Barry Davis's veteran story

Barry James Davis was born in Yass, New South Wales, and raised on a farm. As a teenager, he looked after boats at a tourist resort on Lake Burrinjuck.

After Barry finished high school in 1965, he joined the Royal Australian Navy in January 1966. He worked as an apprentice with the Marine Engineering Branch at HMAS Nirimba in Sydney.

Barry was posted to HMAS Hobart in July 1969 as an Engine Room Artificer. He served with Hobart in Vietnam between March and October 1970. The ship was working mainly on the gunline off the coast near Da Nang.

After returning to Australia, Barry continued to serve on Hobart until he completed his apprenticeship. Later, he had postings to Manus Island, the Belconnen Transmitting Station in Canberra, and back to Hobart, including deployments to the Indian Ocean and Iran.

Barry left the Navy in 1987 after 21 years of service. He remained in Canberra and worked at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Tidbinbilla.

Vietnam - HMAS Hobart

Transcripts

Joining the Navy

I was born on a farm. My family comes from a farm. All my schooling was done in Yass, at Yass High. I finished up in 1965 and joined the Navy in January 1966. I went straight from school to the Navy. We lived on Burrinjuck Dam. Across the creek was a tourist resort and I used to work there, looking after boats and that kind of stuff. Quite a few officers used to come out water skiing and say, "Oh, you'd go well in the Navy." 

That started me off. Also, being a farm boy, the idea was that you learned a trade of some description. I actually put in to join the Army, RAAF, and the Navy. The RAAF came back to me first and accepted me as an apprentice. So, they came back first. But you only went to Wagga. Yass to Wagga wasn't a big move! 

And it wasn't very long afterwards – I waited a week – that the Navy came back to me, and they accepted me also. I said, "Sydney's bit a further away from Yass than Wagga!" So, I joined HMAS Nirimba in January 1966 along with about 124 others, of which – when we joined – they said: "In three and a half years' time, there will only be about fifty per cent of you left. All the rest of you will have gone." That was about right. So, I finished that in June 1969.

An apprenticeship

It was an ex-World War Two – Schofield's – Air Force base. A lot of Pommy planes. It was during the war that it was built up for Sydney, and I think they used to fly off planes from carriers, if they were here in Sydney, or in the area, that they'd go there. It turned into a RAAF. It had various things. Then, when they decided they were going to do apprentice training, they got the hangers and all the machine shops that was all there. 

They put in all the lathes and that type of stuff in. It was just in the hangers. I did a three and a half year apprenticeship, there. Eventually it closed down and they went to TAFEs, which was a bad move. They lost the potential of training up really good artificers. I wanted to be an AA, which was an aircraft-type mechanic, but they decided I would be better off as a fitter and turner. 

So, that was my basic trade: I was a fitter and turner. Along with that was a lot of marine engineering theory, tech drawing, and all the other stuff that kind of goes with it. Also, because all the apprentices came from Australia wide, they put us through to the Leaving Certificate of the Victorian level, so that we were all playing on the same field. 

We were all level in our basic schooling. I was a fitter and turner – it then turned into an ERA, which is an Engine Room Artificer and, at that stage, an A apprentice. Once we got to C, we then progressed up through an ERA 3, ERA 2, ERA 1. I actually was an ERA 1 and then they changed. I became a Chief Petty Officer, Marine Technical Propulsion level 3. 

They just made the words big. Anyway. It was very good training. It sorted out the boys from the boys. There'd been a lot, from HMAS Leeuwin, who were very young. A lot of them came out scarred. They probably had a bad time. Maybe. I'm not sure. I'm sure some of them at HMAS Nirimba had a bad time. The boys sorted out who needed extra training. Maybe they didn't shower as often as they should. They were soon put in a kitbag and put underneath a cold hose or fire hose, as an incentive to shower more often.

Early training

I was sixteen and-a-half when I joined. I was probably at the higher end. There was nobody really over seventeen. When you joined HMAS Nirimba, you really went out. You didn't need the Leaving Certificate or Sixth Year or whatever else it was – or the Intermediate or the Fourth Form, back in that era, which you were selected on. … 

We go back to HMAS Leeuwin and the JRs, they were called – junior recruits. Some of them were selected. A lot of them went to HMAS Cerberus and became different rates that progressed through. There was no trade. They just did varying rate-type jobs. They were general dogsbodies. But the better ones – to put it that way – were selected to go to HMAS Nirimba. 

