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H. Phillip W. Johnston

H. Phillip Johnston enlisted in December 1943. He had hoped to be a pilot, but when he and several others in Australia were approached to go to Canada to train as Wireless Air Gunners (WAG), he decided to take the opportunity. After completing his training, Johnston was sent to Mont Joli, Quebec before returning home to Australia.

In the following excerpt, the airman recalls the long and arduous journey from Australia to Canada, which began in May 1944.

Australians crossing the equator on an American troops ship. King Neptune and his court seated to the left. Hazing on the right, which included being sprayed by hoses and poked with electric tridents. August, 1942.We boarded the S.S. Cape Perpetua, a converted 4,000-ton freighter. We were bunked in holds fitted out with three-tiered bunk beds. Our ship sailed at dusk, and I remember a lot of young faces looking backwards to Sydney Harbour and its famous bridge.

Our first meal was taken in the mess deck, where we ate standing up at chest high tables. We had our first taste of American cooking and I distinctly remember being served frankfurters and sauerkraut. This was my first time at sea, as it was for many others. Many were sick in the mess hall, and I managed to gulp my meal down and get out of there as quickly as possible and up onto the deck for some fresh air. I think that about 80 percent of the passengers were seasick. They were hanging over the rails and when you went to the head (toilet) they were lined up and sicking up. One of my group spent most of his time throughout they voyage lying on his bunk. He ate very little during they voyage...

Life on board ship was relaxing, although our officers made us engage in daily exercise routines. We were sailing unescorted, without the benefit of a convoy. We were cautioned about giving away our position by dropping rubbish overboard or striking a light at night. We were told of the danger of encountering an enemy submarine, and there was regular gun drill by the crew and lifeboat exercise for all. I believe at one stage the crew, in an effort to impress upon us the need for this safety, started a rumour that there was a submarine in the area. My memory is a little hazy on this, but I do remember stories circulating as to what would happen if we encountered an enemy submarine.

It was stifling hot in the holds as we sailed through tropics, and many of us took to taking our blanket and lifejacket up on deck to sleep in the open air. It was much cooler, but boy, was that deck hard. On many occasions we encountered a heavy rain shower and then there would be a mad dash to go below. The ship's showers used salt water and we were given a soap that was supposed to lather, but I suspect that was just a promotion by the suppliers. I also believe, apart from the fresh water in the drinking bubblers, we were given a ration of a bucket of fresh water for ablutions. These are vague memories of events some 57 years ago, but they exist in my memory.

We finally arrived in San Francisco, where we were given day leave. We were amazed at the size of the city and overawed about being in the United States. We walked for miles, just taking in the sights. We travelled by train to Canada via Portland and Seattle. It was a novel experience after our uncomfortable troop trains in Australia. We had Pullman berths and regular dining, just like the travelling public. I cannot remember if we changed trains at Seattle but I do remember travelling through the Rockies, before arriving at Calgary.

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