- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Kagoshima Bay was our first Japanese stop where we joined Gambia, Adamant and a number of destroyers and submarines. The fleet supply ship RFA Fort Beaumanois came alongside the Australia at Kagoshima Bay and provisions, some of which were not too fresh, were supplied. The Master of the 9,800 ton Fort Beaumanois handled his ship like a destroyer when coming alongside the Australia.
From Kagoshima we sailed for Kure. While in Japanese waters the paravanes were often streamed and damage control precautions taken because of the uncleared minefields. Kure, until the surrender, was a giant naval dockyard and base. After the surrender it was the British Commonwealth base. At Kure dockyard there were many partly built or damaged Japanese naval vessels, including dozens of midget submarines. Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped in Japan, was about 20 miles from Kure so most of the ship’s company were able to visit Hiroshima where two years earlier about 60,000 people were killed. Across from Kure was a large Naval Gunnery School where guns and 14 gun turrets were installed.
From Kure, Australia’s next port of call was Nagasaki where the second atomic bomb was dropped. Nagasaki’s atomic damage had not been demolished, cleared and rebuilt as much as Hiroshima, so much of the atomic danger could be seen in 1947. In Nagasaki Harbour there were many partly sunk ships that had been hit during wartime bombing raids.
Australia returned to Kure on 17th September 1947. Each day while in harbour working parties of about 50 Japanese men would come aboard and work very hard scrubbing and painting. Their work helped to get Australia back to the spotless condition she was in in 1947 after over a year in dockyard hands.
We were allocated a Japanese ex-soldier to help with Canteen stores. We called him ‘Charlie’; he was a very good worker. He could not speak English very well, but we could understand each other. He told us there was no soap in Japan and so they made their own soap from their urine. The Australian POWs did the same between 1942 and 1945. He told us that in the Japanese Army he had to eat dogs, cats and rats. Victor would make Charlie bully beef sandwiches; Charlie would say ‘me hungry for chocolate’ so we would give him chocolate and he would take the sandwich and chocolate and hide them to take home to his family.
One of the Japanese workers was recognised as a brutal guard by a sailor who during the war was a POW while serving in the Army. The Japanese worker was reported. The Supply Officer, Commander R. Lowe, DSC, was a survivor from the Perth and had been a POW for 3½ years. He spoke Japanese fairly well. Commander Lowe was a Christian person and treated the Japanese kindly. The Japanese people were very honest and would never steal or cause any trouble.
In the country areas the Japanese were very primitive. Men and women worked in only loincloths and used their own excrement as manure, and for this reason we were not supposed to eat Japanese food. In those days, RAN bandsmen wore uniforms similar to Royal Marines except that they had a star on their caps, and the Japanese thought they were Russian soldiers.
In order to buy food, many Japanese sold their possessions or exchanged them for cigarettes, soap, food, etc., and as a result sailors who in the past had never even owned a box Brownie, were taking photos with 35mm Canon cameras.
The Gambia sailed for Shanghai in November. The RN ship’s company spent over two years away from Britain on a commission in those days. The Captain of Gambia kept his ship’s company happy by allowing them to choose where they would visit. He would clear lower deck, bring out a map of Japan, and the ports which got the most votes would usually be the ports where Gambia visited. The Gambia had the Senior Captain as its Commanding Officer. A destroyer with a Junior Captain would most likely be sent to the less popular places.
Yokohama, Australia’s next port of call, was the most popular of the Japanese ports as there was a fast train service to Tokyo and Yokohama was a large city with plenty of entertainment.