The better ones were selected to become officers. So there was a progression there, where if you rose to the top you could progress yourself up. So, we were lucky. Out of the about 120-odd, about fifteen were ex-JRs who had already been in the Navy for twelve months and had become acclimatised. They became like little team leaders, little group leaders. 

Also, because we were so young, we couldn't just join and then, the next weekend, go down in Kings Cross. No way. First of all, we couldn't go anywhere until we got some uniforms. We had, like, a high school boys' uniform. You know? Like, the navy blue sports top jacket, grey trousers, RAN8 on it. You had your step-in or uniform. It was one or the other. 

You know? A lot of boys used to take their duffle bag – and this was after three months, which was until you could even think about step-in! And then, if you were under eighteen, you had to have an approved address that you were going to go to, like a relative or something like that, who had signed, and you'd have to take a chit and they would have to say that you were there. That you didn't just go off and go down to Kings Cross or somewhere. That no, you went to their place for the weekend and they'd sign the chit and then you'd have to bring it back in and hand it in if you stayed overnight. Other than that, you had to be back on board before midnight.

A two-week sea ride

They gave us a two-week sea ride on the HMAS Sydney, the old aircraft carrier. So, I think it was only our turn – the whole lot – we just went onto the HMAS Sydney. This was before it became a Vietnam troop ship for taking up equipment and the soldiers. It was sailing around Australia. We did a sea ride on it for two weeks. It was just to get you what it was like. 

We went down, we painted asbestos lagging – that was before they started to eradicate it, and take it out of ships. So, we'd be down painting, keeping night watches, lifeguard type things – man overboard-type things. You'd just join. You did various things around the ship, just to say: This is what it is like. Then we'd come back to HMAS Nirimba. … Those aircraft carriers take an awfully long time to get to sea. 

From the time they start chucking ropes off, getting them out and getting them moving. Then they'd line you all up – and, because we were so many, and we were all in white, they'd line us up on the deck and you'd probably have seen pictures of them, from pictures they've got on the carrier, where they lined the flight deck all the way around. It looks very nice. 

But when you stand there for three hours, and you can't go anywhere, and the sun gets you more than that, and then you get out to the Heads and it starts to… Well, that was probably the only time in the Navy that I ever felt kind of sick. Kind of uneasy. I never spewed! But… Uneasy. I think it was more the sun. It was a hot day. All that type of stuff. We had some rough seas, too, in that. It got pretty rough. 

There was some hurricane coming down and we had to go elsewhere. But it did some damage on the flight deck and up the front end of it, a bit. But it was good fun. In hammocks – slept in them. It's the only time I slept in a hammock. That was on the HMAS Sydney. Best night's sleep I ever had.

HMAS Nirimba

We slept in World War Two "dongas". Initially, in the first six months, they were open and just a continuous room. The senior apprentice had a cabin, and was in charge of that cabin. I was in Hut 73. Then you were lined up. They were just bunks, lined up. You had little wardrobe for your stuff. There were lots of kit musters. You laid it out. Everything had its own thing and you had to lay it out. 

If you didn't do it, then you'd probably got a couple more to do. If you got through the first one then you were alright. So, that was the first six months: in open huts. When we got out of that, we went to four-man cabins. They were still the same sort of hut, but they'd divided them up into four man cabins with the senior apprentice's cabin, a small cabin. He was by himself. 

They were quite good. The guys in those four-man cabins could be from varying levels. It just depends on who and what. Eventually, they changed us all into divisions so that a division was artificers, engineering-type, or birdies and shipwrights, or electricians. So, the divisions became the same grouping where, first-up, we were just anywhere.

 They changed it around. That was good. I had a lot of good mates and I'm still in touch with them. Recreational stuff? They had a big TV room. It had a big TV room. It was like a theatre, really. We had a canteen where you could get stuff. Movies on Saturday nights – most Saturday nights. Wednesday nights was movie night. They had a big theatrette type of thing where they had Mr Marks used to run the thing. 

It was just like going to a cinema somewhere else. Not every Saturday night, they would have a dance. They would have a dance where they would just get busloads of girls from Blacktown. They used to come. Heaps of them. A lot of guys married girls from those dances, where they'd just come in and there'd be a dance on. They'd have supper at nine o'clock and then you'd go down for a cup of kye, which was hot chocolate – the Navy guys have got a lot of words for different things – and cake or something like that. 

