They offered me the last rites. I wanted a drink
BILL RYAN, 96
Australian Army, PNG
The Japanese army had dug in at Sanananda, on the coast of Papua New Guinea and the allies, including Australian soldier Bill Ryan, were told to get them out.
It was a tough mission. Food was scarce. The tropical humidity was suffocating. Mr Ryan’s sergeant had “gone to pieces”, so t they had no leadership.
The men knew they had to m move forward on their own.
They also knew that when they did, the well-hidden Japanese would attack.
“They opened up with everything,” Mr Ryan remembered. “I couldn’t see anything, there was bush all around. But I heard gunfire. The fire was so intense it was like bees buzzing around you.
“The firing stopped and it was quiet. There was only the sound of dying men calling out for their mother. It’s terrible to hear that sort of thing. The man beside me was dying.”
With most of the men dead, Mr
Ryan didn’t know whether to go forward or back. “Am I a coward if I go back to see what was happening behind me?” he wondered. He heard soldiers; if it was the Japanese, he would die.
It was his mates, heading to the enemy’s machine gun nest.
Together, they forged ahead. Bullets rained down and the men dived. Suddenly, Mr Ryan felt what seemed like a massive kick to his lower back. It was a bullet, which grazed but did not hit his spine.
The man beside him, so valiantly setting up his Bren gun, was shot dead. “Someone said: ‘Let’s get out of here,’ so I got up, walked a few yards, and fell to the ground,” he said.
“One of my mates came out and put me across his back.
“He carried me across the river under sniper fire.”
His mate delivered him to the regimental aid post, where a priest offered to give him last rites. “I said: ‘No thank you’. Then he asked if I wanted some sugar water. It was the best drink I ever had.”