Don Bell – Recruiter and Schooner Master

IMG_5213Seventy five years. A life time for many.

A life time denied to 1053 – mostly Australian – soldiers and civilians,  locked below decks on the Japanese ship Montevideo Maru, torpedoed and sunk on 1 July 1942 by the US submarine Sturgeon.

The Papua New Guinea Association of Australia (PNGAA) team have published a superb book, When the War Came which addresses the personal issues of loss in a collection of stories by relatives and friends, humanising this important piece of Australia’s history.

I am proud to have several personal stories included in this publication.

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Don Bell

The first of these I’d like to share with you commemorates my uncle, Don Bell, whose name appears on the manifest of the sunken ship Montevideo Maru.  Please click on the link to be directed to John Bell Books – Don Bell

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, and the PNGAA have worked tirelessly to have this bit of Australian history included in the nation’s education syllabus.

The Japanese freighter, en route Rabaul to Hainan, bore no markings to indicate its cargo. Just another enemy vessel. A legitimate target.

Wartime censorship and perhaps a government – successive governments – wanting to not publicize the sinking has clouded Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

MONTEVIDEOweb1Largely excluded from school history curricula, that sinking and the Australian planning for and response to the Japanese invasion of New Guinea don’t reflect well on the government of the day. Successive governments appeared similarly reluctant to admit to the poor and inadequate planning, the atrocious decision making that sent an inadequate force of ill equipped military personnel to face a massive invasion force, and left civilians stranded in a hot zone.

Even when the Administrator in Rabaul tried to organize emergency evacuation using a ship then in harbour, permission was refused. The ship had to stay and load copra!

And was bombed and sunk.

John - - Don

The author with Elizabeth and Don Bell, 1941

If you would like a copy of the PNGAA’s publication “When the War Came” (with over 460 photographs and 540 large format pages)  go to … admin@pngaa.net—www.pngaa.org/site—www.memorial.org.au.

 

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my readers and followers.

As the sun set on 2016 and another magical Whitsunday evening brought the year to a suitable close, I sat ruminating on the current project, Book 4 in my Williams series which is occupying much time.

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So it was a great thrill, and a confidence-boosting start to 2017 that on flicking through a weekend  paper I read a pleasing review by prominent Townsville journalist and reviewer, Mary Vernon, of Book 3 MELTED WAX.

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Thank you Mary for taking the time to read and review this work with a positive and pleasing review (and of course stimulating sales!)

The three books I’ve  published to date – PAYBACK, PURI PURI and MELTED WAX – are available in printed copy directly from me via my website www.johnbellbooks.com or by download to your digital reader from Amazon www.amazon.com/author/johnbellbooks.

Print-on-demand copies are also available from Amazon.

Lukim Yu Bihain, Egholo

Easy to say, “see you later” in Pidgin. Not so easy to do. But – who knows what the future holds.

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The low has weakened, but widened. There seems to be a bit of a gap coming up weather wise. Reasonable wind for a short while, then a section of stronger stuff (25 kts) easing off (15/20 kts) as we head west. Our plans became the best laid of mice and men, you will see.

OK, decision made. We are leaving Egholo. But the memories will always stay with us.

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Including watching youngsters at sunset shoot the tiny point break in their canoes. One on a home made board. Much laughter and lots of happy.

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Lots of waving, and 0600hrs we are out of Egholo harbour. Already we can feel the breeze, a bit more than expected, and it’s only early.

By late morning we’re well down Blanche Channel heading S.E. along the eastern side of Rendova under heads’l and main. My first sail in a big cat – my experience has been in monohulls. And does this thing move! 60 ft of boat weighing less than my 13 tonne flybridge cat. The secret is in its construction – balsa cored kevlar. Even the lifeline stanchions are kevlar, and the sails. No wonder it performs well, with tall mast and large sail area. Headsail, drifter, two spinnakers to go with the main. The motion is SO different from a monohull.

We leave Tetepare to starboard and head for the exit past Vanganau from Blanche Channel, where we are farewelled by two Spinner dolphins, smaller than ours.

