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Medical Patrol on Manus Island, 1941

Based on letters written by Corporal Ramsey to his sister

A short story about the patrol during which a doctor treated the local villagers on Manus island in late 1941 and starts off describing the tropical islands coral reefs, the little children and swimming and sailing. Then the letter moves onto the Medical Patrol, telling of two soldiers and the medical officer on walkabout through areas solely occupied by the indigenous population and how they never encountered or were reminded that western civilization was not so near away. The medical officer was able to handle the natives sick, sullen or friendly, he had been doing this work for years, and had trained his personal helpers and assistant doctors very well indeed. They knew exactly what he wanted and needed during the routine medical consultations of a whole village arranged by calling a roll, even a clock was tick-tocking the time for his edification. Each person is examined, treated and other information gathered, births and deaths are recorded on personal cards, small children are immunized with injection, even prescriptions for medicines are prescribed. An inspection tour follows, checking housing conditions, water supply, gardens, hygiene and then its on their way with hired porters carrying the heavy loads to the next appointed stop. The roads, more like over used bush tracks, were maintained as well, logs representing bridges were looked at, culverts repaired, undergrowth cleared and the patrol pushed on always uphill and down. When unfordable rivers were encountered the nearby village was warned by bush telegraphy and canoes would be waiting either to paddle or sail across open water or to struggle through mangroves and swamp. Then its back to trudging up and down hills and as the sun slowly sinks over the horizen a village is sighted and all spend the night sleeping in the "haus kiap" specially built and maintained for Europeans by the villagers, and is a welcome comfort indeed. The guest-house is a hive of activity as the Medical Patrol settles down for the night, water is readied, beds and mosquito nets are erected, food is deliciously cooked over an open fire on a small earthen hearth in the centre of the hut, and all is well. One afternoon the patrol came upon a peaceful stream containing a hot sulphur spring, warm baths and clothes washed made life more enjoyable. The next day was pouring with rain so a halt was called for, the medical doctor went hunting for native ducks which use the rivers as playgrounds. In another village they attended the Luluwi’s sing sing, the Chief’s dance, and with the villagers dressed in traditional garments, much food was brought out, roast duck, mammie cakes, pumpkin, pineapples, even two turtles were despatched for eating or traditional soup, and one and all settled into a long night of feasting, song and dance. Towards the end of the medical patrol they arrived at a stilted village built over the open sea, quite pleasant to be able to swim and fish from the front and back of the house, and at night in bed the lapping of the water on the piles and the soft sweet songs of the inhabitants that would drift across bringing sleep easily to the Europeans. But soon the patrol was over, arriving at the last village on their way back home, the Union Jack is hoisted in front of the chief’s hut and the head-chief sports a cap that would do justice to the C-in-C of the US Army. He gives a snappy salute and a bright greeting saying, "Good Morning, Sir".

Corporal Ramsey afterwards was stationed on New Ireland, escaped the Japanese offensive and was captured on the Induna Star along with the remnants of the First Independent Company, "the green double diamand-ers" and subsequently died as a POW, along with other AIF soldiers and civilians captured in the Bismarck Archipelago area, during the sinking of the torpedoed prison ship Montevideo Maru, Japanese Naval auxilliary transport of 7,267 tons, on 22 June 1942 off northern Luzon by an US submarine.

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Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942
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