Then, they'd have a band in and all that type of stuff. It was good nights. There was a lot of sport. Any sport you wanted to play, you could play it there. I played rugby. We played in, like, fourth division or something like that – under eighteens. We'd go to Manly, all the big rugby type areas, and then we'd play in the under twenties. I think they might have been the fourth. 

The under eighteens might have been the fifth or something like that. I forget how it was all structured. We'd play Aussie Rules, because all the sailors would come from all those Aussie Rules states. It wasn't big in Sydney. They'd play big games of that. HMAS Nirimba would win most games of that because they had full-on Aussie Rules players. Everywhere you went at HMAS Nirimba, you ran. 

You jogged. It was, like, in unison. If it got over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit you could march. They'd let you march, then, but if you were just going around, you'd have to form up in groups. If you were going over to 259 building, they'd all form up across the airfield and there would just be lines of them jogging. 

Anymore than three – you were in a line, jogging. Three! So, you did that everywhere. Plus sport! Every afternoon was sport somewhere, or training. It kept you fit. I had trouble joining. I was overweight before I joined. Then, I didn't actually get in until I weighed in, on the day I signed up, that I'd taken the weight off. Once you got in, it didn't matter. But I stayed pretty good all that time.

Working up the Hobart

The first ship the two of us joined? "Where'd you come from?" "Wellington." Then we went and did work-ups. For full-on work-ups, we would do battle problems – off Sydney, weekly running up and down to Jervis Bay. Out on Monday, back in Friday. Something like that. Or they were going on a full-on exercise for a couple of weeks with all the ships and all that. 

Then, before you went to Vietnam, they'd bring on the battle group, who would just run the ship. They would have that many things going that you'd reckon the ship should have sunk. But, if it got too bad, they'd stop it. But you had to go through all your routines, all the damage control: you've just got a missile in here, or a torpedo here, and you've got flooding. You've got a fire going here, you've lost that engine room. 

You've lost those boilers, you've only got the after ones. All that type of stuff. Once you got through all that, then you were right to go to Vietnam. … On third deployment, we took over from a Daring-class. It was the only Australian-built ship. DDGs were American-built. It was the problem with 4.5 shells ammo, on a Daring, compared to a five-inch shells on a DDG. 

They just wanted an Australian ship to go up and do time. It did well. But it's like six guns and probably hasn't got the long range. But the Americans were supportive with the spare parts. They had the same ships there. They had the spare parts. They had all the good stuff. It was all available – especially the ammo. All their ammunition ships, that's what they all had. It was what they all used. 

The Daring did well. Then, we did the third deployment. So, it was probably a couple of years down the track. It had probably come back and done a refit and refurbish, people had leave, a lot of stuff to do, and then work up into the next one. … I would say that at least a third of the crew were doing their second deployment. 

They'd done their second and were going back for the third, which would have been their second deployment. And we just missed out on actually going back. We'd done all the work-ups, all the ready-to-go for our fourth deployment, and they canned it all. The only time I've seen the Navy off. They had already sent us on pre-deployment, which is non-accountable before you actually departed. So, we'd actually taken our leave. We were ready to go. The government just withdrew. That was it.

HMAS Hobart deployment

We only worked below the DMZ … We did the whole lot. I think there was four zones that you were allocated. One was really on the DMZ – you were close to it there. But we went right around. We'd done all four. We'd be called in to do firings. A lot of times, we never fired on anything in particular. The Americans had a series of listening stations. 

They would listen for stuff during the night on hidden microphones and that type of stuff and they would hear some noises or something like that. We'd be ten miles out at sea and they would just call in, or they would have spotters out there who would call in for "harassment firings", as I would call it, and probably 90 per cent of our gun firings were "harassment firings", where you'd just lob in four or five shells. 

Just to keep them awake! That was probably a lot of it. Every now and then they'd say, "You're actually firing on something." I can remember being up in the ops room – because you'd come off watch, and just wonder what had happened, because when you're down in those holes you don't know anything, you know? You don't hear anything. You don't see what the real action is. 

You're just steaming boilers and operating your engines and doing that type of stuff: keeping the ship running. You were quite welcome to come up and come into the ops room, and we'd be steaming a race track. They'd just be steaming up and down. So, they knew their position exactly. So, when they wanted to set up for a gun shoot, they knew exactly where they were. 

