- Ogle, Brian
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Maryborough, HMAS Yarra II
- September 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Later an American submarine reported the incident. It was lucky to survive. It was then that Commander Cant blew his top. Verspijck had wallowed back to 4 knots and they were still hundreds of miles out of Fremantle. ‘Get all those bloody passengers into the stokehold.’
Passengers? It turned out that Verspijck was entirely crewed by passengers including, luckily, some naval officers and ratings. The ship had been commandeered in Tjilatjap to evacuate civilians, top brass, the Consul General for Batavia and his staff and Charles Moses, the General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
This odd crew reported a problem. They were nearly out of coal and couldn’t go any faster. In fact before they reached Fremantle, they were firing the boilers with furniture, fittings, paneling and anything else combustible. Commander Cant had to accept 4 knots as top speed. The two little ships crawled south. The wireless delivered news of the arrival in Fremantle one by one of the six other Australian corvettes from the East Indies who had also cleared out of Java. They heard that HMAS Hobart and HMAS Maryborough were still missing. WT silence being imperative, they remained ‘missing’. On the night of March 8th there was a full moon which stood them out as stark silhouettes highlighted by the stream of black smoke from Verspijck which rent the horizon and clothed the sky. The ocean was as flat as the Albert Lake but romance was not in the air. As Able Seaman Turner put it ‘The bloody Japs must be able to see us from Tokyo.’
Cook North had been instructed to render down the fat from a few carcasses of prime frozen beef which the crew had stolen in Singapore to prevent them being fed to the Japanese invaders. The chef, as he liked to be called, put the fat into trays, lit the range jets and fell asleep. At 1 am the fat boiled over into the fire and set the galley flue alight. Flame, sparks, soot and smoke shot to the heavens and lit up the ship like the Showboat on cracker night. It was the last straw – nobody went back to sleep that night.
Late in the evening of the next day somebody raised his head and said, ‘What’s that smell?’ No more beautiful aroma ever smote the noses of those sailors. Eucalypts, on an offshore breeze. They entered Fremantle on the morning of March 10th, 1942 and Hobart followed later in the day. The General Verspijck was safely delivered and Moses quit the stokehold and went back to run the ABC.