Castle Roland

The Trader

by Charles Bird


Chapter 7

Posted: 28 Jan 16


Copyright © 2012-2015 by Charles Bird


SS Alpaco

The characters, localities and happenings in this story are the products of the author's imagination or, are used fictitiously. The story is copyrighted and is the property of the author and may not be copied, reproduced or retransmitted without his express permission.

From Chapter 6: In late July, the dead of the Australian winter, both the Wagon and the Handler sailed out from the Circular Cay. Toby and his Wagon headed for the Sulu Sea, loaded with equipment and six-hundred American Marines stuffed into his holds. They were the first push to retake the Palawan Islands. Gyles and the Handler, a slightly larger vessel, headed north to the North Moluccas with another six-hundred American Marines and all their equipment and ammunition to support the native guerillas fighting the Japanese.


Both the Wagon and the Handler sailed at the darkest part of a moonless night, the harbor was empty of traffic and neither vessel showed navigation lights. All the outside standing lights were turned off and the two ships were shapeless blobs of darkness as they crossed the harbor and sailed out to sea.

Toby sailed the Wagon around Australia, headed for Sunda Strait, hoping to escape detection by the Japanese fleet. A week later saw them passing Christmas Island before turning northwest for the strait.

He slowed the Wagon so as to slip through the strait in the dead of night. Again, he turned off the standing lights and the navigation lights as the Wagon slipped through Sunda Strait totally undetected by the Japanese coast watchers. They were merely a blob of darkness moving silently across the sea.

They were under radio silence, so Joe could only guess where his son was.

Once through the strait, Toby steered west, staying off the coast of Indonesia, and well below the horizon of any Japanese coast watchers.

As soon as they passed through Karimata Strait, he lined up his ship to pass between Palau Subi-Basar and Kepalaun Riau, they were far enough from both islands that it was unlikely they would be spotted.

His course took them uncomfortably close to Bandar Seri Begawan, but there was no help for it, he was not about to tear the bottom out of the Wagon in the shallows surrounding the Spratly Islands.

Brunei was nominally free, but he knew the small Sultancy harbored many Japanese spies, so he steered as closely as he dared to the Spratly Shallows.

He was greatly relieved when he spotted the flashing light signal from the Australian Ranger Coast Watcher in Saint Paul Bay. The man was on the headland above the underground river that emptied into the bay and provided a hiding place for the Ranger and his native companions. The river had dug a deep channel in the floor of the bay and Toby steered the Wagon into the middle of the discolored water marking the river.

There was no dock there, but a ridge of stone, carved out by eons of river water that provided a flat, dry surface that the Wagon's cargo boom could reach.

It took a night and a day to offload the Marines and their equipment.

Toby was in a hurry to depart, the island swarmed with Japanese soldiers. The American Army Air Corps long range bombers kept the Japanese planes grounded at Puerto Princessa long enough for Toby to discharge his cargo and take on native Islanders and two Australian Rangers, all of whom had been wounded.

The moment he was finished, he backed the Wagon away from the rocky ledge and ran the throttle up on his engine to "get them the hell outta Dodge" speed!

The Wagon's engine was protesting mightily, but Toby would not rest until he was back through the Sunda Strait! Skirting the edges of the Spratly Shallows and passing Palau Sarasan to steer clear of the Sembuni Reefs, Toby raced for Palau Penjantin, where they were to meet their American Navy Escort, the USS Pillsbury, a newly built Escort Destroyer.

The two ships hurried towards Palau Bilitung and the Sunda Strait beyond.

Once past Christmas Island, they would be back in waters controlled by the American and Australian navies. As soon as they had Christmas Island behind them, Toby left the bridge for the first time since they had transited Sunda Strait going north!

He hit his bunk, not even stopping to take his clothes or even his shoes off, and slept for the next thirty-six hours.

Meanwhile, his brother was busy dodging the Japanese forces south of the Philippines, Gyles and the Handler headed northeast after they had departed Sydney. To escape detection by the Japanese Fleet concentrated around the Solomon Islands, Gyles took the Handler east of Latanga Island before curving westward between Truk Island and Pulusuk Atoll.

At Pulusuk, he received a coded Marconi to wait, the Japanese Fleet was moving south from the Philippines, and thought to be heading for the Bismarck Sea. Gyles dropped his anchor on the northeast side of the atoll and turned out all outside lighting on the ship.

Several Japanese planes passed over them, but, apparently, they either did not see them or did not realize it was an American ship beneath them. For three days they sat there, still as a sea mouse, before it was considered safe to continue.

They finally made Palau Doi off the coast of North Moluccas. The small island was mostly uninhabited and dominated by a volcano of the same name. He was looking for a small inlet on the southeast coast of the island.

