Soft Duty
September 1st to September 30th, 1943

September 1, 1943, Wednesday, moored in nest alongside Whitney in Berth A 6, Dumbea Bay, Nouméa, starboard side to Warrington, Dash to port. Dash underway at nine, and Taylor came alongside.

I was awarded a trip to the dental appointment on Relief. Worked the rest of the day in the plant.

My old friend and shipmate from the San Francisco, Claire “Weasel” Morris, showed about 1500 and stayed until 2100. He’d made chief in the fall of ‘41, since two years, and was in an aviation unit camped up-country a few miles from Nouméa.

When Nels Granzella, CQM, assigned to USS England, showed about chow time, I had guests for dinner. Nels had a snoot-full, and carried a bottle of brandy as a gift. The brandy was imitation with a foul odor and a vague medicinal flavor. It is not easy to talk “old times” with two friends from different periods, different ships and on different events. We managed to tell universal lies that would offend only those not present.

Weas left about nine to go back to his camp. Nels stayed in the messroom guest bunk.

September 2, 1943, Thursday, moored in nest alongside Whitney. At 1300 we were towed by a yard tug to ARD #2, floating drydock, by 1530 we were on the blocks and docked high-and-dry. I worked on urgent repairs in the plant until 2000.

September 3, 1943, Friday, in drydock ARD #2, we hit the floor plates to work early. We worked until evening chow at 1730. Since no water can be had without electrical power, we had to bear it without washing.

Sick again. I went to bed and had a chill with two blankets!

September 4, 1943, Saturday, in drydock ARD #2.

We hurried to complete the hull work that could only be done while in drydock. At 1300 we were towed from ARD #2 to Whitney. We lighted off the boilers, each in turn for tests. Then worked on mechanical discrepancies until 1900.

A transfer came through for a first class. I couldn’t have been thinking clearly when I accepted to draw straws with Sam Grey for it. He had bee first class about two months, therefore he had no claim had I refused to gamble. He won. That was as dumb on my part as playing poker blindfolded. He left the ship for Stateside within two hours.

Weas came aboard at 1400 and stayed all night. The last boiler room he had seen was in the four-piper Meade he had helped to recommission in 1940. She was transferred to Britain at Halifax and renamed HMS Ramsey. Weas said that he had been fed up with all work and no glory in engineering, so he changed his rate. What makes me a glutton for punishment?

September 5, 1943, Sunday, moored to Whitney in Berth A 6, Dumbea Bay, Nouméa, New Caledonia.

Weas and I left the ship at 0730 to visit his camp outside Nouméa to the west. We got there about nine. Since I was wearing whites and with but three chevrons, I could have been barred from the CPO mess tent—and I rather expected it to happen. But, on the contrary, they were very friendly. There was a stock of cold beer, which they shared generously. We played poker and drank the beer, and told tales of the Atlantic “neutrality patrol” of ’40 and ’41; most of these guys had participated.

I lunched at the camp, then returned to the boat landing, getting a look at Nouméa town by passing through in the CPO jeep.

September 6, 1943, Monday, moored to Whitney in Berth A 6, Dumbea Bay, Nouméa.

Up at 0600, and after breakfast went to the hospital ship Relief for tooth repairs. Getting back to Nicholas, I worked all day in the plant.

September 7, 1943, Tuesday, moored to Whitney in Berth A 6, Dumbea Bay, Nouméa, N.C.

I worked in the plant until noon.

In the afternoon, I got ashore in the town of Nouméa for the first time. I walked and looked. The shops were in low stock after three years of war, especially in books and phonograph records that I sought. I bought a book on music that I knew would be hard reading; the French torch songs were gone, but I found other popular songs, and surprise, a Vera Lynn (Australian).

Back to the ship at sunset.

September 8, 1943, Wednesday, moored to Whitney in Berth A 6, Dumbea Bay, Nouméa, N. C.

Worked the whole day on calibrating the speeds of the paired, turbine-driven forced-draft blowers. These little monsters have competed with the boiler safety valves in sponging up manhours.

But it was very nice topside weather where I could relax after the evening meal in the CPO Mess; lounging on the foc’sle, or below making up on missed lessons was a struggle with my conscience.

September 9, 1943, Thursday, moored to Whitney in Berth A 6, Dumbea Bay, Nouméa, N.C.

Worked all day buttoning up machinery for departure.

We said goodbye to Lavender who was transferred to Whitney for duty. He was a very skilled boilermaker and would be more useful on a tender as opposed to the operating fleet. He was missed because he was always willing and able.

Weas arrived at 1300. We went ashore at 1800 having been invited (by lots) to an organized “tea dance,” a bit late in the evening for a tea.

