- Bower, Laurie
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Bingera, HMAS Bendigo I
- December 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
We had a charmed life on the way to Batavia. Refuelling at Palembang in Sumartra we didn’t waste any time, and a few hours after leaving, Japanese paratroopers landed and captured this oiling port.
Batavia was jammed with shipping, both Naval and Merchant, including HMAS Perth; in fact a Ldg Tel from one of the corvettes did an exchange draft with a Ldg Tel in Perth! How lucky or unlucky can one be.
We stayed at Batavia for a few days and were then ordered by NOIC (Commodore John Collins RAN) to proceed to a port on the southern coast of Java called Tjilatjap where there were also assembled numerous RN destroyers and RAN Corvettes.
At intervals during the dark hours ships would make the dash from Tjilatjap endeavouring to reach the safety of Australia. Two hours before Bendigo departed, a British destroyer left and was sunk by a Japanese submarine.
Bendigo left at about 2100 and instead of setting course directly for Australia we steamed at top speed for 2 hours eastward along the Java coast then turned south to make our break. Our fuel tanks on leaving were not completely full so as we got further away from the Java coast we had to reduce speed until we were within sight of the Australian coast, in order to conserve fuel. We sighted land near NW Cape on the Western Australian coast and what a great sight it was – Australia at last! Before we left Tjilatjap we had embarked over 100 Royal Navy personnel who were survivors from sunken RN ships. With space very limited we slept side by side on the mess decks and had to stumble over each other when going on or off watch. When it came to meal times we had to eat in shifts, and in addition to fuel getting low we started to develop a food shortage. When we limped into Fremantle Harbour a large naval ship was sighted. Fortunately it proved friendly – the USS Phoenix, an American cruiser. Talking to the crew in Fremantle later, they said they had all their guns trained on us and because of our camouflage they weren’t sure of our course and size. Our code books were out of date and the signalman on duty kept flashing “HMAS Bendigo” (and prayed).
As the hours passed the other corvettes limped into Fremantle and much to everyone’s amazement all corvettes survived including those ordered to Mombasa.
A couple of days later a Thanksgiving Service was held in HMAS Hobart and all ships Companies attended. We were very thankful to be back in the land we loved and cherished.