Castle Roland

The Trader

by Charles Bird


Chapter 8

Published: 4 Feb 16


Copyright © 2012-2015 by Charles Bird

Part One

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 7: 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 Toby and Gyles some time to get used to having so many holds to fill. The Turner and the McPherson both took a week to fully load the cargo holds and place the deck cargo. The ship loading area was beyond being overtaxed and there simply were not sufficient cargo cranes to handle the load nor cargo handlers. There were trucks lined up on the piers and ship waiting in the harbor for their turn at the cranes.

They both embarked Soldiers and Marines destined for the front. While not luxurious, the forward holds on both ships had been fitted with sleeping accommodations for the embarked troops. Both vessels had a small surgery located on the main deck, they already knew they would be bringing wounded Soldiers, Sailors or Marines back on an emergency basis! Sadly, they also knew they would be bringing some back as dead bodies.

Both Toby and Gyles invited the senior non-commissioned officers of the embarked troops to join the Crew's Mess for their meals. The commissioned officers were invited to the Licensed Officer's Mess. It meant extra work for the stewards, but it was only for a few days and it would be the last hot meals the Soldiers and Marines would get until the war was ended. The lower ranked soldiers were fed picnic style on the main deck and Cookie saw to it nobody went hungry, he had bartered for two thousand steaks and he intended to see that every soldier or Marine got at least one of them! He was not above slipping a Soldier or Marine an extra steak, especial if that man looked "puny" to him. As far as he was concerned, they ALL warranted an extra steak and that is what they got.

It was a short voyage across the Coral Sea to the Solomon Islands. The Turner and the McPherson were the largest and fastest freighters in the convoy and they held the majority of the ammunition and field guns the troops already on the ground at Guadalcanal were waiting for. They were desperately waiting for the weapons to fight the war.

Both vessels were escorted by two destroyers each and were positioned near the center of the fleet, with two cruisers, one in front and one astern of the two ships.

The outcome of the Battle for Guadalcanal depended upon the ammunition and the Warriors they were carrying and the US Navy was taking no chances that the cargo and embarked troops would not get there!

As soon as they arrived, lighters crowded around both ships, waiting to receive the crated cargo. There was a solid ring of destroyers around the Turner and the McPherson, with all their guns manned and pointed skyward, waiting for the inevitable swarm of Japanese Zeros to attack.

They were not disappointed; Japanese War Planes began attacking almost immediately. The ring of gunfire kept them away, while the two ships unloaded their precious cargo.

Neither Toby nor Gyles left their bridges the entire time the cargo was being offloaded. The Engineers kept steam up, so they could depart the moment all the cargo and troops were ashore.

After 36 hours of offloading and loading the wounded to be taken back to Sydney, the Turner and the McPherson were riding high in the water and began backing away to make a run back to Sydney for another load. They had hardy seated the anchors when both ships began moving astern

Empty, except for the wounded they were bringing back, both ships were making twenty-two knots through the water. The main turbines were wound flat out and the evaporators were producing fresh water for the showers. Walking wounded soldiers were being helped by the ship's crew in getting a fresh water shower before the Docs got their hands on them.

More than a few soldiers had to be carried to the showers and held by two more soldiers so they could be washed clean. For a while, the waste water outfall ran light red with soapy water and blood. There were sharks following the ship for the first twelve hours!

Instead of diesel engines, both vessels were steam powered and the engineers were pouring the black oil to the boilers. The First Assistant Engineer, Donald Davis (known as "DD") told Toby they had the steam plant wound up as "tight as a clock spring", but, if he was told there were "Jap Zeros" on their tail, he would personally help shovel oil into the furnaces to get a few more revolutions out of "The Old Girl"!

They arrived early one morning in Sydney and were directed to the Turner Piers, the McPherson was just slightly behind the Turner. (author's note, "Old Girl" was a term of affection that sailors used when describing "their" ship)

As Toby was maneuvering the Turner alongside the pier, Gyles had the McPherson ready to slip in beside them.

Already, trucks were lined up with freight to be swung aboard both vessels.

Gyles was ready to accept freight from Turner Pier No. 2 and Toby was already stowing freight from the trucks backed up on Turner Pier No. 1. The wounded were being retrieved from both ships by the Fleet Medical Services. Some were so badly injured that they had to be swung out and lowered by the cargo booms.

It was to be a quick turnaround, neither ship required a huge amount of fuel, they took on water and fresh food and they reported RFS (Ready For Sea) to the Harbor Master the next morning.

