JACK Carter, of Elermore Vale, spent his war service in Australia’s Top End putting himself in harm’s way at sea.
Now aged 93 years, the remarkable World War II veteran, a former Stockton ferry deckhand and later skipper, is among a dwindling band of Australia’s forgotten heroes.
Although he tried to enlist in the navy, he ended up being posted to Darwin in 1943 with the RAAF’s marine section, supporting Australia’s Catalina flying boat squadrons. Here, he steered all types of small craft from air sea rescue, or ‘crash’ boats, to fuel tenders and landing barges.
He and others took vital supplies to radar stations, to Cape Don and Bathurst Island.
In 1944, he was ordered to Snake Bay, Melville Island off Darwin, as coxswain of a landing barge to unload equipment to build an emergency airstrip for Allied aircraft who’d run short of fuel returning to Darwin from bombing missions.
Although the frontline had begun to move further north during 1943, danger still existed from four known Japanese submarines and from floating enemy mines in sea lanes.
Centenary of the Great War: Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter death details for February 3 to 9, 1919
Later Carter was transferred to work in the remote North Kimberly region near Australia’s secret air base Truscott. Near there, where B-24 Liberator aircraft regularly took off to bomb Japanese-held islands, was a Catalina base in Vansittart Bay, which became home for Jack Carter.
Heavy, land-based bombers as well as the slow moving, mine-laying Catalinas were then able to strike hard at enemy targets in Borneo, the Celebes, Java and Timor.
“We may not have been in direct contact with the enemy, but we were on active service. Many good people died or were injured during their service,” Jack Carter said this week, recalling a Spitfire aircraft he earlier witnessed crashing into Darwin Harbour.
Perhaps his most tense war episode came the night in 1944 when he and a mechanic were in a landing barge to be used to unload the supply vessel ‘Matthew Flinders’ of its cargo of bulldozers and trucks to construct the Melville Island airstrip.
“We were being towed behind the ship but the towline broke and we were left drifting alone. We’d been ordered never to show any lights because of the fear of Japanese submarines. We couldn’t even signal the ship with a lamp,” Carter said.
“We just had to wait there at sea in darkness with no compass and no way of verbal contact with the ship. Finally, a naval escort found us. It was a bit worrying,” he said.
Carter began unloading earthmoving equipment to bring ashore, but only in daylight hours as a well-lit ship working at night was an easy target, inviting aerial enemy attack.
By then, the Aussie merchant vessel ‘Matthew Flinders’ had been commandeered by the Americans. So, imagine Jack Carter’s surprise when he heard a familiar voice from a crewmember. It was Sandy Ross, of Stockton. Both man and the US ship would later play a big part in Carter’s future.
Amazingly, Jack Carter today still has more than 100 black-and-white photos he took during his war service with a box brownie camera given to him as a parting gift by his Newcastle sweetheart, now wife, Joyce Carter, nee Hyde.
Resurfacing now from a family album after 75 years, the priceless pictures document Jack Carter’s war service in the Darwin/Tiwi Islands and in North Western Australia.
Taken secretly, the mostly tiny photos provide an invaluable record, not only of his wartime experience but of Indigenous life at the inland Kalumburu Mission.
Weekender was alerted to the prize photographic find by neighbour Steve Garz, who has since enlarged and enhanced several pictures.
“Jack showed me the photos over a beer. All I could say was ‘wow!’. Back then he had a bit of an artist’s eye to frame a picture. And he’s still got an amazing memory, although he says his wife’s memory is better,” Garz said.
“One of Jack’s more melancholy duties in WWII was the search and recovery of the remains of airmen killed in flying accidents. Memories of those days still upset him.”
Later Jack Carter said his most vivid memory was of a mission among the mangroves of Mary Island, trying to locate the missing bodies of a B-24 RAAF Liberator days after it suddenly crashed into Vansittart Bay in March 1945.
His crew was heavily armed with .303 rifles, not to protect themselves against any Japanese enemy, but marauding crocodiles instead.
The job took several days. RAAF records show all 10 crew and a passenger perished in the tragedy.
“It was several months before WWII ended. The Liberator had taken off from Truscott airfield, but unable to gain height, crashed. Among the dead was a member of a prominent Newcastle family. It was a horrible job,” Carter said.
At war’s end, Jack Carter returned to Newcastle and the ferry service before working for the Maritime Services Board for 23 years. He married his sweetheart Joyce and they have been inseparable now for 72 years.
“I’d also been in Newcastle when a Japanese submarine shelled the city in 1942 and later helped out in the 1955 flood,” he said. Jack knew he’d had an adventurous life and been lucky to survive, but more stress was to follow.
“The funny thing was the navy rejected me (in 1943) because I needed to have dental work. The RAAF, however, accepted me instead and in two days had my teeth fixed. I was soon transferred to the RAAF’s marine section at Rathmines, did a marine navigation course to work with Catalinas before being sent north,” Carter said.
“I expected at age 60 to be able to retire on the ex-servicemen’s pension but was shocked and distressed to be told I didn’t qualify because of location and a 1943 cutoff rule. There were also no records of taking the landing barge to Melville Island, either from the RAAF in Darwin or the Defence Department.”
Finally, after four, long, traumatic years of fighting for his war pension, it was granted, but only after he secured a copy of the log of the ship ‘Matthew Flinders’ from America and confirmation of war zone service from his friend Sandy Ross.
“I believe my particular case was a first and since 1989 the Repatriation Commission, and the RSL, have relaxed eligibility rules. I’d like to think I contributed to help others, like merchant seamen in war zones, getting their rightful benefits. How many ships were lost (torpedoed) off the Australian coast in World War II, for example?”
Jack Carter kept fighting, becoming the Hunter president of EDWVA (Extremely Disabled War Veterans Association) in 2005 and active in community and charity work.
Now he’s considering exhibiting some of his photographs and making the collection available to the Australian War Memorial and local history libraries in Newcastle and Western Australia.