On the way I tried to buy some French brandy; after three years, naturally it was gone.

The girls, perhaps twenty, were assembled in the room provided in the municipal building. They were American girls, we learned, and I wondered where they came from. Too many to be Navy nurses … Their expressions held complaisance without warmth, as a child being polite under duress. And they formed a crescent, by formation at least, in welcome. Weas and I asked a pair close together to dance, and afterward to sit with us.

Cafe tables had been arranged, and bottled beer was available. I tried to talk and find a companionable subject that would draw more than dutiful phrases. Nothing worked until, while dancing, we discovered that I didn’t recognize a waltz. After learning I had been waltzing, I couldn’t do it again.

We stopped to laugh.

Back at the table the conversation flowed easily. The lady’s reserve fell away. Maybe it was the one beer she had drunk, but there was real light in her eyes.

I looked around to see if others had begun to enjoy themselves, too. It was then I noticed that the mature ladies who served as chaperones had begun to form an arm’s-length line just off the dance floor.

A whistle blew, and the girls all stood up as one and filed behind the chaperones. MPs appeared from all the doors and took station at intervals around the walls … I felt a shock of disbelief and anger. I looked for the girl I had been sitting with—she could have signaled that she was not a party to the monstrous affront. She was staring at the ceiling and would not meet my eyes.

Had the “tea dance” been planned to humiliate it had succeeded. For me it had not changed from the thirties—the public perception of the uniform as the badge of depravity.

Upon later inquiry, I learned that we had been “entertained” by the USO.

September 10, 1943, Friday, moored alongside Whitney in Berth A 6, Dumbea Bay, Nouméa.

Lieutenant Commander Snider, the Exec, detached today.

0630 Underway and passed through Bulari Passage at 0830.

I had the 08 to 1200 watch, then slept the afternoon storing up for the future(?). No, I just like plenty of sleep.

My current book, The Fifth Seal. On watch 20 to 2400.

September 11, 1943, Saturday, steaming singly enroute Milne Bay, New Guinea, on base course 305° True. I had the 08 to 1200 watch, and in the afternoon there was machine gun practice on released balloons, followed by all emergency drills.

On watch 20 to 2400. After the watch, dreamed of our life on the French Riviera—perhaps to efface organized “tea dances.”

September 12, 1943, Sunday, steaming singly enroute Milne Bay, New Guinea, on base course 305° True.

At 0800 we changed speed to 26 knots, maximum for two boilers.

I had the 08 to 1200 watch, and was topside when we passed through the green jungle around West Channel.

At 1500 we entered Milne Bay and anchored in 50 fathoms of water.

We began transferring 5-inch ammunition to USS Reigel at 1700.

I won the $50 anchor pool! (Having bought the number corresponding to the minute the anchor dropped.)

September 13, 1943, Monday, anchored in Milne Bay, New Guinea.

At 0730 Nicholas went alongside HMNZS Bishopdale to fuel.

1315 Underway. Nicholas (OTC) screening SS John Muir and SS Ambrose Bierce (wonder if they’ve got Ambrose’s dictionary on board), proceeding through China Strait and West Channel.

On watch 16 to 2000. Studied USAFI courses, then to bed.

September 14, 1943, Tuesday, steaming on base course 208° True, screening two merchantmen, destination Townsville, Australia.

It may be a liberty port!

On watch 04 to 0800 and 16 to 2000.

Played bingo until two a.m. Lt. Reidler came forward to play. He had been elevated to Chief Engineer, replacing Coleman who became Exec.

September 15, 1943, steaming on base course 208° True, in company with, and screen for, SS John Muir and SS Ambrose Bierce.

On watch 04 to 0800.

In the forenoon Doc Ramsey and two pharmacist’s mates were transferred to Ambrose Bierce to operate on a man with acute appendicitis.

1230 Our force cleared Cape Grafton, Australia, and are inside the Great Barrier Reef. The weather is H-O-T and the sea a deep, Hawaiian blue.

I am feeling some malaise like the jaundice I have had twice.

We are in sight of land on the horizon all the way inside the reef. On watch 20 to 2400.

September 16, 1943, Thursday, steaming on base course 137° True, in company, and screening for, two merchant vessels.

At 0240 stood into Cleveland Bay, Townsville, Australia, I had the watch 04 to 0800.

At 1140 we cleared Cleveland Bay. I had the first dogwatch at 1600. Doc Ramsey and helpers back to the ship after a successful appendectomy.

We started cleaning watersides on No. 1 boiler; the work to continue round-the-clock. We’ll have a few days to complete it in Brisbane, we are told. This renewed hurry-up must portend a finish to the holiday we are on.