The crews were tired, but they knew the Soldiers and Marines had only the ammunition and supplies they had carried on their last voyage. That small supply would not last them long, should they run short, the Japanese would be all over them like flies on sugar candy! Both ships loaded ammunition throughout the night and into the next day.

Both ships sailed late that afternoon and joined their convoy off Brisbane. As they crossed the Papua Ridge on their way to New Georgia, they came under attack by a squadron of Jap Zeros.

Toby's ship, the Turner Mariner, was hit! Gyles looked on in stunned horror as he saw flames erupt from the bridge of his brother's ship. The Turner Mariner began to falter and fall behind.

Just as Gyles was ready to face the Navy's wrath and drop out of convoy to rescue his brother and his crew, the Turner's stack belched clouds of black smoke and she began to pick up speed again.

The entire convoy was holding its collective breath as the Turner Mariner caught up to the convoy and settled into her accustomed spot among the Destroyer Screen!

Gyles dared to blow a blast on the McPherson's horn and he was answered by two blasts from the Turner! In that reply, Gyles knew, without any doubt, his brother was alive and still in command of his ship! The Convoy Commander chose to ignore the departure from protocol, he probably would have lost the respect and control over the entire convoy. The Turner Clan was likely the most popular and most highly respected ship owners and operators in all of Australia! Or, more likely, the entire South Pacific Ocean!

On the Turner, the damage was awful. The helmsman had been killed outright and the AB was knocked unconscious. Toby had been in the Chart Room, checking their course and escaped the worst of the blast.

The First Mate was also killed outright and the Chief Engineer broke both legs as he was flung from the catwalk above the Engine Room.

The First Engineer, was off watch when the attack took place. "DD", collected all off-watch engineers and they headed, double-time, to the Engine Room.

The place was a shambles, but the boilers and turbines were intact. He and the three Firemen shoved new burners into the fireboxes and lit them off the still glowing refractory! (strictly against Navy Regulations as it was a very dangerous thing to do, the whole firebox could have exploded.)

As soon as he had stable fires in the furnaces, DD took the oilers and they restarted the generators and then the main propulsion turbine.

As fast as they could, they got the auxiliaries started, one boiler water feed pump would not start, so he screamed, "TO HELL WITH IT, RUN THE MAIN AND THE STANDY FEED PUMPS, WE GOTTA GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE ELSE WE ARE GONNA BE FISHFOOD!"

Up on the bridge, the Second Mate was out of it, he had taken a blow to the head and was out cold and the First Mate was dead, it was obvious he had a broken neck, his whole head was hanging backwards and blood was running out of his ears!

Toby had a broken arm and his whole left side was flash burned. He grabbed the Bos'un and told him to steer and Toby stood out on the ruined bridge wing to conn his ship!

When he heard the horn blast from the McPherson, Toby pulled the chain himself with his one good arm, answering with two blasts!

Binoculars on every ship in the convoy were trained on the Turner, Gyles could see Toby moving around his bridge and he heaved a great sigh of relief, giving thanks to the Almighty that his brother, his MATE, was still alive!

The convoy pulled into Marovo Lagoon on New Georgia and the lighters were lined up waiting for them. Fortunately, none of the cargo handling gear was damaged in the attack on the Turner and they were able to discharge their cargo without any problems.

The Convoy Commodore came over to the Turner to check on Captain Turner and his crew. When he saw the damage to the Wheel House, he gasped and asked Toby if he could continue or, did he need a relief Captain to take over.

Toby answered the man with a single word, "NO, in fact, HELL NO!" He continued a bit more calm, saying, "This is my ship, I sailed it out here and I'm gonna dock it back home!

On their return voyage to Sydney, Gyles risked a brief Marconi to Joe telling him that Toby had been hurt, but was still commanding his ship! Joe went ballistic with worry. He KNEW his two boys, to them, "hurt" meant merely uncomfortable, he had visions of mangled bodies, even bodies in bags!

Toby slowed the Turner down a bit, to relieve the load on the single remaining boiler water feed pump and Gyles refused to go off and leave him. The two ships steamed in convoy together and entered Sydney Harbor with the Turner leading, the above decks wreckage showing plainly.

The Harbor Master directed the Turner to go directly to the Naval Repair Basin and the McPherson was to berth at Turner Pier No. 1.

Joe, Mrs. Collins, Taffy and Lomo were waiting for Gyles to come down the gangway. He ran down the gangway, hugged Joe and told them they needed to go to the Naval Basin, NOW!

Joe was taking the corners on two wheels; he was turning a Bentley into a racing car! They drove through the gates, hardly stopping to show their passes to the sentry, before heading to the Repair Pier. They arrived just as the Turner was easing up to the piers.

