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The 36th Battalion: a record of service of the 36th Battalion with the Third Division in the Pacific

Chapter Eleven — Bogged Down

page 76

Chapter Eleven
Bogged Down

For the members of the carrier platoon, memories of Fiji and Norfolk are the most fruitful, for we left our carriers behind when we made our first step forward to the eventual battleground of the Treasuries. Our thoughts wander back to the gargantuan clouds of dust we raised on Norfolk roads, lantana hitched fast to every moveable part, tracks which flew off on the steepest hill-sides, and the really-impressive roaring and clattering we made as we dashed out to repel yet another landing by some pleasantly co-operative and docile enemy. But not always was the enemy so docile, as the following story from Norfolk bears witness.

It all began when the captain came in to the morning parade, with a light air of malevolence. 'We', said the captain, 'are going to get a carrier bogged.' A mutter of abuse followed this rather erratic statement, sad experience having proved for us that carriers are cranky critters at best and that life could hold no greater thrill for them than plunging belly-deep into sticky mud. 'Why', we asked ourselves, 'should we pander to this swamp phobia? And probably spend several muddy hours prising the aforementioned vehicle loose from its ooze?'

But orders are orders. We dutifully trooped over to our carriers, started up and made our dusty way down to the bogs of Kingston. And now a word as to these bogs. No mean species of bog these, deceptively docile to outward appearances, even vaguely attractive where lilies showed their pale beauty, but—treacherous, odoriferous and sticky beyond belief. A skiff of dirty brown water covered tenuous reeds, and under these an unbroken sea of mud ran in an page 77impassable line for a full quarter of a mile. Such was the captain's idea, apparently, of a really sound bog.

The halt signal came from the HQ carrier, and we wheeled into line of sections on a dry patch of ground just at the rear of the morass. Next came the signal to dismount, and we gathered round to learn just who had been the unlucky crew chosen.

A Puckish sense of humour must have crept into the captain's mind for a moment, for his choice of crew was truly appropriate. First there was one known as 'Bog-Orange', whose cognomen seems to have sprung from his Irish ancestry and rich brogue; then came he of the creaky joints, the Loch Ness Monster; and, last but not least, behind the wheel, the irrepressible Jake. Away they went, tracks clanking and the carrier bobbing up and down to a spot on the far side of the swamp, dipped over a three-foot high wall, and ran into the outer fringes of the mud. Soon the carrier began to resemble a pouter pigeon, mud piled high as the guards and water surging and undulating against the front. Cheerful grins watched the faces of all three occupants, who seemed to have no doubts as to their ability to cross this muddy Styx.

So, much to the captain's chagrin, the vehicle ploughed steadily along, showing no signs of doing the decent thing and getting itself stuck. More chortles by the spectators, capped by a warlike shriek from a Maori member, whose eagle eye had spotted an eel weaving its bewildered way back into the mud. A wild pounce and the eel was floundering on the grass. Summary execution, and Hone Heke's face was a glow of pleasure. But not the captain's. 'Go back', said he, 'And—get yourselves stuck this time!' So, with looks of weary resignation, off they went. Once more, the same journey along the dry road to a spot opposite the bog, a wild dash, more seas of mud and dirty water oozing into the driver's compartment, and—yet another unsuccessful journey to within a few inches of the now enraged captain. No word came from him, just a silent gesture, and away they went. But with a difference this time. Half-way across, the carrier seemed to tire of these queer proceedings and settled gracefully to a sticky rest. A happy smile creased the captain's face, and ropes and pulleys and chains sprouted mysteriously from the interior of his carrier.

A tow-rope was quickly hitched to the nose of the bogged vehicle, a block fastened on another carrier on dry land, and a third was page 78hitched on to the loose end of the tow-rope. Then all three started their engines, but beyond madly spinning tracks and enough noise to arouse all the ghosts of Kingston, not a thing happened. Again the process was repeated, and again complete and absolute failure was the result.

'Drive it out', said the captain, with a certain shade of displeasure in his voice. Jake pushed the starter button, the engine roared fiercely, and a mixture of mud, water-lilies and tadpoles flew from the exhaust. The carrier surged forward, with mud whirling high from the wildly clacking tracks, seemed almost to make the dry land; then, one track caught on a hard ridge of dry bank and the other sank deep into the slime from which it had almost risen. Canted to a crazy angle, it seemed as if it would never appear on terra firma again. But carriers are hardy, if perverse, specimens, and with a few wild stabs from the clutch, it heaved itself back on to an even keel.

'Once more, and keep her rolling', said the captain. So, again she surged forward, again she almost made it, but, alas, this time the left track straddled the dry ridge and flew away from the bogies, curling itself into a self-satisfied and confused knot immediately under the front idler.

Mercifully, a curtain was drawn over the rest of the proceedings, for the majority of us were sent back to camp for mess, while two crews and a highly irate captain remained behind to do battle with carrier, swamp, Dame Fortune and anything else that happened to drop in. Second-hand we learned of the successful combination of two ropes, two carriers and sundry very muddy and bad tempered carrier-men. But that is all past history now.

Despite all the trouble and bother the carriers seemed to drag us into, we all felt rather bereft when the time came for us to hand over to the relieving troops. All we had to remind us of our wagons was a brace of inspection lamps, a few matchettes, an odd seat or two and dollops of assorted spanners. But, as we moved forward, we took with us the bonds of unity and comradeship which have stood the Carrier Platoon and the battalion in such good stead in the sterner trials which are recorded in the history of the battalion.