Castle Roland

The Trader

by Charles Bird


Chapter 6

Published: 21 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 5: As soon as the Wagon and Handler were loaded and fueled, The Wagon headed for the South China Sea to support the Australian Forces invading Indo-China. The Handler headed for Malaysia with vital supplies and munitions. Both ships came under fire and Joe stayed glued to the Marconi in the upstairs of Turner Marine, fearing the worst and praying for the best.


Joe and James listened in horror as the Marconi Operator on the Wagon reported they were under fire. The Captain reported what looked like a Japanese cruiser nearby as the Wagon was crossing the Bismarck Sea on their way to Mussua Island, where the Americans were constructing an airfield at Loliang.

The Wagon was loaded with construction materials and crated deck cargo, all for the American Army Corps of Engineers. While they were communicating with the Marconi Operator, he reported they had slipped over the reef behind Little Musau Island and the water was too shallow for the cruiser to follow them.

The little Wagon took only nine feet of water, fully loaded and they slipped over the reef at low tide, thus eluding their tormentor. The Japanese Cruiser attempted to follow The Wagon and they took their bottom out, sinking the ship and drowning its crew. The sharks were having a feast.

The harbor at Loliang was, also, too shallow to allow a cruiser to attack them while they were unloading as the harbor made an abrupt turn and the surrounding jungle hid them from the Japanese ships.

Apparently the Japanese Captain was not too concerned about firing on a ship, flagged by a country not at war with them. The United States was not at war with Japan at that time.

Other Turner Marine Ships reported heavy Japanese warship traffic in and around Indochina and the South China Sea.

The Yak reported being trapped at Sadewa on Sumatra for two days, while a Japanese Destroyer blockaded the port. Again, America was still a neutral power.

Joe was getting more and more worried about his crews and, finally in mid-June, he had a general Marconi sent out that all ships west of Brunei were to return to Sydney, even if they had not delivered their cargo.

That brought both Toby and Gyles home, at least for a little while. While enroute back home, Captain Gordon Lukes of the Wagon came down sick, with terrible stomach pains. The best Toby, who was First Mate, could determine, the Captain was suffering acute appendicitis.

Toby immediately assumed command and diverted the Wagon to Darwin, where the Captain was taken to Darwin Infirmary, where the doctors took him immediately into surgery. His appendix had ruptured and they were doing everything they could think of to save his life.

Toby sent a Marconi to Joe that he was proceeding on to Sydney in temporary command of the Wagon.

In view of political situation, Joe decided to shift their operations to the areas around Australia and New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands. It was evident that American Flagged vessels were being targeted by the Japanese.

The remainder of 1940 saw the vessels of Turner Marine Services delivering increasing quantities of military cargos to the islands between the Hawaiian chain and New Zealand.

Joe decided to leave Toby in command of the Wagon as Captain Lukes was not going to be able to return for some time, perhaps, not at all, as his condition had severely worsened, while in the Darwin Infirmary.

Toby and his Wagon were enroute to Johnston Atoll with a heavy cargo of construction equipment and deck cargo of sensitive electronic equipment, including experimental ranging and detection equipment they were calling Radar.

An American Destroyer, the USS McDonald was escorting them, as, whatever was in the deck cargo would have to be destroyed rather than allow it to fall into Japanese hands!

Toby charted their course to follow the seamounts and reefs north from Kiribati, thus interfering with a possible encounter with Japanese patrols.

Captain Denny Blain of the Handler had been called up, he was a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Australian Navy Reserve and Gyles stepped into his shoes as Captain. Joe was damned proud of both boys, with the loss of Sir Edward, Joe considered Gyles his son and even referred to him to others as "his son".

The Australian Naval Command was constructing a Life Saving Station on Bonriki Island and another at Marianna Atoll and they contracted with Joe to haul the freight. Both harbors were very shallow and the Handler was about the only ship they had that had sufficiently shallow draft to get in and still be able to carry an acceptable cargo load.

Joe told Gyles to push as hard as he could, it would take three trips to get the needed supplies to construct the stations.

Gyles sailed short, they had been unable to find a First Mate for him and Captains simply were not to be had. The Handler had been a Dutch ship and was equipped with a Gotaverken Diesel Engine and Gyles ordered the engine run up to 90 rpm on the propeller shaft as soon as they cleared Sydney Harbor.

At the orders of their escort, the Handler ran dark at night, not even showing navigation lights.

As soon as they approached the seamount at Rotuma Island, Gyles started taking Navigation sights every four hours at night, he was as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

The area was full of seamounts just below the surface of the water, just waiting to tear the bottom out of the Handler.

At Tuvalu, Gyles turned north and followed the Marshal Island Ridge to Bonriki Island and Marianna Atoll. He later told Joe, that he slept not hardly a wink at night until they got to Bonriki.

