Surveyors of Merauke PNG, Oil on Board
81.5cm W x 65cm H
“…That was our gang on the month’s trip. I took the photo. Paddy is the bearded man. This is our team at our camp at the mouth of the Kombe River. The hut in the background was a ditch outpost. It boasted nothing but four walls and Roof. The natives brought the jeep over the river on a raft mounted on two log canoes. (PRAUS?)” Quote by Harry Judge who took this photo.
I found in our family archives these small 3″ black and white photos (See above) of my late father Henry Francis Judge aka ‘Harry’ stationed in Merauke New Guinea during WWII. He was 19 at the time.
Merauke is a village on the southern side of what was then called Dutch New Guinea. Merauke, barely above sea level, was bordered on one side by crocodile infested sago swamps and on the other by the wide deep, fast-flowing Merauke River; also with its generous share of crocodiles. Harry was with a detachment of army surveyors sent to map the area and Jim Cavill was sent to relieve them. The village had earlier been pattern-bombed by the Japanese so that the main street was lined on both sides by potholes instead of shops. The air was controlled by American bombers and Dutch and Australian fighter aircraft. See original of the photo above at the Australian War Memorial archives.
During the war, Harry met his lifelong friend Sergeant James John Albert Llewellyn Cavill aka ‘Jim’ (Service No. NX118582) in Merauke. In the painting you see Jim (aged 25) standing on the far left holding a Khaki wool covered water bottle with tan cotton webbing carrier. Next to Jim is Sergeant Thomas Bernard Sullivan aka ‘Tom’ (age 22) (Service No. NX194467). Tom is holding his Bren light machine gun over his shoulder. Next to him is Warrant Officer Class 2 Richard Frederick Haas from Brisbane age 25 and wearing his cap and carrying a Cowley Level case and a machete for slashing through the jungle. Warrant Officer Class 2, Harry Judge (Service No. QX40047) is on the far right (aged 19) carrying a leather shoulder bag and surveyor’s tripod.
Harry served as a surveyor in the 5 Field Survey Company, Engineer Corps during WWII, in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Morotai, from January 1941 until 13 Mar 1946. (Serial Number was QX 40047). While not formally qualified, as a registered surveyor, Harry possessed extensive experience and practical training in the various aspects of surveying.
“I liked Harry from the beginning. He was open, friendly, easy to get along with and competent at his job. It was not long before his group moved out and we were left to finish our part of the task. I didn’t see Harry again until after the war. By some coincidence, in 1946, we both became attached to 5 Field Survey Corps. in Chatswood, Sydney under the command of Major Bert Eggeling. We were together again, but not for long because both of us soon left the army to follow civilian careers. Four years later, early in 1950, I joined the Snowy Mountains Authority as a surveyor and learned that the Chief Surveyor was the same Burt Eggeling we had known during the war. A few months later I was delighted to learn that Harry had also joined the S.M.A. We spent the next five years working, mostly together, till Harry went back to Queensland, around the time his father died.” Quote by John Cavill. Refer Book ‘Measuring The Mountains’.
I painted the portrait of my late father with his team of surveyors in Merauke, PNG during WWII, aiming to capture the essence of their spirit of loyalty, courage and comradeship during a difficult period in history. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been, lugging equipment for days in the heat of the jungle, and potentially fighting off tropical diseases and/or wild animals, not to mention the enemy. I painted them proudly standing there in their uniforms with the distinctive Australian ‘slouch’ hat. I chose this photo to bring to life their story, so I included the objects of the large machete knife, gun, drink bottle and survey equipment, which together with the men’s expressions and postures help tell a little of their story. A story worth remembering.
Each of these soldiers in this portrait is no longer alive. In the original B/W photo I could hardly make out their faces under the shadows of their hats and the jungle. With the assistance of the wonderful staff at the Australia War Memorial in Canberra and searching through their online archives I found additional photos and names of those in the Corps. I also contacted Jim Cavill’s daughter in Perth, Janet and asked for a reference photo of her late father Jim Cavill in his uniform. I took a lot of pleasure in painting the men and remembering them in my oil paints, in some way brought them all back to life for me.
Although not charged with fighting the enemy they had to survey the jungle and prepare the areas for our fighting soldiers. This small band of men assisted the Australian and allied corps. during the war. They were crucial in establishing the infrastructure, such as air strips and necessary land-based infrastructure to support the troops throughout the pacific. They lived in harsh conditions and suffered in their own way. I can remember my father never complaining about what he went through and this in my view is an impressive demonstration of strength and true grit.
In my search to properly identify the men in the original photo, I found that there are only a few displays of the survey teams and around 39 photos online at the AWM that directly relate to 5 Field Survey Company. This spurred me on with the project not only to remember my much loved dad , but also to importantly remember his and his team’s contribution for what they went through for their love of their country, their loyalty, respect, courage and comradeship and duty as soldiers during WWII.
