"BETTER work out the plan of campaign now," advised Gordie, "before we're called out on duty or parade or goodness knows what."
"We must keep Horrie hidden below," said Fitz. "The lock on the cabin door eliminates a surprise entry; we must always keep that door locked."
"One man should always remain in the cabin," I suggested, "and we need a code knock so that the man inside will know whether it is a Rebel or stranger who demands entry.
"Suggest a knock," said the Gogg.
"How about W.D. in Morse?"
"Because it stands for Wog-dog."
"W.D. in Morse is the knock," they agreed.
"So that," suggested Gordie, "if a stranger knocks at the door the man inside pops Horrie into the bathroom before opening the door".
"But what if the visit proves to be a surprise cabin inspection," said Don, "and the inspecting officer wishes to see whether the shower room is clean and tidy?"
"Tell him that someone is using the closet," replied Gordie.
"What if he insists - despite the bloke inside?" asked Feathers.
"That's the danger," I agreed. "The word privacy has no connection with a private in the Army."
"Well, what do you suggest?" asked Fitz.
"My only suggestion is the pack," I answered.
"That might do," said Gordie, "but you must keep this pack always handy with the gear always neatly stacked on the bunk. Then you could whisk Horrie into the pack, "Sssh!" him as you buckle the straps, and place the pack in its place with the gear on the bunk. Then yawn as if you'd been asleep when you open the door."
Thus was decided the plan of campaign.
Don and I remained in the cabin while the boys strolled out to have a look round the ship and fish for news. I patted Horrie gently but he was dead to the world.
"He's all in," said Don. "I would never have thought that a dog could willingly have put up with all that he has.
"It seems a long time ago now," I replied, "since we left Syria."
"Yes. But with a bit of luck I think most of his troubles are over."
"If we can keep him hidden during the voyage then there'll be only the last hurdle to overcome, smuggling him ashore in Australia."
The W.D. knock came softly at the door. We unlocked it and in stepped Sergeant Poppa. His first glance was toward the Wog-dog.
"That little pup has more guts for his size than I thought possible," he said, "but his troubles are mostly over now. We're not wasting any time; the ship pulls out tonight. No
lingering about for days, and no convoy. One thing about the Yanks, they don't mess about."
"Where are we bound for?" I asked.
"Don't officially know, but am pretty sure it's Australia." Just then the Rebels knocked and were admitted. Their faces were wreathed in smiles. "We're sure going to little old Australia, buddy," Fitz informed us.
Everyone felt quite sure, though it was still only guess work. But next day when well at sea we joined an excited crowd around the ship's notice board.
"It is expected that this ship will arrive at Port Fremantle at 10 a.m., 26 March 1942."
The news flew through the vessel and a dense crowd came pouring down to the notice board. There never could have been a happier ship-load of soldiers.
"Glance at their faces," grinned Poppa. "Ask any one of them to lend you ten bob and he'll give you his deferred pay.
It was later still when the Rebels were gleefully discussing the news in the sanctuary of the cabin that Sergeant Poppa came in.
"I see Corporal Horrie is fit for duty again," he grinned and patted the Wog-dog, who now was his old cheery, tail-wagging self. "Well, boys, here's what's doing. There will be no cabin inspection today. Here are routine orders from tomorrow onwards. The cabins will be inspected about 10 a.m. During inspection one man to each cabin remains below in charge. The remainder must be up on deck and are not allowed to return below again until 12 o'clock."
"I'll stay below each morning so as to be near Horrie," I volunteered. And this was agreed to.
"The captain of this ship is the most popular man in the Red Sea," resumed Poppa.
"Why is that?" inquired Don.
"His nickname explains it," answered Poppa, "they call him 'No Parade Kelly'!" There will be no parades at all aboard this ship."
"You beauty came the chorus. "Three cheers for No Parade Kelly! He'll do us!"
"I'm going to like the Yanks," declared the Gogg. Just then a strange knock came at the door and I snatched up Horrie while the Rebels broke into laughter and song. To a "Sssh!" Horrie snuggled quiet as a mouse in his pack bag. Poppa opened the door. Big Jim stepped in. He was so pleased he didn't notice the delay in opening the door.
"Well, I suppose you're happy now!" he grinned. "How is your cabin? Comfortable? But I don't suppose you'd mind if you were parked below in the coal now you're going back to Australia. Great news, isn't it?"
"Old stuff!" I answered.
"How's that?" he demanded.
"We knew it way back in Syria."
"Oh yeh!" he grinned. "Wise guys, eh?"
"No; just plain privates," Fitz answered solemnly.
"Well, what about a little celebration when we land back in Aussie?" suggested Big Jim.
"Right. Let's make it a surprise party," I replied. The Rebels instantly guessed what the "surprise" would be. Big Jim glanced in a puzzled way at their laughing faces.
