Memories of war

One of Jim Foreman's prized possessions is the British White Ensign flag he kept from one of his ships. "The reason I've got it is because the petty officer told me to change the flag, so I changed the flag and I'm looking after the old one. "And I brought it all the way back from Borneo in my kit bag."

Jim Foreman was just 17 years old when he shipped out to sea. Now aged 94, it’s taken the WWII veteran a lifetime to talk about what he saw at war.
It was 1944 and the war was intensifying, so along with many other boys who left school in Kyneton, Jim joined the Navy.
“Don Watkins, Gerry Smith, Gerry Maloney, Len Gloster, Tim Collins, Bob Orr, Jack Stringer and a lot of others that I can’t remember, we had to join up because the war was getting to a bad state, we were losing so many men, so many ships, everything was so hard that we boys joined straight away,” he said.
Jim soon had his first encounter with a Japanese submarine after he joined the HMAS Goulburn in Sydney Harbour.
“Within an hour or so we were out at sea, we weren’t training, we were in action,” he said.
“My job was to load the depth charges in the thrower at the stern of the ship and there was another sailor on the starboard side doing the same thing, we needed to help one another.
“When the explosion went off it was terrible, and that’s the reason my ears are crook.
“I believe last year or just a bit earlier they found that Japanese submarine on the ocean bed.”
Jim’s ship went on to Madang, New Guinea, where he caught dengue fever and was hospitalised.
“It was an Army hospital, we were up against the jungle with scorpions, snakes, spiders, but the hard part for me was that I saw all these men with straight jackets on, they’d had enough, their minds had gone,” he said.
Jim was next stationed on the HMAS Reserve, a sea-going tug, towing barges carrying all-important food and ammunition to troops in Wewak where the Japanese forces were strong.
“I’ll never forget the noise from that war, the guns were just like a thunderstorm that never stopped,” he said.
But worse was yet to come.
“After Wewak, I went to Borneo,” Jim said.
“The ship I was on was called the Joseph Carrigan, it was a Liberty ship, we had 450 Army personnel on board.
“We were in the Straits of Labuan at 3 o’clock in the afternoon when the torpedo hit the bow.
“I was standing at the stern and I copped the noise from the torpedo because I was outside, that’s another reason why I’m wearing two hearing aids now.
“After the torpedo hit, I said to my mate Jack, ‘we’ll go to the stern because that will go higher and we’ve got a better chance of getting away, it will take longer for the ship to go down’.
“Standing at the stern, there were men jumping into the sea from a very high height.
“The sea was too rough for any ship to take any of us off, but luckily the American sailors closed the watertight doors and we were taken off next morning.”
Soon after, the Japanese were being chased out of Borneo by the Americans and the Australians who were taking prisoners.
“The war was getting towards the end and we were still fighting,” Jim said.
“We were cutting our way through the jungle, it was very hard and we were skinny as rakes.
“I thought to myself ‘what am I doing here?’, but I kept thinking about my mother, my sister, my brother, my girlfriends all back home, and I just kept cutting as hard as I could.
“We heard that the war was over and we were still doing our job.”
In talking about his experiences for the first time Jim hopes to help others understand, remember and reflect.
“My father (Leslie James Foreman) had a hard time in the First World War and never much talked about it,” he said.
“Like me, I would not tell my story until just a few years ago when I decided somebody should know about it.”
On Anzac Day on Sunday, Jim attended the Cenotaph in Kyneton to remember and reflect.
“It’s a marvellous thing what men do when you’re up against the odds,” he said.