- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
After a calm passage across the Coral Sea, on August 22 1947 Australia arrived at Samarai, a small island off the eastern tip of Papua near Milne Bay. Australia sailed from Samarai the next morning to go to the aid of an American tanker, SS Cyrena who, on her maiden voyage, had run aground on Kitava Island. Australia reached the tanker at 1600 hours on August 23rd and tried to get close to assist the tanker, but because the waters were uncharted, Captain Buchanan could not risk putting the Australia in any danger so supplied the tanker with damage control gear and ordered a seagoing tug to come and assist the tanker. A mile from the tanker there was a rusting Japanese hulk aground on a reef.
The next day Australia hove to off Dredger Harbour, the RAN base in New Guinea before Manus was commissioned. From Dredger Harbour, Australia proceeded to Manus where in 1947 the base was still operated by the USN. An inspection party led by Admiral Sir Louis Hamilton looked over the American base and equipment being left for the RAN The best movable equipment had been taken by the Chinese Nationalist Government in Chinese-manned ships, mostly LSTs. One of these LSTs had run aground at the entrance to Seeadler Harbour, Manus.
The USN Supply Officer at Manus agreed to supply Vie Zammit with over 1,000,000 American cigarettes at 5 cents for 20 or 50c a carton of 200, as well as soap, tinned peanuts, US Navy shirts, jeans and other stores. The Supply Officer was a gentleman and supplied us with five large trucks and a landing barge; he supplied the Canteen stores party of twelve sailors with a beautiful dinner of pork chops. After dinner we went for a swim, diving off the landing barge into beautiful warm clear Seeadler Harbour. One could swim all day and not get sick of it – it was just two degrees below the Equator. As a token of appreciation for all the Americans did for us we gave the US Navy barge crew a HMAS Australia pennant each, and purchased for the Supply Officer a pair of RAN Naval officer’s half-Wellington boots. The Supply Officer was so pleased with his boots that he drove us around Manus in his jeep and at each village he would show the natives his half-Wellingtons. All the natives loved him as everywhere he stopped he would hand out gifts. He would introduce us to the chief, who was chosen by the Australian Government. Once we shook hands with the chief the whole village would line up to shake hands. We would pass large open-air picture theatres and hundreds of deserted Army huts. Once on board we found we had so many US stores we did not know where to stow them. We had them in the Gunner’s store, the OA’s workshop and anywhere there was space.
We gave the Canteen stores party a carton of cigarettes each and once they had them everyone wanted them, so we ended up selling nearly 1,000,000 cigarettes in a week. While at Manus the destroyer Quickmatch was alongside and her ship’s company bought some of the cigarettes as their Canteen was empty after her visit to Japan. Each week the Canteen had to fill in a book giving details of how many cigarettes were sold and this book had to be signed by the Captain. When Captain Buchanan saw 1,000,000 cigarettes had been sold in a week he sent for Vie Zammit, hit the roof and gave an address to the ship’s company telling them they were not to land the cigarettes ashore in Japan. About half of the ship’s company had only returned from Japan in March in the Shropshire and they knew they could have a good run ashore in Japan for a couple of packets of cigarettes and a couple of cakes of soap. The smell of Camay and Palmolive soap from the sailors’ lockers replaced the stale mess deck odour during this 1947 cruise.
Our next port was Guam, which in those days was just a huge American base. The ship’s company went swimming at Hooper Point, the US recreation area, where everything was free to the Aussie’s crew. We were delayed from sailing by four sailors being adrift.