Marilyn Carr writes…
My father would comment that the shock waves from the explosions would lift “Torphins”, our beach house, momentarily off its high Queensland stumps and the windows would rattle, the iron bedsteads groan. There would be the loud, loud clatter of machine guns firing and sundry booms and cracks from high-powered rifles. “Another practice landing,” my Father might have thought and, as the noises subsided, have calmly pumped up the “primus” to boil water for a very early cup of tea.
That was around 1944, during the Second World War in the Pacific. The American marines had a large training base at Torbul Point, on the coast of Moreton Bay. There, American troops practised amphibious barge landings. This was training for the island-hopping strategy to be used to retake the Pacific Islands then held by the Japanese. The sounds that shook “Torphins” were just rehearsals for what was to be real later in the Solomon Islands and, too, on Iwo Jima.
So, barges filled with armed, invasion-ready marines would churn across the half-mile of Pumistone Passage, their bow-plates would be lowered and out the troops would storm onto the uninhabited northern part of Bribie Island with all guns truly firing. Then, Bribie Island had but few permanent residents and only land-owners with security passes could access the island. My family still went there for school holidays. The trial invasions were regarded as very necessary and quite accepted.
On occasions troops would be moved around the island’s sandy tracks in trucks with the troops standing up on the tray behind. I have the distinct memory of a convoy passing our house and one of the troops falling off the truck. He picked himself up and ran alongside the truck to jump aboard again. I watched from the verandah of “Torphins”. Other items seemed to get left behind as well. Once, I found a well-balanced dagger. George, a retired circus rouseabout who acted as our caretaker when we were not on Bribie, taught me how to throw it. I have always regarded a dagger as my weapon of choice!
For their ‘invasions’ the Yankie marines also took along food supplies. These came in wooden boxes, holding gold-coloured, squat tins on which, I think, was written two capitals letter ‘Ds’, with between them an arrow. I had found a full box of such rations close to “Torphins”. Do know that, for children (and I would have been eight in 1944) chocolate was a nearly unheard of dream. There was food rationing, but not for chocolate. Such sweetness had seemed to have ceased to exist. But I, with my find, had found a cache of chocolate!
The wooden box’s tins had three different contents: some were K rations (which I believe implied emergency food) some contained baked beans and others hash, rather like Australian camp pie – not particularly tempting but I am sure with meat rationed, every tin was used by my family. The K ration tins held chocolate, biscuits and some had cocoa, while some powdered coffee – unheard of in Australia then. The chocolate in each K rations tin was consumed with relish.
However, the baked beans, heated up on the wood-fired stove, were mouth-wateringly delectable and are, to me, more remembered. Every-day, so-ordinary baked beans were then quite unobtainable until after the war had ended. Over seventy years later I still enjoy baked beans served on toast. Breakfast at a five-star hotel holds a special delight as one spoons a serve of baked beans from a highly-polished silver serving dish onto one’s plate. The memory of my first taste of baked beans comes back. And, for me, they are deserving of being served out of a silver dish.
One box of army rations discovered must have made my cousins and I decide to search for more after another invasion trial not too far up from “Torphins”. There was Cousin George, Cousin June and I and it may have been the winter school holidays, in 1944. Our Grandmother must have been in charge. We were to keep to the beach – where we could be seen from the house for quite a distance.
We found the invasion spot where the vegetation was trampled, some trees tattered. There we found another wooden box but this one was deeper and sturdier. It had been opened. It did not contain food tins. Instead, it held machine-gun bullets about six inches long and held into a long chain of metal. A disappointment, but we decided to take them home. With George leading, and the bullet chain looped between us, we ambled back along the beach to “Torphins”.
Grandma saw what we were carrying. She was aghast. Grandma gathered up some oars, made us take the bullets down to the beach and help her push out our rowing boat into the Pumicestone Passage. Into the rowing boat she clambered, fitted in the oars and rowed out to what she thought was the channel. There she dumped our find of machine gun bullets overboard. I do wonder, would over seventy years be enough for them to have disintegrated?