Away from land, we’re lifting to the ocean swell and the press of a breeze stronger than anticipated.

All overcast sky, squalls and storms well ahead and to port. Will they do the right thing and pass by us?

Of course not. By midday we are in storms, wind way too strong, seas rough. Brian takes the sensible decision to go back.  20160819_113645_HDR.jpg … pics don’t do it justice!20160819_115458_HDR.jpg

That in itself is an experience, going about in this strength of wind. Brian, calm and purposeful, methodically turn us around, and we head back to Rendova. Easier motion, with wind three quarters astern.

We scoot along, touching 23 knots at one stage. Yes. Faster than I could push Scorpion with 2 x 315 hp diesels! 23 knots under sail. Exhilarating, if a little other-worldly. Skippering Drumbeat is more like driving Starship Enterprise. Immense bridge deck, instruments and screens everywhere. Sailing by instruments, a whole new experience. Noise is overpowering –  sound of the wind, and the water slamming into the hulls.

We head back, this time along the western side of Rendova where Brian knows of an anchorage, although he’s not been into it before.
20160819_162509_HDR.jpgNot just an anchorage, this is a cyclone hole. Even more protected than Egholo, deep water, good holding bottom, jungle to the water, twists and turns to get in, after going around a long reef that lies right across the entrance. Raining steadily now, the calm water a blessing. No people, no canoes, we motor and anchor in 18m over sand, in behind Kenelo Point near Nusa Laeni.

I fillet a bunch of little fish from Egholo while Brian sets up the rain catching systems  to replenish our tanks. This place is silent, primeval, as the vertical rain showers pattern the dark water and brooding jungle. Gives a whole new meaning to calm water. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex or something shove through the leaves.

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We go to bed wondering what tomorrow’s weather will bring.

 

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Egholo Extended

Heavy showers overnight, the distant sea shows through the entrance all whitecaps and grey, pushed along by 30 kts of sou’easter. We sit motionless in this protected anchorage. Brian locates a small low developing immediately north of us. With any luck, it’ll move off to the east and leave us alone on our westwards journey. But we should wait a while – great! I love Egholo.

Chief Ngana takes us today on a stroll through neat and tidy houses and paths, vegetable gardens and fruit trees, of all sorts. Nut trees too. Similar names to Kavieng for a couple of the nut trees. Crab holes everywhere. Solomon Islands name for Abiu is Portera. They grow well here.

Ngana’s wife gives us a demonstration of recovering coconut oil. About 80 coconuts and a lot of work go to make about ten half litre bottles of clear oil. A lot of time and effort.

20160818_071759_HDR.jpgA walk past village houses and gardens takes us to the local school. We meet two of the teachers, young and dedicated Solomon Island girls.

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Egholo village school teachers

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Our friendly head man Gnana brings out his village visitor’s book, carefully wrapped in plastic.

20160817_074139_HDR.jpgWith two artists on board in Linda and Carol, the ladies work on a page for our visit.

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Village life flows on around us, canoes with kids, canoes with mothers and occasional men. This is much better than tackling that low-pressure system waiting outside for us.

We’re invited to leave Drumbeat for a while to check out a project of one of the villagers.

Can you imagine trying to build accommodation for backpackers when there’s no Bunnings handy? Local man Pesec, a Solomons entrepreneur, is building out over the water. All disparate bits of timber, but bedrooms and an already functioning flush toilet. He’s started bringing fish into the verandah each morning … something for tourists, he says. A triumph of spirit over

20160818_070236_HDRAll disparate bits of timber, but bedrooms and an already functioning flush toilet. He’s started bringing fish into the verandah each morning … something for tourists, he says. A triumph of spirit over

He’s started bringing fish into the verandah each morning … something for tourists, he says. A triumph of spirit over environment.  I hope his dream becomes reality. Very basic, very beautiful, very friendly. If any backpacker reads this and has a sense of adventure, get yourself to Egholo and stay a while, living over water. Tell ’em I sent you!

