- Wright, Ken
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Back at the camp, supplies were constantly being transferred to the shore camp by the ship’s rowboat and the volunteer crew continued their efforts to carry out necessary repairs. Captain Eggleston made his first visit to shore to ask for additional volunteers. He managed only two and it was intimated no one else was interested. This was not exactly the response he expected from either his Chief Officer or his crew. A rift was appearing between the Captain and his Chief Officer, both of whom had different ideas as to the best course of action to be taken.
There was great excitement when on 24 February, the lugger entered the bay. Chief Officer Ken Reynolds greeted Father Sanz and the crew and explained the situation on shore, then Father Sanz went out to meet Captain Eggleston who outlined the position onboard the ship.
The next morning, Chief Officer Reynolds discussed with Father Sanz onshore what would be the best course of action regarding the survivors. The Captain had left any decision concerning the survivors to his Chief Officer. It was agreed that the wounded, the women and children and some supplies should return with the lugger. This arrangement was carried out and soon after the lugger left, the two aboriginals arrived in the camp carrying Father Gill’s letter. This now left approximately 140 passengers and 6 crew plus the two new arrivals still ashore at the camp. Captain Eggleston came ashore soon after to ask for more volunteers. He explained quite candidly that the steering was out of commission. Number 3 and 4 holds were under water but with assistance, the ship could get to Wyndham.
All refused to help except three local Wyndham passengers. A bitter confrontation followed. It was made abundantly clear to Captain Eggleston that in view of the condition of the ship and the possibility of further Japanese attacks, they all felt it was safer to remain where they were until rescue arrived. Or, it was argued, it was safer to go south rather than north in the ship. This was the strongly held view of the Chief Officer who had been making his views quite clear to the others on shore. Prior to the Captain’s arrival, Chief Officer Reynolds and a few others had discussed with Father Sanz what options were open to the remaining survivors should the idea of a south bound voyage be impractical. The priest suggested an overland trek was possible to the Kalumburu Mission, a total distance of about 120 kilometres.
Was this a mutiny by his officers and crew? Why wasn’t the Captain supported by his Chief Officer in whom he had so much confidence? It seemed that now they were on land, there was no compulsion to follow the Captain’s orders. To their credit, Chief Officer Reynolds and the other officers had done an excellent job establishing the camp and running it under very trying conditions.
Just after midnight on February 26, the Captain again appealed for volunteers. Again he was rejected. During the day, the plans for the trek had been finalised and at 4.00 pm the first party of 28 passengers and 10 soldiers led by the 2nd Lieutenant and an aboriginal guide set out for the mission, followed an hour later the second party of 23 passengers and 31 crew led by Father Sanz and the other aboriginal guide. At 6.00 pm that night Captain Eggleston came ashore for the last time to seek volunteers. He was now in a position to attempt the voyage to Wyndham. Even though this was his fourth appeal for help, not once did he order any of the crew back to the ship and each time all his officers refused. The trust between the Captain and his officers and the trust Captain Eggleston had shown in his Chief Officer was now irrevocably destroyed. They never spoke to each other again. Captain Eggleston sailed on the night of Sunday, March 1 with 23 volunteers, 18 crew, 3 passengers and two soldiers.
On March 2, the Koolama sailed into Wyndham harbour. It was a tribute to a magnificent piece of seamanship and the incredibly hard work by the volunteers who kept the ship afloat. The authority dispatched a seaplane and picked up 25 survivors but was unable to return for the remainder due to an air raid on Broome the following day.