Some of you may have seen from Facebook that I have been a part of a very special project that the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) have embarked on in conjunction with the Australian War Memorial and the RSL. Volunteer Photographers from the AIPP have searched for and photographed as many of our WWII veterans as possible and at last count it was well over 5000 Australia wide. These images will be gifted to the Australian War Memorial and the veterans who have taken part. More information about the project can be found here http://www.aipp.com.au/reflections
I will be making a gallery of the mere 30 or so that I have managed to photograph soon, but in the mean time, I wanted to share a very special and detailed story. Mr Becker wrote and shared this story with his Battalion in the early 1990's, and as you will read, with amazing detail considering the time passed. But then again such a significant event would be hard to forget...
WOUNDED IN ACTION - A REMINISCENCE OF TSIMBA RIDGE
By Dick Becker 10pl B Company
The 31/51st Battalion landed at Torokina in Bougainville on the 6th December 1944 and we were still at Torokina for Christmas. A short time after Christmas we started our advance up the North coast with D Company the lead company and B Company in reserve.
We did some patrols into the centre of the island from the coast, but didn’t have any contact with the Japs. We saw where they had been and received reports that D Coy had killed one or two but we were getting close all the time.
Our first taste of real action came when we took over a position which had been captured by D Company about 100 yards before Tsimba Ridge. There was a captured Japanese gun on it (this could have been called a Pimple but I am not sure). It was on the ridge before Tsimba. Anyway we took over about 10am and within an hour 1 Section was sent out to patrol directly towards Tsimba. The last member of the patrol had barley left our position when a single shot rang out. The patrol later returned all except Gilly Falkner. I was in the detail sent out to find Gilly and we were given covering fire from the Mortar Platoon. We were being very careful and the first two rounds from the Mortars were spot on and we got to Gilly but then the rounds started to drop short and I can tell you I never hugged the ground so hard. The last round fell pretty close to me. I could feel the blast and hear the schrapnel whipping through the tress. Anyhow we got Gill back. He had been killed instantly.
We had about five days in those positions. It rained pretty well every day and we were walking in mud all the time. We went on a patrol down to C Coy with ammunition during this time. I was lead scout and it was a rather hair-raising experience especially after the Gill Faulkner incident.
The Japs harassed every night and we just didn’t rest too well. After about five days we were taken off that ridge and taken back to the beach for a rest. We had about three or four days just doing nothing and resting. During this time we were called together one afternoon and told of the impending attack on Tsimba Ridge and that we would be taking part in the assault.
We were given a lecture on wounds and what could happen. We were particularly told about chest wounds and that the most important thing was to keep as much air as possible out of a chest wound and each section was issued with an extra large dressing to help in this regard. This field dressing in 2 Section was issued to my mate Alex Russell who in the subsequent attack was on my immediate left. Our bayonets were taken and sharpened and handed back. The day before the attack we were moved back nearer our old position and at dusk that evening we had a church service.
In the morning of the 6th February 1945 we were up and taken up through our old positions and down the track towards the Genga River for about 150 to 200 yards where we turned at right angles to the left in single file.
I was No 2 Bren gun in the attack and because of that I had 7 fully loaded Bren Gun magazines, thin edge out in my shirt. I couldn’t get them in flat. They just wouldn’t fit and would certainly have been awkward if I had to use my bayonet. Alan Dunlop was our Bren Gunner and he was on my immediate right in the attack. Alan was killed in the attack. He was a terrific fellow.
Anyway we went in single file towards Tsimba Ridge and just before the dip, before going up Tsimba proper Capt Harris the Company Commander was waiting. As we passed he wished us luck and luck I had that day. All the while this was happening there was a terrific bombardment on the ridge itself. We lined up – 1 Section, 2 Section, 3 Section in line dispersed about five or six yards apart and when the bombardment stopped we were given the order to attack.
We moved off at a pretty steady pace and in a few moments our heads were looking over the cleared area of Tsimba Ridge. As my head looked over immediately I saw a Jap dart about 40 yards ahead of me and I was heading straight for him when I was hit pretty hard and lifted me off my feet and dumped me right alongside of a slight depression in the ground which was very crumbly about there, probably caused by a mortar bomb blast. I got into this depression, and Alex Russell who had been hit in the buttock, and who had seen me go down crawled up to me in the depression in the ground. By lying down flat we must have been just below the ground.
I had a sucking chest would and a broken left arm. As Alex Russell had the large field dressing I proceeded to get my gear off which only meant undoing the buckle on my webbing belt and slipping the arms out of the webbing harness. We believe a Jap in a reasonable high position must have known we were there and had four shots at us but was a fraction short and was just tipping the dirt up on to us. However when Alex turned me on my side to tie the field dressing tapes behind my back, I was hit in the left shoulder, fortunately only a flesh wound.
After a short while there was a lull in the firing and we decided to try and get off the ridge. So Alex called out that we were hit and were crawling in. We got the OK and by this time I was like a piece of jelly but Alex sort of snugged into me and I got onto his back and he crawled back over the edge of the ridge and down to where the other wounded were.
I was taken by stretcher from there to where our doctor was working. He stitched up my chest and that evening I was taken back to Torokina. In hindsight I believe I was hit from the left side, the thing hitting the Bren gun magazines and crushing metal fragments into my chest. Two days later I was operated on and they took pieces of metal out of my chest – one was 1/16 of an inch from my heart and it was considered a miracle that I survived the operation.
This is the first time I have told of our story. I do so now because I would like to tell the battalion of the courage of my mate Alex Russell as there is nothing surer that I would have perished if he had not been on the spot firstly with the first aid dressing and then getting me off the ridge in a reasonable time. I reckon that from the time the attack started, I had been on Tsimba only two or three minutes before being hit.
Number 2 Section had several casualties that day. Charlie Park, the Section leader and Alan Dunlop the Bren-gunner were both killed and Alex Russell, Ron Jamieson and myself wounded.