They would just do all the manual inputs to it: "We want five shells into such-and-such an area." Boom, boom, boom. Next minute, they're on their way. They might – if it was at something – they might give a correction: up a hundred, down a hundred. Then: "Okay, fire ten for effect." Bang, bang, bang. Away they would go. Then, the Americans would come back: "Yep. Good. Spot on."

The Gunline

Well, the "gunline" was the whole of Vietnam. They just called it the gunline. The ships would be ten miles out at sea – so shallow and different things – and you had to watch out for fishing boats and God-knows-what when you're out really close. So, you were out far enough away from a possible Vietcong fishing boat that's got divers or full of whatever. 

It was just safety. So, we may as well have been off Jervis Bay, firing into there. You couldn't even see the land, really – most of the time. The gunline was just an area out there that you went up and down. Up further, there would be the supply ship line. There would be the tankers, with fuel, and every second day you would be fuelling. You always topped up. You never knew where they would send you very quickly. "Okay, we need you up at…" If you were in Zone 4 and you had to go to 1 – that's a good quick steam.

A fishing boat collision

We were on the gunline and we had to go out and get fuel. Up in Vietnam, in the mornings you can get these fogs that just – it's hot, but they're just these sea fogs that you get early in the mornings, sometimes. They wanted fire or something. So, we fuelled up and then were going flat-out to get back. The visibility was, like, zilch. Just nothing. 

And they were blowing the foghorn and that type of stuff. We got a fair way, getting back in, and then, all of a sudden, out of the white gloom was a fishing boat right in front of us. He was blowing his [horn]. He couldn't move. We couldn't move. We were that close we couldn't deviate. We just went straight through the middle of the fishing boat as they all jumped over each side of the ship. 

It went down. Of course, we stopped, went back and picked them back up. Nobody died. We got them on board. I forget where we went – we dropped them off to somebody. I'm not sure whether we went in to Da Nang or Vung Tàu or somewhere but we'd been into both those harbours. We'd been into Da Nang, right in the harbour, shelling from within the harbour, and in Da Nang we had to drop somebody off. 

Anyway, we got to Hong Kong for the next maintenance and we were doing condenser cleans, and we picked out half of that fishing boat! It was in the engine condensers, which have these big inlets. When I say half, it was lots of bits off that fishing boat in those condensers. They were so lucky that we didn't kill anybody. I think they got well compensated for their fishing boat.

Refuelling and resupply

So, you always fuelled, you were always topped up on ammo, and food. Good American ice cream, good American coffee, and all that type of stuff: fruit juices, milk. … Most of the time you did "razzes", where both ships are side-by-side, basically. Most of it was razzes. Fuel was definitely razzes. You're not going to load 200 tonnes of fuel via chopper. 

So, you'd be up with the hose lines coming across. Normally it was only one, because you weren't really getting that much. Ammunition? Definitely. They're crates of five inch shells of about twenty to twenty-five in a crate. It'd weigh heaps. Powder? That all came over. Stores? A lot of times, you'd get spare parts by helo – chopper. They'd come over with the big net and dump it and you'd take it away. A lot of times, the fresh food would be done that way, too. 

If they went to a razz, or a storing ship, by chopper, it was everybody's up. If you were off watch, you were up there carting food or assisting in whatever way, or your allocated way. A lot of the seamen would do the rope work, the stores people would do the manual labour. Get the ice cream down to the freezers quick, so it doesn't melt!

Subic Bay and maintenance

Our normal place of departure was Subic Bay. So, we'd sail from Sydney to Manus Island, for fuel – and, I mean, we sailed quickly – to go up. So, you'd fuel at Manus Island. It wasn't economical steaming. It was like, You're getting there. And then you'd go to Subic Bay. Now, that is eye-opening for someone who's just come up from the country. Subic Bay: there's a lot of stories from there and they're stories that will just stay in Subic Bay. 

Anybody who listens to this, who has been to Subic Bay, will know exactly what I'm talking about. … In the Philippines, after Clark Air Force Base, it was the biggest American military base ever outside of America. They had Air Force, Marines, everything there. It was just huge. PXs – you'd go shopping there, and it was bigger than Canberra. You had to travel half an hour on a bus to go to the US Air Force PX. 