September 17, 1943, Friday, steaming independently on base course 180° True, speed 17 knots. I had the midwatch, and we have men in the watersides wire brushing the tubes and drum surfaces. Inside the Great Barrier Reef is relative safe from submarines or there would have been no man inside the steam drums—at least, not on my watch.

We drilled all day at emergency drills, exempting the men in the boilers.

At the evening meal in the CPO Mess, Chief Carter let go a blast at the Commissary Stew on the quality of the food preparation. There was no answer, for there was no reason for shoddy work.

September 18, 1943, Saturday, steaming independently enroute Brisbane, Australia. We are making a lot of landfalls, lights, etc., so it is piloting all the way.

I had the midwatch and crapped out until we anchored.

The harbor pilot was picked up at 0815. At 1046 we anchored in Brisbane River. I won the $25 anchor pool! I own nearly $200, a personal high.

At 1100 the ship moved to moor portside to Newstead Wharf.

We fueled ship for two hours; after which, having the duty, I scrubbed my dress blues, then wrote letters.

September 19, 1943, Sunday, moored portside to Newstead Wharf, Brisbane, Australia. I learned that Brisbane is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable.

We moved to moor alongside SS Gold Star, outboard but alongside Mercantile Warf.

I worked until noon, then into dress blues to go ashore—and with some money for a change.

The pubs are rationed like in Sydney, and they run out of beer halfway through “opening time.” I got a modest dinner at a restaurant similar to Stateside, no wine. I got back to the ship at midnight having found no one to talk to. The town is too small to accommodate the large number of wartime visitors.

September 20, 1943, Monday, moored portside to SS Gold Star, alongside Mercantile Warf. At 1000 SS John Constantine moored inboard of Nicholas and outboard Gold Star. I worked all morning in the plant, and when I arrived in the mess for lunch there had been a transformation and an excellent innovation: all regular meals suspended during our stay. In place of meals, the tables were to be kept loaded with fresh vegetables, milk and bread.

Irresistible. I couldn’t get enough. Better than beer, but not better than girls. Something, though, nagged at me, I seemed to remember something about where general mess food must originate. The Regulations were in the Ship’s Office, so I was afraid to ask for them lest I remind someone else …

I went ashore, again the optimist.

I saw a girl that had dated a Nicholas sailor in Sydney, and when I spoke to her she was indeed the same person. She said that she had come to Brisbane to meet that sailor, but she didn’t explain how they had communicated.

Managed to get around seven beers, which took careful planning, pronounced “luck.”

Jim Sheehan got hit by a truck, looking left for the on-coming traffic when it comes from the right. It hurt him only to the degree that his bruises kept him out of contention ashore—hopeless, but still …

The ship had organized a dance. I forgot to ask the address, so I couldn’t find it. I was still unenthusiastic about organized entertainment. I got back to the ship at 11 p.m.

September 21, 1943, Tuesday, moored to Mercantile Wharf, Brisbane, Australia.

Worked in the plant until noon. Then I got special liberty for this would otherwise have been a day of duty. The second ship’s dance was scheduled this night, so I took the trouble to get the address of the hall. Now I had all the anchor pool winnings, it promised to be a great evening.

I spent an hour of pub opening time to help deplete the ration. At six I was at the Hotel National for dinner and a full bottle of Australian claret.

I started walking back to the piers with a couple of chiefs and a couple of juniors like myself, and we picked up a lost armed-guard seaman along the way. We found a small cafe open on a street near the piers, so we stopped.

The oriental proprietress bustled to serve us. We knew there was nothing to drink, but we asked anyway. But yes!

She brought out a pitcher of beer, and as the conversation picked up we got another one. We were six seated at a round table. Chief Sexton was expertly leading the talk and converting it to comedy.

I saw that Red Prothero had fallen silent. Then when Sexton began to describe an event with his arms wide for emphasis, Red threw his half-glass of beer in the chief’s face.

“Red, what in hell did you do that for?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“’Cause he’s got the best seat!”

Back on the ship at midnight, and to ponder how wars got started.

September 22, 1943, Wednesday, moored to Mercantile Warf, Brisbane, Australia.

Worked in the plant until noon.

I went ashore with a newly-arrived ensign. I bought some records, one “Vera Lynn” and some notebooks for the diary and USAFI lessons.

We waited for a pub’s opening hours, then competed with the locals and visitors for a share of the pub’s ration of beer. No award was given.

The ensign and I then went to the Hotel National where he got lost. I found Scotty with a group that included ladies, so I got myself invited. Lively and agreeable, up close like that.

