The 2/8th Australian Independent Company, under the command of Captain C.W. Bayly, set out from their training base at No. 1 Camp, Tidal River on Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria, at the beginning of the fourth week of September, 1942. They reached Yandina on the Sunshine Coast in south-east Queensland on the 25th, and once all together again – an advanced party had moved ahead, and a small number of men were either in hospital or on leave – their strength was 266, just below their official establishment.
On the 20th of October, the company attended the Combined Training School (amphibious operations) at Toorbul Point, again in south-east Queensland. Captain Bayly had been promoted to major during the second week of October, but the company was still short of three captains, meaning that lieutenants were performing as platoon commanders. Moving to Mudgeeraba on the Gold Coast on the 10th of November, the company continued training, marred on the 24th by a corporal who accidentally shot and killed himself with a .45 calibre Thompson sub-machine gun. Douglas William Andrews was buried on the Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane.
Three lieutenants were promoted to captain in late November, and on the 28th of December, the unit entrained for the Northern Territory via Mt. Isa in western Queensland. It was a slow journey, with the coy detraining in Mt. Isa and embussing there for the journey to Larrimah in the Northern Territory where they arrived on the 9th of January. Four days later they proceeded to the Adelaide River area. After spending a good deal of effort in constructing a camp, the 2/8th was moved again, this time to the general Darwin area on the 6th of February.
Platoons and sections patrolled Casuarina Beach, the Howard River, Marara and Leanyer Swamps. It is during this general period that the following excerpt from Lt. Don Astill’s “Commando White Diamond” took place…
“Norm Odlum: ‘When we were in Adelaide River our Engineer Section was given the task of erecting he huts at our camp, all being made from locally felled stringybark trees. I think the lifespan of the huts could have been about twelve months, the borers being heard at night chewing away at the timber and in the morning there were little mounds of sawdust on the ground and a finger could be inserted in some of the holes.
There was one infamous incident there. Before leaving Queensland our section clubbed together and bought a quantity of booze, hiding it in the war equipment boxes along with the explosives. We were informed one night that we had to move early the next morning and the war equipment would have to be left behind. With visions of losing our grog, the section voted to drink it during the night so that the group were a little incapable of doing anything next morning. Lieut. Patterson and Major Bayly [the O.C.] were not amused!
The Engineer Section was fanatically fit and every evening, no matter how hot it was, we played volley ball with sweat streaming off our bodies. We provided from our 16 men half of the Company’s football teams. I can remember we won 16 matches straight although the battalions and regiments had three times our number.
Norm le Brun who had played VFL football with Carlton and Collingwood and was a professional coach was certainly the force behind our team. From our Section we also had Dick Smiley, Jeff Bathman, Jimmy Maubon, Harry Cunningham, Alan Cobb, Ivey Wilson and myself. Other good players representing the Squadron were Frank Felstead, Vic Carrati and Jeffries from Western Australia. At a Sports Day in Darwin I entered into the grenade throw and won it with a bowl of fifty-three metres. Dick Smiley who had entered said ‘Farouk, how did you go?’ – I replied that I had won the grenade throw with fifty-three metres. Dick said ‘I will show you how to throw a grenade’ and then went outside and threw it sixty-eight metres with a torpedo action ‘a la’ American gridiron. I slowly walked away! Dick and I went fishing in a billabong with a grenade and brought up some big barramundi. I was wrestling with a large, half-stunned fish and had a scissor-grip on it between my legs and sang out to Dick for help. He pulled out his bayonet and plunged it into the barramundi and it just grazed my vital parts. I nearly had a squeaky voice!”
[Reference: “Commando White Diamond” by Don Astill, Australian Military History Publications, Loftus, N.S.W., p.14-15].
Thanks to Don Astill for his permission to publish the above extract.