It was purely coincidence (or so I thought) that I happened to be looking through old photographs on the night before Mother’s Day this year and found an order of service for a Mother’s Day service held 73 years ago (nearly to the day) on a far-away, war-torn island. The Order of Worship for the Mother’s Day service was amongst the few photos and personal letters brought home to Windsor by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Sergeant Alfred Cammack, after the end of WWII. The service was held in conjunction with the United States 13th Air Force (known as the famous Jungle Air Force) and the RAAF at the RAAF Chapel on Morotai on 13 May 1945. As Mother’s Day in 2018 was also on 13 May, I was left in no doubt that this would be my article for the history section in our local newspaper for the Mother’s Day week.
The significance of holding a combined, ecumenical service for the troops at that time was considerable and most likely needed to boost morale. The island of Morotai had been selected in July 1944 by General MacArthur as crucially important logistically and as a command centre for the Allied forces operating in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia). The island’s location off North Halmahera made it essential at that time as a base to support the liberation of the Philippines and to support the Australian-led Borneo campaign.
Fighting between Japanese and Allied forces on Morotai began in September 1944, when United States and Australian forces landed on the south-west corner of the island, and the fighting continued until the end of the war. The Japanese forces carried out a large-scale counter-offensive on Morotai, destroying forty-two Allied aircraft during air raids with nineteen killed and ninety-nine wounded. The air raids ceased in March 1945 after American forces attacked the Japanese stronghold on Hill 40, just six kilometres from the Allied perimeter. The last Japanese supply barge reached Morotai on the day before the Mother’s Day service.
For Sergeant Cammack and many other servicemen, that Mother’s Day service would have been a very poignant and moving occasion. He was probably thinking of his mother at home in Brisbane and his wife and baby son in Windsor NSW. His mother was widowed after her husband was killed in France in 1918 during WWI and now she had one son serving on Morotai and the other serving in New Guinea. Sergeant Cammack had last seen his wife and baby son at Evans Head in early 1943, while on posting to No 1 Bombing and Gunnery School (1BGS). They had travelled from Windsor by train to meet up with him before he departed on overseas posting. He served with 549 Squadron RAF at Strauss Airfield in the Northern Territory, working on Supermarine Spitfires, before embarking from Darwin on the United States Liberty ship, SS Nicholas J Sincott, on 25 February 1945 and arriving on Morotai on 14 March as a member of 9 Repair and Salvage Unit’s main rear party.
(Before copying the photographs accompanying this article, please seek the permission of the author, Carol Roberts, as they are family photographs in a private collection.)
In April 1945, the US 93rd Infantry Division arrived on Morotai. A segregated African-American unit, the 93rd Division conducted patrols to destroy the remaining Japanese force on the western side of the island and in August 1945 succeeded in capturing Colonel Kisou Ouchi, commanding officer of the Japanese garrison on Morotai. Soon after, the 93rd Division accepted the surrender of 40,000 Japanese troops at Halmahera and General Blamey accepted the surrender of the Japanese Second Army on Morotai.
Sergeant Cammack returned to Australia in October 1945 after the anti-corrosion preparation of equipment was completed and 9RSU was disbanded, bringing with him a few photos and the memory of a Mother’s Day service held so long ago, during the Battle of Morotai.
Carol Roberts 2018
I completed the basis of this article for the Hawkesbury Gazette published on 23 May 2018 as ‘Memories of WWII’.
‘Gallant American Patrol Captured Enemy Colonel’, Army News, Monday, 13 August 1945, National Library of Australia Trove Newspapers, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47722985, accessed 17 May 2018.
Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: A Concise History, Vol. 7, Maintenance Units, compiled by the RAAF Historical Section, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1995.
Record of Service, Sergeant Alfred Cammack, Department of Defence (Air Force Office), Canberra.
Personal information from Carol Roberts.
‘No 549 Squadron RAF’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._549_Squadron_RAF, accessed 14 May 2018.
Rickard, J. No 549 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/549_wwII.html, accessed 14 May 2018.
‘Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evans_Head_Memorial_Aerodrome, accessed 14 May 2018.
‘Battle of Morotai’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Morotai, accessed 14 May 2018.