Joe was racing up the gangway before it was even tied down, Gyles and the rest were hot on his heels, even Mrs. Collins was racing up that gangway, her hair was flying behind her like a witch on her broomstick! There was not a single sentry that dared impede their path!

Some sailors tried to stop them, they were sentries sent by the Navy Department, Gyles just brushed them aside as he screamed, "THAT IS MY BROTHER IN THERE!" He was a giant of a man and the sentries swore it had been a raging gorilla that brushed them aside. The gleaming silver eagles on his collars probably had a lot to do with their inability to stop him!

They found Toby in his sea cabin as his steward was plastering burn cream on his side. Mrs. Collins grabbed the applicator swab from the steward and told him to go get Captain Turner a cup of coffee while she tended to her son's wounds!

Lomo and Taffy were in tears, they were afraid to hug Toby because of his injuries and they were afraid not to for fear they were going to lose him.

Gyles just held Toby's good hand and rubbed it and leaned over, whispering "I love you, Toby." That was probably the first time he had said that in the hearing of others, but neither of them cared. They were locked in an embrace that would last their lifetimes.

Joe insisted on taking Toby to the hospital himself, where the doctors checked him over carefully and x-rayed his broken arm before they would allow Joe to take him home.

Gyles had to make a return voyage to New Georgia while the Turner was being repaired. Toby was told to stay home and rest, but he refused to leave the Marconi set at Turner Marine. He even had a cot set up so that he wouldn't miss any traffic from the McPherson.

Gyles' next trip to New Georgia was much quieter and uneventful than their first trip and Toby was waiting on the pier when his brother returned. He looked somewhat better. His arm was still in a cast, but he had already told his Father that HE was CAPTAIN of the Turner Mariner, and that HE would damned well sail her out on the next voyage!

Both ships made two more voyages to the Solomon Islands as the Allied troops move ever northward. The two brothers were becoming famous and their adventures were chronicled in the Sydney Times every Sunday! The entire city, maybe the whole nation, read of the Brother's exploits every Sunday after church, it was like a serial novel!

In November, they were headed back to Tarawa, the Japanese held out for only a few days before they had to flee and by December, both the Turner and the McPherson were supporting the invasion of Burma.

They were told to "standby for New Guinea and, as soon as they returned from Burma, they were loading out for Biak Island in New Guinea. They attempted to cover the worst of the scars their ships had suffered with Navy Gray paint, but all that did was to highlight the wounds the three ships had suffered.

Toby told everyone that he was completely healed of his injuries, although he would carry a burn scar on his left side for the remainder of his life. However, Gyles KNEW his brother was still hurting. He urged him to take one more turn sitting at home to recover and he was met with a redfaced, "NO"!

In early June of 1944, the Turner and the McPherson each loaded out two thousand United States Marines and all their equipment. They were headed for Saipan!

Japan claimed Saipan as one of their Home Islands, even though it was way down an undersea chain of seamounts from Japan. They landed the Marines and all their equipment under heavy attack from the Japanese, the Marines fought their way across the beach with heavy casualties on both sides.

The two ships carried the American and their Allies wounded back, they had been ordered to return to Sydney at their maximum speed. Their interior deckspaces were covered with wounded, bleeding and crying Soldiers and Marines. The entire off duty ship's crew were assisting the medics, if only to just hold the hand of a young Soldier or Marine crying for his mother as he died.

Both Toby and Gyles rang the Engine Room Telegraphs up to "FLANK" as they raced back to Sydney Harbor. Neither ship slowed until they were actually entering Sydney Harbor.

Toby had insisted on upgrading "DD" to Chief Engineer, it was going to be a long time, if ever, that "Doc" Thompson was going to be able to return to the Turner.

Toby was well pleased with "DD", he spent hours down in "the hole" tweaking and pushing to get every possible bit of speed out of the propulsion system.

Not to be outdone, Gyles' Chief Engineer, Glenn Phillips pushed the McPherson just as hard, one of the Wounded Marines on board was his own brother, Marine First Lieutenant Roger Phillips. His brother was badly wounded and the surgeons in Sydney would be unable to save his left leg, BUT, they DID save his life! Roger Phillips would return after the war and become a Cargo Scheduler for Turner Marine Services.

Both ships were noted as they passed Brisbane and Joe camped at Turner Marine, waiting for their arrival. The moment the Harbor Master advised him that the two ships were passing the breakwater, Joe told the Navy Supply Depot to start trucking the load for Saipan.

It was going to be a fast "turnaround"! The Marines on Saipan were in deep trouble and without replenishment of their ammunition, medical supplies and food, they were all going to die!

