Daily Archives: 19 May 2004

Townsville’s Native Labor Co. (Chinese)

If you’re like me, you’ve lost a bit of sleep wondering what happened to the many foreign laborers on Nauru and Ocean Island (Banaba) during the Pacific War. Well, the first volume of The Bayonet of Australia has ended those worries for me.

The original name of the “Native Labor Company (Chinese)”, Base Two, was “Chinese Civilian Labor Company”, Base Two. The group of Chinese who are working in this organization were evacuated from Nauru and Ocean Islands in the Central Pacific during February 1942. They had been firstly employed by the Australian Government for the Mine Department for a period of over eighteen months. During November 1943, they signed themselves over for employment with the U.S. Army through the Chinese Consul. They came to Townsville, Queensland from Hatches Creek, Wauchope and Alice Spring by army trucks as far as Mt Isa and after putting up a night there embarked by train for Townsville. The trip took about four days. After arriving in this town, they were camped at Armstrong Paddock (U.S. Army Camp).

Among the Chinese Company there are a good many skilled carpenters, fitters, turners, motor mechanics, plumbers, electricians, blacksmiths, moulders, interpreters, clerks, cooks and labourers. The initial company consisted of 515 Chinese under the command of Captain Ferne M. Schmalle, who was assisted by eight enlisted men. The Chinese prefer the American treatment to any other in the world. They are being well fed, well clothed, well quartered and well paid, in fact they are better treated than the soldiers. In addition they enjoy the privileges of free hospitalisation, free transport to and from work and free movie shows.

Hmm. Was The Bayonet of Australia edited by Americans? Although no self-respecting Yank would write “firstly employed” I can’t believe any self-respecting Ocker would write, “the Chinese prefer American treatment to any other in the world.” (Maybe hoping they wouldn’t stay after the war was over?) Judging from the inconsistent spellings, I’d guess the 1942 Bayonet must have been written by a bilateral committee.


Filed under Australia, China, Pacific, U.S., war


Don’t you find it amazing how many important people have turned up at one time or another in Papua New Guinea? Me, too. (Okay, maybe just Errol Flynn, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and one or two others.) One such VIP was LBJ, who accompanied a bombing run over Salamaua on 8-9 June 1942:

Nine days after the raid, Lyndon Johnson was awarded an Army Silver Star medal, the nation’s 3rd highest medal for valour, by General MacArthur’s chief of Staff, Major-General R.K. Sutherland for his participation in the above bombing raid. He often wore this medal during his term as President of the United States. He refused to discuss the details of how we won the medal. His citation read:

For gallantry in action in the vicinity of Port Moresby and Salamaua, New Guinea on June 9, 1942. While on a mission of obtaining information in the Southwest Pacific area, Lieutenant Commander Johnson, in order to obtain personal knowledge of combat conditions, volunteered as an observer on a hazardous aerial combat mission over hostile positions in New Guinea. As our planes neared the target area they were intercepted by eight hostile fighters. When, at this time, the plane in which Lieutenant Commander Johnson was an observer, developed mechanical trouble and was forced to turn back alone, presenting a favorable target to the enemy fighters, he evidenced marked coolness in spite of the hazards involved. His gallant action enabled him to obtain and return with valuable information.

After President Roosevelt ordered all members of Congress in the Armed Forces to return to their legislative duties, Johnson was released from active duty under honorable conditions on 16 June 1942. In 1949 he was promoted to Commander in the Naval Reserves to date from 1 June 1948. During his time in service, Johnson was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. After he became President following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Johnson’s resignation from the United States Naval Reserve was accepted by the Secretary of the Navy effective 18 January 1964.

Of course, Johnson also spent time in Townsville, Queensland, Australia, but I’ve never been there, so that hardly counts.

Here’s more on the controversy surrounding LBJ’s silver star in PNG. Opinion Journal’s Best of the Web reports:

It turns out Lyndon B. Johnson’s silver star, which we noted in an item yesterday, is a matter of some controversy. CNN reported in 2001 that its own “review of the historical record raises new questions about the circumstances of its award by Gen. Douglas McArthur nearly 60 years ago.”

Historian Robert Dallek–who contributed the chapter on LBJ in our forthcoming book, “Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House” (order it from the OpinionJournal bookstore)–tells CNN he concluded that “there was an agreement, a deal made between LBJ and Gen. MacArthur. And the deal was Johnson would get this medal, which somebody later said was the least deserved and most talked about medal in American military history. And MacArthur, in return, had a pledge from Johnson that he would lobby FDR to provide greater resources for the southwest Pacific theater.”

Of course, there also seems to be some controversy about John Kerry’s medals in Vietnam.

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Filed under Papua New Guinea