"KALAI. 12 Mar 1945: Infantry during the day changed around a little. The hard worn 'C' Coy was withdrawn & 'B' Coy moved through 'D' Coy on Perry's Knoll, & commenced patrol east. The end of the day found them a few hundred yards east of 'D' Coy. They had a hard day without very much opposition, and at no stage were quite sure where they were.
"The weather closed down in the afternoon and visibility was restricted to a few yards. The rain was torrential and persisted from early afternoon until late evening.
"During the morning an Air Strike was carried out by RAAF Beauforts on the suspected mortar position. The target was indicated by smoke shells from our guns. In spite of this strike at 1100h the mortar continued to engage 'D' Coy position. During this mortaring Lt GORRIE was killed by a splinter. He had almost reached Lt SLATER's O.P. as relief when this unfortunate incident occurred. Lt GORRIE was an original member of this unit and his death has been keenly felt by both officers and men."
[Unit War Diary, 2/14th Field Regiment, 8th Division, 2nd A.I.F., Research Section of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.]
The location was the Waitavolo Plateau, New Britain, on the north side of Wide Bay, & just across the Wulwut River, north of the Kalai Plantation, where the 2/14th guns were emplaced.
Bob GORRIE's body was brought down by Bombardier FREEMAN & a party of men from 'D' Coy of the 19th Infantry Battalion, & buried by a detachment of the 14/32nd Infantry Battalion, between the Mevelo & Wulwut Rivers, at 1630h the same day (Waitavolo - Grid Ref 1:25000, 611519).
His sister, Betty PIGOTT, still in Adelaide, was to receive her 3rd major piece of personal bad news of the war, in a letter written by Bob's widow, Judy GORRIE formerly THOMPSON (Betty's close friend from their days at the Invergowrie Homecrafts Hostel in Hawthorn):
"What can I say - we are both feeling too much at present to think straight... I had been feeling worried about Bob as I've heard nothing from him for 10 days, the last letter being written on 25th Feb..."
And again, a few days later:
"Rod NICHOL wrote to me and also to his mother, and she came to see me this afternoon. It appears that Rod had been up the front and being relieved, spoke to Bob at his staging camp on the night of the 11th. The following morning, Bob went up & soon after he arrived, was hit by a mortar bomb & killed instantaneously, so thank goodness he didn't suffer. Rod says they got the news by lunchtime, so it was all very quick. He also said that Bob was well, but very quiet, so it looks as though he had some idea of what was ahead of him..."
Bob was aged 32, & was survived by his widow Judy (later Mrs MORLEY), & by their daughter Alison Janet (Jan) GORRIE (later SMITH), whom Bob had never seen.
His remains were re-interred, firstly in Tol War Cemetery (grave No CA13), & finally in the Rabaul War Cemetery, Bitapaka, (Plot E, Row B, Grave 15).
For Betty PIGOTT, the news was hard - she had now lost the three men-folk of her family - her younger brother Pete was shot down & killed over Kema Bay, North Celebes Island, in January 1942 (see his separate blog on this blog-page), just a couple of weeks before their father, Dr Peter GORRIE, was killed at his action-station, the Surgery of the British Merchant Ship "Madura," in Dempu Strait, off the coast of Sumatra.
With Bob, in Rabaul War Cemetery, Bitapaka, also lie the remains of his Regimental Comrades who fell at Waitavolo:
VX53536, Lance Bombardier R.A. BOSTOCK; SX10416, Lance Sergeant D.G. MATTHEWS; QX26019, Gunner R.D. O'CONNOR; NX58632, Lieutenant J.G.A. ROACHE; & VX25782, Gunner D.K. RUTHERFORD.
SOME PHOTOGRAPHS OF BOB GORRIE & SOME FRIENDS, 2/14th FIELD REGIMENT.
BOB's EARLY LIFE.
Robert Maclagan (Bob) GORRIE was born in Port Elliston, South Australia, 21 Jan 1913, first born child of Peter GORRIE, M.D., & Janet Howatson YOUNG. His parents, both from Scotland, had been in Australia only a couple of years. He was named for his father's younger brother, who had himself been named for his & Peter's maternal grandfather, Robert MACLAGAN, Station Master of Perth General Station.
Bob was only 6 months old when his parents moved to Petersburg, and 2 and a half when his mother took him & sister Betty to stay with their aunt in India while their father went to war.
He was five and a half when his family moved to Port Augusta, & began his formal education at the State School there. He was nearly 10 when the move to Mount Lofty was made, & it is possible that his parents thoughts had turned to his further education, which was completed at Scotch College, Mitcham.
Bob went to work as a Jackeroo, beginning at Yardea, a McTAGGART property managed by Jim BRODIE, a good friend of the GORRIE family from Peter's days in Port Augusta. Bob was enrolled there as Station Hand in Electoral Rolls from 1933 until 1936, although his sister Jan PAY recalled that he may have gone there as early as 1929, aged 16.
From Yardea, Bob went to Canonbar Station, near Nyngan, in N.S.W.
