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
approached to go to Canada to train as Wireless Air
he decided to take the opportunity. After completing his training, Johnston was sent to Mont
before returning home to Australia.
In the following excerpt, the airman recalls the long
and arduous journey from Australia to Canada, which began in
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
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