They investigated several possibilities until they found the right one. There was an Australian Coast Watcher on the headland and, when they came near, he sent up a red flare. Gyles conned his ship through the narrow inlet at dead slow, finally coming to anchor in a small bay hardly bigger than the Handler itself!

The American Navy Sailors drew camouflage tarps over the structure of the Handler to break up her straight lines. It was hoped that it would be sufficient to hide the ship from planes passing overhead.

The cargo had to be manhandled ashore, the ship's boom could lift the cargo out of the hold, but then it had to be broken down by hand and carried ashore in small boats. The ship's crew and the US Marines and Sailors grunted and sweat for five days, getting the equipment ashore.

The small detachment of Aussies did all they could to help, but several of their men were down with malaria and would be returning with the Handler. They also had a group of natives they were protecting from the Japanese soldiers on the North Moluccas, they, also, would be returning with Gyles, they were families and many small children who had fled the atrocities of the invaders.

There was one young native boy who seemed to be lost and Gyles frequently saw him sitting on the deck, crying. The boy appeared to be thirteen or fourteen years old.

One day, Gyles could stand it no longer, he went over to the boy and sat beside him, he asked, "Son, what troubles you. Are you afraid?" The boy replied in poor English, "Me sad, me poppa and momma shot by evil mens. Me lone, no pepples got"

Gyle's heart went out to the boy and he said, "I have no son, will you be a son for me?" The boy, who said his name was Lomo, hugged Gyles for dear life.

Gyles thought, "Dear me, what have I done, what will Toby think?"

He and Toby had tried to be discreet as possible, but they both knew that Joe knew how they felt about each other.

At long last, the Handler's hold was empty and the hatches were battened down. The Islanders and the Coast Watchers who were down with malaria were all on board as Gyles eased the Handler out of the narrow bay and headed back to sea, retracing their course to avoid Japanese patrols.

Once they cleared Jarvis Island and the Kiribati Ridge, Gyles opened up the Handler's engine, he was in a hurry to get home! They picked up the New Zealand seamounts and followed them down to North Island before heading South, towards Sydney.

As they passed North Island, Gyles had a Marconi sent to the Wagon, "Capt., Wagon, personal; Have acquired son, meet me in Sydney." Almost immediately, a reply came back, "Capt., Hauler, personal; WE have acquired son, meet me in Sydney."

Gyles sat down with Lomo and explained that he and Toby Turner were brothers by choice and were mates by love.

Lomo asked, "Will he be my papa too?"

Gyles replied, "Yes, if you want him to be."

Lomo's only answer was to hug Gyles even tighter.

For the remainder of the voyage, Lomo stood on the bridge with his Papa Gyles, watching for the Australian coast to come up over the horizon. As the Handler pulled into Sydney Harbor, they spotted the Wagon moored at the Turner Marine Services pier.

As Gyles maneuvered the Handler alongside, to moor outboard of the Wagon, the ship's horn on the Wagon let out a tremendous blast and they saw Toby racing down the deck to run across the gangway as soon as Gyles ordered it over.

Lomo stood a little behind Gyles, a little shy of the man who was running towards them. Toby stopped in front of Gyles and threw his arms around Gyles neck, hugging him for all he was worth.

He then looked over Gyle's shoulder and said to the hesitant boy standing there, "Welcome Home, son, welcome to Australia and our Family."

Gyles then introduced Lomo to Toby and, suddenly all three of them were crying and hugging each other. Gyle's crew just smiled and patted Lomo on the back.

The introduction of Lomo was the straw that broke the dam, the strain of wartime voyages, dodging Japanese patrols, running dark across reefs that could tear the bottom out of their ship at any time, all the horrors hit both Toby and Gyles in one great wallop. Poor Lomo first thought he was the cause of their distress, but he slowly realized that it was not him, it was the war.

As soon as Toby and Gyles had recovered, they both took Lomo by the hand and walked with him over to Joe, who was standing on the deck of the Wagon, taking it all in. Had anyone not known for sure before, now there was no doubt, Toby and Gyles were a couple. If there was anyone one around who did not recognize them as a family, were both blind and deaf, the new boy, Lomo, WAS their son!

Mrs. Collins had supper ready for all of them, even Taffy was able to join them. She was all over Lomo, she dug out old clothing that Toby and Gyles had grown out of and soon had the boy kitted out with more clothes than he had ever dreamed of. The clothes were clean and had no tears or rips in them, they looked brand new!

Joe had the company's Barrister file papers in the Sydney Court pleading that Captains Toby and Gyles Turner, brothers, be allowed to foster Lomo, an abandoned Pacific Island Native orphan boy.