"What's the surprise?" he asked. But they only grinned at one another and winked mysteriously.
"How about doing some tricks for us at the party?" Reg asked me.
"Right," I replied, "but it will be one trick only, a magic trick especially for Big Jim. On one condition!"
"And what's that?" asked Big Jim.
"That afterwards you will tell no one the trick."
"But what is this mysterious trick?"
"Can't tell you now, but it is called 'Pack up Your Troubles'."
I thought Sergeant Poppa was going to burst.
"Well, I don't know what it is all about," said Big Jim, "but I certainly feel interested."
"You'll feel bewitched," declared Poppa, "when you see the trick."
"I'll look forward to it," smiled Big Jim.
When Big Jim returned to the deck we let Horrie out of the pack.
"How would you like to be a little surprise dog, Horrie?" chuckled Poppa. "Now you are here, now you vanish! You've had ample practice, anyway."
It was quite O.K. with Horrie.
Next morning brought inspection. The Rebels had the cabin shining like a new pin. Then they trooped up on deck. I felt quite confident. This would be child's play to Horrie.
"Stand by for cabin inspection!"
With a final "Sssh!" to Horrie I stood to attention as into the cabin trooped the O.C. of our unit, the company commander, one of the ship's officers, and a few N.C.Os thrown in to make up weight.
They gave the cabin a pretty good once over, too. They even peered under the bunks. To me, they seemed peeved they could find nothing to complain about, so they had to troop out. I let them get well clear before I took Horrie out of the pack.
"Very good dog, Horrie!" I told him. But his expression was lackadaisical; cabin inspection was puppy stuff to him.
The next day passed cheerily until a pressingly serious problem upset us. Horrie had been well trained; in the desert or in Greece or anywhere at all he would never dream of making his private arrangements anywhere near our tent or camp. But here he was unable to leave the cabin and he was fighting against nature; it was the second day before we noticed it. I took him to the shower room and tried to encourage him; I stayed with him many hours, trying to suggest the little sunken pit below the shower. Unknowingly, I was defeating my purpose by remaining with him.
"Any luck?" anxiously inquired the Rebels who now were very concerned.
"Nothing doing," I replied gloomily.
Poor Horrie was now drooping, obviously unhappy, and very unwell. Fortunately I woke up to the fact of his shy-ness so put him in the shower room, stepped out, and closed the door after me. I opened it half an hour later and the dejected pup crawled out looking guilty and miserable.
"You poor little blighted I sympathized, "but you are a good dog really."
But he was still very unhappy. It was not until I left the shower running and closed the door after me that he realized he was not going to be scolded. He gazed up with brightening eyes, his tail commenced to wag, and all was well.
But, several days later came a shock to our happily organized cabin. Sergeant Poppa brought the news.
"What's the matter?" I asked at his serious face.
"A lot," he answered gloomily. "We must act quickly. A mistake has been made. It appears this cabin really belongs to another unit; you are ordered to vacate. Worse till, there is absolutely no hope of getting such another cabin to yourselves now."
"'Struth! Wouldn't it?" exclaimed Gordie.
"Where are we to be placed, then?" I asked.
"There are bunks empty in Headquarters Area," he replied, "but they are only in ones and twos," and he produced a plan showing the cabin numbers and empty berths.
We spread out and scouted round in very uneasy mood lest the fact that Horrie was on the ship might now get around. They were all good coves, we knew, but suddenly to produce the little Wog-dog after all this time - well, one unguarded word, one slip of the tongue would mean the end of Horrie.
With a quickening of hope we found that one large cabin contained members of the Signal Platoon - Bill Arrowsmith, Bill Cody (one of Horrie's especially close cobbers), Syd Jordan, "Dar" Davis, Gordon Baxter, Bill Martin, Bob Groll. These men had all known Horrie well. I was certain that no thoughtlessness on their part would betray him. There was one berth vacant in their cabin. Returning to the Rebels, I inquired what they'd found.
They'd located empty berths here and there, but all agreed it would be best for me to doss in with the signallers.
"We'll pop into your cabin daily and take it in turns to watch over Horrie while you take a breather on deck," said the Gogg.
So we set about the unpopular job of moving our gear. It was stiff luck indeed that we who had stuck together so long should be separated on the very last phase of the campaign, the voyage home.
With Horrie in the pack-bag and the Rebels giving me a hand with my gear, I entered the new cabin. The signallers were there. I locked the door, then solemnly I undid the pack and out popped Horrie on the floor.
In amazed silence, they stared at the phantom. It was not until Horrie ran with wagging tail to his old friends that a delighted yell arose.
"Sssh!" I exclaimed with upraised hand.