MEN OF 5 FIELD SURVEY COY
In my process of researching, particularly to confirm the faces in the small B/W original photo and the equipment they carried, I garnered the fantastic support of the Australia War Memorial Research Centre Librarians and Museum Volunteers, including the fabulous Kellidie Saunders and Marie Kesina in the Research Centre and the super informative volunteer and authority on uniforms and weapons used in WWII in PNG the quiet and ever humble Laurie Flavelle in Canberra. Laurie helped me confirm the identity of one of the men in the photo who I was struggling to capture accurately in the painting and not wearing the slouch hat like the other men. After examining closely lots of better-quality reference photos I managed to narrow it down to only two possibilities, either Warrant Officer Class II, Rick Haas or Corporal Arthur Bosworth. With Laurie’s assistance I figured it out to be Rick Haas, not only did he have the same body shape and distinctive look with moustache but importantly the appropriate senior level ranking, to have the choice of wearing his cap. Laurie also helped me identify the gun that Tom Sullivan was holding. It was likely to be the Bren Mk 1 light machine gun because of its distinct shape and curved magazine. Laurie confirmed I had its shape correctly in the portrait as well. If you would like to see the real thing, the AWM has a lovely exhibit of it and describes it as “one of the first manufactured guns in Australia in 1941″, It is regarded as “accurate and reliable:, so much so, that “it was issued to every infantry section of eight to ten men.“
My thanks also go to Rod Siggs and Noel Grimmitt at the Royal Engineers Association as well as the President, Peter Jensen and Charlie Watson from the Royal Australian Survey Corps Association who promptly replied to my emails and provided invaluable advice and additional information with links, such as a Newsletter Bulletin from one of the other surveyors in Dad’s photos, Mr. Leo O’Leary. See Article Below
See extract from Leo’s article below. Authorised by the Canberra Survey Corps Association – an extract from an article (The Fifth had an Independent Style by Leo O’Leary) in the National Bulletin of the Survey Corps Association, No 19, November 1982:
“There are times when a single moment will capture the events of years and freeze them into an indelible mental cameo that encompasses the essence of them all.
It happened to me on our first morning in Merauke, West Irian, back in 1943 when that country was still known as Dutch New Guinea.
We had just disembarked from the Islander, a sluggish, grimy trader of 2000 tons, and were gaining our first taste of the lowland tropics. We had become acquainted with Merauke’s clinging mud as we carried gear between the barge and the shore. Then we had clambered aboard a typical army three-ton truck and bumped along Main Street past the end of the airstrip until we halted outside the orderly room of a company of engineers who appeared less than thrilled to have us attached to them.
Doug. Fergusson, the Lieutenant in charge of our detachment, had left us at the wharf to report to Brigade headquarters and receive his briefing.
That left 11 of us in the back of the truck. The engineer’s company sergeant-major looked us over for a time, devoid of enthusiasm. Obviously straining to make some sense out of what he was inspecting, he asked, “Are there any NCO’s among you?” The answer startled him. We told him there were nine,
“Warrant Officer Class II Lionel Duffy, Sergeant Jim Stedman, Corporals Percy Moes, Tom Sullivan, Arthur Bosworth, Rick Haas, Pat Walsh, Harry Judge and Douglas Cooper. None wore a badge of rank!”
The look of horror on the SM’s face seemed, at that moment, to illuminate the independent character of 5 Field Survey Coy (AIF) and its members’ disregard of military convention.
The engineers were unlucky to be appointed our official hosts. Our long treks through the swamps kept us out of base for days at a time and returned us late hours in contrast to the well-ordered programme the engineers maintained.
We had our moments of triumph, however. As our ship berthed that morning – or tried to: the keel was stuck in the mud – the Dutch pilot had called to the crew of a launch, ordering them to drop the heavy hawser they were towing. He had a weak voice, and it was heavily accented. His repeated command, “Let go d’ rope’, sounded like a plea and was lost on the Australian soldiers in the launch, the motor of which was struggling noisily against the strong current of the Merauke river mouth.
Barrel-chested Rick Haas applied his natural talents “Drop that bloody rope!” he bellowed, and at once the crew let it go as though it was burning their hands.
Harry Judge and Tom Sullivan had even greater talents, which would be even more highly prized in today’s world of professional sport. They were great Rugby players in those days. With a touch of today’s professionalism, we assumed the role of their managers, renting them to the brigade’s Transport company for some of the more basic comforts of life, such as tea, sugar and milk, which they carried on their trucks. We rarely lacked good drink or food.
Incidents involving Harry and Tom there have carried over into my post-war life.
A Spaniard living along the coast near the mouth of the Kombe river (who seemed to have a questionable past and relative wealth) arranged for Harry to join his ‘boys’ in harpooning crocodiles at night from unstable native praus (dugout canoes). Harry’s vivid account of that nerve-tingling experience lived with me and in 1953 it became the basis of an article I wrote for a daily newspaper. …”.
Full copy of the article at http://www.rasurvey.org/actindex.html.
More details about WWII Soldiers in the DVA Nominal Role online.
More photos at Australian War Memorial