BOB ENLISTS IN THE 2ND A.I.F.
When war broke out, he was at Cunumulla, in Qld, & immediately returned to Adelaide to enlist. Had the queue at the Recruitment Office been handled from the front, Bob's service number might have been lower. As it was, to his indignation, it was processed from the rear, & Bob was enlisted at Keswick on 20 Oct 1939 for service in the 2nd A.I.F. as SX 210.
His 1st posting was as a Driver, with the rank of Gunner, 2/3rd Field Regiment, with H.Q. in Gramp's Wine Pavilion, Adelaide Showgrounds, Wayville, & initial camp established by 7 Nov at Woodside.
The Regiment, joined with its W.A. contingent, marched through Adelaide on 11 Dec & were entrained for Holsworthy Camp, Liverpool. Whilst training for war, the Regiment were called upon to fight bushfires, & to help control riots at Central Station, perhaps associated with a looming national coal strike. Bivouacs were held in the area between Windsor & Penrith (when a flag from the Log Cabin Hotel was souvenired). Gunner Bob was promoted Lance Bombardier, 8 Apr, & Bombardier, 22 Apr. On 4 May, the Regiment was marched out, & embarked on H.M.T. X1, otherwise know as the Queen Mary, for service in Europe.
BOB LEAVES THE 2/13TH FIELD REGIMENT.
But Bob had been detached & sent to an A.I.F. Special Field Artillery Course, conducted at the School of Artillery, Holsworthy. He did not sail with his Regiment, nor was he ever re-joined with it overseas.
Instead he was posted to Sydney Showgrounds as an instructor, & there was part of 9 Troop, 3rd Battery, 1st Field Training Regiment; on 5 Jul he was promoted Sergeant. On 23 Sep he was marched out to Victoria, & posted to 2/2nd Field Training Regt, firstly at Geelong, then, from 11 Nov, at Colac.
On 2 Nov 1940, Bob, on a brief spell of Leave, & probably in-between Regimental postings again, married in the Presbyterian Church in Castlemaine, Judy THOMPSON, a great friend of Bob's sister Betty, whom Bob notified by telegram:
"DECIDED LAST NIGHT. MARRIED SUNDOWN TODAY. ARRIVE ADELAIDE TUESDAY. LEAVE WEDNESDAY."
BOB JOINS THE NEW 2/14TH FIELD REGIMENT.
Bob was recruited into the newly created 2/14th Field Regiment, formed as the third Artillery Regiment of the 8th Division, although within 3 months, with the losses on Ambon, Rabaul & Timor, & the surrender in Singapore, they remained the sole major combat unit of the 8th Division still on the Australian Order of Battle.
The 2/14th was jointly recruited in Victoria (27th Battery) & S.A. (28th Battery); its first commander was Lt Col Jan (God) SEWELL, & his 2-I.C. was Major R.B. (Wimpy) HONE; Battery Commanders G.H. CRAWFORD & Arthur RYLAH reported for duty at Keswick 17 Nov, & by 25 Nov, they had established the Regiment at Woodside Camp. Bob probably joined them there on 28 Nov.
The Regiment was ordered to concentrate at Puckapunyal, & travelled there in two stages - 186 personnel travelled by road convoy, departing Woodside on 21 Feb, the remainder going by train.
Bob was promoted to W.O.II (Acting) on 15 Jan 1941. He was apparently then in the 28th Battery.
BOB GOES TO DARWIN.
On 15 Jul 1941, the Regiment proceeded by train to Darwin, where they had been posted to replace the 2/13th Field Regt. No 2 Special Train left Wayville Siding, & arrived at Alice Springs on the 18th; convoyed to Larrimah (22 Jul); & then by train to Winnellie (23 Jul).
Originally based at Winnellie, the Regiment constructed new quarters at Knight Cliffs (now Nightcliff), & were in residence by the onset of the wet season. Christmas dinner, comprising turkey, pork, vegetables, & plum pudding, was judged as "excellent."
On 12 Jan 1942, Bob's younger brother Peter was posted missing-in-action, presumed killed, at Kema Bay, North Celebes Islands. Bob & Peter had met up very briefly on one occasion when Peter was flying through Darwin Airport. Bob was informed of the death by his Major, Wimpy HONE, who gave him an eye-witness account of F/O Bill WHYTE.
And on 19 Feb 1942, the war finally arrived in Australia, when the Japanese first dropped bombs on Australian soil.
The 2/14th Regimental War Diary recorded the event as follows:
"0950 - Air Raid Alarms. Enemy planes & our own fighters seen in 'Dog Fight' off Nightcliff. No advice of the Raid from any other sources than our own spotters. RAAF was immediately advised, & from what could be gathered they had no knowledge of the raid.
"1030 - All Clear.
"1205 - Air raid Alarm. Enemy Bombers, 53 in number, at a considerable height. No advice from other sources than our own."