After discharging the final load of cargo, on their third trip to Bonriki Island, Gyles was delighted to head for Apia on Samoa. Their return cargo was copra and other island products, but, for Gyles, it was a relief to get further west and away from the Japanese influence.

The whirlwind pace of operations continued into 1941. Island communities were becoming increasingly worried about the Japanese incursions in the South Pacific and they ordered an unusual amount of cargo in fear that they soon would be cut off.

By June, it was apparent to all that all-out war was not far off and, try as he could, Joe could not find replacements for his two boys, so he could bring them home.

Every available ship was booked months in advance. Where once, "turn around" time had been days, even weeks, Turner Marine vessels now hardly had time to refuel and take on food and water, before they were headed out again. Their down time amounted to a few hours while the stevedores reloaded outgoing cargo.

Joe and James had to hire more than a dozen Shipping Clerks to handle the work load around the clock and two more Marconi sets with operators were installed upstairs to handle the radio traffic. Both operators were US Navy Radiomen, wearing civilian clothing. This would become increasingly common as the war continued. They were not disguised, their haircuts, if nothing else, gave them away! They were friendly young men and Joe frequently invited them to his own home for a home cooked meal.

The wear and tear on the ships was awful, Joe had to hire mechanics and welders to repair the ships as they sat dockside, taking on their next cargo! A few ships were leaving with the repairs crews still aboard, making final repairs.

The winter months of June, July and August were particularly hard, there had been terrible storms at sea, including three typhoons that shut down all ship traffic in the areas they occurred.

The Americans were shipping huge ships, full of cargo to be broken down and loaded on smaller ships that could get into the shallow harbors and able to cross the reefs and sea ridges that were abundant in the South Pacific.

In early November, as the weather improved in the South Pacific, both the Wagon and the Handler were in port, taking on cargo. Joe was delighted that both Gyles and Toby were in port and he took the evening off to take both "his" boys to supper.

Toby and Gyles joined their Dad for a supper of barramundi and chips, along with a couple of beers. Both boys were still a bit underage, but those four wide gold rings on their sleeves and the silver eagles on their collars, stopped all questions of age. Joe had invited one of the Navy Radio Operators to join them and it took awhile for him to become comfortable sitting to the table with two "four strippers", even IF they both looked like teens!

Back at the office, Joe showed both boys the latest Marine Advisories they had received about Japanese ship movements and the consensus that "something big was up".

Both ships sailed the next morning, the Wagon sailed for Tahiti and the Handler was headed for Kingston on Norfolk Island. Again, it was mostly government cargo and food supplies as there was no island that was totally self-sufficient.

On November 24th, both ships had reported they were discharging cargo and would depart the next morning with partial return cargos.

On December 5th, Toby reported in from Tonga that he was taking on mail, coconuts and dried fish.

A day later, Gyles sent a Marconi that he was in Noumea, New Caledonia, having received a call for help. He reported taking on six seriously burned islanders, a village had been shelled by the Japanese, killing sixteen villagers and severely burning six other villagers.

He reported that he would head straightaway for Sydney at his best possible speed.

December 7th saw both ships headed for Sydney Harbor, the next day, December 8th local date, all Turner Marine ships received a Marconi from Joe in Sydney, "**THE JAPANESE HAVE ATTACKED PEARL HARBOR. AMERICAN FLEET HAS BEEN SUNK. ALL TURNER SHIPS RETURN HOME PORT IMMEDIATELY.***"

Toby's Marconi operator flew out of the radio shack and handed him the hastily written flimsy. The man's face was as white as a bed sheet.

Toby took one look at the flimsy as he stepped into the wheelhouse and slammed the Engine Order Telegraph to "AHEAD EMERGENCY".

Five hundred miles away, Gyles was doing much the same thing.

Toby grabbed the Bos'un and told him to go around to all the crew and show them the Marconi Message. The Bos'un, Ted Davies was an American who had served with Joe during the First War, his face turned white, as he grabbed the flimsy and headed down below at a dead run.

The Wagon's engine ran up from a dull throb to a roar as exhaust gases came billowing out the stack. The huge engine on the Wagon rose to a mind-numbing scream as the governor tried pushing the injector wedges past their stops.

(as if it were not already at war)

Both the Handler and the Wagon were the first two ships to arrive at the Turner Piers, they discharged their cargos and stood out into the harbor while the next arriving ships discharged cargo.

Within the week, all Turner Marine ships had arrived, unharmed. Several had been shot at by the Japanese, but their shallow draft allowed them to escape across reefs and seamounts that the deep draft Japanese War Ships could not follow.

The need for freighters was desperate, the American, Royal Australian and Royal British Navies were begging for cargo space. They all knew they could not remain in port for very long, otherwise, their troops would be running out of both food and ammunition

Huge freighters from America began arriving, two weeks after that awful day, and it was a mad scramble, breaking down their cargos to be shipped on the smaller ships that could get into the small harbors of the South Pacific.