You'd get your shiny shoes that you didn't have to spit polish. Lots of different things. It was very good. You could buy anything. They had the best clubs: junior clubs, petty officer or chiefs clubs, officers' clubs. Cheap as anything. They'd just have a night, of 25c brandy alexanders, where they would be just lined up on the bar. How many would you take? You'd just take ten and walk away so you didn't have to go back and get more. 

They were different. So, you would go out, have a meal, have a few drinks, and then go ashore. … We had a handover, I think from HMAS Vendetta, which was the Australian-built Daring. So, we did that. You've got to have your rugby match, they've got to handover the weight, which went from ship to ship to ship. That's around somewhere. You've got the weight. You're carrying the weight now. 

So, we did probably four days and then the skippers have got to sort out with the Americans and all that the stuff that goes on in the background. We'd probably do a bit of maintenance before we get there. We're going out there for a month – and then we'd steam off, over two days, across to Vietnam. Then you're there for a month. 

Then you'd do R&R. You'd steam from there. You could go to Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong – either. After each month, you'd go to one of those places. Or, in the middle, you'd go back to Subic because they had a big shipyard there and you could do some really good maintenance. When you went to these other ports, you were doing your own maintenance. 

So, the sailors on board, in those days, maintained. These days, they fly sailors or contractors to wherever the ship is, and they do the maintenance, and the sailors go off and sleep in a hotel. Then, they come back and the ship's ready to go again. But back in those days, we looked after everything. The gun guys did the gun maintenance. 

So, that was your maintenance time, to get everything back up, even though if you were down you were doing maintenance, which is very hard to do on boilers that operate at 1275 PSI and 800 degrees Fahrenheit. If you got a little steam leak, it would cut your hand off, as if you didn't even know it was there. If you put your hand in where the jet of steam was. You couldn't see it – it was just you heard it. … You kept your maintenance up. It's your training. It's your HMAS Nirimba training. It all kicks in. 

It's a mixture of new guys and experienced guys and old guys who just knew the lot. I remember this Chief Tiffs, I was doing something one day, and he said: "Don't do that." It was just a big nut. I had a spanner on it. I was hitting it with my hand. He said: "Don't do that. In twenty years' time, you'll have rheumatism or that will be sore." Guess what? That's sore. Is sore. Is constantly sore. That's the type of advice you got from guys. It lives with you forever, a lot of the stuff you learned.

Start up and cool down

To start up a normal Australian-type steamship? That's about a twelve hour episode. It just goes. You sail off the night before, after dark. You don't want the people at Point Piper and in those places to see the black smoke coming out of your chimney until you have enough steam to be able to run things out properly. These days? DDGs were always hot on one boiler. 

You consume that much power. We were the only ones who could generate that much power. They couldn't get it from shore supply for quite some time. I think eventually [they did], in the end. But the boilers were always warm and that type of stuff. And, if you had one boiler operating, you had enough steam to start up. It might be a four hour episode to be able to bring everything up. 

These days, it's like: "We're sailing in thirty minutes. Press the button. Let go the ropes, and away we go." In those days, it was full on and took ages to get them up and going. It took ages to cool them down enough that you could go, if you were the engineering chief on the ship. You'd stay until everything was good and cooled down. Then you'd go on leave. 

When I was on my last ships, we used to stay on there until four o'clock. The rest of the ship would be off at midday. We'd be there until four. Then we'd hop into a car and drive to Canberra and have a weekend at home, leave at six o'clock on Sunday night because we were going to Jervis Bay the next morning to go back so you'd be there at the flash-up the next morning at four o'clock. That type of stuff.

Uniform allowance

We had a uniform allowance so that, over a period of time, that was supposed to cover you. When you first joined, you got issued everything that you needed because you were growing boys. Before you left HMAS Nirimba, you were basically re-kitted out – with, because you had three years of growth – and they had seamstresses and barbershops and all that. 

So, if you needed your trousers taken out or fixed-up or whatever, you could take them up to the seamstress and they'd fix them for you and re-adjust them. But we basically had a brand new kit when we left HMAS Nirimba. Then you got your uniform allowance and that was supposed to cover you when you went to the Navy. The slops – they called it slops, the clothing store – and you'd buy your new shirt. You had that uniform allowance which would supposedly cover that. They weren't dear, but you made sure you weren't just throwing them away just for the sake of throwing them away, that you had to input some money towards them.

