our objective. Now, from the morass we must set out to climb, let's forget it, except as the location of telephone trouble.

Our objective is not far away, another three quarters of an hour and we arrive at the road. "The Great Road" they call it, swathes of jungle cut clear and 15 feet wide. On either side there is long grass and running through it a very well worn track. We have taken eight and a half hours to do two and a half miles.

The Jap's signal line is out. A perimeter is thrown across and around the track.

Weapon pits are dug and immediately manned. We are in ambush, and we don't have long to wait.

From both ends of the track the automatics are chattering.

A party of Japs is unsuspectingly moving towards us. The fire is held. Now!! And Jap dead lie astride the track.

Grim isn't it? But wait, one or two have escaped into the jungle along the sides of the track.

There is a grenade explosion not 50 yards from us. Whichever Jap threw the grenade is a hidden menace to us. It must be a job of "find out".

The patrol party moves slowly forward. The stream is crossed. Behind the bamboo we see that one of the enemy who has been mortally wounded has killed himself with the grenade we heard. He placed it against his abdomen.

Then crack!! The deadly bullet of the hidden enemy sniper. This time it is our turn. One of our boys has got it. He is badly wounded. He lies in the middle of the track. We work round to get an approach. We get him to a hole at the side of the road. Four of us carry him, and in minutes he is with the stretcher bearers.

Let's finish this, it's the kind of clash that the message of the Brens tells us is occurring time and again throughout the area.

The task of this unit for the first day is complete.

Meanwhile the perimeter is in complete readiness, it's a disturbed night of grenade, rifle and automatic fire, the rain is falling in torrents. There will be other tasks tomorrow.

"How the coastal attack is progressing we have yet to learn."

The Haythorpe's were thrilled and relieved to hear their son's name mentioned. So far, so good. However, they had to wait another 15 months till Peter returned from the war so they could tell him in person how excited they had been.


Last updated: 3 June 2019

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Telegram brings good news for a change, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 25 September 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/telegram-brings-good-news-change
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