With the death of his Father and his Mother's illness, Gyles had his name changed to Turner and it made the pleading go through much faster, which was probably lucky for the court. There were several Turner crews who would have blockaded the court until they approved the adoption!

Lomo was one happy island boy and he also loved his Grandfather, Joe. When it came time for both Gyles and Toby to sail, Joe held Lomo on one side and his big brother, Taffy, held him on the other side. The boy's tears were flowing like a great river down his normally smiling face and dripping onto the pier.

This time, the two ships were traveling together. They were carrying troops and cargo as part of the invasion of Guadalcanal.


It was July of 1942 and ships were massing at every pier in every port. There was hardly an empty docking space in the entire port of Sydney.

Both the Wagon and the Handler were loaded down to the load lines, every nook and cranny was filled and the open decks were covered with tied down crates. Soldiers were stuffed on board like sausages, wherever there was a place to lay down, at least two Soldiers or Marines were bunking down there.

Joe and Lomo stood on the pier, waving to Lomo's Daddies as they captained their ships out of Sydney Harbor and joined the convoy. Lomo was proud of his Daddies and didn't hesitate to point out the departing ships to anyone, saying, "My Daddies are the Captains of those two ships!"

No more sneaking behind islands or skating across the shallows, there were huge cruisers, troop ships, aircraft carriers and many destroyers in the fleet as they joined it.

As one Marine on board the Wagon put it, "It was time to kick ass and take names!" It was the largest combined Naval and Cargo fleet so far in the war in the South Pacific!

The Australian Naval Office kept Joe appraised on where his ships were and Joe kept a map, locked in his safe, that he updated every day. He followed his boys up through the Coral Sea as they navigated along the Solomon Ridge

It was not that long a voyage and both Toby and Gyles were pushing their ships as hard as their engines would bear as they were the slowest vessels in the fleet. It would be long months of ferrying troops and materials of war to the front for both the Wagon and the Handler as they went back and forth from the battlefront to Sydney.

The return voyages, with the holds full of the wounded troops were awful and both young captains lost weight, looking more haggard on each trip. The cries and pleas of those wounded men would inhabit their nightmares for the rest of their lives!

When the Japanese finally surrendered Guadalcanal in early 1943, both Toby and Gyles looked like old men, dark circles around their eyes and the grey streaks in their hair had turned solid. Both ships were in serious need of engine work and dry docking. After Joe had read the hull reports, he cringed in horror at the danger his sons had been in.

Joe sent Toby and Gyles home to Paddington with strict orders to Mrs. Collins that they were to STAY home!

With Lomo helping her, Mrs. Collins had Gyles and Toby sleeping whole nights through, eating four and even five meals a day and laying in the warm sunshine, recuperating from their long years at war. This was the first "break" either of them had.

It was during this period that Gyles and Toby really realized they were REALLY a couple and they moved into the same bedroom with each other. Mrs. Collins just "harrumphed" and said, "It's about time!"

They were no longer boys, they both had celebrated their 26th birthday without realizing it and their grey hair made them look much older! Joe and Mrs. Collins kept them "imprisoned" in Paddington for two months, while their ships were being repaired.

When Joe saw the condition of both vessels, he cringed and ordered all the others into dry dock for inspection. Two ships, the Teamster and the Yak were so bad, they had to be scrapped. They were no longer safe to go to sea!

Joe applied to the War Shipping Board for two new vessels and, after several truckloads of paperwork, delivery crews delivered two brand new Mariner Class Freighters to the Turner Piers. They were named the Turner Mariner and the McPherson Mariner.

Joe said nothing of this to Toby and Gyles, just, one day, he told them their vacation was over and to get their uniforms on, they were going to town. Lomo was giggling, but neither Gyles nor Toby could get any information out of him and they wondered, "Why our uniforms?"

Joe took the three of them into Sydney and parked the car at the Turner Marine parking lot. Toby and Gyles both noticed the two brand new ships sitting there, but paid no attention, they were looking for the Wagon and the Handler.

They were surprised to see their crews standing on the pier and each of their Bos'uns led them by the hand up a gangway. When each stepped on board, they heard the announcement, "CAPTAIN, ARRIVING!" Both the young captains were flabbergasted and could not believe they were the Master of that huge ship!

It took Joe the rest of the day to convince his sons they were the rightful Captains of the ships, Toby was to command the SS Turner Mariner and Gyles was to command the SS McPherson Mariner. It would take them two weeks to become familiar with their ships, round out the crews and take on stores. The two new vessels required a greatly larger crew to operate, than their old ships.

In September of 1943, both ships sailed for New Guinea with supplies and troops for the war against Japan. The two brother-Captains were nervous as they sailed out of Sydney Harbor, but they soon settled down to run their ships.


Will this war ever end? What will our Captains do when it is finally over?

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