Joe placed all their ships and crews at the disposal of the Allied Sea Command and the Turner Piers were bustling with armed sentries, Soldier and Marine Corps guards, and stevedores manhandling cargo into the holds of the Turner Ships.

Officers of the United States Navy Supply Corps objected to Toby and Gyles being in command of two of the Turner ships, but Joe refused to change them, he told the officers that those two youngsters were his best "ship drivers" and that he would put them up against the best from any other ship!

In a few short months, he demonstrated that Toby and Gyles had the best "on time" record and the fastest transit times of any ship in the civilian fleet sailing out of Sydney!

Neither young man was afraid to ask the utmost out of his ship and his crew. Their records started more than one bar fight on the waterfront; their crews were proud of their Boy Captains and didn't mind bragging! The two Boy Captains became heroes of the local media and their exploits made regular reading in the Sydney Times! Local Reverends would end their Sunday Morning Sermon with a prayer asking protection for "OUR BOY CAPTAINS"

As the Japanese swept south from the Philippines, the Turner ships picked refugees off beaches, from swamped rafts and rowboats as the island people and soldiers, sailors and marines fled the onslaught.

Toby brought the Wagon in, her funnel shot full of holes and burn marks and shell holes on her foredeck and wheelhouse. Toby, himself was sporting a bandage across his forehead and his left arm heavily bandaged, stood alone at the wheel of the Wagon, his helmsman and Bos'un had both been severely injured.

He also brought 900 wounded soldiers from Palawan with him. A young US Army Major was singing praises of BOY CAPTAIN TOBYTURNER!, who saved him and his men by snatching them out from under the noses of the Japanese troops! He had maneuvered The Wagon under a cliff and rigged cargo nets to catch them as they jumped from the cliff. They recovered every Soldier and Marine safely, none of them even got wet!

Two days later Gyles brought the Handler limping home, half her deck house was shot away and her stack was leaning at a crazy angle, but he managed to load over a thousand American and Australian troops from Brunei and get them to safety.

When Gyles limped from the remains of his wheel house, the troops screamed and shouted his name. Gyles had steered his ship himself all the distance from Brunei, there were no helmsmen who had survived the attack! Later, it took the surgeons nearly five hours to dig the bullets from Gyles' back and legs.

The stories of the Turner ships were fast becoming legends of the war and the two Boy Captains were known all over Sydney. Their pictures had been in the newspapers so often people recognized them on the streets. Many mothers and fathers, wives and children would rush up to them, weeping and thanking them for saving their loved ones.

Joe insisted they recuperate while their ships were being repaired, he thought he was going to have to put guards on both of them. Every time he turned his back, both Captains were down on the waterfront, checking on the repairs to their ships and urging the workmen to work faster.

The sentries on the piers refused to turn either Toby or Gyles away, those two were local heroes and the sentries knew many of those who the two young Captains had rescued. They would have gone to war for "THEIR" Boy Captains!

At first, the war news was all bad the Germans were pushing the Allies back in Europe and The Americans and the "Aussies", along with their few allies, were hanging on by their teeth in the Pacific. Any Island Nation that had a boat larger than a row boat had joined the armed conflict. Even small fishing boats were joining the flotilla in an attempt to stem the surging tide of Japanese soldiers.

It looked like nothing would stop the Japanese advance towards Australia. Island after Island fell to them, the Islands of Tarawa were one of Japan's strongholds. It was there that vast resources of oil lay.

It took the Americans and their allies more than a year to put themselves into a position to threaten Tarawa.

Due north from Fiji, the Turner ships hauled men and supplies to support the effort, by July of 1943, the Turner ships looked like floating scrap yards, their paint was streaked with rust and soot, their hulls looked like patchwork quilts of repair plates and every crew member was bleary eyed and exhausted. The once neat and trim little ships now looked like floating wrecks but one step from sinking!

Both Gyles and Toby looked nearly as old as Joe, both even had streaks of gray in their hair! Toby had an awful scar across his forehead and Gyles would carry his limp to his grave.

They all knew it was going to be a long war and the two brothers longed for the days of riding their bicycles and laying around the house in Paddington, but, they were equally as proud when soldiers and sailors met them on the street and knew them by name, pointing them out to their wives and girlfriends as the ones who brought them safely home.

When, at last, their ships were made seaworthy, they had no hesitation to take their ships back out to sea.

In late July, the dead of the Australian winter, both the Wagon and the Handler sailed out from the Circular Cay. The entire city was under blackout and even the lighted buoys were turned off.

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, which was 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.


Our Boy Captains are now both adult men, fighting for their own and their countries' lives, they represented Britain, America and Australia by doing what they did best, commanding freight carrying ships. It was an all out struggle and every ship and every Mariner was fully committed to support their troops.

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