 

 

 

all too soon, it’s back to Drumbeat to think about the weather…

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Enchanted Egholo

No swell. No waves. Deep clean anchorage almost completely encircled by jungle and coconuts. A couple of small villages. Fresh water creek in S.W. corner, the mandatory mud bank for crocodiles in the opposite corner. No crocs, though, and apart from a vague hint that one visits occasionally no  apparent concern. Still, I didn’t stray far from Drumbeat when I slid in for a swim.

I’m pleased the weather’s looking crook, this is a lovely place, pretty good to be stuck in.

We’re right on track for the kids paddling to school from the village closest to us behind the stand of coconuts. Some as young as four. All with happy smiles and shy grins, brilliant flashes of white teeth.

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The old ‘foot pump bailer’ hard at work in a leaky canoe – there’s a few like that…

A paddling woodcarver calls by for a bit of trade, introduces himself as Soga. Very switched on, good English. Mixed with pidgin. Brian is excellent at this = more providing a spectacle than hard bargaining. Seems to be enjoyed by both sides. A lot of long silences, while I wonder have they drifted off somewhere. But no, all calculations and tactics. Until loudly “OFF the table!!” indicates a deal has been reached.

The kids soon learn that one square of chocolate is a prize they can collect. No greedy kids, no shoving or trying to get more. Smiles and “tenkyu tumas.”

Today we’ve been invited to the Gnana’s village, scrupulously neat and clean. By the water woodworkers are carving canoes. Using a short handled adze with a wider and thinner blade than I’m used to. Shaping is done by eye, and we can see the expertise as he slices layers of timber. The finish is as smooth as any table, inside and out.

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about 7 metres long

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thwarts hold sides in..very thin hull

 

 

 

 

 

 

The canoe carvers are busy men. Canoes from 1.5m (for the littlies) to 7 or 8m are everywhere, taking the place of our cars, bikes, trains, buses. And clearly a lot of pride goes into the art/skill of carving a canoe, symmetrical and seaworthy.

Our pace has slowed to that of the islands. Nothing happens real fast. A wonderful life-style, so different from our lives in Australia.

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Sailing the Solomons

Right now I can 20160816_103004_HDR.jpgthink of nowhere I’d rather be. A bit of sun’d be nice, and those showers can go elsewhere, but motoring down the Diamond Narrows between New Georgia and Kohinggo Island takes some beating.

The barge hauls off to somewhere else, and we’re passed by a local ferry as the narrows open up into a huge lagoon area dotted with islands and reefs.

The dull sky tries, but can’t hide the beauty.  We pass a canoe with fishing detail – how many can they fit in one of those things? A lunch stop near the fishermen, and feeling pleased we have an enclosed cockpit and bridge deck as rain showers pass through.

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20160816_113717_HDRWe work southwards along the eastern side of Rendova Island, heading for an anchorage at Egholo. If a sailor wanted to design the perfect anchorage, this is what he’d come up with. Deep water, plenty of protection, reef across the front, friendly villagers, laughing kids. Heaven on a stick.

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Drumbeat at Egholo

We drop anchor right where shown on the map. Not because of the map, but because the village chief met us in his canoe as we came through the narrows and guided us to that spot. Completely enclosed by jungle, except for the entrance – and a transverse reef guards that. The anchorage is watched over by a mountain shrouded in cloud. Misty rain falls on glassed off water. We mightn’t see the near full moon coming up due to cloud, but we’ll get a good night’s sleep on this calm water. How could we not nickname this delightful place “the egghole?”

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The village chief – a great man

The headman, Gnana, welcomes us to his village, and we become the centre of attention for the village kids in their canoes. Shy, polite and gentle, with flashing smiles they are born to canoes. Little ones 4 years old, even.

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Overcast and rainy, the forecast is  not excellent. 25kts ESE blowing harder outside, and weather seems to be deteriorating. We decide a few days here might be nice, as we close up for the night.

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Not exciting weather

A break in the rain and it’s all kids and canoes.

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these kids – the true King Solomon’s Treasure

 

 

 

AMAZON – John Bell Books

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