Who departed with the ladies I didn’t remember, but certain that it wasn’t me. Having nowhere else to go, I took in a movie, where I fell asleep and woke to the final crescendo …

Back aboard at 0200.

September 23, 1943, Thursday, moored portside to two merchant vessels alongside Mercantile Warf, Brisbane, Australia.

Scotty was having coffee in the messroom when I got back to the ship. We talked until four a.m.

Up at 9 and worked all morning. At quarters for muster I found my fireman Eirehart was missing; two from other divisions were also missing.

Zurawski and Levitsky: “Hey, sport! Did you get any?”


“Did she let you see her titties?”


“Boy, you got gypped!”

Underway at 1200. We will accompany USS Rochambeau.

On watch 16 to 2000. After the watch, free to catch up on sleep, I hadn’t the least desire. I read until the book fell.

September 24, 1943, Friday, steaming on base course 094° True, speed 14.1 knots, in company with Rochambeau (OTC).

On watch 04 to 0800. Slept until 1400 without lunch. Studied for two hours, then on watch 16 to 2000. We parted from Rochambeau at 2000.

Slept and wrote some letters after the watch.

September 25, 1943, Saturday, steaming independently on base course 022° True, speed 17 knots, enroute Nouméa.

Talked some politics with a few chiefs today, and the reality is: politics are too emotional for rational discussion. I plan to avoid the subject. It has long been the taboo subject, along with women and religion, in the wardroom and with good reason.

General quarters for gunnery exercises one hour in the afternoon. Then I had the first dogwatch.


2000 General quarters for night firing exercises for one hour

September 26, 1943, Sunday, steaming independently on base course 090° True, speed 17.5 knots en route Nouméa.

I had the midwatch, and after the dawn alert slept until we came alongside the tanker to fuel at 0900, in Dumbea Bay, Nouméa.

La Vallette and Fletcher had just come back from Stateside availability. I hadn’t even known that Fletcher had gone. La Vallette had been rebuilt in the forward machinery spaces.

We detected a leak-back of air in No. 4 forced-draft blower. It took all morning to reset the dampers and to repair the gaskets.

After fueling we moved to our former anchorage near to Whitney (unnumbered berth). 1315 USS Balch moored alongside to port. At 1730 USS Pringle moored alongside Balch.

September 27, 1943, Monday, anchored as before 500 yards southwest of Berth A 6, Great Roads, Nouméa, in 5 fathoms of water.

Pringle got underway at 0625.

Worked all morning in the firesides, lancing the tubes with our homemade tube lance and applying Consol oil.

1215 Warrington moored alongside Balch.

I got ashore at 1300 to walk around Nouméa town and have a couple of beers. Returned to the ship at 1700 in time for dinner. Watched the film, then reviewed some USAFI lessons that were about ready to mail off.

September 28, 1943, Tuesday, anchored as before 500 yards southwest of Berth A 6, Great Roads, Nouméa.

I was up at 0400 to light off the main plant. We got underway at 0600; then I had the watch until 1000.

We sortied with Task Unit 32.5.1: ComTaskUnit is SS Lew Wallace, USS Sterope, SS Charles McGoarty, SS Henry Durant, SS Samuel Caster, USS O’Bannon and Pringle.

I slept the forenoon and studies the afternoon. On watch 16 to 2000, and studied an hour after watch.

September 29, 1943, Wednesday, steaming on base course 318° True, speed 10 knots, in company with vessels of Task Unit 32.5.1. On watch 04 to 0800.

General quarters for gunnery exercises in the forenoon.

Slept a lot during the day, and talked a lot with Doc Ramsey.

The Doc likes to sit on the foc’sle and tell stories with anyone who will talk. He had asked for, and expected to get a transfer to a more active assignment. No one I know will like that, for the Doc is a fine shipmate as well as a rock to lean on.

It is my turn to read H. Allen Smith’s Life in a Putty Knife Factory. The one copy is making the rounds of the CPO quarters. I read it until finished at 0330.

September 30, 1943, Thursday, steaming as before on base course 353° True, in company with vessels of Task Unit 32.5.1.

On watch 04 to 0800.

In the forenoon we had quarters for muster and a special on the foc’sle for presentation of medals: Captain Hill (Navy Cross), Lt. Stone (Bronze Star), Lt. Coleman (Legion of Merit); there were several citations without medals, all awards were for the First and Second Battles of Kula Gulf, July 5th and 6th and July 12th and 13th.

I slept until general quarters for exercises at 1330 to 1430.

There was bingo in the CPO quarters again. Doc Ramsey and Lt. Riedler are regulars at bingo. I hit the sack instead because I had the midwatch.