They still could hardly believe their eyes. With laughing faces they crowded round Horrie who in his own doggie way was busy showing how well he remembered each and every one of them. Finally they demanded the story. For a dog to appear like this when they one and all believed he was far away with the Palestine police must be a story worth hearing. It was an appreciative audience with the little Wog-dog sitting back listening to every word, now and then signalling approval by a cute glance at one of the boys, as if to say "Now, what do you think of that!"
They agreed that Horrie was as game as Ned Kelly.
They all agreed that we should carry on as before - keep the door locked, use the W.D. signal, I to remain below each morning for cabin inspection. But they wouldn't hear of the Rebels coming along to relieve me for a stroll on deck. Horrie was an honoured occupant of their cabin now and they themselves would take it in turns to relieve me. The air inlet in this cabin was over Jacky Gardner's bunk.
"Horrie can sleep on my bunk under the inlet," said Jacky. And I was glad, for we were approaching the Line and the heat in the cabins was already almost unbearable. Horrie had "fallen on his feet" again.
But he had one bad week ahead of him. It was breathlessly hot in the closed cabin. He never complained, but would life his nose to the inlet to get any breath of the hot air. We dare not let him out of the pack until after cabin inspection. Then I would sit him on the tiled floor under the shower and fan him with a towel until he cooled down. But when I stopped fanning, his coat would become hot again. Every half hour I'd wet him and his tail-wag was my reward. After midday, when the boys came filing down to the cabin, there were plenty of willing hands to carry on with the fanning. The West Point was a palatial ship but had been designed for the Atlantic crossing and was not at her best in tropical areas. For six days, until we'd crossed the Line, Horrie suffered considerably but soon afterwards became his old tail-wagging self.
Up on deck the days were glorious; the Aussies and the Yanks got on famously. The Yanks soon took to the great national pastime, two-up. They were great sports - cheerful winners, good losers. Games, sports and competitions helped further to cement an already strong friendship. Even the ship's padre brought up a laugh. In his sermon, he said that Moses had left his disciples in charge of the food supply, to wit, a quantity of fish, very scarce at the time. Solemnly warning the disciples not to touch the fish until he returned Moses went about some particular job. But the appetising odour of the fish aggravated the disciples. One by one, those fish disappeared. "When Moses returned," concluded the padre, "boy, was he mad?"
The Anti-Tank Regiment was not on board our ship.
We used to wonder whether the men had got Imshi aboard ship and whether they would manage to smuggle her into Australia. We determined to try and get in touch with them should they land at Fremantle at the same time as ourselves. It would be the end to a perfect romance if we only could bring Horrie and Imshi together again.
The Day came at last, the Great Day. Excited shouts, coo-ees, then cheer after cheer rang through the ship. We raced to the deck, and there, slowly but surely out of the haze, our own dear land was becoming visible. There could never be anything else so good!
And then tragedy. And it was tragedy.
Word flew round that "Hobo" was aboard and - they were after Hobo.
Hobo was a beautiful cat, C Company's cat, a mascot and a lovely animal. He had been born during the evacuation from Dunkirk, with death raining from sea, air and land, with thousands of men dying, in a sea of sinking ships and drowning men.
Later, the Tommies had proudly presented Hobo to C Company.
They became greatly attached to that lovely, proud and s intelligent cat. He had accepted their company and had accompanied them through everything - everywhere. He went with them through each campaign by land and sea, in peace and war. And they had smuggled him aboard. We did not even know.
And now, through some tragic oversight, some tiny piece of carelessness, right in sight of Australia, it had become known that Hobo the cat was aboard.
The order was that he must be destroyed.
C Company refused to give up the cat.
Hobo could not be found.
The ship slowed down and stopped. Silently, thousands of men gazed towards the dim shores of Australia.
The ship would not proceed until the cat was produced.
Hobo's friends held out. We wondered if we could hold out so long if it had been Horrie that was discovered. Anxiously we waited. Thousands of men were waiting.
Not one man even whispered that the C Company lads should hand over their cat.
They held out for twelve long hours.
Hobo was produced. Thrown overboard.
The ship gathered way, gained speed.
At last we pulled into Fremantle, the wharf was a sea of cheering faces. A car with a charcoal burner caught our eye, the first we had seen.
"What is it?" someone yelled, "a travelling bath-heater?"
The good-humoured owner put a match in somewhere and out shot a flame to roars of laughter from the troops.
"Let's sail back to the Middle East - it's too risky here!" A wag yelled.
How clean and fresh the houses on the hill looked and, yes, there was an old-fashioned square, two-storeyed pub with handkerchiefs fluttering from the balcony.
"I'll bet it's called Bay View," laughed someone.
Yes, it was Australia all right.
"If the Japs ever land in Australia," said Poppa, "they'd better bring a multitude - they'll need them!"
A dog was trotting up the road.
My heart beat fast. Horrie would soon be doing the same with just a little more luck.