SEATO Strategic Reserve

Back in my era, they had that Southeast Strategic Reserve stuff going, where the Australian ships — because they were very English, with the big bases in Singapore and Hong Kong — would deploy, prior to the DDGs coming out (those were more mixed up with Vietnam at that stage. So, they would go up there for a six-month deployment, up top. 

That would mean they were exercising with the British more than the British Malays. It was mainly British carriers and whatever. They had lots of ships out here, between Hong Kong and Singapore. It was part of the reserve. They had the conflicts back in those days. It was all a part of that. It was a reserve, and they were all together and worked up, so that if it did blow up into something, they all knew what was going on: know how to work together, what the routines were, that type of stuff.

Return to Australia

We came back through Perth. So, all we wanted to do was get off the ship, go across to the closest pub, have a meat pie and a good Australian beer. That was it. And that's about all we seen for that night —that closest pub. Then back to the ship … You just got your family that would meet you. I think we dropped off the Western Australians when we come back there. 

You could drop off certain people. Different people went to Adelaide, and maybe we lost a couple there. Then kind of around Sydney or something like that. But there was nothing really. You got back to Sydney and half the ship went on leave. Only half the ship could go on leave — rest would have to stay and look after the ship. You didn't have a secondary crew that could come on and take care of the ship, like they do now. 

They just bring on this extra maintenance crew, and then everybody goes — because they want to get that ship back to sea and get its time at sea. So, everybody goes on leave. We used to have split leave periods, where half the ship would go on leave for a couple of weeks and then you'd come back, and the other half would go. 

That type of stuff. I know where you're heading — we never got any of that welcome home stuff. I'm only really just starting to see it now. You see it through Facebook, through lots of different stuff, where it is like the Vietnam veterans were a forgotten group. It's been all advertised now. It's all veterans. It's really not just Vietnam. It's everybody: Remember the veterans, thank them. All that type of stuff. It doesn't matter what — if you say you're a veteran, now, these guys are like, to everybody: "Thank you for your service." It's coming out a lot, now.

Post-Vietnam service

I basically stayed on HMAS Hobart for at least four years. You had to do that to finish your apprenticeship. So, that was like three and a half years. You had to do three and a half years. Two and a half years normally got you to the end of your apprenticeship — but then you had to get a boiler ticket, you had to get an engine room ticket, you had to get a charge ticket, a jury watchkeeping [?] certificate, which is the first one. 

You had to get a jury watchkeeping certificate, a water tender, boiler ticket, an engine room ticket, a charge ticket. So, all that went through. Until you got that, you basically stayed on your ship. My next posting, off Hobart, was Manus Island, New Guinea, for twelve months. I wasn't married. I never got married until late in my life. That was counted as sea time. 

For a single guy, that was counted as twelve months sea time service. So, it was up at Manus Island, where we had a big patrol boat base and that type of stuff. It was a fuelling stop. That was my next posting. That was after — HMAS Hobart had been back to the United States, had a weapons upgrade. I'd done extra training. They put me through refrigeration training and that type of stuff. 

They must have known because they wanted "fridgies" to go in the Manus Island. They had the stock store all their own food up there, for probably a hundred married couples and families and fifty or sixty single guys. So, they had all that and the patrol boats. They had to keep food, plus food for their native workers, which we had there. 

So, there was the refit, I came off HMAS Hobart, finished my time, come back from Manus Island, come back to Canberra to the Belconnen Transmitting Station, which was near Kaleen – that big open area, with three 600-foot towers. So, I was a "Tiffy" our there for a fair while. In my time there, I went back on the Hobart twice: one for an Indian Ocean deployment, then another to Iran because some fellow needed a compassionate [leave] and couldn't go and they needed somebody very quick. 

So, I joined that ship the day it sailed. I did the first night's duty for everybody, then hopped on a plane and came back to Canberra the next day. It was about a three-month deployment on that, from Iran, India, Singapore. … I flew half of it because one fellow injured his knee or had a medical problem. Then he had to come home. So, within a week, I had a passport, a visa, and flew to Washington, was picked up by the embassy, driven down to HMAS Hobart in Baltimore, and I was the Australian representative for the F1-11 documentation that HMAS Hobart brought back. 

