- Gale, Lieutenant Commander M.B. , VRD, RANR (Retd.)
- Ship histories and stories, Naval history, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Platypus
- June 1987 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As the time for my relief neared, my principal concern was to balance my armament and ammunition store ledgers, for the Navy were meticulous in these areas. So far as regulations were concerned, we used to say to all and sundry ‘Why join the Army or Air Force and be mucked around by amateurs, when you can join the Navy and be mucked about by experts.’ Due to the confusion which accompanied the big raid when rifles and equipment were issued to all and sundry without signature, I had shortages ‘on paper’ with many items, but with a little ingenuity and application we were able to reconcile the situation. Two instances should suffice to illustrate the modus operanda.
A muster disclosed that we were several hundred ground sheets short of establishment. Such items were prone to going musty in the tropics and the Army had established a large salvage depot at the old Vestey meat works.
This depot was ringed by barbed wire and sentries to prevent pilfering. One of my Petty Officers informed me, however, that there was a gap in the back fence and that in the depot was a great mound of mouldy ground sheets. Accordingly, Operation Ground Sheet was set in motion. One night a truck breached the hole in the fence, loaded a heap of mouldy ground sheets, then the next morning arrived at the front gate, received a signature for 200 unserviceable ground sheets and were told to put them on the heap down by the back fence.
I was dozens of rifles and sets of webbing equipment short when one day the NOIC and Army fortress commander decided to have a ‘stand to.’ Everybody, including cooks and stewards had to go on duty with all their equipment. I grasped the opportunity to send a gunners party with trucks to search all the accommodation huts and buildings for rifles and equipment. The outcome was that I finished up with 30 rifles over, which was worse than being short, so I gave them to the Army.
By this time I had the doubtful distinction of being the longest serving officer of the three services in Darwin, without leave. My job was split into three and over a period of several months, three officers arrived to take over the duties of Armament Store Accounting Officer, Base Torpedo (Electrical) Officer, and Base Gunnery Officer, and finally, in 1943, I was on my way for leave. Down to Katherine, thence in a twin engined biplane, a Dragon Rapide, to Longreach and then Brisbane, and to Melbourne by train. My son Malcolm was almost two years old when I saw him for the first time.