As a result, the Regiment was placed on Battle Stations; moved to Knuckey's Lagoon (18 Mar); moved further inland to Coomallie Creek (end of Apr); & back to Darwin Fortress by 25 May. During this time, Major HONE took over command of the Regiment, & Bob was transferred to 27th Battery, C Troop. By 2 Jun, Bob had been commissioned as Lieutenant. And in August he spent some time in hospital, severally recorded with Cellulitis, & with Dengue Fever.
BOB GOES SOUTH AGAIN.
Bob left Darwin to attend Serial 1 Refresher Course for officers, Field Artillery, Holsworthy, from 7 Dec 1942 until 16 Jan 1943. While there, the rest of the Regiment were moved to Sydney, via Adelaide River, Mataranka, Mt Isa, Townsville & Brisbane. They marched into camp at Loftus, 9 & 10 Feb 1943. After 24 days Regimental Leave, they went into "hardening training" in preparation for active service overseas. This involved bivouacs in the Royal National Park, Wattamolla & Scarborough areas, & a 19-day exercise over a much wider area, & as far afield as Mittagong, Kangaroo Valley & Nowra. On 14 Oct 1943, in distant Melbourne, Bob's wife Judy was delivered of their only child, Alison Janet (Jan) GORRIE.
On the same day, the Regiment, including Bob, was marched out of Loftus Camp, & travelled to Brisbane & North Queensland, to undertake jungle training prior to embarkation on overseas service. Part of the Regiment remained at Kalinga, near Brisbane, & then moved to Redland Bay to conduct range practice & barge landings, & back to Kalinga, then Yeerongabilly prior to embarkation. The other part went to Cairns, & sailed for Lae on the Bonteko on 12 Nov.
BOB GOES ON OVERSEAS SERVICE.
Bob appears to have been in Brisbane, & that part of the Regiment embarked on the U.S.S. Stephen Girard on 2 Jan 1944; in Townsville Harbour (5-10 Jan); Milne Bay (13 Jan); & Buna (14 Jan); they proceeded directly to Finschafen, & were assembled at Scarlet Beach.
On 25 Jan, the Regiment was transferred to Kelanoa; from there, they conducted "clearing" operations of the area up the coast, "mopping up" as the Japanese retreated northwards. They were operating around Kosit, Gabutamon, Malalamia, Yagomi, & Wotan.
On 20 Apr, 27 Battery was moved through Finschafen to Saidor on the S.S. Tradut; & then onto Madang; The rest of the Regiment went straight to Madang on the S.S. Edward Baker, arrived 7 May. Here they were to remain in camp until Jan 1945.
BOB GOES TO NEW BRITAIN - HIS LAST SEA VOYAGE.
On 16 Jan 1945, the Regiment was embarked on the U.S.S. Jubal Early for transfer to Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. Some strong Japanese resistance had been mounted at the north end of Henry Reid Bay, & the 2/14th got their first whiff of real engagement ahead of them, as they pushed northward up the coast, with the 6th Brigade, & units of the 14/32nd Infantry Battalion. They had secured Kiep by 29 Jan, & Kalai by 17 Feb.
And here, at Kalai, where the 2/14th guns were set up, they focussed their attentions on the Waitavolo Plateau, just north of the Wulwut River. At the top, in dug-outs in the hillside, were lodged Japanese mortars, manned by enough soldiers & ammunition to stall the advance of the Australians, & so cover the rear-guard of the retreating Japanese Army.
On 27 Feb, Generals STURDEE & RAMSAY gave orders for the Waitovolo-Tol area to be taken & secured. By 5 Mar, the assault force, comprising units of the 19th & the 14/32nd Infantry Battalions, was on the northern edge of Wide Bay, ready to cross the Wulwut River. There followed a week of heavy fighting, immediately east of the Wulwut, & around hills named for fallen Australian Field Officers (Captain KATH, Captain YOUNG & Lieutenant PERRY), with Artillery support of the Regiments 27th & 28th Batteries, joined on 10 Mar by the 64th Battery.
Gavin LONG, in his volume of the Official War History, "The Final Campaigns," paints the picture:
"...the direction of artillery fire was extremely difficult as the observation officers were working in dense rain forest, the fall of shot was rarely visible, and the guns had often to be registered by sound. On the other hand the narrow tracks had all been registered by the many Japanese mortars in the Waitavolo fortress area. The main role of the guns was now to silence these mortars - a difficult task as soon as it became evident that they were sheltered in caves where artillery fire became dangerous.
"It was difficult for the engineers to maintain communications with the forward infantry. After rain, the Wulwut River became a swift torrent...
"In an effort to silence the mortars which were bringing down a galling fire, the 2/14th Field Regiment sent 460 rounds over, searching an area 400 yards in depth, & eventually silenced the mortars, although only for the day. On 12th March heavy mortars (the Japanese had improvised mortars to fire 150 mm shells) rained 60 bombs on Perry's [Knoll] & Young's [Hill], killing four (footnote; including Lieut R.M. GORRIE of the 2/14th Field Regt) & wounding nine, including Lt FAUL, & temporarily disabling 12 others with bomb blast. It was a day of torrential rain which reduced visibility to a few yards."
Bob GORRIE was my uncle.