It took four days to load out the two vessels and, as soon as the last hatch covers were battened down, the propulsion turbines on both ships were rolling.

They departed Sydney Harbor and, as they passed the breakwater both Captains were pushing the engine order telegraph up to FLANK! They were pushing the maximum amount of oil possible into the boiler fireboxes. The flue gasses exiting the stack were howling as the forced draft fans were "to blocked" (term used by sailors to indicate running wide open or "to the block or the stops")

Their Destroyer escorts met them off Brisbane as they raced north. They had embarked another two thousand Marines on each ship and they would have helped row if it would get them there any faster.

The news from Saipan was awful, it took them six days to make the transit and the last two days of the voyage, they had to dodge Japanese suicide bombers!

Neither freighter mounted guns, but the Marines manhandled two field guns out onto the foredeck of both ships and joined the Destroyers in battling the suicide planes. Those guns were of little value as weapons, but their moral value to both the crew and the embarked Soldiers and Marines was enormous.

They finally reached Lao Lao Bay on Saipan and the lighters were waiting for them. The Marines went over the side first then the crew started swinging the freight out of the holds and onto the lighters. "DD" cobbled together some flood lights and they handled cargo day and night for three days before the holds were empty. The ship's crew worked straight through, without stopping, other than for food and water, getting the cargo to the soldiers and Marines who were fighting ashore.

What the lighters then brought out to them would have caused the very stones on the beach to weep, injured Soldiers and Marines helping other injured Soldiers and Marines boarding the Turner and the McPherson. Their spirits were unbroken as they shook their fists at the Japanese planes overhead and shouted every swear word they knew. They even invented some new words for the Japanese pilots.

The galley crews on both ships started turning out food as fast as the grills could heat it up, soup, sandwiches and fresh fruit came first, then, more hearty fare started to appear in the makeshift mess areas down in the holds.

The frequent cry, "MEDIC", drove the crews on both ships to work harder and faster. The Medics would be shivering and shaking by the time they got back to Sydney. What they had seen and what they had to do would give them nightmares for the rest of their lives. The sight of dead bodies piled up, awaiting body bags would inhabit their nightmares for years afterwards. More than a few military surgeons would never practice medicine again in civilian life, everytime they tried, the horror of what they had done would return with the shakes and spasms, like they were demented.

As soon as the last of the wounded were embarked, the Turner and the McPherson upped anchor and sped out of the small harbor, crowding their turbines to their limits. They laid down a bow wake that would have swamped small ships! Those four mighty turbines were 22,000 horsepower each and their governors were to-blocked!

The small convoy made a record voyage back to Brisbane, where the Destroyers dropped off and the two freighters continued on to Sydney. Both Toby and Gyles had sent private Marconi Messages to Joe, advising him of the numbers of wounded Soldiers and Marines they had onboard.

Joe had tents erected on Turner Piers No. 1 and 2, and a complete galley was put together in each tent. Chairs, seats and beds were brought for the "walking wounded" and, as the two vessels passed the breakwater, ambulances started lining up on both piers to take the most serious cases directly to the Naval Hospital.

Taffy and Lomo volunteered to assist in the tents, they gently led the wounded men down the gangway and got them seated under one of the tents. Many were either temporarily or permanently blinded. They then brought coffee, donuts, sweet rolls, fruit, milk, anything the wounded Soldier or Marine wanted. More than a few of them had bandages over their eyes, so the two young men patiently fed those warriors and even grabbed some delicacy that a wounded Marine especially wanted from the galley. After they had eaten, those same young men assisted their charges in using the toilets and showers that Joe had set up on the piers. There was no shyness nor shame, those men were desperate to get the blood, muck, and body parts washed from their bodies. Joe had brought teen boys from the schools to assist these men who could no longer help themselves.

Mrs. Collins brought women from Paddington to help in the temporary wards, they worked around the clock for three days until the last Marine or Soldier had been transported to the hospital.

As soon as the last American Warrior had been disembarked, the Turner and the McPherson shifted to the Naval Annex, where they were loaded with ammunition destined for Guam.

The mad voyages continued until October, when the battlefront moved to the Philippines. They had hauled Soldiers and Marines to Silago on a round trip basis for a month, before the demands for men and materials began to slacken.

Target destinations began to move northward as the war progressed and, on one return, both the Captains Turner were asked to a conference.

Toby and Gyles sat in a conference room at the Navy Base as they were told of their next destination, IWO JIMA!

At Last, the final steps of The Invasion of Japan was about to begin!


The end is very near! Will Our Boy Captains survive the last few gasps of the dying Japanese Empire?

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