It weighed so much we brought it back. So, I was the representative because I was travelling down there from the embassy. I went to the embassy, couldn't go into the embassy – I only got a Coca-Cola in the carpark underneath it. That was it. "Sorry, you haven't got enough security." I can look after these top-secret papers, but I can't come into the embassy? Yeah. … Then I continued around the world, from Baltimore, through Suez, India, Cochin, Singapore, Darwin.

Manus Island

The first three months was: God, what am I doing here? The next three months: This is the greatest little place in the world. And then the next three months was, Gee, I've only got three months to go. Some guys could get off it. I think single guys could go to Madang for a weekend or something. The Marities [?] looked after the single guys a lot. 

We'd go up to big barbecues, and all night sessions with Jock McCracken — he was a Scotchman. If you got invited to Jock's barbecue for the night, yep, it was the greatest night ever. But you had to see the sun rise, or you wouldn't get another invite back. That was his way of putting it. There was lots of that. I got mixed up with a shipwright. I was the engineer, with outboard motors and that. 

He looked after the boat; I looked after the engine. We spent a lot of our time going through different places – from Wash Wash Mary, over to the islands. Salamei Beach was one. You'd just go to these beaches. Pristine beaches. No surf – just flat – that'd could see out the harbour. They had a wreck. There was a wreck out at the heads. There would be nothing there now. 

It'd be just full of sea snakes. We went out close, and it was just sea snakes everywhere. But there were all those little islands. We had the boat, and we'd just go and visit islands. The people are so friendly. Nothing better than that. They'd have the shaved ice machines. So, you'd get half a drum of shaved ice in the lumbrum drums – which all the rice [came in], because the weevils would get into everything, in Manus – and then the boys would go up the coconut trees, get fresh coconuts, come down, knock them off, and then fill up a container with fresh coconut milk, and put them in the freezing cold. 

We'd go out grading roads, because I looked after fridges but also heavy equipment, at one stage. That was graders and cherry pickers. Different things. The boys are so friendly. And the people themselves. We never really got out of Manus. You'd work hard, it was hot. The uniform in those days in the Navy was a straw hat with a chief's badge on it. 

No shirt, shorts, plastic sandals — because leather ones would just rot in two weeks, because it just rained. Not cold. The funniest story about Manus — they had a big garbage truck, just like the old type of garbage trucks we had. There would be the dark boys. Most of them who worked on Manus didn't come from Manus. If they came from Manus, they had wantoks on Manus, who are kind of friends. 

So, if things were going bad, they would just leave and go to their wantoks. They would just go home. But the ones from the mainland had no wantoks there. They had to work. They went there for twelve months. I think it was twelve months – it could have been two years, until they got leave and pay to go home. It would take them a month to get home. They'd have to go in a plane to get across there. 

Then they'd have to go by road to get to a certain area. Then they'd have to go in a canoe to get up some river. You know? It took them ages to get home, and then they'd eventually come back in six months, or something like that, to work. The funniest thing was that they had that Papuan Black Snake. Well, a bit of black hose looks like that Papuan Black Snake. 

There was nothing funnier than for the garbage truck to be going by with all these guys were hanging off the garbage truck – OH&S-wise, it wouldn't happen these days – and there would be five in the cabin and five hanging off it. Somebody would get a black bit of rubber hose and just throw it, and you'd see all these guys just depart the truck. They thought it was this snake. Lucky the driver stayed in and stopped it!

Commemoration

It's a bit that I do by myself. I'm not by myself, I'm with a group, not necessarily that I know of. This year, they do one in Throsby. So, there's somebody organising one and it'll be a dawn service. It's got so big here in the War Memorial. You've got to be here early to get the right spot and all that. So, I just keep it quiet. We did one in Throsby Park last year. It was quite nice. 

The year before, with COVID, it was just standard, standing at the front door with some candles, and listening to it on the radio. I remember Dad – he's passed now – was on Kokoda. He was a Kokoda, Third Battalion-type fellow. So, it's more of a personal thing. I don't go to two ups and all that type of stuff at the clubs. I don't go necessarily to Sydney. 

If I was in Sydney, yes, I'd go and join the HMAS Hobart group. They did a big one here for the HMAS Nirimba guys. There was heaps of us there. It was a big reunion and everything. I do those ones, but I don't really get… It's not a great, ‘Have lots of beers!' and that type of stuff. I do it my own way.


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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Barry Davis's veteran story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 23 July 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/oral-histories/barry-daviss-veteran-story
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