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Christmas cigarettes on Shaggy Ridge, December 1943

Troops bring ammunition to Shaggy Ridge, 22 January 1944. Ramu Valley is in the background [AWM]HAL HOLMAN

Shaggy Ridge was named for Australian soldier Captain Robert (Shaggy Bob) Clampett, whose company first reconnoitred the area. It was the site of several battles during the Finisterre Range campaign of 1943–44 as Allied forces attacked Japanese defensive positions blocking access to the north coast of New Guinea. In December 1943, the Australian 7th Division attacked….

WITHIN minutes shells began lobbing much closer to us, until we suspected that we had been mistaken for the enemy—or was it because the Japs were that close?

Now that we were fully provisioned, our burden weighed us down and slowed progress.  We managed to reach the river unscathed and crossed without drowning; the rest was smooth sailing but it took us two days to rejoin our forces.

We were there during the Shaggy Ridge battle; in fact we enjoyed Christmas Day on the slopes of Shaggy Ridge with traditional Christmas fare as supplied by the Army and Air Force, and generous contributions from the Americans.

The Yanks donated tobacco as a special request from us.  The average Australian, especially in wartime, preferred to roll his own cigarettes from fine-cut tobacco which he placed in the palm of his hand and rubbed to the right consistency.

When the Americans’ donation was delivered we were wildly appreciative addicts—our stocks had run out. But as the crate was feverishly opened we were astounded.

This tobacco was alien stuff.  We had seen it in Yankee western movies but were unprepared for it. It bore the brand-name ‘Bull Durham’ and was granulated tobacco in drawstring cotton bags with appropriate king-size cigarette papers.

In the movies we had witnessed cowboys undo the drawstrings with their teeth then, by giving their steed free rein, they would unglue the paper from their bottom lip. With slick sleight-of-hand they would manage to curl the paper to make a channel; thus forming a place for the tobacco.

Then followed a laudable performance where the would-be cancer victim poured a precise amount of the grains of tobacco into the paper and then twirled it to enclose it.  He licked the glue line by sliding the paper tube across his tongue and twirled both ends in his moistened lips to stop the tobacco from running out.

I am not sure why the cowboy rolled the cigarette down one side of his chaps — I think he did it to ensure a cylindrical product.  I have never seen a movie where the fag was dropped or ruptured. 

The cowboy did all this to perfection while keeping one eye on the herd, one eye on a straggler, and one eye on the approaching storm.

Where was I? Ah, yes! Somehow he manages to spirit away the drawstring bag together with the packet of papers then from nowhere brings forth a wax match, possibly using a prehensile foot.

Unbelievably the cigarette lights first time in spite of the fact that all this is staged in a brisk breeze.  My mate Ron Norton called it granulated bullshit.

And how did this affect us, you might ask.

When we attempted to make a cigarette from the ingredients whilst perched precariously in the saddle of Shaggy Ridge where it was impossible to shelter from gale-force winds of 60 knots, the tobacco blew away like aerosol spray.  So did the papers and the wax matches and our patience.

Soon thereafter I was bowled over with another malaria attack and flown to a field hospital at Finschhafen.  From what I can remember my infection was classified as a benign tertian fever.

After 10 days in hospital I was up and running and, after a lot of soul searching, decided to apply for a transfer to the Australian New Guinea Administration Unit (ANGAU) in its native labour section. 

With my command of Pidgin English it was an ideal unit for me. To qualify for the appointment I had to take a crash course in native labour administration. The school was located at Koki Beach, Port Moresby and was named West’s Academy.

Particular attention during this training period focused on human relations (especially conflict between labourers), cargo line rationing (particularly long patrols required a bit of maths) and first aid.

Thereafter I was appointed Acting Sergeant and attached to the 1st American Marine Corps for their landings in New Britain, which for me began at Cape Gloucester after their assault there on 26 December 1943.  Then followed a period at Talasea and later Cape Hoskins.

When we arrived I was stunned at the Marines’ decision that my Highlanders were not wanted inside the protection of the armed perimeter at night.  This meant we had to leave the guarded beach head and establish ourselves unprotected in the jungle.

Hal_LogohuThe reason for our banishment was that the Yanks were afraid of contracting malaria, dengue fever, scrub typhus and other afflictions that they thought they were exposed to if sleeping in the same area as my indigenes (not forgetting they were coloured).

Therefore our very first major task was to build, from forest materials, a large boi haus so my charges and I could be comfortably housed for as long as we were stationed at Talasea and later at Cape Hoskins, where we repeated the performance.

Extracted from The Phoenix Rises Eternal, a memoir by Hal Holman OL OAM


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