Pacific Journey

Christmas and the New Year were upon us and for the life of me I can’t remember what we did to celebrate, so it must have been pretty non descript. I’m sure I got some cookies and things from my parents, which I shared with the other fellows.  We did know that we were due to go overseas very shortly.  We didn’t know how shortly; but it turned out to be January 7th.  About that time, after the first of the year, we were told where we would report and we were bussed out to the docks of San Diego.
We all stood in columns in our Greens and helmets and sea bags, rifles, packs, pretty heavily loaded.  It was warm while we were standing next to the large ocean liner, which turned out to be the SS Lurline.  It was a luxury liner that normally went from San Diego or San Francisco to Hawaii as a pleasure cruiser.  We waited and waited, and we were hot and sweaty and tired of standing.  After a couple of hours we finally boarded ship.  It was quite an experience to go aboard this huge ocean liner.

I’d never been aboard a ship of that size we were directed where to go.  We went down aisles, with staterooms on each side and ended up being put into these staterooms.  It all looked very nice except that there were seven or eight of us in each stateroom with double bunks; compared to some of the other ships we were to be on later it turned out to be quite a treat.

We got going, the trip was fairly uneventful but; we didn’t know where we were headed. There were all sorts of things going on board ship as we sailed thru the Pacific.  For instance, if you opened your stateroom door at two o’clock in the morning there would be a poker game going on in the aisle and mucho dollars passing between players.  Evidently it was quite lucrative for people who were adept in gambling.
Meanwhile, we could read or enjoy the ocean from the decks.  We would eat in the dining room and you could still see the trappings of glory from the days the ship was used for luxury cruises.  As I recalled they even used the same silver service that was used on luxury cruises. We sat at big long dining tables so it was pretty nice and we thought that all troop ships were set up that way.  Well, it turned out later that that was not true.
We traveled without any escort at all and were concerned about being alone on this troop ship in the middle of the ocean.  The word was that the S.S. Lurline could travel at a 33knot speed and fast enough to beat any submarine trying to catch us.  There were certain rules, never to throw a lit cigarette overboard because that might lead a trail for a submarine.  Never smoke above deck at night because of the light and we traveled aboard ship with life jackets.

After about two to three weeks at sea we started to see land that turned out to be New Caledonia, a tropical island with tropical forests everywhere.  The main city of Noumea lies on a harbor a kind of and is horse shoe shaped.  As our ship approached the harbor the submarine net went down so that we could get into the harbor.  We anchored and all topside were looking at the sights.  Nobody was allowed on shore except, as I recall, there was a raider battalion on our ship and they left to land on Noumea.  We were kept aboard ship and could see the town that was a typical tropical French city with a lot of stucco buildings and clay tile roofs. Rather pretty with lush growth around it.  At night there were no lights because of the war.  During the day it was pretty.  We went on the fantail and enjoyed looking into the ocean.  Our rude awakening came when we were told we were to transfer ships.
We had no idea what was happening, at any rate the SS Rochambeau pulled up along the S.S.Lurline.  We got all our gear and went several decks below where there was a wood raft between the two ships so that we could cross over.  We got all our sea bags on the ship and I wound up probably below the water line at a bunk.  The bunks were off of the bulkhead of the ship.   The walls sweated so there was constant condensation coming down the sides.  The bunks were one on top of the other just enough to get five deep.

As we walked around we found that this was one dirty ship, the French Merchant Marine did not keep it very well tended, the decks were scummy.  We were very disappointed and it was quite startling to compare the ship we had just been on.  That early evening when everybody was aboard we took off the ropes of the SS Rochambeau.  The net went down and we departed into the sunset.  Dick Beagel and I sat on the fantail and watched the magnificent sight of the sun going down, and we were off . . .to we knew not where.

On to Australia

We again cruised without a naval escort and were known as the 8th Replacement Battalion.  We were finally told that we were going to Australia and would join the First Marine Division.  This was really big news for us and we were happy to hear it.  I was assigned to L-4-11: Love Battery, 4th Battalion, 11th Marines, which is part of the First Division Artillery Regiment.
We cruised south for possibly four days.  On one of these days one of the innovative guys decided to do his laundry by tying a rope to his shirt and throwing it over the fantail.  After letting the ocean churn the shirt overnight he pulled it on deck and found just a few shreds of what should have been his shirt.  The conclusion is not clear in my mind; but for sure, no one tried this short cut again and it was back to the scrub board thereafter.
Our first stop was Brisbane.  We pulled into the harbor and anchored and again were not allowed to go ashore.  Again the environs were a tropical nature, quite hot, steamy with a lot of tropical growth in the way of trees and bushes.  As we lay in the harbor various things started to happen. Three or four of our crazed guys slipped off the ship and somehow got a boat to explore and forage around for any activity they had longed for during the journey, perhaps “wine, women and song”.  The next day their boat came up to the side of the ship trying to be very unobtrusive and of course they were picked up.   Roll call had been taken, people who were missing were found to be AWOL.  A make shift brig was set up and the people who had jumped ship were sentenced to some time in the brig at least for the remainder of the trip.  I don’t know what the Colonel’s sentence was; but whatever he said that’s what it was with a bad record to boot.
The other adventure was that we would stay on the fantail and we could see into the water.  All over the place were small sand sharks and jellyfish.  They were the size of grapefruits in the water.  One of the guys took a bucket with a rope threw it overboard and brought up a jellyfish.  It was thrown on the hot deck.  It almost immediately started to look cooked as if it were melting.  Someone cut it into three or four pieces to see what was inside.  There was no action from the thing so it was swept off the deck back into the ocean.
The next day we headed south once more, destination Melbourne, which took two days.  We reached the harbor (I think it was called Port Phillip).  We pulled up along side the dock where there was a Marine Band welcoming us playing the right stuff.  It was quite a glorious sight.
The city of Melbourne was very beautiful fashioned to look like a  small London, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. After we disembarked we were taken to the Melbourne train station for our trip to Ballarat. I had never seen a European train with compartments opening to the outside of train.  It was interesting in that we had all our gear with us everybody was loaded down with sea bags, rifles plus  each of us had been issued a hundred rounds of ammo.  I don’t know why they had issued the ammo; but they did.
As we traveled to Ballarat for about 30 miles, we passed through a lot of sheep ranches.  Evidently some “coo-coos” on the train took their rifles and fired at the sheep and several were killed.  When the train pulled into the Ballarat Station we were ordered not to leave the train.  As we disembarked one at a time the rifles were inspected and I think the people who had fired their rifles were in for a hard time.  I don’t know what happened to them finally; but they would be made sorry for their peccadillo.