The Making Of The Man Page 6

The mail arrivals became more regular as the weeks went by, and a move from Port Camp to main camp was made, which enabled us to be with the force H.Q. This was now equipped with Heavy Plant, Tractors, Rollers, Bowsers, Mixers etc. These were brought ashore from the Fleet Auxiliary and Transport Steamers from all corners of the Merchant Marine. The supply ships bought surface mail, parcels and newspaper post to be distributed amongst the island forces and civilian staff. The island had a population of approximately 300 Gilbertese Islanders on a 6 months contract to the Australian Government, to harvest the palms for Copra and Coconut Oil. They changed twice a year and were under the control of the District Officer. He was a great help to us in the early days. He was everything — Customs Officer, Immigration Officer, Prison Governor — you name it, he was it. Prior to our arrival, post was sent and received twice a year, when the contractors changed over. The village was out of bounds to the military, except we went each day to collect any official mail to be included in our dispatches. The admin office was a 6’ by 6’ hut on stilts and that was the only official building on the island. The local postage stamps were very colourful and formed a great source of income for the government from collectors all over the world. There was a long open sided meeting house in the centre of the village which was the focal point for singing, church services and meetings. In addition, there was every form of sea sporting activities, including big game fishing, and you could witness the wonderful sight of multicoloured fishes amongst the corals, just by walking within the confines of the reef (in water that was the warmth of an average bath at home). However, it was essential to wear foot coverings as the rocks, whilst small, had jagged corners and a graze took a long time to heal. There were also tiny spined fish that could give you an infection overnight if trodden on. As in any 'paradise', there were prices to be paid. I recall the highlight of entertainment was the cinema. This was provided by the A.K.C, built in a small depression, not unlike a shallow amphitheatre, with planks of planed packing cases on tree stumps. The programme was changed thrice weekly and if it rained after your entrance fee (5p) was paid, you were given a refund if the film had not started. However, if it had started and had to be curtailed, tough. Veterans, were to be seen with cushions of various padding material to use during the show to relieve the hardness of the seats. There was a song going the rounds "How would you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?" sung by Dickie Valentine. This was played before each programme and cat-calls and whistles always drowned it out. There was a sense of common purpose to share the whole experience, whether at work or play, even though we were involved in a service job. As the runway and support facilities grew, so did the A.P.O’s customers. We had the Army, Navy and Air Force of course, and many sub-unit specialists. In addition there were other Commonwealth Navies, scientists, civilian weather people and observers. The sorting room looked like nothing ever seen before. With the frequent changeovers of customers we had a heavy load of redirections to be dealt with. The counter services consisted of mainly of providing Postal Orders and G & H Registered Envelopes to send home money. Pay days were looked forward to with the knowledge of a great deal of money being sent out of the area. The currency in use was the Australian Pound — equal to 16/= to the pound sterling. No halfpennies were in circulation and the fractional differences on so many transactions caused quite some variation in the balances. A good job we had the column to show the differences in, as there was no such thing as a "perfect spot on balance". In addition to the export of cash as previously described, one day we were presented with another type of problem. An artistic R.A.F. Policeman brought in a coconut husk, on which was painted a scenic view of a sandy beach, all painted on a silver background. The post office guide did not give any reason as to why such a thing could not be accepted as an item of mail. (see photo) It was not alive as in the case of an animal, and it was not a root, so we accepted it. A lively export trade then sprung up. The despatch by sea took place when a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship returned to the UK. It was not unusual to have 1-150 in a despatch. I have no idea how London Parcel Section reacted when these bags arrived, each containing 6 coconuts bearing a PP6 date stamp and stamps to the value of about 4/6, depending on the size of the husk. It’s funny, that until one sees a coconut in the wild, you think of it only as one you see on the coconut shy at the fair. I recall the reaction when a Signal was sent for 500 Parcel Bags to be sent out, as the number we required to send home exceeded the incoming ones. To this day I can imagine the Strategic War Supplies stored under the HPD being rifled and found to be full of mildew as they were prone to rotting (as recently as 1990 mildew was found on inspecting current stocks in reserve. I am sure they are not the same ones as circa 1956-57). The level of work continued to grow up to and including the actual atomic tests in the area. All in all, it was an idyllic posting and the camaraderie between each and every department had to be seen to be believed. Page 6