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Alan 'John' Carver

Alan 'John' Carver

Sergeant, 16th Small Ships Company, Australian Army

"I was still only 17 and three quarters but couldn't wait to join up."


John Carver's family were Australian but lived in Fiji where John was born. So if anything John had even more of a reason to join the services and stop the Japanese takeover of the south western Pacific.

It was March 1944. He'd been boarding at The Armidale School in New England, NSW, for two years and had just completed school when he turned 18 and enlisted in the army. In fact, he confides that "I was still only 17 and three quarters but couldn't wait to join up."

"The war was on and if you were of age, everyone who was fit was called up. It was what everyone was doing. Or they got called up. No other special reason."

When he fronted up to the recruitment office in Sydney, he knew exactly what he wanted to do in the services. It wasn't one of those sought after roles like being a pilot. It was far more achievable and someone he knew had recommended it to him. It was joining the Water Transport Unit of the Australian Army.

"I went out there and they took one look at me, a squirt of a bloke, and they took me in."

After several weeks of training, John was sent to New Guinea to join the army's 16th Small Ships Company.

He took charge of a little boat, in this case a modified fishing boat, one of hundreds of fishing boats that the Army deployed to transport supplies from big ships to the shore where the ships couldn't berth.

With all the troops spread around New Guinea, a country of incredibly rough terrain, the small boats were a fundamental link in the supply chain that provided food, ammunition, materials and other support for the onshore troops.

In many cases the troops would be reachable only via the riverways that emptied into the surrounding sea and the work of the 16 Small Ships Company was safely navigating through these mostly unchartered waters.

Most of the fighting by the end of 1944 had moved to the north side of New Guinea and John spent his time carefully navigating the inshore waters, nervously on the lookout for any remnant Japanese troops.

"I was the boss, the Captain, I suppose. There were only four to six blokes and I was responsible for them."

The men were all trained to use weapons, but they were always keen to avoid any direct conflict since they were exposed and vulnerable.

 "I suppose it was dangerous, not as dangerous as working on soil but with the boat you went up and down the coast. A couple of times we were going somewhere and were going in the wrong direction and onshore there was the enemy and they'd fire on us and we'd scoot away."


Two of the ships in the Australian Army Fleet, Port Moresby 1946

John and his crew remained in New Guinea after the Japanese Surrender and he was promoted to Sergeant. As long as there were still Australian troops there, his 16th Small Ships Company was needed for ferrying cargo across to them and it wasn't until January 1947 that he was discharged.


John Carver, 2020